Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Henry Krystal - September 19, 1996

Religious Life

It sounds like they were very Orthodox.

Yes. My, this grandfather was a Hassid and he was a follower of the Rabbi from Ostrowiec, Ostrowiec Rebbe. And he even had some miracle stories to tell about what the Rabbi had done for him. But uh, during, so uh, so my mother finally then prevailed and then she uh, married a man that she chose. And the, this, this grandfather uh, fell on bad times during World War I. He was looted three different times. Every time the Cossacks came in they looted his store and uh, he, also during World War I, he developed some kind of ear infection, uh. And he was, from that time on he was losing his hearing, so after that he didn't do as well. But this part of the family they uh, stayed together longer and on...I remember occasions of visiting them.

Um, let me step back for a second, so you had ten aunts and uncles. Did your aunts and uncles also have children?


Could you, could you estimate how large the first cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents might have been?

Oh, [pause] three, five. [pause] Uh, uh, about ten on my father's side, grand...grandchildren. And uh, on my mother's side uh, only one of her sisters got married and had one son. And then my mother had two sons, so there were actually three only on my mother, mother's side of the family.

Thirteen grandchildren, ten, twenty aunts and uncles. Roughly fifty people count in your family?


How many survived the war?

Um, I had three uncles on my father's side that emigrated to Israel and their children survived the war. Uh, three brothers who were the daughters of, or the sons of an aunt, survived the war in Germany and went to Israel. And uh, on my mother's side nobody survived the war except myself. My mother's cousins survived the...some survived the war. From a much larger extended family, my second cousins all, all, once removed and uh, they were two sisters in New York and three brothers in Toronto.

But from your immediate family you were the only survivor?


Let me return for a moment to grandparents. You said your maternal grandfather was a Hassid and that you remember visiting on occasion. Um, what was his reaction to his grandson attending a Zionist school?

Well, we, we didn't visit that often. Uh, but the problem uh, started when I went to visit my maternal grandparents and spent there the summer of 1939, and uh, uh, he objected to my whole appearance. I was wearing a school uniform and uh, he uh, this was shortly after my Bar Mitzvah. And uh, I, they gave me uh, the honor of being called to the Torah and reading the Torah and I was trained in the Sephardic pronunciation. And uh, the, the people didn't quite understand what I was saying. They were not used to it, they were, some, some knew what it was, but I overheard uh, one man asking the other uh, "what is he talking jargon?" Jargon was one of the words for Yiddish in, that was used in that area. So I was uh, not only by my, my grandfather, but by the whole shtetl uh, considered as kind of an enemy alien. And uh, I, I felt very uncomfortable there and they were, they did not, they were not inclined to, to accept anybody like me.

Did they see you as a shegetz?

Yes, as a matter of fact my name in Poland was Henyek, this was a nickname from Henry uh, and, but they sometimes referred to me as Genyek, signifying that I was not a Jew.

So you have less than fond memories of that and that's where the, where you were when the war began?

Yes, that's where I was and uh, I was about to go home when the war broke out, September the first.

Before we, we begin with that um, in, in general, wh...what kinds of feelings do you have about life before the war, for you and your family in uh, in Poland?

Well uh, it wasn't very easy for us because we, my, my father worked hard, long hours. And uh, we were just making it and then we had uh, extra expenses. First because uh, when I was five years old I had a serious illness which involved prob...more than our resources were at the time, uh. And then uh, when I was uh, my brother being seven years older than myself uh, he um, graduated high school and then he worked for like, for a couple of years or maybe a year with my father as a bookkeeper and saved some money. And he went to study medicine uh, in Italy, in Pisa and in Bologna. And that again was really beyond our means, so it was, we had financial hardship. And my father was a hard worker but not able to really, with the exception of some good years, to really uh, make a good deal of money so that our life would be comfortable. However, we managed and uh, uh, when I was going to the, this was a private high school, but I was given the scholarship grant that helped me to pay. And, so uh, financially we were rather tight. But uh, we had a, a, a good life and uh, we did things for fun. We uh, especially after uh, my illness I was told that I needed to be in the mountains every summer to avoid uh, pulmonary problems. So the summer we would, my mother and the two sons, when we were little, we would go up in some mountain and rent a room from a farmer and uh, spend the mountains, the, the summer in the mountains. And uh, in the winter we did other sports and we just and we, I had good friends in school. And uh, the uh, my general recollections are that, that, we, we were, we were doing pretty well.

© Board of Regents University of Michigan-Dearborn