Water, Martin S.
Lodz (Poland), Auschwitz
Martin Water was born in Lodz, Poland. He lived in an apartment in a poor neighborhood with his many siblings and his parents. His father and brothers were shoemakers but were often out of work.
On Friday night, they lit candles and observed the Sabbath. They lived near two orthodox synagogues.
Martin went to both public school, finishing the fifth grade, and Cheder.
When the war began, the Germans came from all directions. When his family was sent to live in the Lodz ghetto, they were already aware of the atrocities. Martin and his younger brother were picked up and sent to Warsaw where they took an apartment. He went back to Lodz to find food and that was the last time he saw his family.
He returned but the ghetto was closed. In May, 1940, he was “taken in” as a shoemaker and fixed old shoes and made boots for the Germans.
In July, 1943, the old and young were taken out of the ghetto. He escaped but was caught in 1944 and sent to Auschwitz. The trip took two days and three nights. He remembers children crying and blankets being held to allow the women some privacy.
When he arrived, he was sure that the young and the old would not survive.
They were marched to the selection area. Those on the right were sent immediately to the showers. Dr. Mengele was there making the selections.
Although Martin, at this time, still had pictures of his family, he was told to undress and the pictures disappeared. A barber shaved their heads. For breakfast, they were given one piece of dark bread and coffee made from burned hops.
He was not tattooed but his number, B6827, was on the pocket of his striped uniform. He was then taken to Gleiwitz.
He begged to be a shoemaker, but was forced to dig ditches. Work began at 5 a.m. and ended when dark.
A man by the name of Bruno was in charge of his block and helped Martin survive. The SS beat them often and Bruno volunteered to take the beating of a ten year old boy.
The Germans tried to create an orchestra. They needed a mandolin player, so he volunteered. They gave him a violin to play, saying that if he couldn’t play, he’d be hanged.
In December of 1944, he was selected to be cremated in Auschwitz, but Bruno liked him and didn’t call his number. At that time, Martin heard that the Germans were desperate for manpower.
On January 19, 1945, he was sent on the death march, shot twice, but continued walking with the help of a walking stick. He was given nine loaves of bread causing a Ukrainian boy try to kill him for the food.
Martin remembers that during the liberation there was a great deal of shooting by both the Russians and the Germans. He left camp and found water in the woods. He organized a group and walked with them. The Russians found them and left them alone . . . . They kept walking, trying to get home. At one point, he dragged a sick man for fourteen days. Many were killed on this march. When he finally arrived at his home, there was no one there, but he met his future wife, who was also a survivor, and began a new life as a shoemaker with her.
His brother went to Germany and married there.
When Martin left camp, he weighed about seventy pounds and signed up to go to the United States. As a youth, he had seen all the Hollywood movies, especially the Westerns and the musicals, and, in comparison, America seemed dirty and very disappointing. ***
Martin began school, learning English in just three months. He arrived in Detroit ten years later and went into the insurance business. He talks about his life during the war, saying it was good therapy for him. His wife does the opposite. She does not talk to their children (two sons and a daughter) about her wartime experiences. Martin talks to non-Jewish High School students, saying that his speaking engagements are important for future generations.
Interviewer: Esther Weine
Format: Video recording
NOTE: Audio only for the first four and a half minutes and again for the last ten minutes.