Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Joseph Birnholtz - July 28, 1982

Life Before the War

Was the--was living good? Was it comfortable?

Well, it was comfortable--for us it was comfortable. We lived very good. We had uh, two maids and we were very good off in Poland. You see, we had a big apartment building, we had business. We had a department store, we had ??? it was called and a lot of people that know me that worked for my parents.

Were uh, what--were you, were you folks--your folks uh, Chasidim or were they attending?

They were Chasidim. Very Orthodox people.

All right. Was most of the community Chasidic?

Mostly was, they were all observing Shabbat. There was nobody that was open--only in an emergency for a doctor or for medicine. But otherwise everybody had closed the stores because they were observing.

Did you have any ambitions uh, for work? What sort of career you wanted to go into when you were a child?

Not really, I was too young, but I knew I loved always to sing and I was the youngest cantor--the youngest boy--I was singing as cantor in the synagogue over there.

Oh, so you sang there as well?

Yes, yes.

Uh, do you recall--was--were there any cases of anti-Semitism before the war?

Yes, it started out like you were gave out factories--on, on payment they should pay us out money that they could close the factories. They charged everything. And we had a collect...we couldn't go collecting ourselves. We had a man--a Polish person, like a policeman or from government and he went collecting money for us. He was even afraid to ask here--to go out of town to collect for this money. It was very dangerous.

How about in the town? Were, uh...

There was pogroms when I was very little. It wasn't so easy.

You had maids working for you.


Were these Jewish maids?

No, they were two Polish maids.

Did you get along well with them?

We got along with them very well, and uh, the janitor that we had, he, he worked for us for many years and he protected us. If there was a pogrom, he would stay in front of the building and he wouldn't let those hoodlums throw stones.

Who was this?

The janitor's son. They protected us. They stayed in front of our building--there was pogroms I remember as a child--they wouldn't let those hoodlums throw stones at the building. They would protect us.

Oh, I see. Uh...

Their name was Jablonksi, the janitor, I remember the name.

Did uh, uh, you live in a ghetto or a Jewish part of town?

Well, they took us out small--first to the small ghetto. And, they, they killed my parents.

Bef...bef...uh, before the war...


...did you live in the ghetto?

No, no, no, before the war we lived all over, all over the place. There was no ghetto, there was no such thing before the war.

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