Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Samuel Offen - December 27, 1981

Outbreak of War

Now we're up to about 1938, '39 now. Do...


...you remember where you were when you heard that the war had started?

Oh, very well. I'll never forget it. That on September 1, 1939 and prior to that, of course, there was rumblings of war and talk about war, but no one knew for sure. And I remember on the morning of September 1, 1939, I found a piece of metal--now we heard shooting all night, a lot of shooting the whole night. And in the morning I went outside for something and I found a piece of metal in the street and I took it with me and I brought it home and I showed it to my father. My father looked at it and he says, "This is a piece of shrapnel. And it looks like may...maybe from anti-aircraft guns or some..." since he was a soldier 'cause he knew something about it. He says, he says--and there were talks about the Polish Army having um, having some, you know uh, I don't--testing their guns or maneuvers or something. My father says, "Sam," he says, "this is a real, this is not a test. This is a real war. We--I can tell by the shrapnel. This is real, came from real life ammunition." And, of course, since then I found out he was, of course, he was right. Uh, then of course, we, a few hours later we found out that Germany invaded Poland. The Polish radio was broadcasting all kinds of broadcasts. They're broadcasting that, "Do not fear, the Germans defeated us, our army is going to repulse them, we're going to turn them back." And, of course, at the same time we saw armies moving, going from our--Krakow, going westwards towards the German front all the time. But, of course, they were pretending like these were maneuvers. In the meantime, I found out like, that my father was right. The war was on for real. The uh, Polish radio asked--everybody had a radio--to put the radio in the window so everybody could hear that Poland has a pact with the Allies, with the Allies were especially England and France and they're coming to our help, to our defense. In a few days we're going to route the Germans with their help and would everybody please put their radio transmitters, receivers in the window so everybody can hear it. And, of course, everybody did that. And the prop...the propaganda was so strong. Uh, we could tell, a day or two later we could see casualties of the Polish Army returning to Poland, returning, going eastwards, toward the Russian front. Retreating.

What news was there from the East? That Russia had, uh...

Uh, I don't recall any news about Russia invading Poland from the East. Of course, it happened. I don't, I, I don't recall that news. We were only con...we were only really concerned about the Germans. In the meantime we heard a lot of stories emanating from Germany. In fact, one of my father's uncles returned from Germany because he was born in Poland and he went--he lived in Germany for many, many, many years, his children were born in Germany. And when Hitler came to power, he was exiled to Poland because he was born in Poland. And he was telling us all kinds of stories what was going on in Germany. I--we knew that things were bad in Germany. And we were, of course afraid of it, but there's nothing that we could do about it. A lot of people uh, wealthier people, people that had cars or horse and carriages, put most of their belongings or whatever they could into their vehicles, whatever they had and started driving east toward the Russian border, ahead of the German armies. Some poorer people like us did it too. They just started walking toward the Russian front. We didn't want to--we didn't know what to do. We were a very close, closely-knit family. We did not want to break up our family. But we talked our father into--"Why don't you leave and leave us here, maybe we just won't last very long, because maybe they'll take you to the army or something because the Germans come in." So finally we persuaded him to leave. So he took a suitcase or whatever. A few belongings he could take and he left. A few hours later he was back. He says, "I'm sorry. Whatever will happen, will happen. I cannot leave you. I want to be with my family." And, of course we stayed together. Until Germany invaded Poland uh, Krakow rather. And uh, a few days later, of course the Germans came into town.

Do you remember when they came in? Was it September?

Eh, it was September--it was on a Wednesday. The war broke out the first of September on a Friday and they came into Krakow on the following Wednesday, whatever that day was, five, six days later. I'll never forget it. In fact, they were almost hailed like a victory's army. Although we knew it was bad, but people were standing on the street corners and here the Germans with tanks. You know tanks and the armored cars were just driving by, waving to us. Just like a victory's army. That's all.

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