When we were exploring Mapping & Migration with Year 5 students at Newhall Park Primary, Luke brought in his Granddad’s story and very kindly let us tell everyone else about his incredible journey.
The Warsaw Ghetto Survivor: The true story of Luke’s Granddad
I was born in Warsaw on June 4th 1926, at my grandparents’ home. My mother died soon after I was born. I was brought up by my grandparents, who lived in the Jewish Ghetto. As I grew up, I got to know the Jews who were good, religious people. When I was seven years old, I did little jobs for the Jews. On Saturdays, as it was their Sabbath and it was against their religion to light fires for cooking, so I lit the fires for them and they paid me.
I lived in the ghetto until I was eight years old, when my father came and took me to a new home in Warsaw. He had met and married someone else. I now had a stepmother and stepbrother. I did not like the place where I lived and my stepmother was very bad to me. When I was ten years old, I ran away from home.
I got on a cattle train in a cattle truck. I do not know how long I rode on it. I noticed a lot of farms, so I jumped off. I walked to one of the farms and I asked for a job, and the farmer gave me a job looking after the cows. He fed me and gave me clothes, and I got a sack of potatoes every month for wages. I didn’t sleep in the house; I slept with the cows. After so long, the farmer took me to market and sold the potatoes, and he gave me the money. I stayed with the farmer for four years. By this time, the Germans were in Poland, so I returned home.
When I got home, I noticed all the Jews were wearing arm bands, which were white with a blue star and on it, it said “Juden” (which is “Jew” in German). I didn’t know why they were wearing them but I found out it was so the Germans could tell who was Jewish and who was Polish.
If the Germans found a Jew not wearing one, they were shot. The Germans were treating the Jews very badly. What did they do to them? The Jews built high walls all round the ghetto. Planes flew over and dropped leaflets, which said, “All Jews must go inside the ghetto and stay there”.
The Jews had money and gold, and they offered the Polish people gold and money if we would hide them. But if the Germans found out Poles were hiding them, both the Jew and the Poles were shot on the spot. The Germans wanted all Jews to die. After the Jews were put into the ghetto, they were all kept there without food or water. After so long, they became ill and die, and the Germans were afraid of disease, so they sent planes to drop fire bombs inside the ghetto. The bombs exploded and set everything on fire. At a guess, about one million Jews died in there. After all the Jews had been killed, the Polish people thought the same would happen to them.
In 1939, Germany declared war with Poland. The war did not last long with Poland and Germany because my father told me that in the Polish Army were traitors. They led Polish soldiers into ambushes.
In 1940, tunnels were being dug all over Warsaw, then the underground army started for the uprising. The Germans were going round in army tanks rounding up young Polish boys for their army but I managed to evade them before they arrived in our street. I joined the underground army then the uprising started.
After being in the underground army for a year, the Polish General got a message that the Russians were coming to help us to get the Germans out of Warsaw. But they never came to help us. The reason for this was that the Russians had joined the Germans. After Hitler took Poland, he told Stalin he could have Poland.
The underground army fought on. Three or four of us, one who could speak perfect German, captured about six Germans. We took their guns and uniforms, and we set them to work digging the tunnels.
There were Germans hiding out across the road. We had a plan to surround them. I was ordered to run across the road and, as I ran, the Germans opened fire. I got shot and had to stay there until night time when I was taken inside to our underground hideout and got treatment.
Being injured, I could not go above ground, so I was ordered to stay below and guard the entrance with a friend. The Germans kept opening fire from over the road. I was sitting down and my friend was standing. He was explaining to me about the hole from which the Germans were firing. As he told me, the Germans fired and he fell to the ground shot through the head. The Germans dropped leaflets telling us to come out or we would be bombed. When we came out, there was nothing left standing. Warsaw was flattened.
The Germans loaded us onto cattle trucks and we travelled for a day and a half, and arrived in Batsulszla in Germany. This was a large concentration camp where I stayed for one and a half years. I was set to work repairing the Germans’ boots. After this time, the Gestapo came and I was moved to another camp in Lamsdorf, still in Germany. While I was in the concentration camp, Hitler ordered the Germans to take all Polish people that were left out of Warsaw and flatten it. Hitler then sent a message that Warsaw only existed on the map. When we arrived at the camp, we were sent to a basement, which was a wash room. We had to take all our clothes off and we were sprayed with disinfectant. They shaved our heads. Everything we had was taken from us. They kept all our valuables and destroyed all our papers. They gave us old German uniforms with POW painted on the back.
I was sent to work in the kitchen where the Germans ate their meals. I had to serve food to them. We never got any of this food.
For our meals, we got a thick slice of dry bread a day and water. I asked the Watchman (he was in charge of the prisoners) if I could eat what the Germans left. He said, “Yes”, so I at least got some food but the other six men in my hut didn’t; so I stole a potato and found an empty tin and I made a grater by punching holes in it with a stone. I grated the potato skin and put some in the pan that we had and made some soup. They ate this with their bread.
One day, the Germans arrived with Red Cross parcels, which were American and in them were cigarettes, biscuits, cheese, coffee and tins of meat. The Germans would offer us a loaf for a spoonful of coffee. We refused and were put in a cellar for a week. When we were let out and back to our huts, all our parcels had gone. The Germans had taken them.
One day, we were in our hut when planes came over and started firing at the German guards in the sentry posts on top of the wall. It was the Americans. We all came out to look and we all started cheering. The Germans got angry and started hitting us on the head with their guns, and knocking us down. I fell down after being hit on my head and face, then the German stuck his bayonet in me. Luckily, it struck my ribs. I still have that scar today. My friends took me inside and lay me on my bed. A few days past and one morning we noticed the Germans were getting ready to leave the camp. My friend and I were planning to escape from the camp. The hut we were in was raised off the floor on legs. We took two planks of wood from the floor, and dropped underneath the hut and into a wash room, taking the planks with us.
The wash room was made of wood so we were able to make a hole in the roof. While all this was going on, all the other men were singing to cover us. We got on the roof, put the planks across the barbed wire and jumped over into a cart track. It was very dark. We walked down the cart track, not knowing where we were going or what to expect. We walked and walked, sleeping under leaves, which we covered ourselves with. Before daylight, we heard noises of tanks and, just over a hill, there were tanks with white stars on. We thought that they were Russians. We walked towards them and they aimed their guns at us; they thought that we were Germans. They were American and, when they saw POW on our backs, it was alright.
One of the Americans could speak Polish. They wanted to know where we had come from. We told them we had come from the concentration camp. We told them we had not seen any Germans on our way. We had seen someone sat under a tree but when we went over to him and touched his shoulder, he fell over. We thought he was asleep but he had been shot.
They asked us to give them our jackets and they gave us American uniforms. They then asked us where the concentration camp was and we told them about 50 miles away.
We tried to join the American army but they said no. They took us to a farm. The Americans told the German farmer to feed us and let us sleep, and if anything happened to us, they would be shot. They left us there for two week until they found out what to do, then they came back for us in a truck and took us somewhere near France to the British headquarters, and we joined the British army.