Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Joseph Birnholtz - July 28, 1982

Start of War

All right. Can you uh, do you remember the way the war began? Do you remember what happened, where you were?

Uh, not exactly. I wasn't in the city, wasn't in the city.

All right. What was your--do you have any recollections of knowing at last that something...

Well, I remember one thing that uh, there was a Polish fellow that dealt with us. We gave him money to pay out in the factory he worked in charge--he used to give us ???. And he used to tell us if the Germans come in he's going to be a very big man, which later on I'll tell you about this man, what happened.

All right. Uh, did uh, your troubles begin when the Nazis came in or was it beforehand?

The troubles really came when the Nazis came.

What happened?

It was bad before. It wasn't--it was anti-Semitic, like I said, but we could have lived with it, see. We were used to it already. But after the Nazis came-- in the beginning when the first--the first couple days they showed how good they are. They were giving out people uh, cigarettes when they took over Poland, chocolates and everything. And then they showed one Bloody Monday what they really can do and anybody that was in the city, whether it's Jew or Pole--anybody--any, any living thing in the city would be killed. And they were shooting, crisscrossing. And that Bloody Monday--it was about three days of occupation--the third day or something like that, they uh, they took over. Anybody was in the streets got killed--they were shooting.

Had there been a warning?

No warning whatsoever. It was a beautiful sunny day and I remember, they moved in--there was a school--a professional school--a Jewish professional school across from our street--on ??? we used to live and this is right across the street. So they moved in--they have tanks and horses because it was a very big field. And uh, and my mother used to tell me, "Don't watch those because you never know what's going to happen." As a matter of fact it happened exactly--on a sunny day they started shooting and anybody who was in the doorway--there were about 1,000 people killed because later on they took us all out from the building. They said that we killed the German, which wasn't true. Nobody ever had ammunition. Nobody knew--ever, ever knew how to shoot or anything like that. And so anybody that was--they took us all out with our hands up and they took us across the building to there--in that school field and then they took us down about a block away to the factory. It's called uh, the ??? factory. It was a paper factory that later became a concentration camp. So they took us over there, they put us near the fence and they kept us there for a few hours. They said they're going to shoot us all out. Then, then came an order not to shoot us. They took us down to jail. We crossed a river and there was a Polack's bombed the bridge before they left. And they--so we had just a narrow board across the river and people were falling right and left into the river like that. Anyway, but who survived they took us all to the jail and that's the first time that I really know real suffering. We went three days without any water, without any food and we were there in the jail. And I remember there was a baker with us here and he had an old piece of bread in his pocket and he felt sorry for me and found that you could take a hacksaw and you couldn't break it even. And I remember how hungry I was; that was the first time I felt hunger. That's how it started, the trouble.

Was this all the Jews in town or just in your neighborhood?

Uh, it was all over. That was the whole town they took.

And after those three days, what did they do?

Well, it was back to normal--it went back to normal. As a matter of fact, my grandfather was living with us and he was sick that day. He was about at that time 108-years-old. And uh, so they took him also down, but then for some reason they let him back in the room and he was laying in bed and the Germans came in the room and they looked at him and they looked for ammunition and they took all the dishes--they took everything out. They said to my grandfather, if you'll turn around they'll kill him. I remember my grandfather told us this. But anyway, he was lucky he was never in jail because he would have never survived it that time. So my mother had just baked him bread because the war broke out so he had what to feed himself...


...that day. So he was left in the house. But after awhile he died after a few months.

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