Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Emanuel Tanay - March 16, 1987

German Occupation

So when you heard those stories, was there any great alarm, or was it just "here it comes again...?"

There was alarm, I recall you know as a youngster overhearing my father talking to a tailor who came to the house. You know in those days uh, the tailor would come to the house to make my father's suit and the tailor was a German Jew who spoke broken Polish who was expelled from Germany. This would be early in, sometime in '39. And my father talked to him about, you know I was overhearing it, about the activities in Germany and what will happen if the Germans come in etc. etc... And I recall the tailor saying to my father, oh, we'll make it, Jews have a hard skin. Twardy skóra. And I remember as a youngster, I must have been what 10, 11 at the time, I took it very literally. I somehow thought Jews have a different kind of skin, I mean is it more... you know harder [they both chuckle] you know I didn't quite... he was using it as a metaphor, but that isn't how I perceived it. See there was the notion, all right these are oppressive measures, but we are used to it. That's been the Jewish experience. This is a little worse, but it's not gonna be all that different.

How long after you returned to your home did things... was before things started to change, get bad. Do you remember the Germans marching in, for example?

Uh, oh you see when we came back to Miechow, the Germans were there already. In fact, it's an interesting moment. When we come back to Miechow, my father, my mother, my sister and I, at that point the Polish population was looting Jewish homes and just as we came in, and our home was a very nice home, in fact, I believe was one of the nicest, if not the nicest home in town, they were about to enter our home when we arrived and since my father was educated in Vienna and spoke perfect German, he solicited the help of some Wehrmacht officer who prevented the looting of our home. So you know, at first, strange as it may sound, it was a German who protected our home from being ransacked. So in the beginning there was a great deal of fear but there was nothing that unusual and however that slowly changed. You see, people in this country sometimes have the notion that we in Poland suddenly were confronted with this terrible prospect of being annihilated. Well that wasn't the case at all. It came very slowly, in steps. At first, you know there was no difference how the population was treated, the general population, and how Jews were treated. Then somehow Jews were singled out. For example, in our town, the first major event against Jews occurred when a kind of a detachment was brought into town which was called the Schwartzer, the blacks. They were, there was a unit wearing black uniforms and they were not Germans. They were Lithuanians. And they were put in charge of dealing with Jews.

What did they do?

They would gather Jews take them to... make hard work of all kind. Be abusive, and as time went on, they would shoot someone for an infraction of a minor nature, you know, at some point you had to wear an arm band if you did not have an arm band, you got shot if you were not wearing it. Jews could not go outside of town at first, and then the ghetto was formed, then the ghetto was closed. So you see, there were progressive incremental type of measures that were introduced until ultimately the deportations begun. And even then, we were not aware of what was going on. You know, anyone in 1942 reading the New York Times would know more than my parents knew at the same time, living there. The, the communication was virtually nonexistent. Let's say, to find out what was happening in Krakow, which was only 40 km from Miechow, you know, I traveled this morning to get here from my home more than 40 km, uh, was really a major feat. So there was no communication. Uh, you didn't know what was happening, even when the deportations started, our community hired a Pole to follow the trains to find out where they were taking them. And he came back telling us, uh, I overheard this... my parents were discussing it, uh, he lost the track. He followed it as far as he could and then he couldn't, he didn't know where the trains were going. Whereas, if you read the... now I know from retrospect having seen it, if you read the New York Times at the same time, you would know where they were going.

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