Weiss, William

Weiss, William

Lvov (Poland), Janowska, Wanski Prison, Auschwitz, Flossenbürg, Saal, Dachau

Mr. Weiss described pre-war Lvov as being extremely anti-Semitic.  While attending college he was the only Jew in class and was forced to sit on a bench alone at the back of the lecture hall.  He remembers his father describing pogroms that occurred before he was born and stated that the Ukrainians living in Lvov were especially hostile toward the Jewish population.  There were streets and parks where, according to Mr. Weiss, Jews were not allowed to enter.

Mr. Weiss’ father owned a military uniform factory and store and the family was comfortable financially.  He recalls a close family life with a large extended family living in Lvov.  The Weiss family lived in an upper middle class neighborhood which was mixed ethnically.

The Russians occupied Lvov in 1939.  As a businessman, Mr. Weiss’ father was considered a capitalist and was forced to give up his factory and home and move into a smaller assigned apartment.  Mr. Weiss was allowed to continue his education and there were no specific anti-Jewish restrictions.

In June 1941, the Germans entered Lvov and life changed drastically for the Jewish community.  Mr. Weiss stated that on the day the Germans occupied the city, their Polish and Ukrainian neighbors broke into their apartment and took everything of value.  His family could do nothing but watch the looting.  He described widespread beatings, killings and looting of Jewish neighborhoods.

Mr. Weiss stated that the local Ukrainians eagerly joined the Germans in attacks on the Jewish population and mentioned Petliura as an example of this.  A Judenrat was appointed and there were frequent Aktionen.

In 1942 a ghetto was formed and the Weiss family was forced to move again into a one room apartment shared with fifteen other people.  Mr. Weiss and his father obtained work papers and worked for the army.  He recalls his oldest sister, then seven months pregnant, being shot during an Aktion.  The family carried her home where she was cared for by a local physician who delivered her son.  A few months later his sister and nephew were deported to Belzec.  Shortly after this occurred Mr. Weiss and his father returned from work to find that his mother and younger sister had been caught in an Aktion and deported to Belzec.  They were never heard from again and Mr. Weiss assumes they were killed.

In 1942 Mr. Weiss was caught and taken to Janowska Road camp in Lvov.  He described Janowska as the worst place he experienced during the war.  Prisoners lived in large barracks and slept on three-tiered bunks with no mattresses.  Mr. Weiss described sleeping with clothes and shoes on so nothing would be stolen.  The latrines were open ditches and he stated that if anyone had to use them at night they frequently did not return because the guards would often shoot prisoners or throw them into full latrines for sport.

Mr. Weiss remembers seeing ditches filled with blazing bodies and said that transports were frequently liquidated immeadiately upon arrival at Janowska.  Victims were either burned alive or shot and buried in a sand quarry located behind the barracks.  He stated that at night he would often see the large piles of sand moving as people who had been buried alive tried to crawl out.

There were frequent early morning Appells and Mr. Weiss described standing naked in the cold for hours.  He also remembers constant physical abuse by the S. S. guards who used whips and dogs.  He told of one occasion when he was working in the kitchen and was called over by an officer and offered a spoon of what he was told was marmalade.  It was a strong soap and Mr. Weiss said that the guards laughed at his discomfort.

While on a work detail in Lvov, Mr. Weiss arranged to meet his father near the ghetto and he escaped.  He remained with his father for 3 or 4 days until they were picked up and sent to Wanski prison.  He described being interrogated and beaten there because the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising had just begun and the Germans were afraid of a Jewish uprising in Lvov.  He lost several teeth during questioning, and after that he and his father shared a cell with seventeen inmates.  They were eventually sent to work as tailors in a prison workshop.  They remained here until the summer of 1944 when they were evacuated because the Russian Army was nearing Lvov.

Mr. Weiss and his father were sent to Auschwitz in open cattle cars.  The traveling took two to three days.  There were neither sanitary facilities nor water and the only food consisted of a few loaves of bread thrown into the cars.

At Auschwitz Mr. Weiss and his father remained together, sharing a bunk and working on a road crew.  Food consisted of bread in the morning, soup at noon, and coffee and bread at night.  Mr. Weiss remembered one occasion when six female prisoners who worked in a munitions factory were caught stealing explosives.  They were hung during an Appell and everyone was forced to watch.

In January 1945, Auschwitz was evacuated as the front drew nearer and Mr. Weiss was separated from his father.  He said that his father was extremely depressed and a heavy smoker who had always traded part of his food ration for cigarettes.  Because of this, Mr. Weiss feels his father could not keep up with the march.  He never saw him again.

They were sent first to Flossenbürg where they stayed one month before being evacuated again to Saal and finally to Dachau.  Mr. Weiss stated that during the march they slept by the side of the road with no shelter.  Food was scarce, often consisting of a few loaves of bread thrown into their midst.  Those who could not keep up were shot.

Mr. Weiss remained in Dachau for two to three months until liberated by the American army in April, 1945.  He had typhus and was sent to a hospital in Munich where he remained for one year.  After his release he worked for the Jewish Community Center in Munich investigating alleged Jewish collaborators with the Nazis.  He married in Germany and remained there until 1949 when he came to the United States.

Interview information:
Interviewer: Rabbi Rosenzveig
Date: 7/27/1992
Format: Video recording