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Bernhard Storch oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Michael Hirsh.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (168 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (68 p.)
Concentration camp liberators oral history project
This interview was conducted as research for The Liberators: America's Witnesses to the Holocaust / Michael Hirsh (New York: Bantam Books, 2010).
Interview conducted May 8, 2008.
The Liberators: America's Witnesses to the Holocaust (New York: Bantam Books, 2010) and Concentration Camp Liberators Oral History Project, University of South Florida Libraries, 2010 Michael Hirsh.
Transcripts, excerpts, or any component of this interview may be used without the author's express written permission only for educational or research purposes. No portion of the interview audio or text may be broadcast, cablecast, webcast, or distributed without the author's express written permission.
Oral history interview with Holocaust concentration camp liberator Bernhard Storch. Storch was born in Poland in 1922 and was living in Upper Silesia with his uncle when Germany invaded in 1939. He went back to his hometown and then to L'viv, where he remained for several months. In May 1940 the Soviet government began deporting Poles who were originally from the German-occupied regions, and Storch was sent to a gulag in Siberia. He was a prisoner until November 1941, and he and his family made their way to Uzbekistan, where Storch enlisted in the Polish 1st Tadeusz Kociuszko Infantry Division, which was attached to the Soviet Army. In July 1944 he and his outfit found their first concentration camps, Sobibr and Majdanek, both of which were deserted by the time they arrived. Storch got to Sachsenhausen on April 19, 1945, the first camp where the prisoners were still present and alive, though the guards had already left. He spent no more than an hour or so at each camp, but he did walk around and see their buildings. After the war ended, Storch left Poland and spent some time in a German displaced persons camp before immigrating to the United States in 1947. He frequently lectures about the Holocaust at schools and museums and has been interviewed several times.
Raboche-Krestianskaia Krasnaia Armiia.
Polskaia diviziia imeni Tadeusha Kostiushki, 1-ia
v Personal narratives.
Sobibr (Concentration camp)
Majdanek (Concentration camp)
Sachsenhausen (Concentration camp)
z Soviet Union
World War, 1939-1945
World War, 1939-1945
World War, 1939-1945
World War, 1939-1945
World War, 1939-1945
World War, 1939-1945
World War, 1939-1945
Personal narratives, Polish.
World War, 1939-1945
Crimes against humanity.
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xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8 transcript
text Michael Hirsh: First of all, give me your name and spell it for me, please.
Bernhard Storch: Bernhard, thats first name. B-e-r-n-h-a-r-d. Storch, S-t-o-r-c-h.
MH: And they call you Ben?
BS: Ben, yes.
MH: And your address, please?
MH: And your phone number?
MH: And your date of birth?
BS: November 10, 1922.
MH: So you are how old?
BS: Ill be almostin November, Ill be eighty-six.
MH: Okay. Your story is very different from any of the other people Ive spoken with, cause you werent in the American Army.
BS: Correct. Correct.
MH: Tell me, how does this all start?
BS: How all this started? Its a long way, its a long story, but I will make it as short as possible, but it should be accurate. In 1939, unfortunatelyI had to interrupt my education in 1937.
MH: Where were you?
BS: I was in Poland, city Bochnia, B-o-c-h-n-i-a. Bochnia is about eighteen miles south of Krakw. Thats the area there. When the war broke out, I was apprenticedthe reason for my apprenticing actually so early was that I lost my father. My father was a World War I veteran with three medals; as a matter of fact, I have a picture of him with me, not because I had it with me. The reason I have that photo is because his twin brother came to the United States in 1923. They served together in the Russian Army from 1912 to 1919. My father was wounded, and he spent almost a whole year recuperating in Bochnia in one of the hospitals there, and thats how he also met his future wife. Thats my mother. She was volunteering, nursing, working as a nurse there, helping the soldiers, and thats how they met. Two years later, they married, and they had six children, all boys. The oldest was born in 1920, and unfortunately, he passed away in 1933, through an accident
Ruth Storch: (inaudible)
BS: (to RS) Okay, you can close. Thank you.
because of an accident. In Poland and in Europe, there were mostly sleds and horses in small towns during the winter. He took a ride, and somehow he fell off the sled and hurt his back. Was the medicine right? I dont know. Were the doctors correct? I dont know. But he really got sick from it, and eventually they discovered that hes got tuberculosis. Now, there were other children; they had three other children; nobody got sick except him, so I dont think that that was the kind of disease, which they diagnosed, that he had.
After thatokay. Thats the reason for me to be in Upper Silesia, which was about 135 kilometers from home, because I was apprenticing with my uncle. The citys name is Chorzw, which is C-h-o-r-z-o-w, Chorzw. Its only three kilometers from the German border.
MH: You were apprenticing as what?
BS: I was apprenticing as a custom tailor. That was my profession later, because over here I became a designer of ladies clothes. And that was the beginning of 1948, just 1948. When the war broke out, of course, I was there. Nobody expected a war in Poland at that particular time, believe it or not. My uncle, his wife, and a little baby, which is about a year and a half old, went on vacation, and they went on vacation in my area, because that area was recreational stuff, you know, recreational facilities with rivers and everything else. Besides, he had his parents also living there, and my mother, and there was my mothers sister also. So, they spent the time there in Bochnia when the war broke out.
In 1939, October 1934its 1939. I heard commotion on the street, and I also heard loud bangs, you know, but the commotion was that there were six soldiers: six German soldiers were parading through the street. Supposedly, they got caught on the border, or whatever it is. Still, that was still no war going on. Came September 1, 1939, the whole thing started overnight. It started about middle of the night, really, around two or three oclock in the morning, perhaps four, I dont know: bombing and everything. They did not drop any bombs in our area, but they dropped bombs around the area, for some reason. I know the reason: because they had a lot of coal mines there and steel mines there, so probably they didnt want to destroy that.
So, there was nothing for me to do. I decided myself that the best way for me is to go back home, which is 130 miles away; and of course, its quiet there, because its away from the German border; and because the army, the very strong Polish Army; its very strong, and theyre gonna be there. Theyre gonna be there, no question about it. Unfortunately, it didnt develop like that. I called up the station, the railroad station, which was only ten miles away in city Katowice, and this is the capital for that region, for the Silesian Region, Upper Silesian Region, Katowice. I called, and they said there is a train going around one oclock, situation permitting. They did not guarantee that it will go. But I was glad, and I took a trolley car from our house; its a ten mile ride. And, sure enough, the train left at one oclock.
Supposedlywe were supposed to have been three hours to Krakw. Unfortunately, it took us almost two and a half days to get to Krakw, because of the bombing and strafing of the train. A lot of people got killed already, then.
MH: On the train that you were on?
BS: On the train which I was on. Lucky, I was not. I did notI came out without my little suitcase, which I took, because I had clothes at home, so I didnt bother to take much. I didnt know how I was going and whats gonna happen. I lost that, but I was fine. I came to Krakw, and thats it. Thats the last stop. The train, the passenger train, didnt go any farther.
Just, my intuition says, Go ahead, and take another train, whatever it is, when the locomotive faces that direction. I could have gone a different direction, but I was lucky. I jumped on another passenger train, a regular train; actually, they were transporting military items there, too, but the soldiers didnt care. If you come in, fine. But there were no covers, so you were outside. And lucky enough, it went through my hometown. It was not far, just eighteen miles away, but it took a long time, because again, they had problems with the artillery from the planes. But we made it: we made it middle of the night on May third. Thats when I arrived, in the middle of the night on May third.
I walked from the station. It was only about three-quarters of a mile away from my home, from the station, so I walked there. At that time, everybody was still asleep: middle of the night. My mother almost fainted, because she did not know whats happened to me. There was no way I could communicate with her; there were no lines. There were no communications. I could have called her from my hometown, in the morning, but you couldnt call anything after that, so it was tough. I arrive home. When I arrive home, was middle of the night, and after breakfast, my mother tells me that my Uncle Sam, my Uncle David, and Uncle Maxthose are three brothers of my motherthey decided to move west from here, and perhaps to the river. Its only twenty-one miles to the river, and perhaps that river would stop the army, German Army. Didnt work out that way.
We went there, and the Germans were also close, so we just continued. We continued. There were fourteen people on this horse and wagon, big horses. They eventuallyeventually, twelve days later, we wind up in the city of Lvov. City Lvov is on the western part. Theres quite amaybe, I dont know, 150, maybe 200 kilometers from the
(phone rings) My wife. Okay.
MH: Is it okay? You want to get it?
BS: No, I want to hang up. No, she got it. I dont know why it took her so long. (laughs) She probably left it in the kitchen.
Anyway, we came to Lvov.
MH: Thats L-v-o-v?
BS: Right now, its L-v-o-v, yes, but before it used to be L-w-o-w. Thats Polish. This has changed, you know, from L-v-o-v. Lviv, its spelled now, because thats the Ukrainian way. That city is in the Ukraine.
So, we came to Lvov, and of course, [it was] a strange city and everything else. We were not the only refugees there, and it was very hard, but the Jewish community was working very nicely, and they were able to supply us withwhat they do is they donated empty apartments, donated through the organization, donated an empty apartment. There was no furniture, there was nothing like that. So, we had this apartment: my uncle, his wife, myself, and one of my cousins, and thats it. Later, somebody else came in. We were there, living in that thing. Eventually, we were able to get little jobs or something like that to make some money. We had a profession, so we were able to do that.
And then, all of a sudden, in May 1940actually, its before the Russians were registering people, whoever wants to go home, and that was February. That was in February of 1940, February of 1940. They were registering people: if you are willing to go home, the Germans will let you, and you will get a pass. Of course, that was a bluff. That was a bluff. It was not the reason they were taking the numbers. They were taking the numbers only to find out where people are living, because they had absolutely no idea where people are living. And sure enough, in May of 1940, they came from one house to the other, one building to the other, and they knew exactly. They knocked on the door and asked us politely, Take whatever you can and follow us, and they took us to trucks.
MH: These are Russians or Germans?
BS: The Russians. Thats the Russians. The Germans never arrived to Lvov, because theymeanwhile, after they made that nonaggression pact with the Germans, the Russians, there was a boundary, and they took that and they took something else, White Russia [Belarus] and those cities. So, that was strictly the Russians, Russian KBG [sic], the NKVD; that was the secret police. They asked us to come down, and we did. And then, to the trucks; they put us on top of trucks. And then, they took us not to a railroad station, but to a secluded railroad place, you know, stop. Sixty people to a wagon, and they were regular cattle wagons: the same wagon on which people went to concentration camps. Thats exactly what we had.
MH: The 40 by 8s?
BS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Thats what we had. There was no sitting facilities or something like that, and fifty people. They gave us some kind of a pot to clean ourselves up. And that was it. We were riding for about a day and a half. Nobody told us anything, the door would not open. A day and a half later, the door opened, and the train stopped. There was nothing to see, because its the middle of everything. They fed us with some food, which they had, some bread, dry bread, and some soup; whatever they had, they fed us. They fed us with that, and after about an hour and a half or two, we proceeded again. And that continues like that. From that place on, they stop every few hours and they did give us foodbreakfast, lunch, whateveruntil we arrived three weeks later in central Siberia.
MH: Three weeks?
BS: Three weeks later.
MH: In a cattle car?
BS: In a cattle car. Yeah, three weeks in a cattle car. Three weeks in a cattle car, with mosquitoes and all kind of stuff. Three weeks. Finally, we arrived at a place. Absolutely nothing to see, except huge, huge trees and dilapidated homes. They were like single-family homes, you know, the European style. I dont remember if it was straw on the top of the roof or wood, I dont remember that, but it was sort of like that. There was no electricity in this place, no electricity at all. There was no running water. There was no heating provided, except a wood-burning stove with a hot plate. And of course, you know, you couldnt cook because you didnt have what to cook on it.
MH: Right. No pots, no pans, no dishes.
BS: No pots, no dishes, no nothing, because you had a cafeteria to go. Each one had an allotment to go there. There were six families in that little place, in that little place. People were sleeping even with the kitchen: two people, single, which they didnt have any children. There were some children; some family had children. Our family did not have any children. There were some people with children, and some people were my age. As a matter of fact, we were together in the army in a different division, because he went later. So, there were people like myself there, young people. There were lawyers and there were doctors and there were everything else. Everybody else who ever was in Lvov, they took like that.
MH: All Jews?
BS: No, no Jews. That was not only for Jews: all people which belonged to the other side of the border. In other words, secretly, they told us that we are German spies, because we are German spies. Can you imagine? We are German spies. The territory was still Polish when we were there, okay, because they came underI dont remember exactly, the seventeenth or the eighteenth, and we were there. I dont remember exactly. Fourteenth, or thirteenth or fourteenth, we were there in Lvov, in Lvov. And we were there. We were living there. We did not ask for anything, and we were there. And yet, we were tried as spies without a trial, just accused of being a spy, because we came from the other side of the border. And that was the reason we were there.
So, the first nightfor the first day, they didnt do anything with us, because it came like by the end of the day, so we stayed over on the train till morning. Then, in morning, they assigned everybody that was assigned to one of those houses, six families, no matter what. If you were a stranger, thats fine. We had two or three different familieswe had three different families. One was from Zamo; the other one was from Mielec. And then there was a Christianthey were all Jews, as it happens to be, but the Christian couple, man and wife. He was some kind of a professor, this guy. (inaudible) So, there were two of them, and they had to sleep in the kitchen, because there was no room left because everybody first, they took the apartment they gave with children. I considered myself together with the other one, because I was only sixteen then. That was that.
The following day, they put everybodythey asked everybody, especially men; they asked everybody to come out in the square there. It was not a real square, but you know, outside. The commander came out; it was a KGB commander. I remember the name; it sounds like vodka, but its not. Smirnov was his name. And he had a couple more assistants of his, and that was it. There were soldiers which were guarding; there were soldiers which took us to go and cut the trees down when time came, and so on. The only thing is we did not have any abusing thing. They did not abuse us physically. Nobody was pushed; nobody was kicked in the behind, because you didnt produce something like that. If you didnt produce, they had something for it: they cut down the food, you know, and that was the whole thing. Youre working for the food. You didnt get anything, just the food. So, of course, everybody had that. That was the only thing.
That was continued like that. I was working on the trees. They told us how to do it. They had a foreman there, a Russian, and he told us how to get a tree down. Theyre huge trees, really huge trees. There were two people with a tree. There was nothing electric going on. The whole labor was manual.
MH: Axes or saws?
BS: Saws. Saws and axes, thats it, but no electric saws. That was out; that was not there. So, we were doing that. We were doing that for about half a year. Then, things changed for the better. Things changed for the better. Supposedly, they found out that we are not really German spies, so things eased up. They didnt let us out from there, but they did let us go out to the city on a pass, but you had to report the same day to the commander that you came back. So, that was the thing. And once you were out, you were able to see the newspapers and everything; we didnt get any newspaper. We didnt get any radio; there was nothing there. We were completely secluded.
MH: What city are you in?
BS: There was not a city.
MH: I mean, the city that you said you could go to.
BS: The city Yoshkar-Ola. Yoshkar-Ola would have been the capital city of that region. But you had to take the train. First you had to take a draisine. A draisine was one single electrica car, which took the people to the train, which was about fifteen miles or so away from that particular spot.
MH: And this is in Siberia.
BS: This is in Siberia, in central Siberia. Yoshkar-Ola is Marian [Mari El] Republic, not far; its about 300 kilometers from the Ural Mountains. No European people there: the people were Marians there. They very seldomjust the leadership spoke Russian, and the rest did not; they spoke their own language. The people were very strange, for one reason. They were fine, they were scared. They were scared. They didnt know who we are, and we didnt know who they were. There was no language; we couldnt communicate with them. I spoke Russian, I picked up right away, and I was very good. You know, as a kid you pick up [languages]. They have no problem. But we couldnt speak to them. And I even speak uplater, I picked up the Marian language. Once you know a few words, then they open up their hearts to you. They did not have anything, either, but what they had is they had land. On the land, they were putting potatoes and carrots and whatever it is. Even so, the spring was very short there, because the winter started in October, and it dropped to about 65 below.
BS: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. And snowI mean, its terrible snow. And the windthank God we did not have too much wind, otherwise you would have been not able to do anything. So, thank God for that.
So, we continued there. We continued there untilas a matter of fact, we were even allowedafter this thing here, I was even allowed to send a card to my mother. They said, Yes, but youre not supposed to have revealed where you are.
MH: And your mother was where?
BS: My mother was still in Bochnia.
BS: My mother was by herself. I was the only one from the four kids which went, because I was the oldest. The otherthe youngest was seven years old. My mother stayed with the children. Nobody expected; we would have known that [if she] would have taken another wagon or something. We would have gone. Nobody thought that its gonna be what happened, really. She had three children. My aunt had also three children, so she didnt go, either. Of course, my grandparents didnt go. And there were another bunch of families. They had about 100 people in that city which were related one way or the other. Some went to Israel before the tragedy, and some stayed there. The way I understand, nobodynobodycame alive from the entire group of people, the entire group of people. So, it was justreally, it was my mothers intuition. She mustI dont know. I guess its Gods will; thats the only thing which I can think. She sent me, and I made it through that ordeal.
We were fourteen people there on that wagon, back and forth. One of my uncles, which was an accountant before the war in Polandactually, in Upper Silesia there. He was fluent in German and Polish. Again, you know, a younger guy he picked up was a Russian, so the Russian right away didnt let him go, didnt let him go to Siberia. They put a special mark on him, and he stayed. From time to time, we were able to get, like, letters or something like that, brought only from the occupied territory, not from over the border. So, my uncle sent us letters. In one letter, secretly, in Yiddish and whateverI did not read the letter, but my uncle did. He said, I wish I would have been with you, because they already saw that something will not be kosher between Germany and Russia. They already saw that. Of course, unfortunately, he and a five year old boy and his wife did not make it.
The five year old boy is a tragic event, what happened to him. My auntthey had friends, and they paid the friends a lot of money to take that little boy as a Christian child and save him, and when they will come backwhen they will come back, or anybody of the family. There were agreements, signed agreements, and everything. This bastard took the money, and she called the police. Theres a Jewish child here. The Germans found him. He was such an adorable little kid, six years old with blond hair. He didnt even look like a Jewish guy, because the father was blond and blue-eyed, and the mother the same thing. Unfortunately, thats what happened. I found this thing out later, after the war, what happened to this child.
MH: So, now youre in Upperyoure in Siberia.
BS: In Siberia. We were there
MH: What happens next to you?
BS: Next thing: We stayed there till the war broke out between Germany and Russia. That was June 1941. A couple months later, the United States stepped in, made agreement, a non-aggression agreement, with Russia; and so did Britain, and so didat that time, they had a Polish government in exile. General [Wadysaw] Sikorski, he took over the military stuff, and he was a general before the war, actually. So, he was the man, the highest position, which he had, and they made him the commander-in-chief of the Polish Army and thats it.
Sikorski was the commander-in-chief of the Polish Armed Forces in the West, which was first organized in France after the fall of Poland in 1939. After the Battle of France, he evacuated many Polish troops to Britain, forming the Polish I Corps in the West.
They did not have any presidency or something like that. He was the signer of that one agreement that all Polish citizens, regardless who they were
The Sikorski-Mayski Agreement (1941), which released Storch and the other Polish prisoners being held in the Soviet Union; it also negated the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of neutrality between Germany and the Soviet Union.
because there were a lot of Jewish; there were about 130,000. I wish there would be more, but 130,000. Only peoplethey took only people which came from the other side of the border: thats why it was so little. The locals they did not take, because they automatically became citizens. Automatically, in the territory, as soon as the Russians put their foot down, everybody was a Russian citizen.
The younger guys they took to the army, right to the Russian Army, a couple of them which I knew here. Unfortunately, one of them passed away just now, but thats what happened with him. They took him to the army because he was from that area, from the occupied area, and they considered themselves citizens. We were outsiders, so they didnt. Thats the reason there were only 130,000at my estimation, it was probably even less than that, but that was my estimation, 130,000 which I saw. But, yeah, that was in 1941, and about November, in about November, the army started to organize.
The Polish Armed Forces in the East, also known as Anders Army, parts of which eventually became the Polish II Corps.
The first division they started in November and they concluded, I think, the [last] two divisions in March of 1942, 1942. That was the 5th and the 6th [Polish Infantry] Divisions.
MH: Of the?
BS: Polish army.
MH: Polish army. Okay.
BS: Of the Polish army. Those two divisions, the 5th and the 6th, were under the command of General Wadysawoh, what the hell is his name? It will come to me.
BS: Anders, General Anders. General Anders. As a matter of fact, I have a book from him somewhere. General Anders was a general before the war, and he served on that front. He became a prisoner of war with many thousands of other Polish soldiers that [were] caught and became prisoners of war. As a matter of fact, General Anders and, later, General [Zygmunt] Berling, which became the leader of the 1st Polish Division.
Of the Polish First Army, which was formed in the Soviet Union in 1944 and operated under the Red Army: most of the soldiers were deported Poles, while a large percentage of the officers were Soviets.
Both of those guys, including some (inaudible), are the high officers. They were all in Katyn Forest, you know; thats a labor camp. I dont know if you remember, if you know the story about the Katyn Forest. Okay, can I tell you right now?
BS: Okay. Katyn Forest was not far away, really, from Smolensk, which is like central Byelorussia; and not far away from Poland, really, when you count the miles, except it was in an area, a forested area. What happened is that they caught the prisoners, about four thousand of them, maybe four thousand or five thousand prisoners. Only officers; soldiers they didnt put there. Soldiers they sent away to regular labor camps. Only high officers, including doctors. Among them, there were over seven hundred Jews there, because every Jew who was a doctor or lawyer immediately was an officer. They started with lieutenants, and they didnt go higher than a captain, really. So, all those people were arrested for the Katyn Forest, down there. There were other camps, also. There were three camps: Buzuluk; another one with K, I forgot the name; and the most famous is that Katyn Forest. We did not know then what happened to those people. We knew only thatoh, yeah.
So, because the Russians had something in their mind, they let Anders out, and they let my general out with quite a few othernot so much generals, but high officersout from the jail and they put them on educations. Altogether, close to 500 people: 490-some people like that, 495. The Russians had something in mind already then, creation [of] something. They knew how many people they had. Unfortunately, somebody messed upaccording to later; we can see it now. Not before; you can see it now. Somebody laterI mean, before thatand they blamed Stalinnot Stalin, but the NKVD then blamed that guy, Lavrentiy Beria.
MH: Beria, yeah.
BS: Yeah. They blamed him, and supposedly he disobeyed the order or he made a mistake that they started shooting all those officers, and they shot them in 1940. We could not believe, after we found out. We knew the officers in Poland, but we had a problem. When we were organizingand the 5th and the 6th Division, those people Anders knew, Sikorski knew the people which were there. And all of a sudden, everybodys coming in. Where are those people? So, after those two divisions were organized, Sikorski and Anders started to make a fuss. He said, Whats the matter with those people? We dont have enough officers. Where are those officers? And they were giving their names and everything. Unfortunately, the Russians did not come through. He said, Oh, theyre probably in a different camp, or something like that. They just did not want to admit anything. But the fact is, in 1940, those people were shot. There were close to eleven thousand high officers, people who were shot.
MH: Eleven thousand?
BS: Eleven thousand.
BS: Eleven thousand, altogether from the different camps. Thats what the story tells us. We did not know. So, that was it. As luck gets it, when II will come back to that later, how I got that. As luck gets it, when we came back from our first assignment, we stayed stationed there. The territory was just taken away from the Germans about ten days ago prior to that, our arriving. We stationed there for recuperation and for the resupplying from our attack twenty kilometers away. When January came, January came 1944, a delegation from each unit were delegated to come and seeyou know, the Russians opened up this campand go see what the Germans did. You know what I mean.
BS: So we went, and the parade was parading and everything else. My lieutenant found one of hisit was just from the names on the wall, which they stated that he died in that camp, and he was from a school. He was a lieutenant from a school like West Point here. He was the commander of the thing. So, thats what happened to those officers. And because of that, a drift ran up when they had these two divisions. Those two divisions went in 1942. There was only one thing with those two divisions: They had a quarter are Jewish soldiers, because they wanted to take outfirst of all, the majority were Poles, and they wanted to take out as many Poles as possible. Each soldier which had a familyyou know, a mother or somebody left, or a wife or whateverwas allowed to go together with the soldiers. So, those soldiers eventually, in 1942, were able to go out to Iran. From Iran they went to Palestine; from Palestine they went to England, and of course they fought on the Western Front.
These were the divisions of the Anders Army. Once they got to Iran they were under British authority and eventually joined the Polish Armed Forces in the West. Most of the Jewish soldiers deserted in Palestine.
Among the people, a very famous one, Menachem Begin. He was only about two hundred kilometers from my camp, and he was able to get out from there. But he dropped his uniform when he came to Israel. He dropped the uniform and he became what he became.
Prime Minister of Israel from 1977 to 1983.
There were a couple of other good people there. There was, as a matter of fact, my professor of religion, because he was a professor. He was a soldier; you know, in Poland, everybody served, Jews or not. And he was a high officer, because of his professorship. So, he was also; he was together with me in the camp, actually, and he was able to get out because of his rank and of his name and whatever it is. He survived; eventually he stayed in Palestine.
MH: How long do you stay in Siberia?
BS: In Siberia, we stayed until we got freed from them after they think, you know. That was in 1941. November 1941, we were free. November 1941, we were free. We had absolutely no maps, no nothing. We had absolutely no idea where to go, but we were free. They did notwe had a piece of paper, and thats it, from the government. We didnt pay for any transportation whatsoever to go.
So, we went. We went, and we went on the Volga [River]. We found out that theres a German republic on the Volga.
The Volga German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic; the land is now part of Saratov Oblast.
You know, you try to get to your own people, and we knew that thats a very good republic there. They did very well. The name of it isthe main city is Engels. Engels is on the Volga, and its between Saratov and Kuybyshev, closer to Saratov than Kuybyshev. Thats the capital city, Engels. It was named simply German Republic, thats all. In Russia you had all kind of republics, if there were enough people. There were about a million and a half people living in that area there. So, we went there.
When we arrived thereit took us a while with the train, and then with a ship and all kind of stuff, but we got there. When we got there, there wasnt a soul in the city, not one single soul. The reason for it was because the Russians suspected them of being [spies] and reporting to the Germans. We didnt know where Engels is. If you dont have a map, you really dont know. It happens to be that Engels was only two hundred kilometers from Stalingrad. (laughs) You know. So, that was the reason that they also got them resettled [in 1941], and they got them resettled all over, in Kazakhstanthose Germans, I mean. So, we saw that.
Of course, we went to the headquarters there: we have to sleep over. Even so, we didnt have any children, but we have to sleep over somewhere. They didnt mind; they said, Take any house you want, but of course you cannot stay here because its a restricted area. He said, Why dont you go back to Kuybyshev? Kuybyshev, you know, is a big city not far away. So, we proceeded to that, and in Kuybyshev, they did designate a village where we can go, and they did assign us a house and everything else. And jobs were available in my profession, no problem, so we got the jobs there. And we stayed there, but it was a horrible place. It was a house which was made from cow manure and lime, cow manure and lime. We had no idea, you know, and it was already full. When its raining, the stink developed gases, and the gases came in. We had no idea. Maybe thats why this house was empty, I dont know.
So, myself and my brother-in-lawmy uncle. My uncle went to work, and one night we come and everybody was asleep all day. They had absolutely no idea whats going on. If we wouldnt have come in, they would have all died there, and we had no idea. You have to have the windows open, becausebut nobody told us that. So, thank God. We called up the ambulance, the Russian ambulance came, they took the people to the hospital, and got everybody recuperated from it.
MH: From just the stink from the house?
BS: Its not the stink.
MH: Its gas?
BS: Gas, a regular gas. We had no idea. Its a regular gas, and it was choking them. So, that was the end of it. We didnt want to stay there any longer, so we tried to get to a warmer place. Uzbekistan was the warmer place. So, we traveled again, mostly transport plane. They did not give you any provision. If you wanted to eat, you had to gowherever they stopped, you had to go outside and actually beg for the food. Or, if you have two shirts, you trade one in. Anything, they took anything, the farmers. We didnt have any money, because there was no money there. We didnt have it. So, whatever we had we traded so we came.
We cameeventually, after ten days, we came to Uzbekistan, in Tashkent. Tashkent was so full of people, immigrants: people from the eastern part of Russia and Ukraine and White Russia. They all went there. Unfortunately, no room to sleep. Everybody was sleeping on the floor, on the streets. SomehowI dont know how it happenedthey sent us to a farm away, about three hundred kilometers away, closer to the Iranian borders. Not to Namangan, you know, that area there. Kin Kolkhoz was the farm; thats the name, Kin Kolkhoz. Kolkhoz is a farm, Kin is the name. And again, those were Uzbeks. Uzbeks did not speak Russian, again. They hated the Russians with passion, so they didnt speak any Russian. But their leader always spoke Russian, you know, not a lot but spoke. There was also no room, but he had a big office, so he did allow us to sleep in one of the offices. There were no beds there, of course, so they had some, like, extra doors: we put the doors on the floor and put some straw, you know, and covered up with some kind of fabric. And that was our sleeping facility, and we slept there.
Then, a couple of months later, I registered to the Anders Army and moved over there. (inaudible), a couple of miles away. So, I registered to the army there, to get into the thing, and I got admitted, okay, and they had a quota. Thats it, and they just told methey even cut my hair. They told me that they will let me know, they will send me a message; there were no telephones, but theyll send me a message. They never did. They moved out, the division moved out. 2nd Division moved out from there, and they never did.
The reason was that Stalin didnt want to have anything to do with it, because first of all, Sikorski started to make force. Where are those officers? We need officers, and we dont have them. Where are they? And Stalin saidhe never told them the truth. The truth only came out when [Mikhail] Gorbachev took over, and by the end of his term, he told themhe opened up the file, everything; you can read it. I didnt read, but you can open up the file and they admitted that the Russians did that thing here. So, there was a drift between those two factions, between that and that. They moved those two divisions, and Stalin said, No more, no more.
General Berling, which at that time was a full colonel, he was the chief of staff of the 5th Division, decidedand he was not a communist or something like that. He was not a communist at all. Born in Krakw, and he was not Jewish. Berling sounds Jewish, but he was not. He was not; [he was] a Christian. He decided to stay there, and there were a couple of other people. The other people were political, some of them, like Wanda Wasilewska, which was a big writer in Poland, a very known writer, but she was on the left.
They started to organize the militarybut the soldiers were not on the left, just the top leadership there. And they started to organize, with the blessing of Stalin, the division. The division was the 1st Infantry Division, and they named it Tadeusz Kociuszko. Thats Kociuszko, you know, the big
BS: Polish hero. And that was it. We started as a division, and the division at that time, when it was completedit was completed in September. There were 12,500 people.
MH: These are all Poles?
BS: All Poles and Jews, everybody which was living in Poland, even Ukrainian.
MH: Right. So, theres twelve thousand?
BS: Twelve and a half thousand in the 1st Division.
MH: In the 1st Division. And this is Polish Army Division?
BS: Strictly Polish Army.
MH: Attached to the Russian Army.
BS: Attached to the Russian, White Russian front. We had the White Russian front from here all the way down to Warsaw, and from Warsaw all the way down through Berlin.
MH: Okay. So, at what pointthey give you rifles and?
MH: And uniforms?
BS: Uniforms, I will describe to you. We got uniforms. They were a little bit shabby. I dont know where those uniforms were made. We didnt get the shoes in the beginning, because there was no shoes. There was a shortage of shoes, can you imagine? So, everybody was wearing the shoes which [they] came with. I had boots, custom made boots; one of the Jewish guys was a shoemaker when I was free already, so I made him pants and he made me shoes. So, its a good trade, and the shoes did last, did last for a couple of months, because you know in the army you go in the territory, which we were. It was not pretty, you know what I mean? Water and everything else.
Eventually, they went, but we received shoes. We received in winter. Shoes are only good, you know, in the spring and up to the fall. Later, you cannot wear leather there. We had different shoes, which were strictly for winter when the rain stopped. If the rain is there, forget about it. It was wool, pressed wool, animal wool. They pressed it: they pressed it about three-quarters of an inch thick like that. They didnt have leather soles or something. Everything is from one piece, no seam. I dont know how they make them. No seam, one piece, and they were so warm. You have no idea. And thats why the Russian Army won the war from the Germans, because of the shoes, because the Germans froze. Yeah, they had a lot of casualties: they froze to death.
MH: Froze their feet off.
BS: So, we had that.
MH: At what point does this army begin to come back into Poland?
BS: Well, let meyeah. So, we started. We startedthe organization started in May. I was there and I was taken to the 2nd Infantry Regiment, infantry regiment, and I was assigned to theGod, whats the name of this thing? Mortar, 82 mortar.
MH: 82mm mortars.
BS: Mortars, exactly. 82mm. I was assigned to that. They had three guys do it, and they had three different parts. Each one carries their own parts. My part was something like twenty kilograms, because I was the shortest guy, so I had the least one.
MH: Youre carrying what, the base plate or the legs?
BS: No, not even the legs. The legs are even higher. No, it was the tube.
MH: The tube, okay.
BS: Twenty kilograms or something. No, altogether the plate was the highest one. I think it was like thirty-two kilograms, and with that, you still had to have your automatic gun and everything else. So, we started with that in May, and started right away to mortar company and everything, started to practice with everything.
MH: This is nineteen forty?
BS: This is 1943.
MH: Forty-three .
BS: Nineteen forty-three, yeah. Nineteen forty-three.
MH: Do you know, at this point, what the Germans, what the Nazis, had done to the Jews?
MH: And you know nothing about the camps?
BS: Nothing about the camps, nothing about the camps, nothing. My mother could not say anything, because when I received the postal card from my mothertwo of them I received; I wish I had em. Two of them I received, and she simply saidshe asked me if I wanted anything, and she stated simply, writing in Polish, that everybodys okay, there were no ghettos yet. The ghettos started in 1942; in August, actually, it started. And, you know, that everything is still okay, everybodys fine, were living fine, and she asked me if she can send me a package. I said, No, I have I was starving. I have everything here, because I knew they would not let it through. They would not let it through, and if I would sendif I would tell her on that card, Send me this and that, that card would have never reached my mother. So, I didnt say. No, Im doing fine; we have everything. Yeah. So, we had no idea about the camps at all. Nothing, nothing. So, we started with the thing and practicing everything.
In June, I was recommended for the non-commission academy, you know, academy. I didnt go out; it was right in the field. We didnt have any buildings, just huts, huts in the forest, because the Germans were driving back and forth from there. So, we had to hide everything there. Near the Oka Riverthats a big river, Oka, which flows through there and goes through Moscow and everything else. Its right there, right on the Oka. When we went washing in the morning, six oclock in the morning, [we went] to the Oka River. Bodies were floating on the Oka River and everything, becauseas a matter of fact, the Russians set up like a hospital, a field hospital, and the guys, the doctors, were practicing. They were catching the bodies. No, seriously. They were bringing the bodies there and they were teaching them how to operate on this, how to take this out and that out.
MH: On the dead bodies.
BS: On the dead bodies, yeah. On the dead bodies, not on the live ones; we did not have any live ones. On the dead bodies they were doing it. I saw it myself. I saw it myself. We stayed there until July. July was the swearing-in ceremony, with a big, big thing with the flags decorated from the United States and Britain and France and Czechoslovakia, because Czechoslovakia was also under the occupation and friendly to the East and to the West. Romania was not there, because they were not friendly yet. Czechoslovakia and Poland, and Poland has its eagle. And with a priest which [performed] the swearing-in ceremony, you know. Polands a Catholic country, so we had a priest. The Jews didnt stay for that; they were there, but they didnt do anything. We had a chaplain. We had a young chaplain; the name was Herschel Szada. He came from city Lublin, just from Lublin: a young fellow. And we had him till October, till October 12, 1943. That was our first engagement against the German army, because we moved out from there.
From the swearing-in ceremony we went home, again practice until September first. On September first, we started out on foot with the army. The whole division started out on foot. And, of course, if you have the jeep you go with the jeep. At that time we had the American trucks, because we got them from the United States, Lend-Lease, and we had the big Studebakers, Studebakers and Buicks, big ones. Big ones, and they were pulling the cannon because at that timeat that time, you know, everything was still horses, except the artillery, heavy artillery. The heavy artillery, 122, had to have those big trucks. But we, as infantryI was still in the infantry, so I had no problem. I had to ride with a jeep or something like that, because I was a sergeant. We had a couple jeeps. One of the squadswhat do you call them? They go and spotthe spotters. The spotters had a jeep, the telephone company had a jeep, and the officers and non-officers had jeeps. So, that was going on like that.
We got to the front line and set up, and sat there for two weeks. Nothing happened, so were just observing everything. Finally, on the twelfth, on the twelfth of October 1943, we got this assignment in that one particular area. It was a very bad area as far as the territory: it was marshland. Thats, you knowthose marshlands go all the way down to Poland to Gdask, believe it or not. Those marshlands go over. Yeah, those were bad marshlands. We couldnt use any heavy tanks, we couldnt use tanks; we had tanks, but we couldnt use them. We were assigned one territory. Whats the name of that division? I forgot the division which was assigned to Russia. 42nd Division, and the other one is two hundred-something, Russian division. One was on the right, one was on the left, we were in the middle, and each one had their own territory to grab.
We had orders to, if possible, to go over the seven kilometers. Unfortunately, we didnt. We took our assignment correctly. We were supposed to have three hills, you know, everybody has a hill. Three hills, you remember hills? In Vietnam they had hills. We had hills, three hills, so we took the hills. We took the hills, we took three rivers, crossed the three rivers and everything else, advanced five kilometers. My 2nd Regiment advanced five kilometers. The other one advanced three, the next one advanced two. We suffered tremendous losses, but when youre attacking you always lose more people.
MH: Right. And youre facing German artillery?
BS: German artillery, yeah.
MH: And planes?
BS: And planes and everything else. I mean, we were alsothe Russian planes were also flying there, but meanwhile, we were getting hit left and right through the night and everything else. We had casualties: we had over three thousand casualties in only two and a half days.
MH: Were you hit?
BS: No. I was not hit at all during the entire war. I was not hit. I got it in Berlin, a shrapnel sting, but they did not penetrate. They penetrated the uniform, it damaged my uniform, but I had wadding. Being a tailor, you know, when we stayed on the other side of Warsaw in 1944, I had time to make myself a uniform because it was a post between September and January; there was a post. And I had good contacts, and I made myself a uniform, and my commanding officer a uniform, with cotton inside, because I hated to carry the coat, so that was warm. I had to find the fabric from a dead soldier, from anot a uniform, but from coats: got a couple of coats and got a uniform.
So, that was my first assignment. I lost twenty-four people. I lost twenty-four people in my unit. The regiment itself lost over nine hundred people, casualtiesthe regiment, mind you. There was almost nothing left from the regiment. Nine hundred people were wounded and all kind of stuff. Dead, 526 from the thing, from the entire division, 526. Among them, after, I found outyou dont know that till laterI found out that we lost that chaplain of ours, so we got stuck without a chaplain. But everybody knew.
You know, I was pretty good with religion, and I knew the stuff. I even had my tefillin with me. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. In Polish Army you could practice your religion; they didnt stop you. The Russians didnt stop you. The gentiles had no problem. Every morning and every night they had a prayer. Nobody bothered them; it was allowed. Nobody bothered them. And the guys, the Jewish guys like myself, you know, because of my fathers death, I knew. I was fresh from Hebrew school at that time, so I knew Hebrew. So, whatever we could; you know, you didnt go through the entire stuff. Whatever you could, you said, and you were happy with that.
So, we continued like that. At the end, we moved out the way I mentioned to you, twenty kilometers through a forest, twenty kilometers from Katyn. By January 1945, the whole division was equipped again, full with soldiers and everything, and a second division joined us. So, we had already two divisions then.
MH: When didwas the first camp liberated?
BS: Im coming. The first camp was liberated in July.
BS: The first one
MH: Of forty-four ?
BS: July of forty-four , yeah. The very first one, actuallywell, we went, actually, we crossed over to the Polish border in June, through Kowal, Kowal, and then the other way to Lublin. So, we crossed already in June, but we found ourselves in July in a territorynot a territory, really; its a village. Its a forestry village of Sobibr. Now, Sobibryou know, we had no idea what Sobibr is. We would have never found it. But there was this one guy telling us that down there, about five kilometers away in the forest, there is a camp. And you couldnt know where that thing is. He said, Follow the railroad track, and its gonna bring you. So, he brought us, and there was a little stop and there were signs, Sobibr. No idea what Sobibr is. But the guy just simply said, They were killing Jews there, and Russian soldiers.
MH: Who told you this?
BS: This guy, this Polish guy.
MH: A Polish guy. Sobibr, S-o-b-i-b-o-r?
BS: Yeah, S-o-b-i-b-o-r, Sobibr. Yeah. Again, thats a Polish person [who] told us that: down there, follow the tracks down there, youre gonna go about five miles. You will see theres a forest there, and there was a camp. Now the Jews are buried there. They had the Jewish people there, strictly Jewish people there; they did not have any Christians in Sobibr, cause that was an early camp. There were nothey couldnt burn the people in crematoriums. There were no crematoriums in Sobibr. There were no crematoriums there. Those people, unfortunately, were only shot, shot to death with a special firing squad there, and buried. Later, they started to burn them in the graves. They buried them there.
MH: So, you gotyour unit went to Sobibr.
BS: We went through Sobibr, and we went there [to the camp].
MH: Tell me what you see.
BS: Just little trees. There was nothing there except little trees planted. There were no camp things at all. What happened is October 12 or 13, 1943this I know from reading, and I met a couple people which were there in Sobibr. It was a regular camp, a big camp, really one of the first ones, before Majdanek. They also had prisoners of war, Russian prisoners. Lately, they took prisoners of war. It was not long being there. I think it started in late 1942, and it was built actually by the Jewish people. You know, they hired the Jewish people to build this thing. They didnt get paid, you know, theyre prisoners. And the Polish guys and whatever it is, and they built that camp there. In the beginning, were only Jews there in Sobibr; and the Jews from Holland were also brought to Sobibr, and from other European countries. All told which people died therethere are many statements how many died, but the closest was something like eight hundred thousand-plus.
BS is thinking of Treblinka, where over 800,000 prisoners were killed. At Sobibr, estimates are 200,000 to 250,000.
BS: Died there.
MH: When you got there, you said nothing was there.
BS: Nothing was there.
MH: Were the railroad tracks still there?
BS: The railroad track was there, and the sign Sobibr was there, and that was it.
MH: Empty fields?
BS: Empty field, because that railroad track, believe it or not, was not made specifically for the Jews. That railroad track was made for the forest trees, but then the Germans confiscated the place because there was nothing there, nobody could see anything. It was great. Farmers were still there, farmers were still there. So, thats what it was. And what they did, the Germans did, to hide the evidence: they planted trees on it. Theyre huge, huge now, even. They planted those trees. I dont know, I suppose they removed the trees.
MH: Did you dig for bodies? Did you
BS: No. We had no idea of it then, about concentration camps, and as a soldier it just was not our job.
MH: And you were still moving.
BS: We were moving. We were moving. We were there and didnt spend more than half an hour. There was nobody to talk to. There was nobody. Not more than a half an hour.
MH: Except that this Polish peasant told you they were killing Jews there.
BS: We would never have found it. They were killing Jews. Thats all. That was the end of it. We would have never found that place. So, from there, we were going to Lublin, because that was our object. Straight from there, the following day, we came to Lublin. It was not in Lublin itself, it was before Lublin. It was like two miles away from Lublin. There was a camp, also without our knowledge. There was a camp. We came to this camp, and there was nobody there.
MH: Which camp was this?
BS: Majdanek. Majdanek. That camp was a huge camp; it still is, still today. I never went back to that camp, even though I was stationed about seventy kilometers away from it, because my regiment was stationed [there] after the war.
MH: What did you see in Majdanek?
BS: This camp was complete, complete. The doors were not even locked: the doors were open, and there was no lock on the door. We didnt have to break in or anything. We just walked in, drove in with the artillery through it. At that time, I was already in artillery. I switched to artillery in November of 1943, and I was in charge of one of those howitzer cannons, 122mm howitzer cannon. In Majdanek itself, what did I see? First of all, we went in and saw the gas chambers. There was still nobody told us what it is. We had no idea. We thought it was a factory. We saw the gas chamber, but the gas chamber didnt look like anything special.
MH: What did it look like?
BS: Well, first of all, it was brick, brick everything. There were about six of them. They had benches on the side, but there were no marks, no nothing. I couldnt see even any blood on the floor. But there was a skylight, you know, in the ceiling, and these skylights actually were for the SS guys to check, or whoever was in charge of it, to check if the people were really dead. It looks as if theyre going to a shower. It says Bad und Desinfektion, that sign was saying. Bad und Desinfektion, that means taking a bath in sanitary confine. So, everybody was thinking theyre going there, except for the people there which knew about it. Nobody knew, nobody knew. So, they went in there, and there were steel doorsI remember thisheavy steel doors. And I remember the skylight, and I remember the shower heads and the benches. There was no light, no electricity inside, and it was dark. With the skylights, of course, light came in.
MH: You walked into them?
BS: Yeah, we walked in. Nothing was locked. And there were six of them or something like that. A quarter mile farther down the road were the crematoriums.
MH: Now, were there any SS, any?
BS: Ill come to that.
MH: Okay. Sorry.
BS: So, we went through this crematorium there. There were also six crematoriums. I thought it was seven, but it was only six. It turned out to be only six. And in the crematorium, of course, you sawand still, nobody was there to tell us anything. But we saw some parts of human bodies, like bones and everything, so we started to think about it. We said, It couldnt be. You see, in Poland, even in Poland they did not cremate any people, because the Catholics dont cremate people. You know what I mean? So, nobody thought. We said, What the hell is going on here? Finally, somebody from the outside showed up, and he told us that this is a death camp.
MH: Who was this person that told you?
BS: A lieutenant, one of the lieutenants. This is a death camp. Nobody told us before to be prepared for it.
MH: How old are you?
BS: At that point, I was about twenty-one, twenty years old, about twenty years. Yeah, twenty years, twenty years. Maybe a little bit older.
MH: And nobody prepared you for what?
BS: No, zero. I cant figure this out. I cant figure out that, and I also cannot figure out here in the United States that our soldiers have the same problem. Nobody told them.
MH: Nobody told them.
BS: Yeah, nobody told them. What the hell? And they knew about it. In Majdanek, they knew about it. The government knew about it. But I was there before maybe the government knew about it, sort of, but officially the government knew. That was 1944. All the camps were liberated 1945. Those two camps, Sobibr and Majdanek, was liberated in 1944. The rest were liberated later. Treblinka
MH: When you got to Majdanek, again, no people?
BS: No people, except six SS people, which did not have any time to escape. They were hiding.
MH: Whered you find them?
BS: In one of thesomehow, in one of the barracks or something like that. But they had no idea. They were hiding, and they couldnt escape. What happened in Majdanek, it is very hard to figure out the Germans altogether. Im not talking Germans, you know, soldiers or something like that, because they have nothing to do. They have a rifle and he goes and shoots. But the upper class, what they did is they transported from every (inaudible) camps people, like they transported people when Sobibr was demolished, took everyone who ever was alive, still alive. They didnt send them home, they sent them to Majdanek. When the Russian Army and our army was approaching Majdanek, they sent them out to Auschwitz, all the people from Majdanek which were alive. Jewish people were sent to Auschwitz. Some of them survived, and some ofI met people which were in Majdanek, and they survived. From Majdanek they went to a different camp.
MH: the mentality that says, We have to move these people to kill them somewhere else.
BS: To kill them somewhere else, but to kill them. But to kill them, but to kill them. All those people in Auschwitz were supposed to have been killed, but there was a time that the Germans couldnt do it.
MH: So, they moved them from Auschwitz to Buchenwald.
BS: Yeah, to Buchenwald, to Sachsenhausen, the last camp which I will tell you about. From Sachsenhausen they sent them to Bergen-Belsen, to all different camps: to Austria to that camp, to the Czechoslovakian camp. They sent them away from the Russians to the West. That was the politics of them, and I cannot figure out. So, what happened is there were soldiers, German soldiers, which fell in our hands because they did not have any transportation. The transportation was strictly designed for the Jews. The Jews are the priority. Now, its mind-boggling. Usually, you try to save your people first. The Jews will die of the gas. No, for the Germans, for the Nazis, that was the main subject. The Jews have to be destroyed. So, thats the reason we couldnt find anything in Poland, nothing in Poland.
MH: What did you do with those six SS?
BS: Oh, they reported them. I mean, it was not my job to arrest them. And they were after the wara year after the war they were hung, all six of them. They were two Polish collaborators, which were probably the Polish collaborators; they were probably half Nazis, half Germans which were living there. They were all hung: this I found out after the war, that they were hung.
MH: So, now youve been to Sobibr and Majdanek.
BS: We went to Sobibr, we went to Majdanek, and were going straight. In 1944, we wind upin August 1944, we came to a town by the name of Praga Warszawska, which is on the right bank of River Vistula, right across Warsaw, and we stopped there. Why we stopped, I dont know. In my estimation, if we would have proceeded, I think Warsaw would have been liberated right then and there, honest to God, because they were on the run. Its true that we had an awful lot of casualties; we really had an awful lot of casualties. So did the Germans. The Russians had an awful lot of casualties, thats true. The supply linewe were overextended, also. The supply line was way in the back, and we were way in the front. I understand all those things, but I think, I really think, at this point it would have been more important to go straight ahead over the river. We would have made it; we really would have made it.
One town was taken by our 3rd Division, but they couldnt hold it, they could not hold it, and it was on the other side. That was on the other side of the river already, but they couldnt hold it because the pressure was too much. I also volunteered to go across, and I volunteered because there were nine other people and the reason why they volunteered methey volunteered me. You know, in the army you dont raise your hand. You and you and you, then. (laughs) And because I knew the language, you know. We were supposed to have gone over the river and catch a German and bring him home and ask him questions. It is not so easy to go over Vistula River: its a very wide river, especially when they have big fortifications and everything.
But we volunteered, and were supposed to have gone. Unfortunately, there was an attack on our 2nd Regiment, and my cannon was the number two battery which supported the 2nd Regiment. So, we had to go. There were only nine people, including my captain, with this thing here. You know, that was the last day. The following day we were supposed to have crossed. I think that was a blessing. I dont think we would have made it, honest to God. No way you can make it. No way you can make it. I lost two guys from theone of them was in my camp, as a matter of fact, and his brother. His brother was in a different camp, but then when everything smoothed down, softened out, he was able to rejoin his parents. That was his older brother; he got killed. He got killed going over that river there, and the other one lost a leg. Young guy, you know. The guy with the leg was my age; the other one was two years older than him.
So, that was the end of Majdanek. What we saw there, again, is horrible things, because there you had this oven and you had the bones and you had the everything. Then you go back to the side, and you see that huge mountain of ash, and you dont think that that is ash. One thing which struck me, myself, is when I was walking through the grounds. You know, theres grass when we are walking through the grounds. And our shoes are black shoes. All of a sudden, the shoes became whitewhite! And we look at this ash and it was white. That ash was white, light grayish white. For some reason, we couldnt figure out what it is. What happened is, we were told later, that the dust which we had on our shoes actually came from that, because when the winter came and the wind was blowing, it was not secured. So, the wind was blowing. Not only that, it was fertilizing the fields there. The grass was so gorgeous, because it was fed with bone meal, and the vegetation and everything. There was this garden; the commandant had a beautiful garden there. Everything was
We were pretty hard soldiers to that point. We knew whats going on. Every one of them, the Jewswe were only nine Jewish guys in our battery. The battery consisted of eighty-eight people, and the rest were Christians. We had a couple of Ukrainian guys, born in Poland and everything else. We had a couple guys from White Russia, same thing. You know, playing like us, talking Polish. Of course, they were also talking like we talk in Jewish: they were talking Ukrainian and singing Ukrainian songs and everything else. But it was absolutely horrible. It was absolutely horrible.
MH: What other rooms did they have? They had the suitcases, they had the utensils.
BS: The suitcases, and then of course, of course, and they had the clothing, mens and ladies. Then they had the shoes; the shoes were sorted out. They had eyeglasses, you know, all kind of stuff from people which they took away. And they had these shoes. The shoes were sorted out. The same shoes came from Majdanek to our Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. In the museum, I saw them: theyre laying on the ground. When I saw those shoes, they were neatly sorted outmens, womens, and childrenand they were in a big storage room. The doors were not locked doors; they were wire, like
MH: Like mesh.
BS: Mesh wire, right, and that was the doors. You could see everything. Besides, they were open, the doors were open; you could have gone in and take a picture.
MH: Thousands of pairs?
BS: (whispers) Thousands of pairs. Thousands of pairs.
MH: How big is the room with the shoes?
BS: Huge. Huge room. Its a storageits like a warehouse. Its a warehouse. Its not like a regular room, like this thing here. A warehouse, construction warehouse, with open screen so you can see.
MH: When you see this, what thoughts go through your head then?
BS: Thatsespecially in my head and the other guys, because they leftthey had families with them in Russia and everything else. In my head, I said, My God, I hope my brothers shoes are not there, my mothers dress is not there, my grandmothers is not there, and my uncles and my aunts and everything else, and my grandfather. Thats what went [through my head]. I hope. Can they be? I hope theyre not from me. And believe it or not, my mother went to a camp, which is not far away from there, according to the witnesses. I dont have yetto this day, I dont have the facts yet. But from the witnesses, I know that she went to a small camp, at which over four hundred thousand people died, by the name of Beec. Remember Bessarabia, you know about that stuff? The Orthodox rabbis there, that was an Orthodox town, and they created a camp there. They created a camp there, and thats what I was told, that the people from my area went to that. And this is according to the history books, when you read; [the books] also tell you the same.
MH: Your area, though, would have been closer to Auschwitz.
BS: No, it was not. Well, it would have been, but it is alsowhen youre to the other side, its almost the same direction. But Auschwitz could not take everybody. Majdanek was not completed yet. Beec was completed right after Sobibr, so thats why. And it was not a big camp. They did notits the same thing again. They were practicing in Beec: they were practicing with the gas. They had the gas chamber, but they did not have any crematoriums. Again, they did not. It was absolutely awful. I learned it through the books, as the books are writing. They put so many people, and they put the lime and everything else on top of those people. They put so many people in that when came the hot water, the thing started to grow up. They had to take the bodies out and put it in a different grave. Who did it? I dont know. The bodies were overflowing, because there were too many bodies in this thing here. It was fermenting, like bread.
Later, because I found out later that my mother could have been there, my aunt could have been there. According to the witness, my three brothers went to Auschwitz, and I know that from one of the girls, which was a very close girl to myI know the family and everything else, Schneider, and I met her after the war, right in Bochnia. She just came from Auschwitz, wouldnt recognize the girl. No hair, no nothing, you know. She just came.
BS: Majdanek, yeah.
MH: Majdanek, how much time do you spend in Majdanek? It sounds like you spend more than in Sobibr.
BS: About forty-five minutes.
MH: Thats it?
BS: Thats it. Thats it. There was no time to think. You went here, you went there, and you make a U-turn and go out.
MH: Was there time to cry?
BS: Oh, yeah, we did. We cried. First of all, I said Kaddish. We had nine boys, and I didnt care. Im pretty sure there were some more Jewish guys there, with a different unit or something. I said Kaddish, yeah. I knew Kaddish from heart; I didnt need a book for that. Yeah, I said Kaddish. The gentile guys knelt on the floor and prayed themselves. No problem with that. Oh, yeah, we did. That was the first thing which we did, really, on that big pile of bushes, of ash. Thats where we said our prayers. Yeah, the tears came to our eyes. Believe it or not, thats the first time in my life.
MH: First time?
BS: First time, yeah. First time during the war
MH: During the war.
BS: because there were plenty of times to cry in the war, right? But I didnt. This is the first time during the war. I saw so many gravesites in Russia. You know, you have no idea what was going on in Russia, because they did not have any concentration camps there, but they onlykillings, killings in ravines, one after another in that area where I was.
MH: Thats the Einsatzgruppen.
BS: Einsatzgruppen. One after another.
MH: Thats how my grandparents
BS: Yeah, Einsatzgruppen. Thats it. Yeah, my grandparents, the same thing. My grandparents died because they took the older people. There were fifteen hundred people, which they took, and I didnt know that till after the war. They took the fifteen hundred people. Four hundred were Christians which were helping the Jews. And they took them not far away, seven kilometers out, and I know the town. I know the forest there; I used to pick berries, believe it or not, berries and mushrooms. I used to pick berries and mushrooms there. Its not the kind of berries we have here; they were wild berries, you know. Oh, beautiful, beautiful. Berries were growing there like crazy. Those berries were going to Germany, as a matter of fact, in my time, exporting them, I was told.
And sure enough, yes, my grandmother and my grandfather are buried there, plus other ones, my uncle, which was also his age. And my uncle was a tailor where my unclethe one which I was apprenticingwas apprenticing with him. He was the main tailor for Kaiser Franz Joseph. Kaiser Franz Joseph was the leader of the Austrian government in World War I for many years, and he loved Jews. He was the main tailor for them. He was not residing at home; he was right where the King lived and doing all the designing of his clothes. Very, very elegant man, you know. He had a white beard. David Letterfield was his name. White beard, very elegant, nice and clean. And after the war, he was just a military tailor, just for the officers, not soldiers.
MH: So, to come back: you leave Majdanek.
BS: We leave Majdanek.
MH: And you go where?
BS: Going to Lublin. Thats the town were taking. Were taking Lublin. Horrible massacre, but we take Lublin and proceed. That was July 23, 1944.
MH: Forty-four .
BS: That was 1944. I dont remember the day.
(to RS) What?
RS: Can I offer you something to drink? A cup of coffee, something cold?
MH: Something cold would be great.
BS: We have the cherry. Would you like a cherry soda, or apple juice? Diet soda?
MH: Diet soda would be great. Thank you very much.
BS: Yes, and for me, too, Ruth.
RS: For you, too? Okay.
BS: Yes, please.
MH: So, you take Lublin.
BS: We take Lublin. A massacre, yes. We take Lublin and proceed to many towns in between, and finally we wind up, in August, late August, we wind up in a little village. Its not a village, its a city. Its actually the territory of Warsaw; Praga Warszawska, its called. We occupy there. We lost a lot of people, an awful lot of people. We lost so many people that the soldiers, which usually dont do that, had to go during theand didnt care; we didnt care because it was August, very hot, and because of the illnesses that can develop, even the Germans were buried. Even the Germans were buried. But from every unitit was not my job, but we had to do it. Scoop them up, put them on the wagon or on the truck, and then the truck came to the(whispers) awful lot of them. Awful lot of people, awful. Germans had a lot ofwe didnt have any horses at that point, but the Germans still had horses. There were horses in between.
So, that was the cleaning area, and we stayed there. We stayed there, and that was sort of like (inaudible) here, and there of course we have alwaysalways there were attacks, like Modlin and Demblin and all those little towns. Germans would cross the river and they were attacking. But they didnt succeed, but we had to work. Its constantly on alert. We had to work. That thing here continued till the seventeenth of September. We were notified before that that we were to move on, on the seventeenth in the night, and we moved out on the seventeenth. When you cross the river there, you arrive in Warsaw, right there. Theres no other way. You go across to Warsaw. So, we went to Warsaw; of course, Warsaw was completely demolished.
MH: The ghettos been liquidated.
BS: The ghetto was liquidated before that. The whole city, the whole city was [demolished], because of the uprising. The ghetto uprising was 1943 in April, and then their own uprising was in 1944 in August. We were across the street, and we couldnt go because of the political reasons. Im telling you, in my estimation, we could have taken Warsaw, and it probably would have saved a lot of people. Probably would have saved a lot of people. But, as I said, the politicians said, We are overextended; the supply lines too far, which, you know, factored. Its fact, yeah. It is supply. But I think once the
(to RS) Thank you.
MH: Thank you very much.
BS: Would you like a cookie or something?
MH: No, Im good, thank you.
BS: So, we were overextended, thats true. We were extended. But I still think that we would be able to go. I really think we would have (inaudible).
MH: So, once you finally get to Warsaw and the citys demolished, and youre still moving.
BS: Were moving towards the western part of Poland, and were moving throughcrossing a couple of riversWarta, you know, another one, and thats the end of the Obra River, which crosses
MH: You dont go south toward Krakw?
BS: No. No, we never went to Krakw. Krakw was the Ukrainian, for the Ukrainian army. As a matter of fact, the same divisionthe same army which tookthe division which took Auschwitz liberated my city. They came from Lvov.
MH: Right, its only eighteen miles.
BS: Yeah, yeah. And they came from this side.
MH: Ive been to Warsaw, Ive been to Krakw, and Ive been to Czstochowa.
BS: Czstochowa, of course. Katowice and Chorzw is not far away from Czstochowa, going farther to the east.
MH: And Ive been to Auschwitz.
BS: Yeah, sure.
MH: Okay, so now where do you go?
BS: So, now were goingthat takes us to a small town of Chelmno. Chelmno.
BS: Exactly. Chelmno. And again, you know, you probably read about Chelmno. There was no concentration camp as such; they did not have any structures. They confiscated a couple of buildings there from that Polish prince, which they had, but the situation was there. You know, thats all after the facts I found out.
MH: Chelmno was not a camp?
BS: It was a camp, a destruction camp, but differently done. Chelmno was the first one where the Jewsstrictly Jewswere destructed in Poland. And that was, believe it or not, on the sixth of Decemberyou know the date sixth of December. Pearl Harbor Day.
BS: All right. Sixth of December 19401941 I think.
MH: Forty-one .
BS: Forty-one . That camp was established in Chelmno. Very primitive: there was no camp. This is a horrible story, really, because they were bringing the people and they were settling them in church. Theres a church which is still there, it is stillI saw the church myself. Its still there. They were settling them there, going to church. They undressed them in church, they undressed them, and thenit was sort of like a bus, picked them up, and they walked straight from the church to the bus, in the back, seventy-five people at each time.
MH: Oh, these are the gas vans.
BS: The gas vans. Thats how they were destroyed, with the gas vans. We couldnt find anything. People were pointing down there, not far away, about ten, fifteen minutesor miles, or kilometers, whatever it isand we drove through it, and the same thing. It was just the graves which were there. They were destroyingthey destroyed over three hundred and fifty thousand people from the area there, from the Pomeranian side.
MH: But you didnt find
MH: the storage buildings?
BS: I did not find any storage buildings.
BS: But the regular building was standing. There was no bombardment, nothing was destroyed. The only thing that we found, really, is the cemetery: some bones and everything else that was exposed, not burned. What they did is, again, they did not have any crematoriums, so first they would bury the people, and then they were burning the people and burying them again. Its horrible, a horrible story. But it was nothing thatpeople were just dead, you know. They were glad the Jews were out, to tell you the truth, so they were able to take their homes away from them.
MH: The Poles were never real fond of the Jews.
BS: They were never fond. There were good Poles and everything else, but they were never fond of the Jews. It also, you know, depends on the area. In my area, where I came from in my area, the city of Bochnia, there were twenty thousand people and there were only about two and a half thousand Jews there. We were living there in that city, God, sincethe cemetery is there from the 1600s or something. So long we were living there, the Jews. We were brought there by a king, King Kazimierz.
Kazimierz III, the Great, who ruled Poland from 1333 to 1370 and was particularly friendly to Jews.
He brought the Jews over from Germany first, then from all sides. And I was going to a Catholic school, a public school, all Catholic school. We were ninety-nine boys. There were two kids with peyes. Nobody minded it. And yet, there were citiesdifferent citieswhich were, you know, like forty percent or thirty-five percent or something, there were more Jews. Thats where the anti-Semitic stuff showed up. Here, you were sort of living together. You were not in a ghetto, there was no ghetto in Bochnia, because you were alwayshere was a Jewish family, there was a Christian family, and so forth and so on.
On my street, the first house was a Jewish house. The guy was dealing with coal, you know, and everything; there was no gas at that time, so they were using coal for cooking and everything. The name was Karp. His house I passed because when you went through the railroad station, you had to pass his house, make a left, and come to my little street, and the third street was my street. I mean, the third house was my house. Then from him was a gentile house, and then another gentile house, then my house, and then another gentile house, and so on and so on. In other cities, it was the same thing. And we did not havethe kids were going together to school, walking to school. Never, never did I have any anti-Semitic slurs or kicking. I was not a big boy, I was one of the short kids, but never, never did I have that. Honest to God, I cannot say a lie. But, yes, there was anti-Semitism in Poland. It will be there as long as theyre gonna live.
BS: As long as theyrethats in their blood.
MH: Its in the blood. What struck mewe went by bus from Krakw to Auschwitz, and you go throughOwicim?
BS: Owicim, thats the city. Thats the town.
MH: Owicim is, what, two miles from the camp at Auschwitz?
BS: Thats it.
MH: The people didnt know anything.
MH: They didntthey see the trains going in full, coming out empty. They know nothing.
BS: I had this
MH: They smelled the smell. Nothing.
BS: The people in Sobibr and Majdanek knew it, and they were pointing fingers. Thats where it is! Those guys did it!
MH: Right. But Owicim, nothing.
BS: Nothing. You know, I had the same thing. I was interviewing Germans in Oranienburg, Sachsenhausen. Sachsenhausen is a big camp. Its still there, you know, like a museum now. They didnt destroy anything; the buildings are there. I dont know what theyre doing there in those buildings now, but the buildings are there. Theres a museum there. Here on the other side of the street in Oranienburg, its a very elegant city. Nothing was destroyed in Oranienburg. Why in hell didnt they drop a couple bombs there, on the roads, on the train roads? But here they took them not with the railroad: they took them with cars.
So, I was interviewing a couple of those German guys, and they say, We have gone in the woods, we have gone in the woods. They knew there was a camp, but they had no idea what was going on in the camp. I said, How can you not know? So many cars are coming in. How many cars do you see going out to the hospital or anything else? Nobodys going out. How can you not know what was going on there? That was the answer of the German people; that was the answer of some Polish people there, especially Owicim. There, they denied it; in the east, they did not hesitate. They pointed. There are Jews, dead, and thats for Jews, they said. Even so, in Majdanek there were over five hundred priests killed down there, and the Polish intelligentsia with professors, with teachers and everything, sent to Majdanek.
MH: So, where do you go next? When do you get from Poland into Germany?
BS: Into Germany? Right after we crosswe leave Chelmno, about a couple miles away. We crossed at the first city, a very nice city. Zotw is the name, Zotw, and thats the first German city which we took.
BS: Zotw, Z-l-o-t-o-w. It will be on the map, on the Polish map, because right now it belongs to Poland. So, that city we take, and from there were starting to fight all around through the Pomeranian thing. And in between there was a breakthrough, a tank breakthrough, and my cannon under my direction was able to shut down two of those target tanks, and they did. The other guys did, too, and we got quite a few of them. It was a breakthrough, because that area there already is close to Baltic [Sea], and the soldiers tried to get as close and then they got picked up: they were picked up by the German marines. Thats what they thought. Nobody reallynot too many got away, really. So, the fights are going. Theyre bitter fights, bitter fights all over the place. This is a cities and forested area, and then not far away you have the river, Oder River, and then you have the Baltic and everything else. We wind up closer to Baltic than to the Oder in the beginning.
MH: Close to the Baltic?
BS: Yes, close to the Baltic. Thendo you know, that thing continued till the sixteenth. On the fifteenth, we leave our position
MH: Fifteenth of?
BS: Of April.
BS: Nineteen forty-five.
MH: Forty-five , okay.
BS: Fifteenth of April, we leave our position. Our last position was near Paulsdorf [Pawowice], which isits a village thing, but its a big village thing. We moved; the announcements were made that were starting a new offensive tomorrow, middle of the night, so we moved. We moved to a forest on the other side of the River Oder.
MH: They want you to take Berlin.
BS: Oh, yeah, yeah. We have to cross the river first, so we crossed the river, with a bigyou know, forty thousand artillery shellartillery cannons firing. The night was like day, honest to God. By seven oclock, my battery was across the riveron pontoons, of course, trucks and pontoons. Everything was on pontoons. Th ere was not one single bridge there. Everything was gone. So, that thing continues, and continues till the nineteenthI remember the datestill the nineteenth of April, and we come to that city, Oranienburg. And the city of Oranienburg is only thirty-five miles from Berlin. Thirty-five miles from Berlin, okay? It took another couple of days. I think on the twenty-first or the twenty-second, we were already on the outskirts of Berlin. Oranienburg is actually, as I say, you think half an hour, and youre right there in the city. With the autobahn its even faster, because the autobahn goes that way.
Were starting in Berlin, were starting the attack in Berlin, but there are a couple of obstacles yet. We have to still cross one of the canals we had to cross there, and then another river; I forgot the name of the river. River Spree, we have to cross that. And, eventually, we did this thingunder fire, under fire. I thought Im gonna get killed, honest to God. They were shooting left and right, and the shells were landing left and right in the water. But it didnt hit us, though we had casualties.
MH: When do you get to Sachsenhausen?
BS: Im sorry, the fifteenthwhen do I get tonineteenth of April.
MH: Nineteenth of April.
BS: Nineteenth. And I didnt tell you what I saw in Sachsenhausen.
MH: No, thats what I want to hear.
BS: Yeah, because Im going straight ahead to Berlin. So, were gonna come back to that Berlin section, to the rivers we crossed. Sachsenhausen: Sachsenhausen is a big city, and the camp itself is beautiful, really, from the outside and inside. You would have never dreamed that people are destroyed there. At Sachsenhausen, accordingwhich I found out laterwas built together with Dachauthey started a little bit later than Dachau, they started, and they finished in 19431933.
Originally, they built it for Jews, of course, for German Jews; dissenters, which are dissentingthey dont like Hitler; political prisoners; homosexuals; and of course people which have defects, you know, physical defects; and Gypsies. That was the original stuff. Later, of course, the Jews came in; the Russian prisoners of war came in. I didnt know then, but Stalin had one son which was in the army, and thats a true story.
Yakov Dzhugashvili (1907-1943), who was a junior artillery officer captured at the Battle of Smolensk in 1941. At Sachsenhausen, he ran into an electric fence and a guard shot him several times, but it is unclear whether he was trying to escape or commit suicide, and whether he was still alive when the guard shot him.
I didnt know then, but I read about it. You know, when Stalingrad fell, they caught this Field Marshal [Friedrich] Paulus; that was a German field marshal, an old guy which surrendered the 6th German Army at Stalingrad. They caught him, and he survived; they took him to prison and everything, and he was there in Russia for quite a few years; eventually, they let him go out and he came back. But they wanted to trade him. Stalin wanted to trade him for his oldest sonno, Stalin didnt want. Germans wanted to, Germans wanted to trade him for letting out Paulus. Stalin refused, and he died there, in Sachsenhausen.
MH: So, how do youyou get to Sachsenhausen. Its just on the route to Berlin?
BS: Yeah. Well, it is inon the route to Berlin.
MH: What do you see there?
BS: In Sachsensenhausen? Let me describe to you Sachsenhausen. Sachsenhausen is a big camp. We took one section. This is the first time which we liberated human beings, really. You can call it human beings, but they hardly could walk. The section which I came across were mostly women. I spoke at that time German, I spoke Yiddish, and I spoke Polish, of course, and I spoke German. People knew those languages. Whoever was there knew. So, I threw those languages out, because everybody was trying, and everybody was in no condition to show their faces. First of all, they didnt know who we are. Our uniforms were different than the Russian uniforms or the German uniforms, so they really didnt know. They know we are soldiers and everything else, and we talk. The other one didnt talk; we talked. So, eventually we find out, and I started to talk with them.
MH: And theres a big fence you have to break through?
BS: We dont have to break anything, just a big door, big doors. You know, you open up the door. We didnt have to break nothing.
MH: No resistance?
BS: No resistance at all. Again, we caught two German SS people, and even so, at that time it was already against the law to do anything. But two of my guys got rid of them: they just shot them. It was too horrible to see, because when we got there, people were still hanging on the hooks. They had special hooks where they hung the people. Yeah.
MH: Tell me about this.
BS: Yeah. People were hanging on the hooks.
BS: Outside, in the camp.
MH: I mean, in the camp, but
BS: Yeah, in the camp.
MH: Not inside buildings?
BS: Not inside buildings, on the walls, on the side wallsin view. You could see it.
MH: They were hanging people on hooks.
BS: Yeah, there were a couple of people still hanging when we were there. I dont know if they were our kind or they were German kind or what. I have no idea. They were hanging there, and then there were a couple bodies were still laying, which were shot. They had a special place for that. That was the casualties, what we saw. There were two crematoriums there, because people which got enough work, you know, and they couldnt survive anymore. They had a big hospital there, I want you to know, a huge hospital. Its not a tall building, [but] its huge, like an infirmary. You know, they were healing people, but people were dying also. Whoever died, they didnt bury. There was no room to bury, because they wouldnt go outside the door to show the Germans whats going on. So, those people were put through the crematoriums. Those people were put to the crematoriums.
MH: Do the crematoriums have big chimneys?
BS: They have chimneys, big chimneys, but chimneys wouldnt bother, because in Europe they had a lot of big chimneys, all factories, because they were coal. Everything was heated with coal. Of course, over here they have gas now, down there, but in Poland before the war, in my city, we had a factory there whichand I remember the name; its the same name which [is] my uncles name, Minc. This guy opened up the door before the holidays, to the Christians and to the Jews, especially the Jews, because Pesach you have to change the dishes. You open the door to the people; you took anything which you wanted for free, completely free. And he had a chimney, a huge chimney, the same thing what you saw in Majdanek or Auschwitz. Nobody would think. I mean, Im telling you, in Majdanek from the outside didnt look sinister at all, honest to God. It looked like a factory, perhaps military compartment or anything else. It didnt look to us, because we didnt know what is going on, did not look to us. It was nothing sinister. From the outside, right from the grounds of Majdanek, if people had a chance to live, they saw Lublin. Can you imagine? The four, six-story building; they were not very tall there. I dont think they were more than six, but you still saw those buildings. So, it didnt look any sinister; you couldnt suspect.
MH: So, when you come into Sachsenhausen, you drive in?
BS: We drive in. We drive in, because the artillery drives. We were ahead of the infantry.
MH: Okay, you drive in. I mean, whats the first moment you see bodies hanging on walls?
BS: A little bit farther. That came when we stopped the cars and started to walk.
MH: And what
BS: Before we see people, before we see people and we talk to the people. In the beginning, it was very hard to talk, but it took a couple of minutes to talk to the people. Some of them were talking Yiddish, and some of them were talking German, and some were talking Polish, and some of them were from France, but they understood German also. So, there was no problem. Mostly the women which were there actually were from Hungary, mostly were from Hungary. Most of them were Hungarian. But all Hungarians were ablethey did not speak Yiddish, the Hungarians, but they spoke German. All those girls spoke German. All women [were] in very bad condition. They were crying uncontrollable and everything else. What we do? What we do is we have a kitchen, sowe didnt have too much food, thank God we didnt have too much food, but water we had, and thats very, very important. So, we distribute something like that, and we assure them not to worry. You are free now, dont worry about it, and there will be other people coming in. We, unfortunately, cannot stay here, but there will be other people coming in and they will take over. They will take care of you, not to worry. Just assure the people, thats it.
MH: Do you move any of the bodies that are hanging on the walls, hanging on the hooks?
MH: You just didnt
BS: We didnt move them. We did not remove anything.
MH: I know this is a hard question to ask you.
BS: We did not remove.
MH: The bodies are hanging from hooks?
BS: From the hooks.
MH: In their shoulders? Their throats?
BS: From their throats, the throats.
MH: Men and women, or you cant even tell?
BS: Just men.
MH: Just men.
BS: Just men.
BS: Two bodies. No, not naked, not naked. But we wouldnt remove it; we would not do that, because we cannot put our hands on top of the thing. Its not our mission. The other guys, maybe they would do it. The other units which come to clean up stuff. But we wouldnt do it. I saw that.
MH: You see ovens there?
BS: You see two ovens, and on top of the two ovens, and we go through the factories. We go through the factories. The factories are open. You go and they were manufacturing clothes, and they were manufacturing all kind of parts for the military, mostly military stuff, but not only that. Being a tailor, I know that I lost everything. I wanted to take a machine, just a head of the machines. There was the German machine, which I knew; we had one in my place. We had a Singer and we had a Pfaff. Pfaff was a different machine, because they could do different things.
MH: Pfaff is P-f-a-f-f.
BS: P-f-a-f-f, yeah. So, I took this Pfaff, and Im going back. I took this Pfaff. I said to the guy, I would like to have this thing here, because when I get home I would like to make a living. So, we took this machine, believe it or not.
MH: A sewing machine.
BS: A sewing machine, yeah. A standard Pfaff, thats all. Thats what I wanted, because I knew the machine and I knew how to work with it, and it was a good machine. So, I took it.
MH: From Sachsenhausen.
BS: From Sachsenhausen. I put it on the truck, put it on my big truck. The guys brought it out, put it on the truck. And it waslet me go back to Sachsenhausen. Ill tell you what happened with that machine after that. So, we go through that thing here, through the thing, and see it. Then theres a huge, huge sort of like a stable, open stable, and its open, again, with the wire mesh thing from the outside. And there are hundreds and hundreds of rabbits. Im telling you, there must have been at least six or seven hundred rabbits there.
BS: Rabbits. White rabbits. Theyre all pure white with greenish eyes. And they were looking at you, likeI dont know, like a magnet.
MH: For what?
BS: Thats what my question was, for what? I never found out for what they were. But beautifullyI mean, you didnt see a spot on those rabbits.
MH: Im surprised that people didnt try and eat them.
BS: They wouldnt kill them. I dont know for what they were. I never found out. And the camp was already, you know, its free. Its right now free again. We didnt take the rabbits out. You couldnt open the door, because all of them would go out. But they were fed, beautiful, which I admirednot admired, but I was thinking, My God, that woman is starving to death, and those rabbits are so fat and so groomed beautifully. They looked like they were combed nicely, not one single dirty spot on those peopleon those rabbits. There were hundreds of them. I never found out what those rabbits did. I talked to people about them and everything. I couldnt find out for whatI mean, they had people which they were doing a job on, and then to find out all kind of things, experiments. So, what is the rabbit doing there? They were live rabbits, unlessI dont know what they were doing, unless they were farming them, which is all possible. They could have been farming them.
They were Angora rabbits, raised at Sachsenhausen and several other concentration camps for their fur, which was used to make clothing for the military. The Wisconsin Historical Society has a photo album and more information about the project: http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/whi/feature/angora/
MH: Did you talk to the prisoners?
BS: No, I didnt, because by the time I got there they were gone. They just caught them and killed them. They were not young guys: I saw their faces. They were not young. The one guy, he had already gray hair.
MH: Which is this? This is
BS: The SS guy.
MH: Oh, the SS guy.
BS: The SS guy, yeah.
MH: What about the Jewish prisoners, the other prisoners? Did you have long conversations?
BS: Long conversation, as long as I was there.
MH: How long were you at Sachsenhausen?
BS: With the women, I was not longer than aboutmaybe twenty-five or thirty minutes. In Sachsenhausen, altogether we were perhaps an hour and a half, not more than that, really.
MH: Did anybody tell you stories about what had happened?
BS: Nothing. Nothing. The Germans didnt want to say anything on the outside; they didnt know anything. The only thing which I told them, and the other guys the same thing, waswhoever is able to talk to somebodyhe says, Dont worry. You are safe. You are free, you are free, and eventually they will let you go. There will be doctors here, and there were doctors there. There will be doctors here.
MH: From the Russian Army?
BS: From the Russian Army and from the Polish Army. They had doctors. The Russians had more, because we were special units when they took that stuff. In Oranienburg we knew that were gonna have people. We were warned in Oranienburg; we knew already about that. But we didnt know the condition of the situation. No, as I said, the women were there. They were very shabbily dressed, and you really couldnt recognize people. Nobody had any hair, and when you take awayespecially a woman, when you remove the hair she looks different, completely different than you would think. But there were a lot of them there. There were a couple thousand people. And it wasat this point, and Im telling you thats what I thought sixty-three years ago. On the ninth ofI wasat this time of the day, I was still in Berlin. Today is what, the eighth?
MH: Todays the eighth.
BS: Okay. Tomorrow is the ninth. When we finishlet me finish with that. You could not, first of allthe only thing was you tried to give them some light. None of us was a doctor or intellectual or something like that; we were just young people. But we saw to this point what was going on. Thousands of peoplefirst of all, you liberated thousands of people, civilians, not counting the land and anything. And everybody was crying, honest to God. Nobody greeted us with flowers because they just couldnt do it. They couldnt do it. They were crying. They were crying. They were very happy. They saw Polish guys and everything else. And it didnt matter where we went in Russia or Poland or even in Germany, in some instances. We did not harm any people, honest to God. It was against the law. But youve been in the Army, you know whats happening with the soldiers, and you cannot.
But, in one instance, honest to Godand I did not tell my wife till last year, honest to Godthere was these three Russian guys, young kids, and Ill bet you that was the first time that they ever saw a woman or they laid on a woman. And that was forbidden. You could have killed this guy on the spot. That was the orders, because it was already then said that the Germans are running away because everybody tells them that the people will be raped and killed and all kinds of stuff, and the Russians didnt want to have it and the Polish didnt. Oh, we were very strict. I was that timeand I know it was an area of Pomerania. We fought and fought and fought, and then we came to a certain section where people were living, houses and everything else.
And there, I see three young guys. One is laying on top of the woman, and the woman has a child. One is laying on top of the woman, and two are standing. I had an automatic gun. I took this damn thing out from my thing, I said, Get off! in Russian. Get off or I shoot! So, the guy said, Whats the matter? I cant even translate the word, you know. Whats the matter? Are you a zhalkow? He said zhalkow; its in Russian. I dont know the translation on that word. But he said, Whats the matter, zhalkow? That [which] Im doing? Yes! Its against the law; youre not supposed to do that. Leave that woman alone. She has a baby, she has a little girl. She had a little girl. He didnt penetrate, he got off. He got off, put his pants on, and thats it. And the other two guys run out of hell.
MH: You didnt shoot them.
BS: Oh, I did not shoot them.
MH: You would have.
BS: I would have, honest to God. I dont know if I would have killed him, but I would have shot. I really would, because youre not supposed to do that. And the war is almost over.
MH: Where are you when the war ends?
BS: In Berlin. So, we finished with that Majdanek thing, you know, after all that stuff.
BS: Sachsenhausen. It was sweet only in one way, that we saw the people, we liberated people. Because up till now, we liberated millions of civilians, you know what I mean? Civilians which had their home, had their farm, had their factory, everything was fine. It was not everything fine, but they were free. They were free, and they could go home. Then, all of a sudden, you come to a camp; you liberate those people which have absolutely nothing, not a penny in the pocket.
MH: Not a pocket.
BS: Not a pocket. No hope at all. They had absolutely no idea if anyone of their families is alive. Its very traumatic, and its traumatic also for people like us. I dont know about the Russians, but for us, we know each of us, of my guys, all of them had families with them in Siberia, or they have them in Poland. There were a lot of guys of mine which were from Poland. And I will tell you one situation that infringed with that. So, it was very traumatic for us to see that finally, we did something where we liberated people which had absolutely no power of doing anything, because they were taken away, their dignity was taken away from them and everything else, and they were absolutely nothing. There was nothing. There was no money, no anything.
So, the only thing which we left for those people, which is very important, is hope. Dont give up hope. You are now safe. You will have all the care, you will get all the clothes you need to get, all the food that you need, and you will get all the medication. And they did, they did. Im telling you, they did: even the same day we left, they did, because the units followed us always to those camps. So, that was a very, very, very strong moment for me, reallyand for the other guys, because when I talk for me, I talk for the guys which are dead, too, because they did the same thing. You know what I mean? Not everybody came back. Thousands and thousands did not come back from this dreadful war.
But when I speak, I speak always for myself and for my friends which were with me and all the other soldiers. And when we say prayers, to this day, when I go to a synagoguewhich I doI always say the Prayer for the Dead, regardless of who they were, Jewish or not Jewish. The rabbi once asked me, How come youre saying? I said, Listen, I can say a prayer 365 days, we lost so many people, and there are so many people left in this world right nowtheyre left, which are laying there, which dont have anybody, which could say one prayer for them. Therefore, I continue to say the prayers. And its fine: you can say it for the Jewish or not Jewish, and I do it. The Prayer for the Dead is not really religious; its something for God and for the people, and thats that.
MH: Okay, continuing with Bernhard Storch. So, the war ends. Youre in Berlin.
BS: The war ends, not so easy. It takes us twelve days to end. Were in Berlin, and actuallyand its a fact, its truemy cannon was shooting on the thirtieth of May. At that time, we didnt know if Hitler is there or not, but we were shooting from the other side.
MH: The thirtieth of May?
BS: No, no, Im sorry.
MH: Of April.
BS: Thirtieth of April, at the Reich house [Reichstag], yes, where eventually we found out that he indeed was. That doesnt mean that my cannon killed him, because he killed himself. But the destruction was visible, and we fought through that part, close to the gate which they have there. I forget that gate, you know.
BS: Yeah, Brandenburg Gate. And we ended up about two and a half miles past the Reichstag. We entered in a part which is Alexanderplatz, and its not far away from the zoo, you know, that area there. There was the main bank there also, I remember. My stupid soldiers went there and took the money, marks, actually sacks of marks. They took the marks, put them on the ground, and set fire to them. Every one of those marks was worth exactly the same money which was written on after the war, but they burned it. They burned a couple of those sacks. Why they did it, I dont know.
But it took us a long time to get to the end of the war, and at the end, we ended on the second of May, I remember that. Second of May, middle of the night, we ended that war, and the last shot was fired. The last shot, I was told, went to a wine dealers shop. That was it.
MH: And you go where?
BS: We stay on this position still for one day, get everything together, and we go to one town not far away. Its a suburb of Berlin, Bernau, a small city. Very nice city, Bernau. Were supposed to get permission from the civilians, because there were no big houses, mostly one-family houses. I spoke German, so I was negotiating with the civilians, and I really guaranteed everybody not to worry, everything will be left the way we found it, and none of you will be hurt, none of your children will be hurt. For my part, we took a house there, and she had two beautiful daughters, teenage kids. I said, I guarantee you, nothing will happen to these children. We are not here for that, we are just here to come to ourselves, and were gonna leave. And we left, we left from there. That was on the second, and on the third or the fourth, when we came into this town, and on the ninth of May, exactly ninth of May, the division packed up and we went to the train. By train, we left to Poland, and we left to Poland, to (inaudible). (inaudible) is about eighty-five kilometers from Warsaw. It was a military base before that, and the Germans had it also as a military base for themselves, because everything was there. So, my regiment settles there in Poland, and this is the end of the war for me, as far as I was concerned. Thank God, I came out completely intact. Its very hard to believe, honest to God.
BS: Im telling you, its very hard to believe.
MH: Its a miracle.
BS: It is a miracle, but the thing isyes, especially its a miracle, right, the first time when I went, because we lost so many people. The 2nd Regiment lost almostIm telling younine hundred casualties. And I was the 2nd Regiment at that time. You know, we lostI mean, from my company were killed twenty-four people, and there were wounded and everything else. So, it is a miracle. You know, I dont thinkI did not do anything extraordinary, honest to God. I never evenjust for the infantry, I had to wear a helmet. I didnt even wear a helmet, nothing. I went through the entire war without a coat, just always a jacket, because coat bothered me. Our action was always taken during the night. I was not a good day sleeper. (laughs) In some instances I was walking like a zombie, you know. Some people cant sleep at night, daytime. I had guys in my unit, they just had to close their eyes [and] theyre out of it. (laughs) I couldnt do it, unfortunately. I couldnt do it, so I suffered with that. And I made it.
MH: When do you come to the United States?
BS: I came to the United Stateswell, the trip took athe process, you know, you have to register and everything else. Let me tell you first when I left Poland. I got discharged from the army in September of 1945. I met Ruth, which I knew as children. How did we know each other? We knew each other because my uncles wife, which she begged my mother to let me go; she begged my mother to let me go. So, I met my wife. She came from camp also, from Russia, together with her other sister. So I met my wife in September, and we decided to get married in November. We got married in November, November 18, 1945. We married in city of Katowice; thats Upper Silesia there, nice city and everything else.
We were living in Katowice, but I had no intention to stay in Poland. I saw what is going on, even after we came back from Poland. There were a lot of tanks. My troops, which usually were hunting the Germans, went to hunt the bad guys in the forests and in the streets. A few people got killed. We were stationed right close to Lublin; (inaudible) is very close to Lublin. Seven people came from Lublin, came home. They didnt want to even have their houses there; they just came. But the guys which occupied their homes assumed that they came to get the houses, and they didnt want to give it. And Im telling you, they killed those six men, those five men and one woman.
There was another situation which they attacked people from the forest, so we had to go and hunt them. We had to go and hunt our own guys. We didnt kill everybody, you know, but we arrest them. We arrest them, thats all. And I said, I dont want to stay one day longer. I did my jobI volunteered, by the way. I volunteered for the duty. I volunteered three times in a very difficult thing, because of us speaking the language, and because I was young and I was the youngest in the unit, so the older guys know better than the young guys know: not to volunteer. Yeah, and the rest of the guys, really, we were only three guys which didnt have any military duty before. The rest were all veterans from World War I.
One of the guys, which is so sad, really; one of the guysas Im talking now, we went hunting. He finally got a pass to go home. He got a pass to go home, and he was living in a small village near Biaystok, the other side. So, we let him go. He had a pass and he went. So, he went home, and they killed him. This guy was from the telephone unit. This guy was a prisoner of war of Russia, a young fellow; he was a young fellow, but he was still older than I am. He was not a tall fellow, a little bit like myself, beautiful man. He prayed twice a day, kneeled and prayed twice a day every day, rain or shine, wouldnt miss it.
He came home, and some people from the village accused him of being a communist, because he served in the Polish Army. And they killed him, a Christian. We went to the funeral. Its unbelievable. This guy really took everything, he took a lot of things, because he was from the telephone lines, so he has to go right there where the infantry is, set up his telephone lines, and send them back to my unit for communication. Can you imagine? And he lives through something like that, and he didnt see his parents since who knows when, because he was in the Army. So, last time he could have seen them may be 1938, maybe even before. And they killed him.
MH: So, get me to how you come to the U.S.
BS: I came to the U.S. We got married, and we decided not to stay at all here. In December, we decided to move on. Now, it was not easy to go from Poland to anyplace. We had to go to Germany, Germany or Czechoslovakia. But Germany, you go and you have a better contact. So, we had to go to Germany. We had to go illegally. There were transports, and I had a connection to that. There were transports of Germans resettling, you know, because the Polish guy need good people for them when they come from Russia, so they had to resettle them. They were resettling German guys, which some of them were born in Poland and some of them were whatever, but they were living in Poland. Once they were living in Poland, they were not Germans but they were Polish. But this time, they still had to resettle the Germans, because they needed the room.
So, there were transports going out from Breslau, which is in Upper Silesia therethats the lower part of Silesia. One of my cousins was in the unit which was involved in putting them on these trains. So, I myself, and Ruthand, as a matter of fact, his own family, his wife and his daughter; he had a daughter then; not himselfwe went with the train. Of course, nobody knew that were Jewish, because everybody spoke German so there was no problem. And he spoke also perfect German himself, because he was born in Upper Silesia. So, we went with the train, and we landed in Munich. From Munich, we went to a DP [displaced persons] camp, because my wifes cousin, which went through Auschwitz and Buchenwaldhe survived those, and he walked from Auschwitz to Buchenwald. He was my age; he just passed away. As a matter of fact, one year younger, but he just passed away a couple months ago. Zimberlis is his name. So, through himhe was able to register us to the camp, to the DP camp.
We were there, and then we found another friend, which were in a bigger DP camp, and they promised us theres gonna be work and everything else, so we went there. It was Bad Reichenhall. Bad Reichenhall is not far away from Berchtesgaden. You know, thats the area there. And that also was a camp, because it was a military installation, German military installation. They had all brick houses, like three- or four-story brick houses, and there were a lot of people. So, we were there. We were there for quite a few months, made friends and everything else, and find out that its gonna be better in Munich itself, and perhaps we can stay outside the DP camps, you know what I mean?
And through the German Jewish community which was there, we were able to get through them an apartment, and we got an apartment fromDr. Schroeder was the name. Cant forget it. Dr. Schroeder was his name, and it was on the Kavelierstrae in Munich. It was in the ambassador roads: all the houses were loaned to the ambassadors. He was a doctor, this guy, and he was a Nazi, because I found all the literature that he left. He left the whole house, so we had the house, and we stayed there. Then, of course, our aim was to register. We registered toyou registered always to immigrate, as soon as we came, to immigrate.
MH: To the U.S.
BS: To the U.S. and to Palestine. We had family in the U.S. I had an uncle, which was the twin brother of my father, and my wife had three uncles which lived in St. Louis. So, we thought that eventuallywe didnt have any addresses from them. I had an aunt in Palestineat that time she was in Haifaand I was corresponding with her through the military post, so she knew everything I was doing through the military post, because I was able to do that. So, I made up my mind, and she urged me also to come to Palestine. But you cannot just come; you have to have the things to get, and whoever came first. And eventually, I was notifiedin Marchby the United States embassy in Munich that I was accepted, and a visa was given to me. So, we left. We left on the tenth of April from Bremerhaven. You had to go to another DP camp before that. Before the departure, I had to go to a DP camp in Munich, so I had to go through that DP camp and then, again, beforeit was a whole process, took about a month. To Bremen, and from Bremen, we left on the tenth and came to the United States on the twenty-second of April 1947. Nineteen forty-seven.
MH: And settled where?
BS: And settled inin the beginning, by my uncle. I had never met him before.
MH: In what city, I mean?
BS: Brooklyn. In Brooklyn, yeah. He picked us up from the train. I never met him, but he lookedhe was the twin brother, he looked like my father. Close, not a complete closeness. My father was a little bit taller than him.
MH: You didnt speak English?
BS: I did not speak English. My uncle served in the Russian Army, so he knew German, and he married a wife from Russia so she spoke Russian. His wife was from Odessa. They married in the thirties [1930s], and he had three kids: two boys and one girl. He farmed out the boys to go to friends to sleep, and he didnt want that we should sleep in their beds, so he gave us his bedroom in Brooklyn there. We stayed with him for three weeks. He found us a job. His brother-in-law was working for a big manufacturer of mens clothing. At that time, I didnt care mens or ladies, and immediately I got a job asdidnt know the language at all, but in those shops it was very easy.
MH: You were an operator?
BS: No, I was not an operator, because I was already a professional. I knew what to do, so I was a bushel man. (laughs)
MH: A what?
BS: Bushel man.
MH: Whats a bushel man?
BS: What is a bushel man? A bushel man is when the garment gets complete, the jacket or the pants or whatever they were doing, if theres some kind of damage on itsomething that went wrongthey give it to me to straighten it out. I straighten it out, and it goes then as a full garment, as not a damaged garment. Not ripping, it was not ripped, it was just something was wrong with it. They didnt put the sleeve right. Sometimes they put it upside down, believe it or not. I had one jacket (laughs) which the back went to the front. (laughs) So, I had to do that, something like that. There were three brothers. Big place, big place, by the namedoesnt exist anymore, over the years(inaudible) Clothes. They had over sixty stores, sixty-three exact stores they had. In New York City the factory was in Long Island City, near Astoria, down there.
So, for three weeks I traveledfor two weeks, because that was on the third week. For two weeks I was traveling with uncles brother-in-law, because he was working in that place. And later, I was able to provide for my brother-in-law. He didnt have a trade at all, so I was able to provide a job there in the factory. And he was there for a couple years, actually, doing something else, pressingbut pressing only the arms. Each item had a different machine, believe it or not. Even the breast, or the chest: there was a left chest machine, presser, and a right chest presser. They were completely different. It was wonderful. They were producing like crazy, but they also had the instruments of doing so.
MH: When did you become a citizen?
BS: I became a citizenI registered immediately, of course. I became a citizen, papers and everything, on the sixno, I still have the paper. I think its the sixth or the second; I dont remember. But I got them in 1952, December 1952.
MH: So, December fifty-two ?
BS: Yes, exactly five years.
MH: You remember the first election you voted in?
BS: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. I couldnt vote for Truman because he, you know
MH: You werent a citizen.
BS: I was not a citizen.
MH: So, it was Eisenhower versus Stevenson.
BS: No, I dont think so. Dewey, wasnt it
MH: No, Dewey was
BS: No, Dewey was with Truman. Yeah.
MH: So, Eisenhower versus Stevenson.
BS: And I voted for Stevenson.
MH: Im shocked. (laughs) Just kidding.
BS: I voted for Stevenson because he was a very intellectual man, and Eisenhower was a military man. Somehow, he still won. Eisenhower won. Eisenhower was a good man and everything else, but somehow, you know, I trusted more a civilian at that particular time.
MH: You became active in the Jewish War Veterans.
BS: I became active in the Jewish War Veterans in 1985, 1985.
MH: So, it was a while.
BS: It was a while, yes. One of my friends, which belonged to the same Jewish center at that time, and he was after me. I said, But I did not serve in the U.S. Army. But, he said, you can join us as a non-voting member. I said, Fine, so I joined it. But then, it turned out that I voted on everything; they allowed me to do everything.
MH: And eventually you became the
BS: I became the State Commander.
MH: State Commander for the State of New York.
BS: Theres nobody else in the United States which hadfrom people like myself, which came to the United States and served in a different army. As a matter of fact, my uncle wasand he didnt know, you know. When I started, my uncle, unfortunately, passed away. He was born in 1894, same day which my father, of course. And, of course, he was in poor health, buttoday he would have, with the medication which they have and everything else. He would have been alive. He passed away when he was seventy-five.
MH: You and your wife have children?
BS: We have two children. My daughter is the oldest one, and she will be sixty, believe it or not, in November. November 9, she will be sixty years old. Her profession isshes a school teacher. Right now shes more with the administration; its a private school, what she does. She specializes in dyslexic children, so thats why shesits a high school level. They have junior high school and high school. In Richmond, Virginia.
MH: And your other child?
BS: My son. My son went tothey both went to Vassar College, graduated from Vassar. Later, he camehe went to Duke University for his masters. He decided to go as a hospital administrator, so he got the degree from Duke as a hospital administrator. He got the job for three years with Mount Sinai in Milwaukee, and he was doing it; but he did not like the business aspect of it, so he went back to law school. He went to law. We told him, Why dont you go to law? (laughs) in the beginning, and he wouldnt listen. So, he went to law, to Wisconsin Law, because thats where he was living. He was living in Madison, Wisconsin. He graduated, he got the law degree, and thats what he is doing now. I mean, not as a lawyer, but he came back east because it was too much snow in Milwaukee and in Madison, so they came both east. They went actually because of the job. And my sistermy daughter-in-law had a sister, and he was in medical school and he finished his degree and he was there in Wisconsin. But that eventuallythey want to go someplace else. There was nobody left there, so they decided to come back east. So, they came east, and became anot hospital administration, but he became the administrative law judge for the New York State Health Department, and thats what he is, the administrative law judge.
MH: How many grandchildren do you have?
BS: We have three grandchildren. My son has two of them; theyre both in college now. One is graduating in December, because he took half a year off, from Vassar College; and the other one came ahead of time. She graduated high school one year ahead, and she also is at Vassar. So, theyre two children, and the third one is my grandson, my daughters son, which is born in Vietnam. Hes born in Vietnam and my daughter and my son-in-law adopted him. They split; the marriage split a couple years later. Ill tell you, my son-in-law wasI will tell you later. In any event, she adopted thisthey adopted the child. At that time, they were living in Forest Hills and my daughter was teaching in New York City. They adopted Robert, and he was onlythey adopted him when he was a year old. By the time he got to the States, he was almost two and a half years old, just before the war ended: a couple of weeks later the war ended. He came Christmastime; a couple of weeks later the war ended in Vietnam. And hes doing very well, and hes got a baby now, so we are great-grandparents.
BS: Yeah. The babys a year and a half old, a little girl, beautiful.
MH: How did the experience you hadcertainly, the combat experience is a whole separate thing. But dealing with the Holocaust there and seeing that sort of thing, how does that affect you now?
BS: Well, now its fine. I did not speak, really, about the stories forIm not kidding youat least twenty-eight years. Did not talk about it. As far as the military, I came out okay, I came out healthy, I wasnt wounded; but my head was not healthy, my heart was not. I was operating regular, going to work the way everybody does, but I had headaches and I had dreams and I had started smoking overnight and all kind of stuff. I did not drink anything, and I did not take any drugs or something like that. But I was affected for quite a few years, and went to psychiatrists and everything. He sent me on vacation, go on vacation, go this and go that.
But eventually, eventually, eventually, I got healednot from medicine, but mentally, myself. You know, everything cooled down, and then things pop up, this war and that war. So, I really came to myself. Then children came. I had two children, my daughter and my son, and I thinkand I stopped smoking, because my son was pushing the smoke away. I used to get up in the middle of the night and smoke. I stopped that. So, I think mentally, the children brought me back to life, really. With the Holocaust, I decided to talk when they opened up the Holocaust Museum here, the Holocaust Museum. I knew the director.
MH: Which one?
BS: The one in Spring Valley [New York], local. Theres a local museum here. And I knew the director of it, and he knew my story. He said, Ben, dont take it with you. Start talking about it, okay? Dont take it with you. And I think that was the smart thing to say: dont take it with you. So, I started to talk. Im not a speaker or something like that. First, I started to talk like a soldier. I did this and that, whatever, and did good things, and some instances were not so good. But we were in the war and thats what were supposed to do, and thats what we did. And as far as the education on the Holocaust, to me, it was very important, very important, after the start which I had, and my mind straightened out. So, thats what it is. Thank God I have memory, which I remember as a kid, and I remember as adult. I remember the good things and I remember the bad things. So, I have no problem with that. And I started to talk with adults. First of all, they had lectures at the Holocaust Museum.
RS: (inaudible) are gonna be finished in about ten minutes. (inaudible)
BS: Let it go. The room is clean. I clean it up. I run the vacuum. (laughs)
So, you know, I started to talk. I started to talk, and I dont
MH: Do you remember an occasion when you were talking to people, or maybe to children, and remember their reaction to the things you were saying?
BS: Yeah. Yeah, I remember. I remember especially adults. When you talk to adultsadults are worse than children. Children take it, you know; but adults, for some reason, they get very upset, especially people which are involvedthey were in those camps. Oh, no, oh, no, and this and that. It all depends to whom I speak. I see the people and thats the way I switch, and I talk to them, whoever there is in the thing. When there are young people, like sixth graders, five graders or four graders, I will not give them the descriptive thing, you know, with the bodies and this and that. I will not do that, because it will not do any good. When I talk to them, its all those things which I saw [that] I say, and thats honest truth. All those things which I saw is of hate. And Ive been doing it forthe first timefrom the beginning, I never hated anything. When I came out after the war, forget about it. I dont want to hate anything, because if I will hate, I will not be able to sleep.
MH: How can you just shed it, though?
BS: I did.
BS: How? I dont know. Dont ask me how. But I just want to have one thing: I want to have peace. I want to have those kids, when they grow up in Germany, they should be peaceful. They should be taught everything whats going on there. You know, I was here intheres a German school in Westchester, a German school for the diplomats, the children of diplomats are here. Some children are U.S. citizens, which dont have to be German, but if they want to have, you know, for some reasonits high school. They want to learn the German language for their purpose, whatever it is. They are there.
And I showed them a magazine which is printed by the Jewish War Veterans, and it was about all liberating of camps, G.I. liberation of concentration camps. And I have this magazine because I got a grant from the state, New York State, just for that purpose of teaching. Those magazines are strictly for teaching, and theyre given out to teachers. She accepts two hundred and fifty or forty or whatever it is, and she signs for it, because I send those things back to Albany and they should have the record of it, and when we need another one, we will get it. And I talked to this principal from the German school, and shes afraid. Shes afraid to show it to the kids, because itswhat do you call it? You can scare them. Theres another word for it, just escapes me now. It is tootoo horrific.
BS: Not terrifying; there is a different word for it. But its too horrific. So, I said to her, I went to that camp. The American soldiers went to the camp. Were showing the samethose booksI told her so. Those books are being shown to the American kids in high school, in regular school. And I look at her. I could not believe it. And she tells meI didnt want to tell. I didnt want to be rude. I think, You guys did it.
BS: I didnt want to tell her that, because shes the principal, you know. But you guys did it! Its not me did it; I just went to clean up! That was with the German school.
MH: Have they everwhat finally happened?
MH: They wouldnt do it?
BS: That happened this year, mind you.
MH: And they wouldnt show the kids the books?
BS: No, no. They didnt show the book. They showed the story from Anne Frank and all kind of otherno, I have the book. No, they didnt show it. She saw it, she saw it.
MH: In Germany, they teach the Holocaust.
BS: Oh, absolutely. They also teach over here; they have a big program, as a matter of fact, in Westchester, a big program. I didnt tell the people yet; one of them I told. I didnt tell the people from the Westchester center. It is not a museum, but itsthey have a big program of teaching. I constantly go to high schools from them. Just yesterday, I had two hundred kids in Yonkers, New York, and they were mostly black kids, black, Hispanic, Asiatic kids. It happens to be from that kind of district. They were wonderful, they were absolutely wonderful. I did give the teacher, I asked her, I asked for the thing. Of course! So, shes gonna have it and shes gonna hand it out to her own children. And the German kids could not have it.
MH: What do the kids say to you? Do they believe it?
BS: They believe it. Some of them are very innocent questions, you know, comes out. How can it be? and this and that. So, I explain to them how it was. Some kids are very nave and everything, but they believe what we say, they really do.
MH: They dont doubt you?
BS: They dont doubt me at all. Some of them ask me completely innocent questions, you know, about the army or something like that. One kid asked me yesterday, and I explained him that in Siberia you dont get the numbers; did I have a number? I said, No, we didnt have a number; the numbers only came from Auschwitz, even not from the different camps, just there. And the numbers were given only to the people, the lucky people, which if they survived, because the people which went to Auschwitz itself, they didnt get anything. They went straight the way they were. So, I explained to him slowly, like that. But mostly, there is a very good response. Theres an excellent response from the teachers, excellent response, and they invite me for next year and everything else.
MH: Do you think talking to the kids helps you heal?
BS: It definitely does, definitely does, because I really dont want toI see whats going on, you know, and I dont want to take it with me. I dont want to take it with me, because you dont have to go far. There are so many of our guys [that] are going, our guys here, Christian guys which were in the camps in the American Army, and there are very few of them left already, very few of them left. I have a friend of mine which I will tell you about, and perhaps he can give you an interview. He liberated one camp: he liberated Gunskirchen. Gunskirchen is in Austria; it is part of Mauthausen and so forth and so on.
MH: Thats not Alan Moskin?
BS: Alan Moskin. Do you have him?
MH: Yes. Im supposed to talk to him, but it got put on hold.
BS: Okay. Put him on hold, because he was at this camp. Alan Moskin was at the camp. Alan Moskin is the one which I recruited for the JWV, and I recruited alsowhen I found out, I didnt know. I know Alan Moskin for a long time. How do I know him? Because hes my niecesmy married niece is from his family. In other words, Alan Moskins mother and my nieces mother were sisters, okay? They were not related to me by blood, and I know him through her.
And Alan Moskin didnt talk about it either. He didnt talk about it either. And we met on every occasion with my sister, every wedding or something like that. I knew his father, I knew his mother and everything else; they passed away now, but I knew them. But we never talked about this thing during the regular conversation. One day, I brought it up or something like that. I was telling a story about something like thator I dont know, maybe my niece told him about itand thats how I recruited him for that. And hes speaking everywhere now, and he became a member of the Jewish War Veterans, which he was not. Hes younger than I am, of course, and he was in the 3rd Army. Yeah, hes got a good story there to tell, so that should be good for you to do it.
I knew Eliot Hermon also from here, because we were from the JWV.
Eliot Hermon was also interviewed for the Concentration Camp Liberators Oral History Project. The DOI for his interview is C65-00057.
Right now he lives upstate. Where does he live?
MH: He lives in Middletown, just outside of Middletown.
BS: Outside Middletown, yeah, because the kids live in that area, too. Thats why he moved. Do I have another one from the Jewish guys? No, I dont know anybody. I know one, but he was not involved in liberation of camps.
MH: Thats what Im looking for.
BS: I think he is the only one. I had a couple of other guys; unfortunately, they died.
MH: Anything else that I should know?
BS: Anything else what you should know? Well, I think youve got pretty much what you have. I did make theyou know, I did write out my little memoirs. Oh, yeah, I was interviewed by the Steven Spielberg Foundation, so they have the tapes. Now they have all of it there. And also by the Jewish War Veterans, of course; there is a tape from that. Did you ever see the magazine from the Jewish War Veterans which Im talking about?
BS: Im gonna tell you and Im gonna show you, and Im gonna give you one to take home with you. And perhaps you cansome of those guys are still alive, not too many. They are only Jewish guys which were involved. There are a couple of nurses. The nurse is alive, I know that; she lives in Florida now.
MH: Whats her name?
BS: But you can find in the book.
MH: Theres a nurse that Im supposed to talk to who was in one of the evac hospitals that came to Dachau.
BS: Maybe thats her. Whats her name? I have the magazine. Ill givethats why I will give you the magazine. But she lives in Florida.
MH: Her name is [Charlotte] Chaney.
Charlotte Chaney was also interviewed for the Concentration Camp Liberators Oral History Project. The DOI for her interview is C65-00019.
BS: Chaney, thats the one which Im talking about.
MH: Im gonna talk to her in the next couple of weeks.
BS: Yeah, thats what Im talking about. Shes in that magazine.
BS: Chaney, thats the one.
MH: I talked to her on the phone.
BS: Good, good. Thats the one. Well, thats about all. If you want to know theI got the decoration a lot from the Polish government. They all came from the Polish government. I did not take them with me because I didnt have them. I had some documents, you know, which I had, and I wentwhen the regime changed, the government changed, [Lech] Walesa took over. President Walesa took over. I got all medals here, through the Polish embassy. I dont have all of them here because three of them are still at the Museum of the [American Jewish] Military History in Washington, D.C. So, I dont have everything here. Some of them, a couple of them, I have still in this museum there. But I have three which I always wear for Memorial Day.
MH: Do you have them here?
BS: I have them here. Im gonna show you. Theyre on the uniform.