Henry G. was born in Oleszyce, Poland
on June 14, 1921. According to Henry, he and Eva were
"sweethearts" before the war. In 1941 he joined the Polish Army in the Soviet Union and fought
the Germans from Lenino to the Reichstag in Berlin. The
following interview was conducted by the Institute's Holocaust Education
Specialist, Plater Robinson.
Today is March 27, 1989. It is five thirty PM. I'm on Jackson
Ave., an old haunt, and I'm about to interview Henry G. And
I look forward to this very much, because I like this gentleman
Well, Mr. G...
You're going to ask me questions, and you want me to answer
But the first thing I want to ask is your name and where you were
from and in what year you were born?
My name is Henry G., and I am born in June 14th, 1921. The
city that I was born is called Oleszyce. OLESZYCE. It is in
Poland now, I believe, which I'm not sure because it's on the
border between Poland and Russia.
It's in Poland now. I looked it up.
You know Mr. G., you probably don't believe this, but I'm
going to that town. I'm going to see that town for sure. And so
my first question has to do with Oleszyce and I'm particularly
interested in the Jewish way of life in Oleszyce before the war.
So the question is, if you and I were together in Oleszyce before
the war and we left your father's shop, and walked down the
streets, what would our eyes see?
You're talking about before the war? Well, before the war it
used to be a very religious town. It was a regular Galician
Jewish town. It's in Galicia you see, part of Poland. Where the
people were mostly religious and Orthodox religious.
Would you describe Oleszyce as a Shtetl?
It is a shtetl. We had about between two and three thousand
Jews living in that shtetl. It was divided in three parts.
Actually one part Polish people were living there. One part
Ukrainians. And one part Jews, and for years we used to get along
fine with our neighbors. We had no big trouble. Also the anti-Semitism lately was growing in the last years before the war.
After the death of Pilsudski?
I wouldn't say directly after the death of Pilsudski. It had
nothing to do with that. I would blame the Nazi propaganda from Germany. This propaganda infected the Polish people and
Ukrainian. And people started to look at us like we're some kind
of parasites living on their account. Because as you know the
Jewish people in Poland, used to be mostly businesses, not
mostly, some of them were business, but I would say the majority
of people in my city were not business people. They were workers,
hard working people. They were shoemakers, tailors, roofers,
making tin roofs and you can see them sitting on the roofs and
making roofs. Hand craft people, and they were all kind of other
hand work people that were connected with different trades. Then
they were also making the religious articles in our city. Our
city was one of the biggest manufacturers of religious articles
used in the Jewish religion. Torahs, the production of Torahs was
very big in our city. You could see about I would say many, many
families who were occupied making the skins, preparing the skins
scrapping the skins, drying them out in front of their houses.
They lived in small little shacks, and they worked mostly
outside, outdoors. In winter time they pulled it inside, dry
those skins, and they smelled awful. But they make a living from
that. The skins were from the animals, were scrapped to be able
to make parchment out of it, and then a bunch of people who were
busy with their children and grandchildren. It went from grandfather to father to son. They used to write those Torahs, the
holy...what do the call the Torahs in English...not the Bible
The Torah that is being read every Saturday in the Jewish...in
other words this had to be written on parchment, and had to be
written by men only, not by woman, and there were woman who made
the threads to sew these parchments together. Those were on big
rolls and it was a big industry. A lot of people were busy doing
Including your father?
No, my father was not. My father was a business man. He
was...he had people he paid them and he sold mostly textile in
the city. He was a fabric, a fabric salesman. We had a little
store where we sold fabrics. But he also had tailors working for
him that he sold ready made clothes sometimes for the farmers who
used to come into town. Once a week we had a market and the
farmers used to come in and bring in their products (pop).
On Wednesday, and then they sold their products and they came
into my father's store and they were buying fabrics, the ladies,
and they used to sew that at home, or they were also buying some
of ready made clothes which my father supplied them. Through, he
bought that from tailors who used to make it in the city. Boys and girls, and fathers used to be occupied making the clothes.
So he did a great deal of business with the Gentile
My father did, yes, we did a lot of business with the Gentile
population. Yes. We had a lot of Gentile customers, my father was
very well liked in the city, and in my store as far as I
remember, outside the store was a big sign, and it didn't say
fabrics or something else, it just said, on the sign, a big sign,
the name was (omitted). (omitted). And everybody knew the G.'s in
the city. I'm sure that the people who live there now remember
the G.'s very well because my father was not a rich man, but
he was a very nice man and he treated the people very good and so
did my grandmother. My grandmother was in the store day and
night. She was the brain of the business. She was running the
whole business over there.
What was your father's first name?
Leo. The men in my city did the business but the women were
the brains behind the business. The reason it was like that. It
was because the men were occupied mostly with studying the Torah
and the Bible in the synagogue. We had three synagogues. My
father used to take me each day, wake me up, four o'clock in the
morning to go with him to the synagogue. To study the holy books,
and discuss with me the holy books and we discussed the Torah. My
father wanted me to be a rabbi, to become a rabbi. So at the age
of thirteen, after I became Bar Mitzvah, actually, it was about
the same time that Hitler came to power in Germany. I decided to
leave my city where I lived, and went to Lvov, to the big city,
to Lvov, to a Yesehiva. I sent three years in the Yesehiva. I
came home a little later when I was close to seventeen years old
already. The reason I returned from there was because my mother's
health was very bad. My father couldn't run the business by
himself. It was very hard. My mother got sick. We were seven
children in the house. Babies kept on being born every year. Some
of them I hardly knew because I was away for three years, and so
my mother, my father came to Lvov and asked me to come to stop my
studies. I was supposed to be a rabbi. Stop my studies. And so I
came back and helped my father in the business, and I still
studied in the synagogues the Jewish Torah and books and
everything like that. Well, I was a religious boy. You can say I
was a Hasid. You know what a Hasid means? I was wearing eahs
here. A black coat, and a black hat. And I was one of these
Hasidim, religious boys, so were all of my brothers too. My
family was a religious family, and my grandfather was a Hasid of
the Belz rabbi. The rabbi from Belz lived a little bit close to
my city, and my grandfather used to take me for big holidays like
Rosh Hashana, the New Year's holiday, to stay in Belz for about a
couple of weeks. He stayed with me over there. We used to go on
horse and buggy. Used to drive sometimes three days and three nights through the woods to reach that city, Belz. Sometimes two,
sometimes three nights, depends on the horses. If you could get a
good strong horse and a buggy to hire. It's amazing how the
Jewish people were not afraid to drive through the woods to see
that rabbi. Day and night, driving a horse and buggy.
You as a young man dressed as a Hasid, as a rabbinical
student, didn't you stand out a great deal and did that attract
attention from the Gentiles that were hostile.
It did attract but it wasn't, for instance, I wouldn't dare
going, we had a river in the city.
It was smaller. It was not the real San. The real San was in
Jaroslaw, but this is a little river that falls into the San. I
think it's called the ... or something like that. In that river
we used to go bathe and swim, cause that's the only little river
that was in the city. We wouldn't dare, being Hasdim.
Some of the Polish boys would do something to make fun out of
us or cheat or make laugh from us or do something to us, maybe
beat us up too.
Did that ever happen to you?
Not directly, but I was one time beaten up by a Polish boy,
couple of Polish boys, I was walking in the street at Oleszyce
with another friend of mine, and they pushed us off from the
sidewalk and told us that we shouldn't walk on the sidewalk and
told us that we shouldn't walk on the sidewalk. They came against
us, and they pushed us off from the sidewalk, and they said we
should walk where the horses walk. We shouldn't walk on the
sidewalk. Polish Endeks, you know, Nazis or something. My friend
was very upset, and he was stronger than me, and he hit one of
the boys, and he fell down, and we start running, and we run
away, and so we disappeared very fast.
Oleszyce was a small town, so did you know these boys?
No, we didn't know them because they were all kinds of boys,
maybe I know him, but we wouldn't never report on them. Actually,
Jewish people would never report something like that. Small
things like that. We would never report it.
Because you would not meet with sympathy?
The police were on their side, yes. And the anti-Semitism at
that time was getting bigger and bigger. It was the time of the Nazis, you understand, so I just kept my mouth shut, and took it.
That's all. We just took it. We just, we were not trained,
really, to fight. We were not fighters. We were people of the
book. We were studying people. We were learners, and our leaders
never taught us how to fight. They never taught us how to fight
and that it will be necessary to fight, which was very wrong.
Because we were never, later on we realized that we, actually, I
remember when I survived and I returned to my city, the first
question I asked, after I met my wife, that was a year after the
war. I asked my wife, Where were all those young men who marched
in May 3, it's a big holiday in Poland, and I remember 1939, on
May 3, there was an organization in my city called Betar. Betar
is a Zionist organization. They got permit from the government to
carry guns, weapons, to dress up like soldiers, and march
together with the Polish army. Demonstrate in the street. That
was in 1939. A group of Jewish boys from Betar, I would say maybe
twenty, twenty-five, I don't remember exactly, those boys were my
friends and I remember them because I always looked at them with
envy. They were stronger than me. They were trained to fight, and
Betar teached them a little how to fight, not to fight in Poland
but in Israel. Teaching them when they come to Israel, the Betar,
an organization was trained to fight against the Arabs in Israel.
So the Polish government permitted them to walk in the streets
with their guns. And it was a beautiful scenery to see that,
Jewish boys with guns, walking, for the first time in my life I
ever saw that, and when I returned after the war, I asked my
wife, Where were the boys? Why didn't they up some kind of
resistance? Why didn't they fight? So my wife who was over there
till the end, and you know the story of my wife, said, Henry,
they couldn't. It was impossible to fight the Nazis. It was
impossible to fight. We were reduced from people to roaches.
Everybody stepped on us, everybody hated us. And everybody tried
to fight us. So we couldn't fight them. It was impossible. Don't
blame anybody for not fighting, we couldn't do that. She was in
the ghetto till the last minute. And I believed her.
Mr. G., did you have any friends who were Polish?
I had Polish friends, yes. As a matter of fact, I came back to
the city in 1946. I went to my house where I used to live, to my
childhood place, where my sweet childhood was, and I knocked at
the door, the people who lived there said, I was dressed in a
Polish officers uniform. The people who lived there told me that,
What do you want here, Lieutenant? And I told them, I would like
to see my house where I was raised, where I was born, I'd like to
look at it. They said, It's not true. You couldn't have lived in
that house because in that house Jews used to live there many
years ago. And you know, I was not a Jew at that time. I was an
officer in the Polish army. In that house Jews used to live. So I
stood there and looked at her and said, I used to live in that
house. She said, How could you live in that house? Do you want to
take that house away from us or something? I said, No, I don't want to take it away. I just want to take one more look at the
place that I was raised, that place where my family lived here.
Let me, I'm Jewish myself. I told her that. So she didn't know
me. She was a country woman from the country who moved into the
city. She said, The government gave us this house three years
ago. Do you understand? After the Jews were evacuated. We got
this house from the government. It's a two family house. So I
walked through the rooms. The pictures were still there of Kaiser
Franz Josef and his wife hanging in my bedroom. Because our city
used to belong at one time to Austria, and the Jewish people used
to admire Kaiser Franz Josef. He was a great king and he did a lot
of good for the Jews, and my grandfather had his picture hanging
in his room, and I slept in my grandfather's room, and that was
my room, and my grandfather's and my grandmother's room. The
pictures were still there, but I didn't want to take them. I
couldn't take them. I said to the lady, Lady, I'm not going to
take a thing out of this house. I'm just going. I just wanted to
look, goodbye and you enjoy it and live here.
Was the furniture the same?
Some of the furniture was still there. Most of the furniture
was still there. I wouldn't take it. I wouldn't touch it.
Memories. I had bad memories about it. Then I went to see, to the
city magistrate, city hall, and I found out that the mayor of the
city was a good friend of mine who went to school with me
together in the same class. He was a classmate of mine, his name
was Zaremba, and when he saw me he couldn't believe it. He said,
Henry, you know something, you will be a guest in my house. Come
and stay with me in my house. I said, OK, so he invited me to his
house, I had dinner, slept overnight in his house. Then Sunday he
took me to the Catholic church. I went into the church, and as I
stood in the church, many people came over to me, they were
talking between themselves that G. came back. I was dressed
in a nice Polish officer's uniform. I was an artillery officer. I
was in heavy artillery, and I had the green epualets here with
stars all over here, and also I had medals for bravery. So the
girls, some of the girls I used to go to school with me, come
over and there were two girls, they were the Skulomovski girls.
Skulomovski is the name. They came over to me and they said, Why
don't you come to our house and eat dinner with us Sunday, and
invited me to dinner to their house. Their father was a good
friend of my father, used to buy from us all the time, and we
were very close. We used to buy milk from him. Take milk. I used
to go. They had cows. We used to buy milk, and I used to bring
the milk to my house. And so they invited me to their house, but
they first they wanted to touch me and see that it's real. That
I'm really alive. Because everybody looked at me like I came from
heaven. The Polish people in that city didn't believe that any
Jews in that city can still be alive, because they stood there
and saw when the Jews were evacuated to be murdered, to be
killed, when they were taken to be loaded on the trains.
Did any of the Poles that you had known before the war attempt
to assist your family during those dark years?
Not that I know. Not that I know. But I went to see my
teacher, my school teacher. Mrs. Bernyeski. She was an old
teacher. She was a personal friend of my mother. They grew up
together, they went to school together with my momma, and each
passover she came sometimes to my house to a seder, and my mother
used to make fish for her, cook fish for her, she was very sweet
lady, she was teaching me for seven years in school. When I used
to come to school, Mrs. Bernyseksi used to always ask me, called
me up, and asked me, Did you bring lunch? Cause I was a skinny
little boy. Did you bring lunch? Did your mother give you lunch?
If I didn't have my lunch, she would send me home to bring lunch,
and make sure to watch me that I eat that. Because I was very
skinny. Many times I went without lunch to school. So she was
sick in the bed. When I came back from the war and walked into
her house, she was in bed. She saw me walking in and she
recognized me immediately. "Herschel," she said. She called me
Herschel. Is that you? I said, Yes. She threw herself down from
the bed. Fell down on the ground, and she started crying. My God,
she said. What they did to your family. Such a nice family.
That's what she said. And she couldn't stop crying, and I went
over to her, and I said, Don't worry about it. I'm alive. I'm an
officer in the Polish army. She said to me, she gave me her
picture somewhere I have it here, she gave me a picture, signed
it. I don't believe she is alive anymore. It's an old lady, Mrs.
Bernyseksi. Do you know, she said, that your father and your
brother were killed in the city bath house. When they were
evacuating them, they loaded them on the train in Lubachow, in
the other city, where my wife was in the ghetto, they run back to
Oleszyce, to my city, to hide and nobody wanted to hide them, so
they went to the bath house, your father and your brother were
hiding in boiler, in the boiler room. They crawled into the
boiler to hide from the Nazis, and the Nazis discovered them
there and they shot them in the bath house. They were shot there,
because everybody remembers that and I remember that she said,
she told me that. She kissed me, and I said goodbye. I stayed
about an hour talking to her. What could I say? She asked me if I
ever met or encountered in Russia her sister and her brother who
were taken to Russia by the Russians. The Russians came into my
city for a while. Her brother-in-law was the principal of the
school, and her sister was also a teacher in the school. And she
asked me if I ever encountered or met them in Russia. I said I
never did. So we talked about it, and I left her. I stood with
Zaremba for two or three days, but I couldn't stay too long in
that city because the pain was big. I figured I will collapse and
I will get sick if I stay there any longer. Because all the
stores, the cemeteries were demolished. Part of the stones from
the cemeteries they were pulled away to pave the streets with
them. Some of the streets were paved with Jewish cemetery stones. You understand? The synagogues were destroyed. There were no
synagogues anymore. The three synagogues we had they were gone.
So what do I have to do. So I went to the post office and I
mainly looked for survivors. Because I didn't know at that time
that my wife was still alive. And I was looking for survivors and
nobody had any survivors but they told me at the post office that
my wife that somebody wrote, they didn't tell me who, they told
me that somebody wrote to the post office to find out and they
misplaced the letter and they couldn't find the letter. The
Polish people. So actually they didn't tell me anything about any
survivors. I didn't get any information there.
Did they purposely lie to you?
I don't believe so. I think they just didn't care. They were
careless. Nobody cared in that time if any Jews survived or not.
They were careless. if they got a letter from some Jewish person
who survived, they just threw it in the basket probably. That's
Are you telling me that they were glad that the Jews were
I don't know because, what I can tell you is that at lunch
time at Skulomovski's house I didn't have a feeling that they
were glad. They missed my family. We talked a lot about my family
and everything like that. But nobody said directly that they
missed the Jews. And that did hurt me a lot, because it looked to
me that they probably wanted to forget it. They wanted to wipe it
out and forget from their mind which did hurt a lot.
Mr. G., if I can take you back to the first of September,
1939. And if you could relive for me the moment when you first
realized the war had begun.
When the war had begun, I have never expected that it's going to
happen what really happened. My parents were under Austria until,
before World War I. My father was in the Austrian army, a
sargeant. My father was wounded by the Russian front fighting for
Austria. Everybody in my family could speak German fluently. They
were teaching us German to speak. We had even preserved Austrian
money, Austrian letters were plentiful in the drawers all over.
My father and mother, they met in Vienna as refugees in World War
I, and they married in Vienna. They came back to live in my city.
My father was not from the city where I was born. He was born in
a city called Yarvorof, in another city, his parents both of them
got killed during the war. He was an orphan. My father was an
orphan when he married my mother. Nobody in my family believed
the Germans are going to kill us or that there's any threat or
danger coming. We believed that it's going to be over in a short
while, that it's just...They believed that the Germans are not
capable of killing people. Nobody believed that the Germans are going to kill Jews and murder that many millions of Jews and
children and women, nobody believed in that. Nobody. Because
first of all we were not told, we were not warned, we were not
prepared for that, and also especially in Galicia, where I lived
in Poland, the people knew the Austrians, and they knew the
Germans and the Austrians because they fought in World War I for
Austria and for Germany. They didn't believe that the Germans are
capable of doing that.
On the first of September, when did you realize the war had
I realized not the first of September. See, they walked in not
to our city the first of September. When they arrived to our city
it was already I believe ten days that the war is going on.
Because we were on the middle almost in the center of Poland. A
little bit further. See, it took them a while to come in from
Germany to occupy my city.
But didn't the planes pass overhead that first day?
They started bombing. They bombed my city, and it was tragic.
They bombed Jewish neighborhoods. They bombed the library where
we had there. They bombed all kinds of important buildings.
Factories and everything like that. It seemed like they had
exactly plans on the places. They had collaborators notifying and
letting them know exactly what to bomb. But they also bombed some
Jewish neighborhoods. I remember there was a tailor not far
around the corner from me. They started screaming and he was
severely wounded from a bomb that fell close to his house. They
started to bomb us and we were running like wild. We didn't know
where to go, where to hide. Some of them run away from the
houses. I stood at that time in my house. At one time when they
came with their bombs I run away to a vineyard you know where
apples were growing. An apple yard. And as I was sitting under a
tree I met my wife there. My girlfriend. She was my girlfriend. I
met her over there. And while they were bombing the city, we were
sitting over there under a tree hiding from them. It was
horrible. We didn't believe that they would bomb civilians. The
bombed us like crazy before. And then they came into the city and
actually a few days before they arrived, there was artillery
shooting all around, and Polish army still put up resistance. The
Polish army demolished a bridge in my city, and so they came into
the city and of course right away we were told that they were
shooting people from the cars, from their trucks. If they see
religious people, people with beards, those people were
religious, and most of my city's Jews had beards, most of them.
Even the water carriers, those who drove the carriages and
horses, horse and buggies, they had beards, and on Sabbath on
Saturday they were all religious Jews. Nice people, and they were
shooting these people, because, if they didn't have a beard, they
didn't know he was Jewish, but a Jew had a beard, they knew right away he was Jewish, and so they were shooting, and we were hiding
in the houses, and I remember it was exactly the second day of
Rosh Hashana, they came in. The second or the first day they came
in, on Rosh Hashana, because we didn't keep a count on the
holiday that time. But it was on Rosh Hashana, in the morning we
went to the synagogue and we came home from the synagogue. I was
sitting in my room, and three Nazis came in with machine guns.
They took me out, and they took me and my brother and my father.
And they said, Out! And my mother said, Where are you taking
them? And he said, I'm taking them to be killed. Just like that.
And they had machine guns. Nazi soldiers. And so my mother said,
How about leaving one of my sons. You're taking my older sons and
you're talking my husband. Why not leave one of my sons to take
care, I have small babies here, I have a house here of small
children. I wouldn't be able to support my children. If you take
my men away, to shoot. So he kicked my mother in the stomach, the
German soldier, pushed her away. She didn't want to go away. She
begged him. She was holding me the hand like that. And so, he
kicked her in the stomach, and she fell down on the floor. I
said, Moma, be quiet. I picked her up, and told her, Moma be
quiet. My mother got up and sat down on a chair. She was hurt,
you know, he kicked her with his boot. And he took me out, and
put us against the wall, like that, against the wall, and they
told us not to turn our heads back, that we will eventually be
shot and killed, and the reason we are going to be shot is
because there was a law in the morning for the Jews to rebuilt
the bridge on the river, in my city, within three hours we have
to rebuilt, and all the Jews have to be working on the bridge.
Now we didn't know about that law. We didn't have no radios.
There was only one radio in the whole city. We didn't have no
newspapers. Nobody told us about it. We were hiding in the houses
because there was shooting from artillery and bombs were falling.
We were afraid to go out of the house. How did we know that we
have to go work by the bridge? You understand? In a little while
the officers came in, they gathered about twenty people. Maybe
between twenty and twenty-five and put us up against the wall and
made us hold our hands like that with machine guns pointing on
us, and I said a prayer, this is the end of me, I'm going to be
killed, so the two officers and they told and they said, What are
you keeping these people here? He said, These are the people we
find in homes not working on the bridge. So the officer said,
Turn them around and run them fast to the bridge because we need
them there for work. We need more workers. And so he turned us
around, and we were running. It was only ten minutes from my
house but we had to run very fast out of the city to the bridge
that was demolished by the Polish army when they returned, you
know. And so there were Jews standing in water, it was September,
it was very cold. I was appointed to work on a big truck to go
with the truck, the truck was driven by a German soldier, and we
went to a saw mill and picked up heavy timber, and loaded it on
the truck, and then unloaded it on the bridge, and we laid
timber, rows of timber right and left, one on top of the other, so
the German tanks should be able to get through it, and I was
working with a cap on, cause it was very cold, I had my black cap
on and I don't know from where, an SS man came from, a German
man, and he hit me in my back with a piece of wood. He took my
cap off and threw it in the water and he said, We don't work with
caps on. It was cold. I didn't wear it because it was religious,
only because it was very cold and I tried to hide the cold from
my head. So anyway I threw the hat in the water. But I fell down
in the water myself. I couldn't work anymore. He hit me very
hard. So a man saw me falling and said, You're going to be shot
and killed if you don't work. I said, I can't work. The man's
name was Klepner, Chaim Klepner. He was a friend of my father. He
could speak a nice German. He was also an older man, he said,
come with me. He took me over to the driver of the truck, and he
told, he says, Let this boy go home. This boy is hurt. He can't
work anymore. Please let him go home. So the driver calls me
over, looks at me for a while, then he said, You can't work? I
said, No. Would you take a chance to go home because they can
kill you in the street. Patrols in the street. German patrols in
the street. If they catch you they'll kill you. Would you take a
chance to go home? I said, Yes, I'll take a chance because I
can't stay here. So he said, Go. It's only ten minutes. It took
me three hours to go. I was afraid not only for the Germans. I
was afraid that the Christians shouldn't see me. The people from
the city could turn me over.
Was that common?
I don't know, but they were standing in the streets and
clapping hands for joy when the Germans were running us to the
bridge. When we were running to bridge, to work, with German
soldiers with machine guns, the people in the street were
clapping hands and enjoying it.
And these were the people who had been your neighbors?
The same people who had been my neighbors for many years. Yes.
Mr. G., unfortunately we're running out of time and I
don't want to take too much of your time so if I could just move
you ahead. In 1941 the Germans attacked Russia but by this time
you had escaped to Russia and you had been arrested there and
spent over a year working in labor camps in Russia and then when
the Germans attacked Russia, Sikorski and Stalin agreed to a pact
and the Poles in the Soviet Union were released from prison and
labor camps. You tried to enlist in the Polish army. Will you
tell me that story?
I tried to enlist first in the Sikorski army, but they told me
to wait, because during the time when I enlisted I was far away
in Ural. The Sikorski army was being evacuated to Iran, to Israel, something, the relations went bad between the Polish
government and the Russian government, so I couldn't join this
army, so I waited for a while, and in the meantime they gave me a
job. I worked in a factory, my job was to drive a horse and
buggy, to drive, the Russians didn't let me work in the factory
because I wasn't considered reliable enough to work inside the
factory, so I had to work outside, deliver food, deliver fabrics
it was a sewing factory, I delivered fabrics, I delivered
finished garments, army garments, they were making army clothes,
to the railroad, and I many times I had to go to hospitals to
deliver dead people to the morgues, and stuff like that. I worked
on a horse and sled, you know.
And then the Kiosko Division was formed.
Then I found out one day that the Kiosko Division was going to
be formed, and so I was one of the first volunteers and I went
and volunteered to the Kiosko Division because I wanted to go
back and fight for my country (emotion) and fight for my parents
and maybe some day come back to see my family. I didn't believe
that my family is dead, but I wanted to fight against our common
enemy. I was one of the first volunteers, so when I volunteered
they told me to wait, they going to gather a whole group of
people and they made me sort of a sargeant and they gave me a
paper to deliver these people to Shelsa, to a place near Moscow
where the Polish army, the Kiosko Division was formed, because
they were bringing in from villages, from Siberia, former
prisoners, Polish prisoners, that the Russians dragged, brought
into Russia. And those people were drafted, most of them were
drafted to the army, some of them volunteered. And we gathered
about seventy people, seventy-five people, and they gave me a
paper that in every city where we stopped, we should get food
from the Soviet Army. We were not uniformed at all. We had to
report to Shelsa. It took a whole month to reach that place,
because all the trains were taken away by the army. At that time
the Russians were fighting the Germans already.
Did you have trouble joining the Kiosko Division?
I had a little trouble joining the Kiosko Division too. When I
arrived to the Kiosko Division I was asked about my nationality
and my name. I have them my name Henry G., and gave them my
documents, and they asked me my nationality. I told them I was
Jewish, and they told me flatly like that, We don't accept Jews
to this army. And the other Jewish people that were there, there
were several Jews of us, a group of Jewish people, maybe ten of
us from different cities, from Siberia, from everywhere that were
drafted to the Polish army. They were happy, so OK we'll go back.
Do you understand? I was not too happy, and I walked out and I
saw a man training Polish soldiers and he was a sargeant and his
name was Pinkosevich, a fellow I knew in prison. I met him one
time in prison. And I recognized him. He was in prison in Russia because he crossed the border illegally. And I met him in Russia
and I recognize him and he was training Polish soldiers, and I
asked him, How come that you are in the army and I am not in the
army? He says, Don't be a fool. Go back and tell that you are
Polish. Change your name and tell them you are Polish. So I was
considering, thinking like that, should I do that or not. Should
I change my name and tell them that I am Polish. I said, I'm
going to go back and try to tell them that I'm Polish but I'm not
going to change my name. Because if somebody's alive from my
family, and if ever the war is over, and they look for me,
they'll never be able to find me. I just changed my name from
Herschel to Henryk. My first name, but I gave them my last name
the real last name (omitted). (omitted). Which is still in the
books in Oleszyce in Poland. So I gave them my real name, and I
told back to the same lieutenant, and I told the lieutenant, and
I spoke Polish very well and I told him, I said, I told you
before that I was Jewish, I am really not Jewish. I'm really
Polish. And I speak Polish very well and I'd like to fight for
Poland, and I would love for you to take me to this army. I would
like to join the Polish army and go and fight. So he looked at
me, he says, You mean you made a mistake. I said, Yeah. He says,
You look alright. I'll take you. And I looked like, I was a blond
boy. I had blond hair, tall, and he liked me. He liked my looks.
He took me, he sent me for a military commission. The commission
said my health is in good shape and I was accepted to the Polish
army. And I was trained for a short while, a month, I was sent
right away to the front.
Yes. I was on the Lenino. Which was the first fight with the
Kiosko Division. I was. In the first Poog. The first division, in
artillery, I was an artillery soldier. My job was then in those
days was to keep communications, to carry a radio and a
telephone, and make communications between observation point and
the cannons in the back, the artillery in the back. And all of a
sudden in the morning the Germans came in.
When I was at the front, in those days we had horses, the artillery was
drawn by horses. We needed three pairs of horses for each cannon.
Sometimes we had to push it because it was a lot of mud there. The
territory was very bad in Russia. We had to push the cannons with our
hands. It was very hard work. They took me to artillery because I was a
strong boy. I was in good health. The Germans came in with their
Messerschmidts and Junkers and they started bombing us. I was lucky
because I found a Polish boy who told me, Come with me, Henry. Grab me by
the hand and we went into a little ditch, and he says, When the Germans
come down, they're going to shoot us with machine guns, and he showed me,
because he was at the bombing of Warsaw in the beginning, when they bombed
Warsaw, and he was trained a little bit about that. And he showed me, he
says, When the machine gun shoots forward, we should be under this wall.
Then we turn around. I put my sack that I have here, my pot I used to cook
the food there, and it was full of holes, shooting, laying right on the
side of that ditch, and we escaped, about seventeen got killed in my
company. The company consisted of about sixty-six people. Sixty-six,
sixty-seven people. They were artillery shooters, gunners, and telephone
operators. Radio operators. And all kind of...so anyway about seventeen
got killed. And many wounded people. After they finished bombing us.
PR These are men that you are fighting and dying with and they do
not know that you are Jewish.
HG I didn't tell them that. I just didn't feel like I wanted it
discovered and tell them that, because it was not a time when you
wanted to be Jews, you didn't trust anybody at that time. I don't
think they were my friends. Maybe they were some of them friends,
but I still wouldn't tell them. None of them. No Jewish people
told that they are Jewish.
PR And often times you would be in the bunkers with these fellow
HG Yes. I would sit in the bunkers with them and often times I
could sometimes hear all kinds of stories, jokes about Jewish
people. And sometimes they were so infiltrated with propaganda
that they, some of them thought, that the reason that they were
dragged into Russia, that they were on Siberia, or in Russian
prisons. Those were former Russian prisoners, is only because the
Jews are communists, the Jews brought them there, they blamed us
for that. And believe me, I don't believe that the Jews in Poland
at all. That was just Nazi propaganda. That they were infiltrated
from outside, and maybe the church had a lot to do with it. The
Catholic church had a lot to do with it. We were definitely not
communist. Maybe there was one or two communists that I knew of
the three thousand Jews in Poland, that were there, that were
communists before the war. One or two of them, Jewish boys, and
those, one of them was in jail, was arrested before the war by
the Polish police, and he spent five years in prison. I don't
know where he is now, and the other one was always checked and
watched by the police, two of them. The rest of the Jews that
lived in my city were mostly religious Jews. Observant Jews.
PR Mr. G., I can't help but think that it was very difficult
for you to fight for the liberation of Poland when you were
fighting side by side with Poles who espoused anti-Semitic
HG No, it did not bother me at all. In those days, I was drinking
with them together, I drink vodka with them together, I went out
together to visit girls. I don't say that I was actually
different, because I didn't want to be different. If I would have
been different, I would have been recognized. I was not
different. I was the same like my friends. And I wanted to be
like them, and it didn't bother me because I thought when the war
will be over, once we beat the Nazis, the Poles and the Jews will
live in peace like they did for a thousand years before. And that
we will return to Poland we will meet our families, I didn't know
my family was dead, and I said, my family would still be alive,
and we will build up our life again, and we will, because we
didn't have any other place to live. We didn't have Israel in
those days. We didn't have a country of our own. Where are we
going to go. America didn't want us. And we didn't have no
relatives in America. Poland was our country, a thousand years we
lived in Poland, so we fought for that country, and we gave our
lives, many Jewish people that I know died for Poland, died in
the war (emotion) and one of my friends, I worked with a friend
of mine, and we walked, I was carrying the telephone and he was
carrying the wire a little bit later on the front, and he hit a
mine and it tore him up to pieces, and I was in the front of him,
and I could pick up his fingers, were separated, and he died. He
was a Jewish boy too. And I knew he was Jewish, although we
didn't talk about it in the war, but he was a Jewish boy. We
fought for Poland. We did not fight for Judaism in that time. For
Jewish people, we fought for Poland. And we fought a common
PR When you entered Poland, when did you first notice there were
no Jews around?
HG The tragedy started mostly, for me, when we returned into
Poland, and when I saw cities where thirty, forty thousand Jews
used to live before the war and I could not find not one of them
alive. Graves where Jews were shot and buried by the Nazis. I
saw, that's when the real tragedy, and also the tragedy was when
I saw one or two survivors in Poland, and when I tried to
approach them, they were running away from me. They were scared
of us, of the Polish soldiers.
PR You were wearing a Polish uniform.
HG Yes. I was in a Polish uniform and when you approached a
survivor in a Polish uniform and he didn't know that you were
Jewish, he was running away. He was trying to run away from you.
The only way you could make him talk to you, if you was alone, if
I was alone, if I didn't have any company, and if he was alone,
then you said the word, "Amacha." This was a secret word that we
used in Poland. Amacha, we learned that during the war, and we
tried to use that. It's like a word the other person, you could
speak Polish to him, but when you said, Amacha, he knew that you
are a Jew.
PR A password.
HG A password. We used a password, so when I met in Chelm, I
walked on the street. I was patrolling the street, I was
appointed officer that night of the city, and I walked in the
street with a soldier of mine, and we patrolled in the street and
I saw a girl running away from us. A girl saw us a distance away,
it was getting sort of dark. It was in the evening, and she run
away, and we tried to run after her, and then we got suspicious,
why is she running away from us, so we ran after her. And when we
came closer to her, she, we saw her running into a store, at the
door, there was a rolling door on that store, the door rolled up
very fast and closed behind her. And so we were very suspicious,
why is this girl running away from Polish soldiers. Normally the
Polish people were very friendly to us because they accepted us
with joy, especially in these territories with Chelm cause they
hadn't seen Polish army for so many years, and they were taking
us with joy in friendliness, because the Polish people opened up
their homes for us, you understand? After the Nazis left. And
this girl run away from us, so we were suspicious. So we went
over there and we knocked on the door. We told, Open up. I said,
Open up. So they didn't want to open, and I said, We're going to
shoot, and we had to shoot one time, and so they got scared, I
took my gun out and shot one time up in the air, and so they
finally got scared and they opened up the door, and when they
opened up the door I saw four men and a girl laying on the girl,
and when we walked in, the first thing they did, they said, Oh
please don't kill us. Please don't kill us. We are Jews. We
survived (emotion) the war, and don't kill us. And I stood like
that and I didn't know what to do. I looked at them. I said, I'm
not going to kill you. Get up. So they laid on the ground, and
they tried to grab us by the feet to kiss our feet. I said, You
don't have to kiss my feet. Get up. And at that time I surely
didn't want to tell them that I was Jewish because I have another
soldier with me. You understand? And so how many Jews live here
in this city? I asked. She says, There are some more survivors.
If there are some more survivors, I say, You know what you need.
You need a guard by your place. I'm going to go back to the staff
and try to put a guard here by this place, so that nothing
happens to you. When they talked to me, they couldn't believe it.
They didn't know I was Jewish. So we put a guard there, and in a
short while I was appointed to train soldiers in that city
because we drafted a lot of Polish soldiers in that city, and we
had to train them because to train in artillery is not easy. We
were supposed to stay there for three weeks to a month time and
train new soldiers, new draftees. So I said, Don't worry about
it. As long as I am in town, you are safe. And so I put up a
guard there. I went to the staff. They gave me some soldiers. I
put them by that place to guard these people. Within a short time
it was we gathered between thirty and forty people. They came
from different little communities in there, and I remember that
time we thought it was Yom Kippur, we didn't know for sure, but it
was Yom Kippur. It was 1944, at the time for the Jewish holiday.
And so I went there, and I went later and told them I was Jewish.
PR And what did they say?
HG They couldn't believe it. They couldn't believe that a Jewish
man is still alive. So we went there on Yom Kippur to conduct
services. They had one book only. All the forty people prayed
from one book, and everybody was crying with tears. They all lost
their entire families. So, I never believed it. An officer from
another regiment, from infantry, came, and he conducted and sung
the services, his name was Kaplan, and I remember he sung for us.
He was a cantor, he was singing so beautifully. We chanted the
services for us. I cannot believe it. He just kept up, not
praying but crying and praying, crying and praying, unbelievable.
A group of people between thirty and forty people, but later on
they took me away, the transferred me away from there. But as
long as I was over there, the staff of the army, of my artillery
army, sent food everyday to them. And I made sure that the food
was delivered. That a guard was there all the time, so it was
peaceful. They lived there. And I never met them anymore. I don't
know what happened to these people. I was transferred on the
front again. I had to go and fight again.
PR And after the war you were in Poznan.
HG After the war I was stationed in Ostrov, Ostrov was near
Poznan. And that's where I was stationed over there, and my
seventeenth Polk, I was appointed to be a commander of a battery,
I had the job of a captain already, because this is not a
lieutenant's job. A lieutenant is only a commander of a Ploton.
During the war I was a lieutenant, but right after the war I was
appointed a captain. I was not officially a captain. But I had a
job as a captain. I commanded four big cannons. At the end of the
war I commanded four cannons. I was in the 70th Polk of
artillery. I have documents in here. So I was over there and one
day I was traveling in a train. I had to go to Krakow, from my
place to Krakow, to one of the headquarters to deliver some
papers they used to send me sometimes delivering papers, so I had
to go there, and I was taking a train from Poznan to Krakow, and
the railroad was loaded with people, there were so many people
loaded with packages to go on the train, so I saw an old lady
with two suitcases pushing and pushing. An old lady, and I felt
sorry for her because we had a special car, for the army
officers, and for soldiers and for officers, traveled in a
special car, and our car was empty, and the other cars were all
filled up with people, they didn't let them in, so I finally went
down, and I took this old lady, I said, Lady, you come and I will
tell them that you are my mother, or something like that. Come on
with me. I'm an officer, and I want to help you. Come in the
officer's wagon. She was so happy. The guard was standing by the
door. I told him, This is my mother. I took her in, and put her
down next to me and put the suitcases up, and I offered her some
food, something to eat, they give us food over there to eat in
the car, and so we talked friendly all the time but she started
the conversation about the Jews. And then start telling me, how
Jews are returning and coming back from Russia to Poland. They're
going dirty down our country again. And they're going to louse it
down (in Polish). That means they're going to louse Poland. Make
it filthy and dirty, like it was before. And she said, Thank God
we lived about three years without them. And we don't need them
back. And Russia is sending them back to us. That's what she told
me. The Russians are sending those Jews back to us. I couldn't
take it anymore. I just sat and listened to what she had to talk,
and the train stopped in Krakow. I went down from the train, and
I told the lady, let me help you carry the suitcase. I helped her
carry the suitcases, but I carried them right into the police
station. And I walked into the police station there, and I told
them, I'm a Jewish officer in the Polish army, I fought for
Poland, and I almost gave my life. I was wounded a couple of
times. I was at different times in hospitals. I gave my blood for
your country, and I would like for you to arrest this woman
because this woman I think is a Nazi collaborator. So they asked
me why? So I told them the story about it. How she talked to me,
I tried to help her into the train, and be nice to her, and how
she talked to me. So I would like this woman to be arrested, and
if you ever need me, I gave them my address. If you need me to
testify or something like that, I will gladly come and testify.
PR What was her reaction?
HG She just sat like deaf and dumb. Didn't utter a word. She
couldn't never believe that I was Jewish, that I was a Jewish
officer. That I was going to do such a thing.
PR And did they ever contact you?
HG Never. Never contacted me. They said, We're going to
investigate, they took her there, and I left. They said,
Lieutenant, you can leave. I said goodbye to them, and they said,
We'll do whatever the law requires us to do. And I left. I never
wanted to stay there a minute longer. I left. They never called
me back. This is what happened to me.
PR So Mr. G., thank you very much for speaking with me. Is
there something that I have not asked that you wanted to say.
HG I can say that I in my city where I lived I really don't hold
as much hatred against Polish people, I don't hate the Polish
people. If Poland would have been a free country, there's the
possibility that I would have stayed in Poland. I was signed up
for active duty for many, many years, for twelve years in Poland.
I would have stayed in Poland. And lived in Poland. The Polish
people in my city were not as guilty as the Ukrainians. We had
Ukrainians in our city who were really openly murderers of
the Jewish people. Against them I have a lot of hatred, because
they have really done the collaboration with the Germans. The
Poles did not collaborate officially with the Germans. The only
thing I have against them is they just stood there, and watched
the Germans killing us and taking us away and murdering us, and
did nothing to help us. They didn't murder us, but they didn't
help us. The murders really that happened in my city were
committed by Germans and by Ukrainians. The Poles were just
bystanders, and watched it and did nothing to help us. That's all
I wanted to bring out.
- END -