Baranowicze (Poland), Warsaw, Gdansk
Wolin, originally Morduch Wolanski, was born in 1920 and lived in Baranowicze, Poland, a town of approximately 35,000 people near the then existing border of Russia, about 250 miles east of Warsaw. The town’s inhabitants were divided between Poles and Byelorussians, with about 9,000 Jews living there. His father was a shoe manufacturer, and he had a younger brother and a younger sister. They were Conservative Jews.
Wolin attended the local “gymnasium,” a combination of junior and senior high school for more gifted children and graduated in 1938 at the age of eighteen. In the gymnasium all subjects were taught in Polish. At the same time, in the afternoons, he also attended a religious high school where all subjects were taught in Hebrew.
In anticipation of a war with Germany, efforts were underway for Wolin to emigrate to the United States and an uncle in Chicago was able to obtain a U.S. visa for him. Graduation from a gymnasium entitled a Pole to enter Officers Training School, but since the Polish army did not want any Jewish officers, the authorities granted him permission to leave the country.
He left his hometown, accompanied by his father, on August 24, 1939, for Warsaw, and then proceeded alone to the port city of Gdansk. While traveling west from Baranowicze to Warsaw, he saw massive troop movements going east. Wolin explained that the German Foreign Minister had convinced his Polish counterpart that the real threat to Poland was from Russia and not from Germany.
While staying in a hotel in Gdansk awaiting the normal departure of his ship, he was summoned early in the morning on one of the last days of August 1939 to report for an immediate departure because German troops had been observed poised to cross the Polish border. His ship, the MS Batory, was the last ship to leave Poland before Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. He states that the ship was followed by German submarines but arrived safely in New Jersey.
Following the German-Russian pact of 1939, his hometown was occupied by Russian forces until Germany invaded Russia in June 1941, and then it was occupied by the Germans. He stayed in correspondence with his family until the German invasion and then all mail stopped. He says that his mother and sister were shot in the Baranowicze ghetto and that this was witnessed by his cousin, Nyome Bogatin, who was being hidden by a righteous Gentile woman in the loft of a farmhouse overlooking the ghetto. Wolin’s brother joined the Partisans and was shot by the SS. His father was shot in a concentration camp. Except for his cousin, no one in his extended family survived the Holocaust.
In the United States he married, ultimately settled in Detroit, had two daughters, Jennifer and Marlene, and now has two grandsons.
Various photos and documents are displayed on the video thus verifying his statements.
Date: July 14, 1999
Length: 1 hour 17 minutes
Interviewer: Hans R. Weinmann
Format: Video recording