Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Emanuel Tanay - March 16, 1987

Contact with Family

While you were running from place to place, were you wondering about the rest of your family, what was happening to them?

Yes, I was in contact, very nebulous contact, but my mother and sister were separately, see from the very beginning, my father made the decision that we should never be together, because it was known that if we were together, it was easier to discover for a man that he is a Jew, all they had to do was drop my pants and they knew I was a Jew and that was being done all the time. So even when we had false papers, even when we were together, we never admitted that we are related, I had a different name, my name was Jan Woizcek and my mother's name was Aroyek, and my sister they had different names. So we were totally unrelated. I always addressed my mother even when some point when we were together by the Polish word "Pani", lady. I never spoke to my mother in anyway that we were related because you see there was the danger. A woman could always deny and you couldn't really prove it that she was Jewish, but with a man there was no difficulty. No one in Poland was circumcised but Jews.

As a 15-year-old, was this hard on you, separating yourself psychologically and physically from your family?

Yeah, it was hard but you see when you are struggling for your life, you are not really... maybe it varies from person to person, I must say in retrospect as a psychiatrist and as someone who has been in analysis for ten years, I must say I must have been a very strong youngster, because I always had my focus on survival. I never became profoundly depressed or... I became depressed after the war, when the war was over, when suddenly, and my mother survived and my mother became "Pani doctor" which means, you know, she was treated... you see during the war, I was more in charge than my mother, because I was more resourceful than my mother in a variety of matters. So I had to look after her, but after the war in the initial period, it changed. I then became depressed. But during the war, I never did become depressed or anxiety ridden or anything of that sort. Now I have known others who have. I have known others, you know, let me give you an example how people react differently. I was in a situation much later in Hungary, oh actually, not in Hungary, it was, no it was Hungary, but we were trying to go to Yugoslavia, that's down the line, but let me get ahead of the story, and uh, we were in Sighet, which is where the Gestapo headquarters, and it was a makeshift prison. We were told there were just I think fourteen or fifteen of us, we were with the underground, we were trying to cross the border, it's not all that essential to my story here, they told us that if one escaped, five would be shot, for every one, five would be shot. Or two people who were, or three in fact at first, escaped who were the leaders of the group, they escaped, and the Chief of Gestapo came in and we were sort of lined up, and with his white gloves he was beating on the bars asking for volunteers to volunteer for execution and a fellow that I knew quite well by name Somic, he volunteered. He was depressed, he was, he just gave up hope. The second person who volunteered was me. But I volunteered not because I wanted to die. I volunteered because I said, you know, in their perverse thinking, they're not gonna kill the people who volunteer, these are not escape risks, the ones who don't volunteer are the escape risks. So I volunteered the second. And I was right. You know, I was right. So you see, the same behavior can be, see and Somic never survived and I did. Even though we both were liberated from that situation by the underground, the point I'm making is that some people, whether in camps or on the Aryan papers, had that will and resourcefulness to survive and clearly that's true of me and many, many others. I do, as a psychiatrist who has been involved with great many survivors, I definitely believe that no one survived simply as a gift of someone else or as an accident. It was an active act, it sounds redundant, but it was an act of will and an achievement of that individual. In camp or outside of camp.

The other prisoners in that situation, were they killed?

From the people who were in that group, to my best knowledge, there are in addition to myself, two who have survived.

Were they executed by the Gestapo at that point?

There were some who were executed, but some who were executed too, attempted suicide. Two who were older men, which means they were in their thirties, you know, cut their wrists, two brothers, I remember that. Cause they just wanted to die.

© Board of Regents University of Michigan-Dearborn