Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Henry Dorfman - August 11 & 25, 1989

German Occupation

That was never an issue. So what was happening in your hometown?

Because I was young, I mean, I--first thing I would not be accepted to the army.


And the army was like it demolished, I mean, they, the army was already running all over the place. What happening in my home town eh, the Germans were in because you see we were right on the, on the Vistula. Their main purpose was--is to cut off the whole army's part of Vistula, you know. And that's what actually what they did. They went before--around from--I mean, from Silesia, you know, through like Czechoslovakia all around they running to cut off because the Poles said they're going to knock the heck out of the Germans right at the Vistula. There they're going to make, the other side they're going to make the stand. They never got to it because they never had anything. Listen, we, then the, the, the struggle, the first thing is they come in and whoever they caught in any houses and whatever they beat up. My father was beaten up, I was beat...beaten up and uh, unbelievable to take, they took all the, you know, all the Jews with the beards, I mean all the religious Jews eh, in the middle of town and, and, and, and, and you can imagine to take those kind of people uh, cutting the beards. Or on the houses to take, to put their heads in the toilets, eh. It was atrocious what was done because it just, it just uh, it just breaks your heart even to remember that this could happen after, after a few weeks when we walked into, to those towns. And then they...

Did your father have a beard?

My father had a beard.

Did they cut it off?

Absolutely. He had to shave. Listen, they cut it off and then he shaved it. I remember like today. He had to shave it, there's no doubt about it.

What did you think when you saw him sh...without a beard?

What I was thinking--I'll tell you the truth--you didn't know what to think. Because one thing we didn't think, we think that they made it right away and a few weeks our minds were humanly destroyed already. I mean they were--'cause every morning you had to show up for, for an Appell. You stand with your hands up like we were bandits-- we didn't do anything. And then they were picking out the stronger ones or whatever--most of them, strong enough to work. That kind of work. We went close to the Vistula, we were digging ditches. And believe me we start seeing this is the beginning of the end. But we did not think and I remember like, I said to my father, "How about let's escape, let's go someplace." He says--I'm--we were talking to escape to Russia. But that was so far from us, that was far away. We were on this side of the, of the Vistula. We didn't have no transportation. Listen, we were small town people. We didn't know nothing about the world and here people come in and, and ma...and made, and made you live--I mean, like I say, any nice quarters somebody had, they throw you out from the quarters.

Was there a ghetto? Did they set up a ghetto?

Later on. But then the first--the ghetto started in 1942. One year in '39 they were just morally and mentally destroying us slowly. They had a plan laid out, it's hard to believe. Then we already, because everyday to work--escape a lot of them were killed, shoot in the middle or hanged--took our rabbi hanged him in the middle of the street, I mean, you know. I mean, there was--so we have seen that we had--if they, if, if they would say eat shit, you would eat it otherwise you knew that you're going--if you're not going to eat it you're going to be killed. It was no, there was no such thing as saying no, okay. So like I say, then the plan was, then what was the ghetto. Why didn't we take our stand or do anything? Because why, the first thing you learned, the first year mentally completely destroyed. Took away everything, I mean, anything they come into houses at night. Whenever they wanted to do something with a Jew it's like, like here what you do with a chicken. If you wanted a chicken to be killed, you know, if you wanted to eat it, then you throw it away. Same thing was that. Then they build those ghettoes. When they build the ghettoes we figured this is going to be the heaven. They're going to put us all the Jews in the ghetto and they're going to say live there and die there, you understand. So whatever it's going to be. We figured maybe this is going to be the best thing. See nobody was running. Nobody even cared... And, and there where you moved in probably three, four families in one room.

Was your, was your extended family with you or were you with strangers or were you with neighbors?

We were mostly with the family. We tried to be the family together. There's no doubt.

Let me ask you a question. If, if you had decided to try and run away with your father, what would have happened to your two brothers and sister and your mother?

Let me tell you. I don't think if anything--that--in 1939 and '40, they really didn't have the count yet. You see, escaping because the ghetto, the little ghettoes, like for an example, let's say you have Detroit over here. All the small towns, they made the small town ghettoes, like Grand Rapids uh, Kalamazoo or all the, the north...the northern, all the towns around. The first thing they, they tried to make the big ghetto like here in Detroit. So they would take the, the people from Detroit and make a big area and, and put all the Jews. But the first they were doing, they, they left the big town alone, you understand. First they done the little towns, they made little ghettoes. Then from the little ghettoes--this was in 1941, they took all the little ghettoes and put them into one ghetto over here. So there was the period from 1939 to 1940 or even '41 you could escape when you got into the big ghetto. Because there if they would catch you, if they knew you are Jew, but you know, but. I was going in and out. Not wearing that uh, that uh, Jewish star. I took a chance. My father too. A lot of 'em did. A lot of 'em got killed. If somebody would go and tell the Gestapo or the gendarmerie that the Dorfmans, that I'm telling you they were yesterday they were outside the ghetto, yes, you'd, you'd be dead. Or hanged in the middle of the ghetto. Or, or show all the people how much punishment you would get before you die. Maybe the who...maybe they had those German shepherds, they would let, let you rip, I mean, rip the German shepherd apart. They done all this. I lived all this too. But we were lucky.

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