Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Steve Collins - May 10, 1982


Well um, where were you when the war broke out in nineteen...


In Płońsk?


Do you remember?

Oh sure. I was listening when the war broke out. In the third day from the war, I ran away from the town I ran, ra...to, to Warsaw. I never been in Warsaw before the war. I lived so close. Would be like Detroit, Pontiac.


So the distance...and I never been to Warsaw. How do you go there? You have to have the clothes, to live, you're poor in the ??? the big city. I mean, you come from a small town and they say oh, that's some building. Eight story, ten story building. Was, you know, you get lost...there's a three-fourths of million population, close to a million was living over there...street cars, everything. You know, you come back, I mean, there's people there...you mention what you, behind the mountain, how you feel. So the third day, when the German, the German break through the line they were coming, I could see from my window. Could see the fires over there. So I left.

You left Płońsk?

Płońsk to Warsaw. I hitchhiked.

You hitchhiked.

Yeah, oh some trucks...people was running, I just hitchhiked one after another ???.

Without your family?

Yeah, by myself, yes. I was always independent, I was sure of myself. ??? in the habit to know...I'm very physical...

You were about twenty years old at the time?

Twenty, uh...




Twenty-one was the military supposed to go. I got military training before the war. So in the night I came into Warsaw, I remember. The German, the conductor been uh, from the streetcar. ??? in Polish. It was ???, no lights. They bombed the hospital, the German airplane...done some damage. No lights on the street, so where you go. I'd never been on a bus, I don't have any money...Warsaw. And a man he says, "you can go over there to, go, help your...somewhere to sleep," you know. So I went, I don't remember the place even, slept, I slept a night in the morning I got up...there was nothing to it. You know first time...there was nothing to it. I mean, I saw over there a sign, Poli...Polska Partia Socjalistyczna, this means Polish Soc... Socjalista Partei. This...I remember the street, Walewska...

Socialist party?

Party, Walewska 7. I remember the street the name, I remember I went in and volunteered, to the army.

To the Polish army?

Yeah, so I went in and volunteered.

Did they know you were Jew?

Oh sure. But it didn't hurt, I volunteered to party ???...this I didn't have no trouble. He tell me, "do you have any military [telephone rings] training?" I says yes, I got some, three years military training. [telephone rings] This mean Polska ??? military training for them every summer, maybe about four weeks training. Was not really training for them, was training, was not training at all. Marching, other than that, handle guns, machine guns, used old guns from, maybe fifty years old. Old fashioned guns. It was, it was coming one place, I don't remember a big pla... uh, place. Maybe it was hundred town volunteer maybe more. And, and they picked.

Who picked what?

The officers picked physical build, you know, what you will do.


I mean mentally, physically they got a choice to pick and, you know, it was young, physical. You see, to them at that age I was very physical, very athletic. And put my uniform and send me right on the first front line. On the front line I was over there. Without military training and they took us to the front line. The German airplanes attacked us. I got sense enough when I saw them, the fighter plane coming, very low over the trees. It was on the hill, I just fall down behind the tree, come to this side, the machine gun opened up and they killed very few from us.


From across me was about five guys behind me, everyone was standing behind to hold each other. The machine gun, boy, it got 'em through the guts and through the other's laying here, you know, the airplane coming over there and the tree cannot reach, on this side, on this side. ??? to each other ???. Through the machine gun I saw the first casualty, ??? was about three, four feet away from the machine guns. Title 7: Tczew

Do you know where you were?

This in Tczew, would be close to Tczew in the area, never been in the area before. I know in the area of the field was going to the front line over there. So, they went into the battle. I went so many times hand to hand combat went with the Germans.

You did?

Sure. One night I got two of them, to hand to hand combat. I had them both was so close, I mean, inches away I got one and then later another one, the same evening. I got two Germans, hand to hand combat.

Did you encounter anti-Semitism among the soldiers too?

Oh sure, they didn't know I was Jewish without uniform and I didn't act as Jewish, was very tough. And was never there, to me, [telephone rings] over there, ??? know me, I'm physical. [telephone rings] The ??? would open up I would lay, knocked out. I was very, I was very proud as a man, young, growing up.


Would never take any abuse. My wife says, "you was physical strong ???.


More than other one and I didn't, with the uniform, I didn't act Jewish but I never got trouble in the army. They was always talking about the Jews. Very, they didn't have enough money and they didn't fight. And, uh, myself personally, never got trouble over there, I could take care of myself. I let 'em know who I am the first day and they know who I am. I mean, never got trouble myself.

Did you see any other Jewish soldiers being abuse because they were Jewish?

Over there not ??? there was no Jews in my company, it was picked.


Picked all ???...

So they didn't know you were a Jew then?

No, they didn't know I was Jewish. Always talking about the Jewish physically, no, I was never...I was physical, strong, I never was afraid of, let them have it, I would hit them back. I was, not hit them back, I would have to do what I have to do. They, they get my, to take my place, I never was, over there, walking away, I never did this, never.


There were ??? growing up, on the street I would always fight, there was two or three. I was always waiting for them and I never let 'em get away, it was in me. Very militaristic in me, myself, growing up, I don't know from where I got it. Very militaristic, and I would never let them get away, never. I mean my pride as a man.


It was three of us waiting for them and it took every one of them to ???. But ??? they put 'em in the ???. Never let them get uh, away...

The better of you.

Yeah, never, no. That was in me, I believe in strength. Not just hitting back, my philosophy is not just hitting back. You hit 'em so hard to remember never stood up again, this is my philosophy. Not to equal...??? hit them so they remember, they'll never dare again.

What happened um, then you were in combat? How long were you in as a soldier?

Three weeks.

Three weeks.

Three weeks, that's all, three weeks. In the war and then later they took us capital to Warsaw. Then took, uh...

Your, the army took you to Warsaw, back to Warsaw?

No, no, the army didn't took us back. We was in Warsaw, when we give ourselves up the Germans were around Warsaw.


Capital there. And the government from Warsaw uh, says to lay down their arms.


I don't remember his name...I don't remember...on the radio I was listening, but I never come back, I never hear the name ???. And to lay down their arms, you know, lay down the arms. Later they took us, a mile of soldiers from all over to come, you know, to know what's going on over there on the field. It was for miles and miles and it took us in and out of Warsaw, I think was the Flugzeuge Platz, like the airport, Polish airport. ???, I don't remember the name, really. And German officers, "Juden here?" and the Polack didn't understand. "Juden, Juden here?" I understood what he meant, you know, I was in the front. The Germans finally come over there talk to their officers, with all their guns, thousand big guns ??? about shooting. ??? shooting in Warsaw. And see ??? I could, the guns for miles. The big guns, the German's built in over there all towards Warsaw. And was ???, you know some soldier, he took out a loaf of bread, he give it to me, you know, ??? give to me ???. And he took us in and our camps, was barracks over there. Title 8: Escape

Did you step out of line when they asked if there were any Jews there?

No, ???.

Did you, did your...

Nobody stepped out, nobody understood, no. Not when I was there. I never saw with any, he just asked.

Did your uh, document say that you were Jew?

Nothing at all, no. Didn't have time, sorry. So took us in, was afternoon those barracks I walked around, I tried to find out that a little idea how camp is. I mean, was twenty-one, I looked around the camp, I didn't even go to the barrack to lay down to sleep over there, you know, this I didn't do. I looked around over there, the fence was very big uh, big fence, went around the...

Was this in the airport area that you're staying?

Yeah, I think it was an airport. I've never over been there, but uh, you know, I...

Was this a part of Warsaw?

No, outside Warsaw.


...a few miles.


I don't know, but we walked a long time, a few hours, I mean, walking.


You don't walk so fast. Towns and towns, hundreds of towns, I don't know, maybe 200 towns, for miles, you know...in a line...you don't walk so fast. Took us in over there and I walked near the, the fence, the pig pen uh, soldiers stays near the gate. They, they stayed maybe about three, four feet away from gate. Here the gate it stays here, then I went behind him, behind the German. And I slipped out of the gate. Behind--the same evening. And never stayed overnight even, you know.

Did you have the uniform on?

Yeah, oh sure. I even stayed behind him and later being--get out you did walk in the field behind him, the wall, cannot see. So, he walked near the wall. You know over there, the battle field was over there, the dead bodies was laying in the hundreds, all spread in the...hundreds--was thousands, really. I walked through the dead bodies and the fields. I walked near the brick wall. Later, farther down I saws no German, I lay down and crawled through the dead bodies and I, and I went through field.

You were by yourself?

Yes, by myself always. I believed in myself than someone else, well you, you know. You do...and later I went through to the Vistula.

The Vistula? The river?

Yeah, the Vistula, like here the Detroit River, very large river. Wisła, Polish would call, Wisła.


Wisła. So I come over there. I had to go home, I have to cross the Wisła, the Vistula to go home the way I come.


And come over there the bridge got blown up, is a ponton bridge.

A what?

P-Ponton, ponton. Ponton mean from uh, is made from boats, big boats. Ponton, ponton.


Big steel boat and put on boards and, the building that's called when you cross a river, but you destroy it, soldier's armies, ponton. And this is a swift river and I'm not a strong swimmer. I'm no match, like Detroit River maybe more...


Not so wide it be, be past where the water was running, I mean swift, very--the current was very strong.


So I have to cross it and I'm in uniform. You know, the SS is guarding the, the bridge, the ponton bridge. Both sides.


I slipped through. I was going a nice a few hundred yards to the river and the beach. I was crawling in behind the Germans, didn't stay in the woods, you know, on the top. Behind them would have got shot, I had to crawl to get out. You have to go before the, the boats but the current can't force you away, you know, uh, with the current. I have to go in the front the, the boats will stop me...


I can grab it, you know. Before I let myself down and I grab boat by boat underneath and I went through the river.

Oh, you were able to cross the river by holding on to the boats?

In the front of the, see the boats this way not behind, in the front. But the current go this way, I was in the front on the boats.


You see?

I understand.

If you came behind it would sweep you away, maybe.

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