All interviews were conducted by Plater Robinson, the Institute's Holocaust Education specialist.


Leo Scher was born in 1921 in Czestochowa, a city in western Poland known for its shrine to the Black Madonna. The Nazis arrived in Czestochowa very early in September 1939. Leo became a leader among his family and friends, and managed to save both himself and many other Jews by outwitting the Nazis time and again. His nerve and courage were legendary, and to this day those that were with him during those times speak of him with awe. At the end of the war, Leo secretly transported a number of Jewish youths from Poland to Palestine. The following interview was conducted by the Institute's Holocaust Education Specialist, Plater Robinson.

LS     My name is Leo Scher. I was born in 1921, in Czestochowa.

PR     I'm very interested in understanding the atmosphere in Poland between the wars in terms of relations between Poles and Jews. If you would try to describe the atmosphere in Czestochowa before 1939, and if you have examples that might illuminate this atmosphere, that would be helpful. For example, your father was a professional person, or not?

LS     My father was a very professional. He was a politician. He was an elected official. And in Poland an elected official is not just for salary, it's honorable. Dedication is to be patriotic, and he did it with a great deal of happiness. He was happy about it, pride. He had a great deal of pride. Because he was a very learned, very educated man, and in Poland to find a man to be educated, like my father, was very, very hard to find. One out of a thousand. Or maybe more.

PR     Your father was a member of the government on the local or national scene?

LS     Local, and state.

PR     And the state in which Czestochowa...

LS     Regional and local.

PR     You were born in Czestochowa?

LS     Right.

PR     Isn't it extraordinary that a Jewish man would hold a prominent political office in Poland before the war?

LS     No, it was not. Because the population of Jewish people was so great, they were always able to elect their official, their representative. If you need five thousand votes, you can get it very easy. If you need ten thousand, you can get it easy too.

PR     I was in Czestochowa last summer, and I know a ghetto was established in Czestochowa. I wonder what the Jewish population of Czestochowa was?

LS     To my knowledge, it was one third of the population was Jewish. Czestochowa was a city of about a hundred and twenty thousand, and it was between thirty-five and thirty-eight thousand Jewish people.

PR     And did you live in the Jewish Quarter?

LS     I have to. I have no other choice. I mean, I was moved into it. We lived on a boulevard. The Jewish population was mostly, a majority of the Jewish population was very poor people. Ten percent was the high class, aristocratic. Twenty percent was middle class. And the rest, seventy percent, was very poor.

PR     Impoverished.

LS     Impoverished. And they lived like a slum area, very poor housing, so naturally when the Germans, when they established the first ghetto, there was a first ghetto in the beginning, and then later after the evacuation, after the destruction of the Jewish city, at the time, from 1942, in 1942 the city of Czestochowa has a population of forty-five thousand people. Of course, the Jews from the surrounding little towns, they have to, they've been excluded from the towns, and the Germans pushed them into the ghetto, and as a center because they want to keep all the Jews at one spot when they have to do work they would have to go scatter all over. So we had forty-five thousand Jews, and in 1942 when the selection was, when they shipped out the Jews to the gas chambers, the liquidation of the Jews. It was Treblinka then, Auschwitz wasn't finished. They shipped out forty thousand Jews, and the five thousand they left. Like my age, the youngsters to do the work, they needed some work. And then they caught from the big ghetto, from the forty-five thousand where again when they established the big ghetto, a house like this if I have three rooms, three bed rooms, and this was counted as a room, the kitchen was counted as a room, so five rooms, they put in five families. Four other families, no matter what. How many children each family, and that's why the reason in Poland, everybody has more children than here in America. Like we have six children in our family. I have two brothers and three sisters, my father and mother, and even my grandmother lived with us. So then they need, they want to push us together, the Germans, when they established the ghetto, they said, This is it. Put in three more families in this house. And you can't say no. If you say no, you're against the rules. Every order in Poland by the German government was under penalty of death. So nobody will say no. That's what they saw it was.

PR     I'd like to step back a little bit before September 1939, and to the period before the outbreak of the war in an attempt to understand that atmosphere. For example, if you and I left your home in the early morning and walked down the streets, what would we see?

LS     A beautiful country. A beautiful street. Beautiful people. Everybody was happy, everybody was poor but happy. Average person is satisfied. This is it. People were living that way for hundreds of years. One was dressed well, one was dressed a little less well. One was dressed nice beautiful new suit, coat and tie, a little hat. But everybody was happy.

PR     And the language that we would hear on the street?

LS     Polish. Polish and of course, it was always a certain section of the Jewish population, and in this section you could hear the Jewish language, Yiddish. But the atmosphere was nice. Fine, everybody was happy, going to work, coming from work. People who didn't work were happy. Even the beggars were happy. Because when they begged they got what people gave what they needed, and they were happy.

PR     Market Day was Friday?

LS     In Czestochowa it was Thursday, because Friday was a day it was too late to buy for Sabbath. You have to cook it on Friday, but you not allowed to cook. Not everybody was religious, but the majority they looked at the religious points.

PR     And the peasants would come in from the countryside on Thursday?

LS     Right.

PR     And it was a colorful scene I imagine.

LS     Very colorful. Horses with wagons bringing chickens and eggs and butter and turkeys and vegetables, potatoes, onions, everything what you want to hear what you see. So, fruits especially. The city of Czestochowa, it wasn't agriculture. But in big cities, never had agricultural spot, most industries. Factories and so on. So all the farmers came into the city whatever they brought, they always went home empty. They sold out. Everything was sold. And it was plentiful. Food was plentiful. And I'm telling you, you could buy a lot of food for a dollar. A dollar in our money was five zlotys, but for five zlotys a family could almost live the whole week. So that's how, so food was plentiful.

(I left Germany in 1950)

In Czestochowa, eighty percent of the industry belonged to Jewish people. The biggest ones. I would say ninety percent. Because wherever industry was in Poland was I believe to my knowledge. They developed it, they developed a business, they were very good at it. Everybody was comfortable with it. Now, the ladies in all those factories, were ninety-five percent non-Jewish ladies. So they had a good relationship. I don't know how much they liked the boss (laugh). A Jew is my boss, they liked or they didn't like it, they have to take it. They have to go to work, they have to learn a living. And this was Czestochowa to my knowledge, and again as you go, it's a beautiful sight. I traveled, I was a youngster, kind of developed, I was kind of like an owl, like an eagle. I looked at everything, I saw everything, I wanted to see everything. I was very much familiar with Czestochowa.

PR     It probably hasn't changed much since then.

LS     It probably has changed because the life isn't as much now as it used to be before. Because when you cook a meal, you can buy the best steaks, if you don't season it right, it doesn't taste good (chuckle). Without a little Jewish flavor, I don't know. I don't know how many countries they have in the world that they don't have Jews. Very few. But wherever they don't have Jews you can see how the Third World status, they don't have Jews you can see how life is there.

PR     The Jews were so much a part of Polish life.

LS     It was. There was a seasoning of it. The ego. The will. I mean, it was good to have, the contribution of it, to me, it looked like it was a lot. I could see it. Because there wasn't a peasant that came from the surrounding area thirty-five, or forty kilometers from the area around Czestochowa, that hasn't come to buy a product, groceries or any other materials has to come and buy from a Jewish store.

PR     Did the Jews in Czestochowa get along well with the Poles.

LS     Yes. It wasn't very much, because in a city of that size, you always have a group that didn't, that fought back. The city of Czestochowa they had a quite a good Jewish youth, but when they were attacked from the radicals, only the radicals.

PR     Endeks?

LS     Yes. Endeks. They attacked the Jews, and they didn't let themselves. They didn't let it happen, at a sporting event. They let themselves. When a Jewish team played a non-Jewish team, a radical team, they always came a fight broke out. So the Jews always won the fight. Because they have tough guys, good boxers, good fighters, they always could, they beat up any attack.

PR     Did you ever suffer an attack?

LS     Yes.

PR     Can you tell me about it?

LS     Well, we was going to a sport event, and we knew what it is, and it was even not an event between Jews and non-Jews. It was just a national...

PR     A soccer game.

LS     A soccer game, and we were not allowed to enter. I was not allowed to enter, even though I had a ticket. They told me to wait, wait, wait. I tried to push myself in, I tried to demand. So I got hit. I got hit.

PR     They were preventing you from entering because you were Jewish.

LS     Because I was Jewish. I wasn't alone, I was with other friends, three or four, what could we do, you know?

PR     The Polish and the Jewish citizens of Czestochowa, there was little mixing, or there was a great deal of mixing between the two?

LS     Not much. Not too much mixing.

PR     Marriages?

LS     Marriages, absolutely I would say one half of a percent. One half of a percent. Not even a percent.

PR     Was there a noticeable shift in relations between Poles and Jews once Pilsudski died?

LS     Yes, it was. It was. Right after Pilsudski died, the government, the radicals took over it. The first they had Senate they made a law that they forbid ritual slaughtering of kosher. This was one. And there were many others.

PR     How did you circumvent that law?

LS     They fought. They had a couple of Jewish senators in Poland. They tabled it, but in the meantime they tried to but you cannot exist. If you, even if they will not legalize, but then will be black market slaughtering. You can slaughter even without the permission of the government. If you will not do it in a slaughter house, you will do it in a private home. In the backyard, you know.

PR     What other official harassment was there?

LS     Well, I noticed in 1938, on a Saturday morning, there was a junk yard owned by a Jew, and one of a Jewish guy passed the junk yard, which he had a gate. So why he was walking on the sidewalk he saw piece of junk came over from the inside to the out, on the sidewalk. Pieces of junk. He was kind of strange to him. So he climbed up the gate, and he saw a guy inside the junk yard, and he is stealing junk. So the Jewish guy said, Hey, what you doing there? And on a Saturday the junkyard is closed. So the Gentile guy, the Polish guy, say, Hey, it's none of your God damn business, you know. What do you mean? And this guy that passed by he was a butcher, trade, and the butchers, they were tough. They ate a lot of meat. Hey, don't tell me it's none of my business. It is my business. First, you're stealing, you're not supposed to steal. (laugh) Stealing on Saturday, Saturday is a holiday, you're not supposed to steal on Saturday. You can steal on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Anyway, it came to fistfight. They fought so long that he killed him. The Jewish guy killed the one who was stealing. And two hours later, two hours later. It was about ten o'clock in the morning, two hours later, they had all the radicals and they went and they broke the windows in the Jewish stores, and they broke glasses, windows from the private apartments, and they started like a pogrom. And the police didn't do a thing to stop it. They just walked behind the mob. Well, what are you going to do? This was Saturday, and Sunday and Monday, they were doing it for three days. So naturally, if they met a Jew in the street, they'd beat him up. So we Jews were afraid to go out on the street. Regardless even in the Jewish Quarter, we were afraid, because they came in. So Monday after the funeral, when they buried that guy who was killed. They tried again to get into the poor section, to the very poor section, where they had all the big strong guys. The poor section is where the strongest were. They were fighters. They were rough. They were tough. When they entered this section, and the police, horse police, you know, patrolled, followed them there, the mob, they didn't stop them. There were hundreds of police, when they entered the poor section, those guys went out and took whatever they could. Shovels, sticks, hammers, anything they could, and they went out and they just run them off. In five minutes you didn't see nobody on the street, then's when it stopped. This was in 1938.

PR     What month?

LS     I believe it was July or August. Was hot weather, I remember.

PR     You stayed inside?

LS     No, I went out on the street. I felt I was an eagle, I was an owl, I'm not afraid, I'm not afraid, I'm not afraid. Because I always wanted. I went on the street, I didn't got beaten up. I figured, if I'm on the street I might not be a Jewish guy, because they didn't expect many Jewish people there. Anyway, I followed that for an hour. When I came home, my parents said, Oh, where were you? We were scared. Where were you? What did you see? So I told them what I saw. That's what I told you.

PR     And your father, a politician, what did he have to say about this pogrom?

LS     He can't say nothing. What can he say? When the government, when the police, he can't protest a thousand times. They cannot protest as a private citizen. He protested at the city council meeting, or original senate, or congress. Then he can protest. He was kept in line. He was fighting. He was tough. For the rights of the Jews.

PR     The scene that you describe reminds me of scenes in Nazi Germany at Kristallnacht.

LS     It was exactly the same.

PR     Did they burn the synagogue?

LS     No, not then, not then.

PR     Did you have any friends who were Poles?

LS     Very much yes. Very many. Many, many friends. School friends, and even if it was a neighbor, we were almost might last. We talked, we went to a dance, we played soccer together. We associate very much. I never hated anybody. I didn't want to hate them. Because if I hate them, they will hate me. I wanted them to like me. So that's why I have to like them, you know. Friendly to them.

PR     Do you remember that moment in the morning of September the first, 1939, when the first German planes passed over?

LS     Yes, I do, very much. My father being a politician, people tried to flee the city. They figured big cities will be bombed, and his psychology was, We're not going out, I'm going to stay home. If I want to die, I want to die in my house. I don't want to die in a strange place. So we were on the street, and circle right from the beginning at first avenue, and a tank, a Polish tank stopped. They couldn't operate it. So we just went and tried to help. Have you ever tried to push a tank? (laugh) You push a car, if a car stops, you know. But a tank, it takes so many people to push a tank. We gathered maybe twenty people tried to help to push the tank, we could never start it. That was in the morning. Soldiers, I mean the army was already, the first day when the war broke out, the Polish army was already falling apart. It was disorganized, and the city of Czestochowa being about thirty kilometers away from the German border, we were the first victims. Although it was a Friday, it took the Germans till Sunday morning to march in. I don't know why it took them so long. Of course, but when they marched in Sunday morning, I remember I was in the streets watching them marching in. And believe me when you see an army the way the Germans marched, you going to be scared for the rest of your life. It was scary. You looked at a German soldier against a Polish soldier, not that I knock the Polish soldier, I never saw another soldier before except the Polish soldiers, but I figured we have an army, the Polish government has an army, equipped with a horse and wagon. The artillery was horses, not tanks. And little gun. Not machine gun. I never see a Polish soldier with a machine gun. Just regular plain carbine. How they going to win a war against a motorized army of the German? You could see the soldiers marching in. The smallest one, smallest one was six foot. Of course later on the second, third one that came was a little shorter, but six foot tall, six foot and higher. Straight like lion. Everyone marched in order. The songs they were singing they were so, they give you such an enthusiasm. We are the one. And that was scary. Every time you saw a German soldier, you said, Oops, I'm scared.

LS     I'm just talking about how the Germans marched in. But in 1945, I saw the same, almost the same, German soldiers marching in defeat, with their hands up. Like prisoners of war. The Russians, under the Russians. They didn't look like no German soldiers. They looked like any other fallen soldier. So even the children, every child, like I mentioned before, when they marched in, everybody was scared of them. Now this time, in 1945, on the defeat, every Polish child in the street, five, six, seven years old, went to the German soldier and spit in the face. Kicked him in the leg. They could do anything they wanted, and they weren't afraid of them anymore.

PR     Was Czestochowa bombed from the air?

LS     No. Czestochowa was not bombed. Occasionally they three a bomb just to scare, on territories. I don't remember in the houses. In the houses, the Germans bombed the Jewish section. When they liquidated the ghetto. Because they were afraid of Jewish partisans in the bunkers.

PR     Did you first hear about the outbreak of the war on the radio?

LS     No. Radio, not everybody had radio. Radio was a luxury. And also who had the radio, the Polish government didn't want to reveal right away that they were in that kind of shape, pressured by the attack, so everyone was beautiful, don't give up, don't be afraid.

PR     They lied.

LS     Actually, that's what it was. That's what it was. Later on we found out that all the airports, not one airplane, Polish airplane, took off from the air. They were sabotaged. Sabotaged by the generals.

PR     By Volksdeutsche?

LS     Influenced. The Germans worked very fine.

PR     Sabotaged by Polish generals?

LS     Sabotaged by Polish generals. The German spy ring worked very good. They knew exactly what they want. They have some Volksdeutsche, people living in the territory in Poland in little places like small, five percent of maybe people from German nationality. But they couldnt' do nothing outside. A little contact with the officers. For a couple of drinks you can sell anything to a Polish general. A glass of vodka will do it, and a few hundrd zylotys will be fine.

PR     The Polish army and its officer corps was defeated very quickly in 1939, and the government fled and as someone has written, In five days time our entire life changed.

LS     That's correct. This is correct. Because I seen many Polish soldiers taking off their uniforms, hiding, burning, they have little carbines, they didn't know what to do with it, they have to break it in half to get rid of it. And like I say, five days, the whole Polish government only held five days, and fled to London. The Jewish ghetto in Warsaw lasted three weeks. The fight, the uprising lasted three weeks, and they probably killed more German soldiers than the Polish army.

PR     When the Germans marched in to Czestochowa, they did not immediately discriminate against the Jews, did they?

LS     Not immediately. But they marched in on Sunday, now this is a story I went through my life, I told you before, I was an owl.

PR     A witness.

LS     A witness. I was going to be a witness. I was in the street, and all of a sudden, Germans from everywhere, German soldiers came, with guns, and bayonets and they tell all men should surrender on the circle, and they have many circles, four or five circles. They gather us together, and they told us to lay down on the ground face down. All the men, Jewish and Poles.

PR     What day was this?

LS     This was Monday.

PR     September the 3rd.

LS     Right. We called it Bloody Monday. Then they killed, in the city of Czestochowa, they killed about six thousand men just for not obeying the order. Now, while you were laying down, it was about twelve-thirty or noon, and you have to lay down and the sun was smoldering, hot. It was a hot summer. And you lay down on this strip, on the ground, with your face down. Meal time is over, you didn't go home for lunch. You're hungry. You get thirsty. You're supposed to go to the toilet, you know. You can't go nowhere, and if anybody raised their head to look around what's going on, they put the bayonet in your body, and they picked you up, with the bayonet, so you were dead.

PR     These were German Wehrmacht soldiers?

LS     German Wehrmacht soldiers. German Wehrmacht soldiers.

PR     And then what happened?

LS     So, around six-thirty, seven o'clock, it was still daylight, they opened long tables, and they told us to get up, and to come to the table, and to register. Give our names, and after we register at the table, they told us to line up in five rows, and they marched us in to the jails.

PR     These were thousands of men.

LS     Thousands of men. So in my section where I was the jail was closest one. The other sections they put them in the army installations, they were empty. The soldiers were gone. So they put us in, they filled up, in a room like this, they put in at least sixty-five people. You cannot sit down, you can hardly standup. You squeeze one against the other. And we were there since Monday night, till Thursday noon. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday noon. Without a drink of water, without a crumb of food.

PR     Without a toilet.

LS     Without a toilet. So about noon time on Thursday when the Germans opened the door, nobody dared move. They said they need three men to go out and bring some water. Where ever I was, I don't remember what part of the room I was in, in the corner, I just flew over and I was right by the door. I was one of the three men. I went out in the corridor. They give us a little buckets to bring water to these rooms. I don't know why it was like this. This is the nature of the person to be selfish. When I first went to the faucet and tried to draw the water, I myself drink half a bucket of the water at least, I was so thirsty. Then filled up the rest of the bucket, and when I walked into the room with this bucket of water, and two others, by the time I got to the room, to the door, everybody jumped on the bucket of water. They spilled all the water and nobody drank any. And the German was standing there and laughing. So we have to go back again and get some more water. We told to calm down. Calm down, you get water. Everybody just dipped their hand and cupped a little water. And that was it. About two hours later, they told us to get out in the yard of the jail, and they lined us up and we were supposed to be deported to Germany as prisoners of war.

PR     But you were not a soldier.

LS     I was not a soldier. Well, they didn't know who was a soldier. The Germans didn't know. They could have been soldiers among us. So what they say, we did. And on the way, from the jail, we supposed to go again to the military installations, for the Wehrmacht to take over, so I escaped on the road. On the route. While marching, I escaped. I just walked out the line, and walked on the sidewalk and walked away. I'm sure I wasn't the only one who walked off. I figured, Why, I was only seventeen years old. I wasn't a soldier for sure. I was the one who escaped. I just walked away. They had like every ten, five, marched in group of five, lines of five, every ten people a German soldier, on this side a German soldier, on that side with a carbine and bayonet. I just didn't care what is going to happen. I just walked off.

PR     You walked off?

LS     I walked off. Running, it would make you kind of suspicous. (laugh) If I would run, they would run after me and catch me. I just walked off and I pretended like I was in the crowd. A crowd of people were lined up. They knew already, because outside of the prison all the families, my parents didn't know where I was at that time. From Monday night till Thursday they didn't know where I was. Because people outside could see through the jail window, people are outside waiting, and we could make signs and say so and so is here. People asked. So and so is here. But I couldn't communicate to nobody. Nobody from my family would come down. My son in prison, it's unbelievable. But then they thought maybe I'm hiding with a friend. I'm afraid to go, because people were hiding. Not everybody went out.

PR     So once you escaped where did you go?

LS     I went home to my house. Only a few blocks away. I knew the city well. I knew exactly where to go.

PR     And the next day, did you walk the streets again?

LS     Of course. They wouldn't be looking for me.

PR     What was going on?

LS     Nothing. Back to normal. Little by little, day by day, we got new orders from the German occupation government.

PR     Did the Germans try to set the Poles against the Jews?

LS     They didn't have to set it. They didn't have to set it. They were already. See, the instinct in the Polish people, they knew the propaganda that the Germans put out since 1933 till 1939 in Germany. They knew that Hitler, with his book Mein Kampf, is against the Jews. So, they figure, not being a Jew, they have no fear. So they didn't have to set them against the Jews. They said, Well, whatever happens. They could care less, you know. They didn't care what's going to happen to the Jews. Everything was made only against the Jew. Of course, there were some new laws against general population, but in a different style. Like when they told the Jews, there is a curfew, seven o'clock, you got to be home. You cannot be on the street. If you are on the street, you get caught, under penalty of death. You get shot. The Poles didn't have to be home at seven o'clock. They go all day, all night, wherever they want to go. So they didn't have to set the Polish people against the Jew. Then again, it wouldn't bother us if they were set against us or not, because if so many Germans are against us, a few more Poles against us, it makes little difference. They might kill us a little faster, a little sooner. But what we knew, in a way we knew that the end is coming. We will be demolished. We knew it. Jewish people.

PR     You knew it from when?

LS     From the building of the concentration camps, like Dachau. And Mathausen. And Buchenwald. They were built before Auschwitz. They were built before the war broke out. They were concentration camps, where they sent the German Jews and all the anti-Nazis. So we knew something is going to happen. And of course you read the paper, read a book, got a hold of anything, you could visualize. But again what can you do? You cannot fight. How can you fight against a German, you know?

PR     What about your Polish friends, the boys you played with on the street?

LS     Well, we lost contact. They was afraid to be in contact with me. If they get caught, they would be put in concentration camps or in jail. Except one girl (laugh) who followed me all the day till I got married. She found out I got married, was married. Then she followed me.

PR     When did you get married?

LS     I got married in 1943.

PR     In the ghetto?

LS     In the ghetto.

PR     What about your father?

LS     My father got evacuated in 1942 when my father, my mother, my three sisters got evacuated. Went to Treblinka.

PR     There was a Judenrat established in Czestochowa.

LS     There was, sure. Sure, of course.

PR     Did they ask your father to be on it?

LS     Yes. He refused. Good people refused. To be in Judenrat meant to help the Germans.

PR     To collaborate.

LS     Collaborate.

PR     That was the feeling among the Jews?

LS     Of course. What else? Again, what are you going to say? They didn't do a good job? We know they didn't do a good job, but they had no choice. They felt maybe, they going to help themselves. Still egoistic thinking, so my father said, Whatever it's going to be, it's going to be. Que sera sera.

PR     When you describe the room full of people fighting one another for the water, its strikes me that that is an image that applies to Poland during the war. When there was very little, people fought for what was left.

LS     Yes. Yes. It's exactly the same way. That's what it is everywhere. No matter if it's for water, or it's for power, or it's for food, or it's for clothing, or it's for anything.

PR     Furniture, a business.

LS     Anything.

PR     Poland has suffered in history, and I wonder what you think the impact of that suffering is on the people in Poland and their morality, spirit, the way of thinking?

LS     Well, the people in Poland don't think much. The church thinks for them. The church is a speaker of the people. If the church doesn't speak up, the people will say nothing. They're still in contact with the church. Regardless it's legal or illegal. The cardinal, whoever it is, who says, Let's wait, be patient. Five more years, three more years, do it. Still have a hope when the time will come. But today like 1918 they revolt against Russians, but today against these Russians, they can't afford it. It's a different Russia today than then. So. But yet again I know how much they want their freedom, we can see. Lech Walensa, you know, you heard about him. He's a freedom fighter. He takes a lot of chances. But if they don't put him away, the Russians are afraid they'll have more uprisings. So they keep him, like the pope now. The Polish pope, this history alone it's a big slap in the face for Russians, but again, they keep quiet. They don't speak much of the Pope, the Russians. And the pope again knows, maybe he should more presssure on the Russians. He probably would have a free Poland. But they don't.

PR     One survivor has said, "From every pulpit spewed the venom of anti-Semitism."

LS     I would say so. Not from my, I've never been to a church in Poland, and listened to any lecture or services, but every time the people came out of the church, you could see they have a shout of anti-Semitism. A shout. A new shout. Even a little more ingredients to anti-Semitism.

PR     How could you tell?

LS     Because they expressed themselves, and they always did. The Jews killed Jesus, the Jews killed Jesus. So the Jews killed Jesus how many years ago? Two thousand years ago. So what do you want now? You're going back two thousand years ago. Can you bring him back? Can we bring him back? So what is it to hate about Jews, how many more, if Jews killed Jesus, which to my knowlede, I would say I know that the Romans crucified Jesus on the cross. The Jews didn't. Judah told them where he was hiding, that means he killed him?

PR     What about Easter?

LS     There were rumors. Like the Jews killed Christian child to take the blood from Matzo. The rabbis already declared it, this was illegal for Jew to drink blood. If we buy a chicken, we have to soak the chicken. When we buy meat, we have to soak the meat in water. To get all the blood out. Jewish people don't eat like liverworst, and we can't eat liverworst, cause blood is not a ritual thing to eat. So, they already proved it. It's unbelievable. It's impossible for Jews to kill a Christian child to bake matzo. To put in matzo (laugh). It's ridiculous. It's propaganda. And the people are naive, naive. If a leader comes out and says, Well, they did this and this and this here. Who told you that? Waclaw Chesov said that. Who is he? He's my leader. So that's the way it is.

PR     Did you actually hear talk of the Blood Libel?

LS     I heard it. They made pogroms because of it. Before the war.

PR     In Czestochowa?

LS     No, not in Czestochowa. In the Russian territory, in Ukraine. They said they found a Christian child was missing, and they say that the Jews kidnapped a child, and they killed him. So, but again, I say, Jews, I don't know, they don't kill. The guy killed another guy who stole the iron in the junkyard, he killed him because they had a fist fight, you know. But he wouldn't take his blood and put in matzo. Or in soup. It's not a ritual thing.

PR     The Blood Libel forum was what caused the pogrom after the war in Kielce.

LS     Yes, that's right. Still you got radical groups. You still have radical groups. They believe anything their leaders will say, will come out with. They got followers. Everywhere. No matter what sect, they will say. If a leader comes out and says something, Alright, this is happening. Of course, sure, sure. It's an old saying. In Hebrew, That the people are I wouldn't say stupid, but silly. Silly people. People go to a lecture. You can have three or four thousand people at the lecture. If you have three thousand people, two thousand five hundred people will disagree with the lecturer. Five hundred will agree with him.

PR     In Poland, it was more than five hundred.

LS     Well, a reverse (laugh) example. A reverse example.

PR     Last summer in Warsaw I interviewed many Poles who Yad Vashem refers to as Righteous Gentiles. You know the term? I wonder, during the war, did you have experience of being helped at one point or another?

LS     If I had to have one Righteous Person, I would have one German. Maybe two. But one German positively. A German, and he was a member of the Gestapo. He helped me. Thanks to him I am alive. And my brother is alive. And thanks to him, nine other people were alive. Because I asked him for the favor, and he gave me the favor.

PR     Would you tell me the story?

LS     During the war, we have to do work. Labor, you know. To the Judenrat, every day. The Jews in the ghetto got an order tog et a ration, whatever the ration was, was little, no matter how little it was, you have to go do the work.

PR     Roads, bridges.

LS     Everything. Anything. German installations, German army, German hospitals, do the work, peel potatoes, clean, especially winter time, snow, cleaning. And I had a friend, My friend's brother. He was a member of the Judenrat, in labor department. I asked my friend. He knew me. I used to come to his house, I say, Morris, do me a favor, I'm tired of going to this dirty work everyday, you clothes, shoes, you don't get special priviledges because you work.

PR     And they were beating you.

LS     Very much. So I said, Can't you give me a little job, a decent job somewhere? And I always got good jobs, through him. Like go to the chief of Gestapo, work for the chief of the Gestapo in his house, he has a garden, he needs five people to work in the garden. It was nice, quiet, you know, then you get a paper, you can go out of the ghetto, you know, and then you're secured, because you can be caught everyday, to be shipped out, whereever, if you had a paper from this saying you worked for him, you saved. It helped me a little bit. I used a little protection. So one day he called me, and he said, Leo, I got a job for you. You will like it. What is it? There is a factory, a porcelin factory, a china factory.

PR     What year?

LS     In 1940. This man needs ten people to work at the factory. They have a hundred and fifty people, but he is allowed to use from the German administration, to use ten people, free labor. He didn't have to pay. Just free labor. He said, Will you do me a favor and be there. Just bring those ten people because you can't give ten people, each one, a permission, a certificate that they can go out. If you give that much, you got thirty thousand people, you give everyone a permit, there will be thirty thousand permits. This way, if I go, he gives me the permit, I lead them out to work, and the work was right next, on the other side of Jasna Gora, the Polish shrine. About a half of a mile on the other side, right down the road. A factory. So, and I used to bring them to work, and then I went home, and I used to pick them up, I brought them at eight o'clock in the morning to work, at three o'clock, or four o'clock I have to come up again. So this was my job. Very good. I didn't have to work. I'm just doing so. So I worked there for about a year, year and a half. When the situation got tough, and the Germans started already to eliminate the Jews, to ship them out, eliminate, you know, destroy. I told him one day, to the guy, the German guy, he was the leader, not the owner, he was the manager of the whole place, because he has to produce all the coffee cups for the army. So, and I figured out, to the German, well, he knew me then. Once and a while he gave me a pack of cigarettes, once and a while he gave me a little second hand china you. He couldn't sell it. Here take it. Fine. So I asked him one day, I say, Mr. Mitski, first name I don't know, I'm going to ask you a question. What is it Leo? It is, What will you do if they will be a selection to ship out. You will lose ten people. How can you help us? He looked at me. It was a stupid question for me to ask him. He wouldn't tell me, as a German he couldn't tell me the secret or what his idea is. And he asked me again, What do you mean? I say, What I mean is, we would like to have a little protection from you. If you can. He says, Well, I don't know. I'll leave it up to you. He'll leave it up to me. He leaves it up to me. That I can do what I want to do. I said, So, how nice. Isn't that nice. Isn't that great. Gosh. The man doesn't have no brains? The man tells me that I can do what I want to do. You know what I want to do? I want to be saved. So, anyway, the day came, and it was on a Yom Kipur day, we didn't go to work Yom Kipur, he knows we not going to workk on Yom Kipur, even during the war, even during the German occupation, we didn't go to work Yom Kipur. That was a Monday, 1942. And we already have words that five thousand Ukrainian soldiers.

LS     We had the Jewish police on the edge of the ghetto, and they saw that unloading trains, so we know something is going to happen. So I took myself, and I walked down on Yom Kipur, around eleven o'clock, I walked down, went down to the factory, and I caught him, luckily, he was there. Usually he wouldn't be there, you know. During the day. He came in the morning. I went into the office, and I said, I have to talk to you. He said, Alright, come in. He send his secretary out. He had two secretaries. One was a Volksdeutsche, one was a Polish. Now, the Polish secretary, they liked me, I don't know. Everybody like me over there. Even the Volksdeutsche secretary liked me, because I did them many favors. She was afraid to go home by herself, cause over you didn't have no cars. So I walked her home, she was afraid of German soldier, because German soldier don't know she is Volksdeutsche.

PR     Probably she was also afraid of Poles.

LS     Probably so. So anyway, so I told him, Mr. Mitski, or Herr Mitski, in German, the time has come. Today, or tomorrow, is supposed to be the day, and we don't know exactly what's going to happen. This is it. I believe this is the last time I'm going to see you. And what shall we do? He asked me, What do you suggest? He asked me what I suggest. I suggest that I go home and bring all the people who work, the Jewish people, bring them down here, overnight, today. And so tomorrow we can start working. And we not going home till everything is over. Because, when a selection starts, a week or two, it takes three weeks sometimes, in a city like Czestochowa, forty five thousand people, it's not so easy to make a selection. Alot of Jews were hiding, so. He says, OK. If you say so. He tells me, if I say so. So, I'm the boss. So, in meantime he asks me what room do I want. Because they had rooms with wood shavings, to wrap the china, for packing. Big room, bigger than this. Many of them. I said, I don't know, with ten people maybe we need two rooms. Alright. He told an attendant to clear up two rooms for us, so I went on and brought on nine people only. One didn't want to go. He said, No, I'm not going. I'm going to stay with my parents. So, we went, we came down there and we rested. Now, I climbed up on the chimney at night. We saw, during the war, the lights are not supposed to be on. Everything is dark. Because Poland was never attacked by the British or American, but it was policy of having no lights. I climbed up on top of the chimney. The sky is lit up. The Jewish ghetto, the sky over the Jewish ghetto. All the lights. The streets are normal like before the war. Lit up, and we from time to time machine guns (imitates). You could hear. It was quiet at night. So I came down and I told down there and told my fellows, everybody was waiting there. Well, Leo, they asked, What did you see? Well, what I see I don't think it's good. This is happened. What we waited for. We knew it's going to come. The time will come.

PR     Did you know that "resettlement in the East" meant death?

LS     Absolutely. Because nobody ever came back from other cities. They had other cities before us, you know. We never, nobody knew where they went. We never hear from them. Nobody ever came back. Occasionally, once, if somebody escaped, came back and told us, Oh, they took them to Treblinka, they took them to whereever.

PR     Did you know that gas chambers were involved?

LS     No. Shooting, a grave, you know. So at five o'clock in the morning, the door bell rings. By the gate. We figured, maybe the neighbors, the Polish neighbors told the Gestapo that Jews are hiding, because they could tell, they could know. Even people who worked there knew that we were there. They could go home and say, Well, I don't like the Jews. I'll tell them where they're hiding.

PR     That sort of thing happened before.

LS     It did. So who comes in, the owner. Mr. Mitski, the general manager, he came in. He comes in. The porter opens the door for him. He comes in. And he was driving a Mercedes Benz, with a little swastika flag in the front. And he says, Where is Leo? Where is Leo? So they called me up, the chief, chef, wants to talk to you. So he came in and he put his arm around me and he walked with me along the yard in the factory. Yes, Leo, you are right. Yes, Leo, you are right. That's all he says. That I was right when I told him what is going to happen. And he stood with me, and he called me in the office, it was just me and him. And he talked to me. What can we say now? What shall we do now? I say, I tell you what we do. I kept telling, You go from Czestochwa to Radom, Radom where the governor Frank used to be there, territorial leader from the government, and go tell him that you need those nine people, Jews here to work, a military factory, you need us. He agreed to do it for me, but before he went, he waited till seven o'clock, when they opened the doors to the store, the grocery story across the street, and he called me into the grocery store, and he came in to the grocery store, and he told the guy, Give me, he asked me, How many loaves of bread you need, for my people to eat? Well, a loaf of bread is a loaf of bread, about ten pounds a loaf. So he gave me two loafs of bread will be good. He says, Two loafs of bread. And then he asked, How much butter you need? About two kilo of butter. Two kilos of butter. You want cheese? You like cheese? I say, What don't we like. (laugh) He say, Give me two cheeses. How many eggs you need? He gave me ten dozen eggs. nine people, a dozen eggs. It'll last a day or two. Give me ten dozen eggs. And that guy across the street, he was a radical, Endek, anti-Semite, and he tells me, in Polish, with the German with me, he says, You son of a gun. You lucky son, Jew, you lucky a German is feeding you. You lucky son of a gun. And I told him, You're lucky that I'm buying from you. You know. If you wouldn't be here, I'd buy from somebody else. You do the business (laugh). What the hell. And then he tells him, the German tells the guy, Deliver it. He didn't let me take it. Carry it. So that was a kind of a nice gesture from him. He felt sorry for us. And then the guy says, the Pole to me, I have to bring the food to the Jews? I say, It's an order. It's a German. You have no choice. I didn't give you the order. I told him, Someday, maybe I'll give you an order, too, like this. I told him that. Someday, maybe I'll give you an order. Didn't mean it, but I figured I'll try to get even with him, you know. So we was sitting there in this factory for two months working. He went to Radom, he couldn't get a permit because it wasn't big enough for the German government to give him permission to have ten Jews. And he took it on his own, if they would you know, catch him hiding out ten Jews, he probably could be punished, demoted, whatever. There was also a manager. He was the general manager, the manager who was a Volksdeutsche, before the Ausling, before the evacuation, before this shipping out, deportation of the Jews, hewas alright with us. He got along with us fine. From time to time, he said, Oh, you Jews, but me personally he respected very much. That guy respected me because he knew I am in contact with the boss. The boss didn't like him. He wasn't such a good manager, but anyway. He's there, he's not going to change it. So he comes in the same Monday, after the Chef went to Radom and he said, Leo, bring the group of Jews and we got to report to the ghetto. I say, What for? He said, This is an order. I called the police, the German police, and they told me, If you have Jews hidden, you have to bring them. I said, Who asked you to call the police? You have no right to call the police. Did you ask the Chef? He said, You get the Jews, if not, they will come and pick you up here. And I said, No, we're not going. But the rest of them said, Leo, I tried to fight with him, but everybody gives in. If they come, if the police come, we will probably get shot before we even get to the ghetto. This way we'll go to the ghetto. When we came to the ghetto, the ghetto didn't let us in. He walked back home, that guy, and we stood there maybe two hours, and I'm begging, the ghetto was locked by soldiers, and I went to the soldier, and I said, in German, We got to get in. Perfect German. Get away. Go over there. And we stood across the street from the ghetto. So, I said, Alright. And while we were standing there we were standing next to dead bodies wrapped up in blankets. Again, what can we do? So meantime I see a lieutenant from the police, on a bike, he rides by, so I jumped over towards there, because I noticed him, because I know him from Czestochowa, we know the police. I say, Herr Lieutenant Werner, just like that. We have to report to the ghetto, they don't let us in. He says, Schiser, you know what Schiser means? Shit. Stay there. We have no time. We got forty-five thousand Jews, what I'm going to bother with nine Jews? So, an half an hour later, another lieutenant passed by. And I again, I said, We're tired of standing here. The night is almost over. Somebody might come and shoot us. We might not even get into the ghetto. So I went over, I said, Obershitz, we have to report to the ghetto here, and nobody let us in. He say, How many are you. I say, There are nine of us. He was riding a bike also. He says, Follow me. So we followed him. He rides on the bike, and we went after him like puppies. Follow him to the point where there was general point. So we came there, we walked into the factory where they had the big terminal, with trains, to be shipped out, very convenient shipping department, and he told me, Get in. Get into the crowd. If I would get into the crowd, I would be mixed up with the other thirty-five thousand, forty thousand there, and then I see the whole Judenrat, all the elders, and I can even remember their names, Jewish police, everybody says, Hey, Leo, come here. They were afraid if we stayed there, they are going to shoot us. And they thought, they didn't know where we come from, the Jews. They thought they caught us hiding somewhere. And if were hiding, we get shot. So they told us to come in the crowd so we wouldn't get shot. I told my boys, Stay here. We waited maybe a half an hour. After maybe a half an hour, a general from inside the building, an office, and when we walked in, we had a line of about ten and ten, twenty SS men. Police, SS men, you could see the swastikas and everything, SS on the lapels, and I see a general, and he calls somebody, gives orders to somebody, so I run in to the office, I figure, if that's a general, so I run into the office, and I had this piece of paper, I had it from the Judenrat, and I run in from the office, and I tell the general, We are working in a factory of porcelin. It's a military factory, we make cups for the army. We have to report to work, because we've been working all night, we didn't say that we went there just for speculation, so we worked all night and wehave togo back, if not the porcelin we have to put in the oven, to be heated, if we not go take out the porcelin, there's going to be a loss. So he tells me, Come back later. I'm busy right now. Come back later. In the office, the general. Come back later, I go out, come back another half an hour. Another half an hour, I go back again, and I tell the same story. Finally, the general took a little time and he said, What do you want me to do? He's got forty-five thousand Jews to deal with, what he going to do. How many people are you? I say, Nine. He say, Go the hell out, go back to work. I say, Go back to work, I say give me a little note. Give me a permit, that I can go with. He says, Alright. He takes my letter, and writes on my letter, Let those nine Jews back to work. He didn't say where. So I read it, and I give it back again, and I say, Would you put your seal on it please? I asked him to put the seal. He looked at me. Son of a gun, you know little smart aleck. He put a seal on it. And write it down, Go back to the porcelin factory. He put down porcelin factory. So we went back, and when I walked out, the general called me back on the steps. Hey you, he didn't know my name. He said, Hold your paper high, up in your hand, don't put your paper in your pocket. If not, they're going to shoot you he said. So I held the paper high and everybody, all the thousands of Jews, They're going back, out. And the whole line of soldiers stand back. We going out. We go back down to the factory. When we came back to the factory, this guy, the supervisor, the Volksdeutsche, and he saw us coming in, he fainted. He was feeling so bad that they didn't take us, or shoot us. And he says, I knew that you will not burn in fire. To me. When we went there the day before, everybody took a little extra clothes to wear just in case. When we came back, all our clothes were taken, by the other people who worked in the factory. Non-Jewish, and we were buddy-buddy, everything was taken. They took the suits, they took the shoes, everything they could. Everything was gone. I told the supervisor, I want, I give you ten minutes to tell everybody to bring back the stuff. All our clothes have to be back. If not, there's going to be a war right here. We got it back, all of it. In five minutes, we got everything back.

PR     Who were the two gentlemen you would describe as Righteous Gentiles?

LS     This guy, the one from the factory, the manager, he was a gentleman to me. When he came back, he called me into the office, and he gave me a box of a hundred cigarettes, and he gave me five hundred zlotys cash. Here, buy whatever you need. And he told the porter from the factory to cook a meal for us everyday. Soups, breakfasts, he had a bunch of rabbits, he was raising rabbits. Kill rabbits. We had to eat rabbits, it was not kosher, hell, it was better than nothing. So we were there almost two months. The other guy is a German. After the evacuation, they left five thousand people, and they have groups. This group of five hundred people we went in to clear up all the ghettoes, the apartments where the Jews used to live, to clear up. Everything, bring back to a special store room, and went to Germany, shipped to Germany. All the valuables, everything. So each group has twenty-five people, and each group has a special German police, Schlutz™Polezi, and the guy who was head of my group, he picked me as kind of a good guy. Clean guy. I was to be not his assistant, but whatever he needed, he said, you tell the people to do this. So one day I didn't come to work, so he asked the people, Where is Leo? Where is Leo? They said, Leo, Leo is getting married today. What? Leo is getting married today? So the next day, the day after my wedding, I went to work. He looked me up, first thing in the morning. He wants to see if I lied to him or not. We were in the small ghetto, much poorer than before. And he say, Where were you yesterday? And I told him, I got married yesterday. Well, he liked that because I told him the truth. What? You got married? I got to see your wife. Show me the girl you married. He went with me. I have to find my wife in the area where she worked. This is the woman I married. He got with us on the side, and he say, You stupid, you so stupid. What you doing here? Run. Why don't you run away. Run away, you will get killed. You will be next. I say, Where can I run? There is no where to run. Where do you run? You go to Russia? You can't run to Russia. You can't even go out of the ghetto. If you get caught, you get killed.

PR     What about the Polish forests?

LS     Well, we didn't, I wouldn't go with my wife to the Polish forest. My wife was not material for the Polish forests. You got to be a little tough.

PR     Did you fear the Poles?

LS     Well, no. I could handle the Poles. My Polish vocabulary, see alot of Jewish people couldn't speak Polish. And they were only caught when they started talking Polish. You didn't have to be a blond to be a Pole, you know. That was number one, but number two was when you started speaking Polish, my Polish was perfect Polish. So I could handle them. So he told me, Where can I go? He said, I'll give you a place to go. I give you somewhere to go. I'll make your papers, he says. You can go to Austria to a farm where I got family. They need people to work. But I say, Let me think about it. He asked me twice, What did you decide. I don't know if he wants, I was afraid he wants to find out if I have ideas to run away. But I figured, he was, because he helped two other Jewish girls, and they're living now in Australia. We were in the same group under him. He helped them, and they lived through, so he was number two, if I would find him, to give him an award.

PR     But you did not take his suggestion.

LS     No, I didn't.

PR     Why?

LS     Again, not that I was afraid, the security was very, eighty percent better in the ghetto.

PR     I've heard that so often. Why is that?

LS     Because we figure like this: you take a balloon and you start blowing, you fill up the balloon with air, more air you put in, the balloon sooner or later it will bust, because it can't only take so much. The German people, after three years, now we saw, when they made a pact with Stalin, good, but when they start fighting with Russia, this is it. The war will be coming to an end soon. Of course, it came a little late, should come a year sooner, or two years. But the war will have to come to an end. And I will be the one, I have a feeling I will be the lucky one who lives through the war. I have the feeling, I have the instinct feeling, I have the promise, I deserve it. I'm not the guy that I did wrong. Of course, alot of people didn't do wrong but I have an instinct, I have a feeling that I will live through the war to tell the story like to you or any others.

PR     That was your conscious feeling at the time?

LS     Right. Matter of fact, then I figured another thing. The Germans, I figure, I put down, black and white on a piece of paper, that Germany has a seventy million population. When the seventy million population, they need half of the population to work the country, thirty million, thirty-five million. The other half they need to occupy the countries they occupied. If not, how they going to function. They need soldiers. And the soldiers are getting killed. How many more soldiers will he be able to replace? Just so many. So then again, I figure, sooner or later they will break the bone, then again, I figure like usually when the Germans came to make a selection, selection means to pick out people to work. So I figure, I'm in a chicken coop. You have a chicken coop. You have thirty chickens in a coop. You want to kill a chicken or two. You just open the door from the cage and you reach in and grap the two chicken. Which chicken do you grap? The one in the front. We knew there's going to be a selection. I never stood in the front row, always in the back rows. So it would take a little longer to reach me. It was another of my psychology.

PR     Do you remember the most dangerous moment?

LS     There is no most dangerous, all of them were dangerous. All of them were dangerous. There was not a selection that was not dangerous. So it's not the most dangerous. The most dangerous was the one when we back, when this guy told us we have to go back to the ghetto. That was the most dangerous. To myself, on that trip going back, I told the guy, the eight other guys, we were nine together. If you want to go, go, I'm not going. I'm going to run away. So he couldn't stop me from running away, that guy, he had no gun. He was an elderly man. I could beat him up if I want to. I wouldn't do it.

PR     This was the Volksdeutsche?

LS     Volksdeutsche. Yes. And he was terrible, he was such a parasite. For no reason, he was a country guy. He has no education, he has no meaning, no nothing. No loyalty even to the Germans. If you were loyal to Germans, you work for Chef, if Chef has eight people, you know how much money he saves? Let him save, what the hell. If the other guy can stand it, he doesn't give us nothing. What is it to you? So it doesn't make sense to me. But the most dangerous is that was it. So again, even the last day, January 14, 1945, when the Russians occupied the city of Czestochowa, and we were in the same city working in a munition factory. So we thought the Germans, they tried to take everybody, evacuate the whole factory. There were six thousand Jews in the factory. Not only from the city of Czestochowa, from everywhere, so the trains came in, the train, the box car came in. They want to load the people, but we were hiding. They couldn't find us. I already prepared a shelter in the factory, and we were about forty people in that shelter we hid. And so we waited and we waited, but then about twelve o'clock, at midnight, we looked out through the window, we got a little peep hole, we see no more soldiers, no more watchmen. We say, Wow, look at that. It's empty. We walked out on the street, and we see that all the soldiers are going. That was the situation. The story of my life.

PR     And then the Russians came in.

LS     The Russians came in about five o'clock in the morning because when the Russians came in, they don't come in like normal Russians, they come in as drunks. Every soldier was drunk. Drunk. Deadly drunk. Vodka, they more vodka than blood in their body. That's how the Russians were fighting. And it was January, winter time.

PR     I once read this quote by a NATO general who said, Drunk they beat Napoleon, drunk they beat Hitler, and drunk they will beat NATO.

LS     Right. They will. I agree.

PR     What is an interesting contrast is that the Germans marching in on the 3rd of September, 1939, and then in January 1945, and in a completly different way, the Russians marching in.

LS     But the way the Russians marching in, they look like beggars. They didn't march in like soldiers. They have no uniforms. They have no belts, buckles, shiny buckles. They have a little string around them to hold up their pants. Boots, torn up boots. They had nothing. Cold, freezing weather, but they were there.

PR     And good fighters.

LS     Good fighters, they were. They could beat a German army like this they deserve the medals.

PR     So you worked in a German munitions factory to the very end.

LS     Yes.

PR     Your life is rather exceptional.

LS     I got something else to tell you. I didn't work all those years I was in concentration camp for two and a half years. I didn't work.

PR     In which camp? In Czestochowa?

LS     In Czestochowa. There was a camp, a concentration camp. We slept in the barracks.

PR     Not the ghetto, but a concentration camp outside of Czestochowa.

LS     Inside the city.

PR     You were a manager?

LS     I was not a manager.

PR     Did you go to the factory each day?

LS     I was living in the factory. We lived in the factory. I went in in the morning.

LS     So I went in the morning for the counting. Each group again. They have different groups, different departments from the factory. So after the counting I went back to the barracks and I lay down. When the Germans came in, "Hey, what are you doing here?" I said, "I work night shift." So and my foreman looked a little bit through the fingers. They respected me. I was respectable people. Family I was. I had a lot of friends. But again you couldn't eat the friendship. But I myself I got by with it. I got by with it.

PR     Friendship sometimes broke over a piece of bread.

LS     Positively. Positively. That's the true. But again I was respected by those people. Why should I work? I work in a munition factory making bullets to kill our friends, you know. It doesn't make any sense.

PR     When you came back to the ghetto to remove all the valuable items to be sent to Germany, what was the state of the ghetto? Did you find people hiding in the bunkers?

LS     If we find them, we didn't see it. Quite a few were hiding. We found a lot of dead people. They were hiding, the water was cut off, they didn't have no food. So they were just laying in bed, dead.

PR     What about the furniture?

LS     The furniture we took out. On the circle, and we made a solicitation. The Polish people bought it. The Polish people came everyday. We brought out so much furniture a day, one hundred tables, three hundred tables, a bed, chairs, and the Polish people came and bought it a reasonable valuable, cheap.

PR     That explains why I have read so often of Jews coming back from the camps at the end of the war only to discover their furniture in the house down the block.

LS     Well, it must have been poor furniture. Of no valuable.

PR     Because the good furniture?

LS     Because the good furniture was first taken by the Germans, and the second furniture was sold at good prices, and the cheap furniture, a table like this could be sold for ten dollars. A chair like this could be sold for two dollars.

PR     I know we are talking about a different time in history that's difficult to relate to sitting in your nice dining room here, but the Poles who came to buy the furniture of the dead Jews, was there a moral question.

LS     Not at all. No. They had no feeling. They cold-blooded. They have no feeling. They didn't care, didn't care less. They didn't lose anything. They had no pride. No pride.

PR     Is it that they had no pride, or is it that they simply had hatred?

LS     I say no pride. If you have pride, you have feeling. I know the German guy has hatred against Jews because he was a member of the Gestapo, but he had feelings towards me, you know. He had pride. He thought, Well, after all, I'm doing it, I don't know if he did it for the nine people, or for me. Why would he do it for me? I didn't work. Those people worked. I very seldom, I just helped. After that, when we came there to stay the night, I couldn't go home anymore. I have to stay there all day, even without being paid. I figure he give me a little food. And I helped.

PR     This is the general manager?

LS     This was the general manager.

PR     He was Gestapo?

LS     He was Gestapo man.

PR     It is said that anti-Semitism in Poland, among the Poles, decreased during the war because the Poles saw themselves side by side with the Jews fighting the Germans.

LS     Well, some of them, yes. Some of them. Some who did business, they felt a little bit, until later on, see, like when I lost my parents, my sisters, I cried, and I cried, and I cried. I still cry today. I still dream today. Today, after fifty years. I never knew where they went, I didn't know what happened. I know there is no grave. If they are ashes. But they when they lost the Jews they saw, they knew what's going to happen. Poles who lived close to Treblinka, like in the movie Shoah. You saw the film? Decreased, but very little. They don't care. They still don't care today. That's why a lot of Jews don't live there no more. They don't go back. I would go back in 1945-'46, I would go back to Poland, but again, I figure what I go back for? Go through the same sorry thing? I have no regret. I have no regret because people, you have again, today, you have a new generation over there. They probably think, Well, we don't know nothing about it like I say. They say, Jews killed Jesus. I don't know nothing about it. It's not my fault. Should I hate by people they say Jews killed Jesus. I didn't tell them to kill him. So it should be forgotten. But again they still come in the same. In the same situation. The same standard. The same living. The same feelings. Because for years, the radical Poles, they say, Jews go to Palestine. Get out of Poland. But now, when Palestine exists, they didn't even recognize Palestine. So, what kind of standard is this? (laugh)

PR     Did you, after the war, ever hear any Poles agree with what the Germans had done to the Jews?

LS     No, not in front of me.

PR     After the war, did you meet your Polish friends again?

LS     No, I didn't meet them. I didn't meet any friends. Because I went far away from the city of Czestochowa. As far as possible. I went to the occupied territory, the territory of Poland that they got from Germany. To be away from where it took place. Away from Czestochowa. So I wouldn't have the memories. It would blank out. It would bleach out. I wanted to have new feelings. New life.

PR     Where did you go?

LS     I went to Boyton.

PR     And then from there?

LS     From there to Czechoslovakia.

PR     Then did you cross the border into the American sector?

LS     (laugh) I crossed the border from Poland to Czechoslovakia.

PR     At Teschen?

LS     Yes.

PR     Could you describe your wedding for me? Where it took place and under what circumstances?

LS     It took place in a private room. With a reverend, not even a rabbi. There was no rabbi alive. But you have to have permission from German occupation government. A permit. But in Czestochowa we had a group of fifty or sixty people. We drank vodka, had cake, we danced. And that was it.

PR     A moment of happiness admist the horror.

LS     It was a wedding to Hiam. You know what is Hiam, to life. We didn't make the wedding to life. I just got married. When I die, and I go to hell or to heaven, and they ask me what do you know about life? At least I could tell them, I was married. Otherwise, we knew the day was counted. My feelings of being alive then, I didn't care much. If I will be alive or not. I didn't care. I did the worst thing to do not to be alive. I did everything that is against the rules that I could possibly be doing, I did it. I didn't go to work from the ghetto. Many days I didn't go to work. Before I wasn't satisfied. I can go to work. And everyday they came and they knocked at the door to open, if they catch somebody shot them.

PR     And they knocked on the door but they didn't come in?

LS     Well, there was a little trick to it. You had so many people in so many rooms. One room, two couples. Three rooms, six couples. With a padlock outside. They put a padlock on the door. Now to the Germans, how smart they are, if there is a padlock on the door, nobody could be in it. But the window and go in and out. So when they saw a padlock outside, they knocked but nobody answered.

PR     If I may say so, it seems to me that one of the reasons you survived is because you were a very bold person.

LS     What do you mean bold? What does bold mean in English?

PR     It means willing to take chances.

LS     Yes, I was very bold. I was willing to take chances.

PR     I mean, going before that SS general and asking for a permit...

LS     I was a hero then. I was a hero among those thirty or forty people who saw me. Those people, my brother was in that group with me, and a cousin who lives in New York. And they witnessed it. And that was I mean, I had blood.

PR     How did learn to speak German so well and so quickly?

LS     I'm easy in languages. I'm easy in languages. Something, a gift. My father spoke also.

PR     Another factor, if I may say, to explain how it was that you were so lucky to have survived, is that you spoke Polish so well.

LS     Yes, that's true.

PR     Yiddish speaking Hasidic Jews didn't have a chance, did they?

LS     No, absolutely not. Absolutely not. Because Polish was to them was very seldom used. Grammar, there is so much to it. Life is a fight. You got to fight for it. Especially in those situations.

PR     So you crossed from the Czech territories to Germany itself?

LS     Yes.

PR     And found yourself in a DP camp?

LS     No. (laugh) That's a different story.

PR     One thing that I have read is that Poles before the war blamed their troubles on the Jews for many reasons, and then after the war, when the Russians came, they blamed communism on the Jews. Why is that?

LS     Did you ever see people blaming themselves? I've never seen it. People always blame someone else. So after the war there were no Jews in Poland. Before the war they say the Jews are communists. There may be five percent of the Jews who were communist. So what?

PR     Isn't it all too understandable that Jews would look for a different form of government? Because in Poland the government did not assist the Jews at all. Put it this way, if I was a young Jew living in Poland before the war, and I did not know about the crimes of Stalin, and I did not know that Stalin himself was a vicious anti-Semite, I can see myself looking to the East and thinking perhaps that salvation lay there.

LS     Well, that's why a lot of people left Poland even after the war. From the beginning, in 1945 there was a fight between the socialist Poles and the radical Poles. They were fighting. I don't know if you're familiar with that. They say the two groups could have inside the same department but not officially. But secretly they were fighting. The groups were always ready to attack the others. But it so happened that socialism won. So the Russians could see what's going to happen. The Russians would not allow it. So regardless what kind of government will be in Poland after the war, it wouldn't be suitable. That's why all the Jews left. We left.

PR     If they didn't leave in 1945, then surely they left in 1968.

LS     Yes. Israel of course was another thing, like 1948, was something, it was easy. We figure, this is what we're waiting for, like the Messiah. People waiting for Messiah. This might be it. This might be it. So, three million went to Israel. Getting out of Germany, or Austria. But again the world will never be satisfied with the Jews. They always blame the Jews. Like even here in New Orleans, David Duke blamed the Jews. The Jews are too many in control. What are you going to do? Let them blame? Does he ever blame himself that he was KKK? He doesn't. He's not going to blame himself. He did the right. The Jews are wrong. So.

PR     What happened to the synagogue in Czestochowa?

LS     One is still in existence. And the other one was burned down by the Germans during the occupation.

PR     Are there still Jews in Czestochowa?

LS     They probably have a few, but I don't know if they have twenty or thirty Jews.

PR     Is your street left?

LS     The first boulevard.

PR     What was the address?

LS     Aleja 8.

PR     That was your home.

LS     That was my home. I was raised there. A big apartment building. About 250 tenants.

PR     Did you return to your apartment in January 1945?

LS     No. No.

PR     You left.

LS     I couldn't go in. I would probably...not that I'm soft, but the feelings, you know.

PR     Other people were living in it.

LS     Probably so. I would go in it. I say, Hi. How you? What do you want me to do? Give you something? It didn't belong to me. We was renting it, you know.

PR     When you left Czestochowa, and walked to the west, was all of Poland ravaged?

LS     Yes. Villages yes, they were ravaged. There were very few> mean very few returned. One third returned. I made the journey in 1945, I don't know if you have time...

PR     I have plenty.

LS     My cousin and I and another friend, in January, the war was still going on, we tried to walk to Germany: Konigsburg. Sixty miles from the city. We walked in snow, in January, high snows. I walked because I had a good pair of shoes (laugh). You know how I got the pair of shoes? When I walked out from the concentration camp, barely, I put on a uniform that the Ukrainian used to wear, a black uniform, shoes I couldn't find my size to wear, so when we walked on the field, I saw a Russian tank, destroyed tank, and I walked into the tank, into the tank, and I saw a Russian soldier laying there in the tank. I took off one shoe and I tried it on, and it fit, and I took the other one and got a pair of shoes. That pair of shoes held me for a long time. So we walked for about sixty-five kilometers. While we walked, on the field, we passed a little woods, and we hear a machine gun. Why would they shot on us? Figure maybe Russians shooting at us thinking we were Germans, or the Germans shooting at us thinking we were Russians. We weren't wearing a uniform, this uniform wasn't a uniform just a black blouse with pants. So we laid down on the ground, about ten minutes, and we waited, and the shooting stopped. So we kept walking. By the time we reached the one city before Konisgburg, we came in at night, the city was in flames, the Russians were there. So we got stopped by the Russian soldiers. What are you doing here? We say, Prisoners from the camp, survivors. What are you doing here? I say, We're going home. What did you say I was before? I was bold? So we spent one night under arrest by the Russians. I say, Look, we got to go home. We just came out from concentration camp. We traveling. Finally, we got a good Russian, maybe a Jewish Russian, they didn't want to admit they were Jewish. So he let us go. So I say, Are we continuing. We're never going to reach Konigsburg. It's about forty kilometers. We'll never reached Konigsburg. We went home. Back to Czestochowa. Because it was so silly. Why are we going there for? What are we looking for? We didn't know.

PR     You just wanted to leave Czestochowa.

LS     Just wanted to leave Czestochowa. Get away.

PR     But you had to go back.

LS     Got to. It was the only place where we know where to go.

PR     How did the Poles feel about the arrival of the Red Army?

LS     Well, they were glad to get rid of the Germans, but they switched, from one sickness to another sickness. From one wound to another wound. Until later they find out. They wasn't so happy.

PR     Where you there in June 1946 when the referendum took place?

LS     No. I was in Munich already.

PR     In Czestochowa, in April 1943, did you hear to the ghetto revolt in Warsaw?

LS     Sure. Sure.

PR     What did you hear?

LS     What did we hear, that there was an uprising. We had couriers. We had underground too. In our ghetto in Czestochowa, we had an underground. There were communications. They build a bunker under the ground to get out of the ghetto. But somehow the Germans caught it, and they demolished the whole bunker. And a lot of them got killed. So, in fact, a cousin of mine was a leader of the partisans in Czestochowa. We heard about it. That's when we got concentrated in the camp. We were still in the small ghetto when the uprising in Warsaw took place. But then they held us for three days, they didn't let us go out to work. They were afraid. If they let us out, somebody might smuggle out whatever we got. For three days, then they decided they will concentrate us in the munition factory.

PR     Did you also hear about the revolt in Warsaw in August 1944?

LS     We heard about it. But we didn't take active part in it. Very little. It was non-Jewish group.

PR     What about the AK? The Polish Home Army.

LS     Well, they were strictly anti-Semitic. They killed Jewish partisans. They were hunting for them to kill them, in the woods, the AK. That was our enemy.

PR     All of the AK, or just special units.

LS     Who knows? Whenever they run into a group of partisans, they just fought against each other.

PR     There were Jewish partisans in the Czestochowa region?

LS     Yes. Czestochowa was a lot of woods, you know. Big forests. It was easy access to it, but not like in Ukraine. Thousands of miles.

PR     I've asked you a lot of questions...

LS     Ask me some more, you got some more?

PR     Are there some questions that I have not asked that you want to answer?

LS     I don't make want to make myself a hero. There are no live heroes. Only heroes are dead. You can only be a hero when you are dead. But (laugh) I can talk to you for five years. I don't know if I'll be finished.

PR     Where were you when the pogrom took place in Kielce? LS     In Munich. It was nothing new to me. Sooner or later I figure, somehow, somewhere, big deal. Pogrom in Poland. Big deal. Pogrom in Russia, big deal. Do you know how many pogroms there was in the first one?

PR     Was there any part of Poland that was known to be less anti-Semitic? For example, Krakow always had a reputation for being a liberal place.

LS     They got good people and bad people everywhere. Especially around even Czestochowa, about twenty kilometers away, they had a colony of Germans. Volksdeutsche. They used to be Polish citizens, before the war, and we used to get in contact with them. They were nice people. We spoke a little German with them, and they were happy. They were very friendly.

PR     More friendly than the Poles?

LS     Yes. More friendly than the Poles.

PR     I often hear that the Poles were worse than the Germans.

LS     If you give them a free hand, they would be. They were kind of cold blooded, they didn't care. They can kill a Jew easy. It was a pleasure to them.

PR     Is it wrong to generalize about all Poles?

LS     I don't generalize. Whoever did it. The can't minimize the, you can't do away with it.

PR     I wonder what my chances would have been if I had jumped from a train and sought help from a peasant's hut.

LS     Slim. Very slim. I had a friend, in Czestochowa during the war. Thirty-five kilometers from Czestochowa there was a city named Chapisa. My parents were born there, and this friend of mine was born there too. And he told me, Leo, Chapisa was already in the circle out of the Polish territory because the Germans marked it as German territory. They had more food, plenty of food to eat. And he said, Leo, come let's go to Chapisa. I say, What for? We'll meet friends there. It's a different life. There's no food here.

PR     During the war.

LS     During the war. So I figured, if you want to go to Chapisa, you can get a permit. You cannot get a permit. You got to go on your own. Smuggle. Take your life at risk. If you get caught outside the ghetto. So we walked. I decided I go will him. We walked for the first ten miles. Twelve kilometers. We have night. We got to go in a house. We knock on the door. We would like to stay overnight. They were good people. They didn't know we are Jews. We didn't tell them. So we paid them two dollars per person. Two zlotys per person. So in the morning, five o'clock in the morning, we have to get up and go early on the morning to smuggle over the border, Polish-German border.

LS     So we walked in the morning. You didn't know when the posts switched, the German watchmen. But if we run into him, we run into him. Take a chance. So luckily we didn't run into him. We walk in the fields. You can't go on the road because the road is traveled. On the field. Water, patches of water, your shoes are wet. You walk, it's terrible. So finally we arrived thirty-five kilometers to the city Chabish. We arrive the next morning. It took us a whole day to walk. So we arrive in the morning. It's eight o'clock in the morning. After two days I need a shave. We decided to go to the barber shop.

PR     What year was this?

LS     1940. So we decided we go to the barber. So while we're walking in the street in this little town, there is a big German fellow in uniform, police. It was a high officer. Standing in the corner, and he sees two Jewish fellows. He called us, Come here. Well, he called you, you got to go. He has a pistol, he'll shoot you.

PR     Did he know you were Jewish by the sight of you?

LS     Yes. He knew because there were no other people on the street. So first he says, Ausweis. Documents. I didn't have any Ausweis because I was in Czestochowa. My friend had a Ausweis. He showed him the Ausweis. OK, go on the truck. The truck was about three houses away standing there. Ausweis. I look in my pockets. I say, I've forgotten Ausweis at home. I tell him in German. And I say, If you don't mind, I'll go home. I'll come right back with my Ausweis (laugh). What else can I say? When I say that, he just hit me and my nose started bleeding. Go on the truck. So I get on the truck. This was right by the police station. About ten minutes later there were about twelve other people coming out. Jewish people coming out. They took us on the truck, and the truck started up and two other Germans, three Germans, the driver, and the two. Where we going? Nobody knows. I told my friend, You know what, I didn't come here to get caught and go where ever. I'm jumping, and soon, I used to spend many summers over there for vacation, when we get right when we passed the cemetery, I will jump. As soon as you pass the cemetery, about a quarter of a mile, the woods start. I'm going to jump. If you want to jump with me, good. If not, I'm going. That's what happened. I jumped from the truck, and my friend jumped after me, and we run into the woods.

PR     Did the truck stop?

LS     The truck didn't stop for a while. The other Jews knocked on the cabin, to tell them. The two run away.

PR     They were afraid for their own lives.

LS     They were afraid. So when the truck start, I don't know if they pulled back or what. But about five minutes later, we heard some shots to the woods. So they didn't see us. We were five minutes deep in the woods. We go out this way, and we go out the other way. I say I'm going back home. So I went back home, and he stayed over there. He was hiding in his parent's house. So this is an adventure. Something that is unnecessary. Gosh, I could get killed, or shipped away so early. Then what? Why? Why was it necessary? You say, Bold. Yes, I was bold. I did something always the impossible. Something I shouldn't do it. But it came out. God was on my side.

PR     So you left Poland still believing in God.

LS     Well, I still believe in God. I believe, but I'm not an Orthodox. I'm not a fanatic. But I say my prayers. I believe in God.

PR     What political persuasion was your father?

LS     He was a representative of labor. Of trade unions.

PR     Bund?

LS     No. Trade unions. Tailors, shoemakers, all the trade unions. Not the Bund. The Bund father was a very learned man in the Jewish religion. He was highly learned, and he was very few people in Poland could read and write.

PR     If the war had not broken out, would you have been able to go to university in Poland?

LS     Positively, yes.

PR     Positively?

LS     Yes.

PR     Because you would have been able to get on the quota?

LS     Yes, I would.

PR     Because you were a bright young man.

LS     Yes, yes.

PR     And because your father was an important person.

LS     Yes.

PR     Where would you have gone?

LS     I would have gone to Krakow.

PR     To Jagiellonian.

LS     Probably so.

PR     Were there Zionist organizations in Czestochowa?

LS     Oh, yes. There was.

PR     And were there farms where they were working?

LS     In Czestochowa they had one farm. (laugh)

PR     Did you have Zionist Youth friends?

LS     Yes, I did.

PR     But you were not?

LS     Yes, I was.

PR     Did some of these people make it out of Poland before the war?

LS     No.

PR     What about the Polish boy scouts? Were you a member?

LS     No.

PR     Was it possible for a Jew?

LS     It was.

LS     Hiding out in Czestochowa, you had to have two things. You either had to have a lot of money, and guts. With a lot of money, you can go and offer the Polish people the world you know. So some of the Polish people they will accept the money, and they will report to the police. They don't say, I hide the Jews for money. They say, Jews came in, they look for a place to hide.

PR     Do you know of a specific example of that?

LS     Yes. My cousin told me that his cousin, from his father's side, they were hiding and they had a lot of money and the people who hide them took all the money, everything they possessed, and then they called the Germans.

PR     And said?

LS     The Jews came in and are looking for a place to hide.

PR     And when this person from Treblinka, what is his name?

LS     Bomba. Abraham Bomba.

PR     You knew him before the war?

LS     Sure.

PR     He was your age?

LS     About two years older.

PR     And he was a barber in Czestochowa?

LS     Yes.

PR     When he came back...

LS     I saw in Czestochowa in camp. The same camp.

PR     Did he tell you about Treblinka?

LS     No.

PR     Not a word.

LS     No. He was afraid. If he will tell, the word gets around that he escaped from Treblinka, and if the Germans find out, you know what is going to happen.

PR     How did he explain his presence in Czestochowa in any event?

LS     Once you come into the ghetto, you have to smuggle yourself into the ghetto, small ghetto. So he did. Among four thousand, five thousand, you can live. And if you go to the Judenrat, what are they going to say? They probably going to put them on the list. Look a Jew came. That would be a great displeasure for them to do it. So when he came back, he came back to the small ghetto, and then because this happened, and from the ghetto when they concentrated us from the camp, and he went with us all together.

PR     And did you not wonder where he had been?

LS     Who cared? Nobody know. Everybody could go and come. Could go to partisans, and come back, whatever. Nobody cared. Everybody is living temporarily. Because we said, We have our sentence in our pocket. All we got to do is take it out, and read it. Leo Scher, you are to die today, and that's it. So. That's all. Nobody would know anything.

PR     When did you find out that this man had been at Treblinka?

LS     After the war.

PR     He told you?

LS     Yes.

PR     And when did you find out that he was in the movie Shoah?

LS     When we saw it. We didn't know he was in the movie. I was with him in New York, what was it? 1962. He used to have a barber shop in New York. I visited him. He didn't know he was going to be in a movie. Once they found out, you know.

PR     Because there are only a handful of survivors from Treblinka.

LS     And the guy he's cutting his hair in the movie, in Israel, is the guy who went with me to the city of Chapish. That's my friend, because he's not an important. (laugh)

PR     What I remember about that gentleman in the barbershop is that Lanzmann asked how they cut the hair at Treblinka and he asked, Did you ever see anyone in Treblinka from Czestochowa? And the barber said, Yes. And the question was, What did you do? And he said, It was ridiculous for me to tell them, because there was nothing I could tell them. It just served to remind me that to survive you had to be a very smart individual and, in a sense, you had to be ruthless. Is that correct?

LS     Yes, I don't know if I could have done it. To cut the hair was nothing, but to clean the ashes, that was...I was in Auschwitz in 1946. After the war. Walked around, and still the stench smelled so bad, the stink, the human bodies. Flesh was burned. In 1946. I also went to Dachau, and Bergen-Belsen.

PR     Why did you visit those places?

LS     Why shouldn't I know. How would I know what to say?

PR     And the Polish people around Auschwitz, did they speak to you?

LS     I didn't try to talk to them.

PR     I spoke to a Polish man last summer in Warsaw who lived on a farm near Treblinka, and he told me that his farm went to the wire.

LS     It's possible. You see, they couldn't establish with all those things. I mean, the Germans had so much to do. Such much, such an administration, can you imagine? It's impossible to do everything perfect. It was impossible. They couldn't do exactly not to skip or overlook one point, or one item. They skipped many items, not do it right. It's human error.

PR     To the Nazis, it seems like it was more important to kill the Jews than to win the war.

LS     Not really. Killing the Jews was easy. To win the war was hard. Why did Hitler commit suicide? Such a hero, such a strong man, why did he commit suicide? Cause he was a chicken. He could yell and scream to all the generals. He screamed his head off. He didn't know what he was saying. He was not that intelligent. He was not such a learned man. He was acting. And he practiced his acting. You think he went out and had a speech without practicing? He probably stood in front of the mirror for days and hours, to practice his speech. How to yell. How loud to yell.

PR     Thank you very much.

LS     You want a drink or something.

PR     I'd love a drink.

LS     What you like?

- END -