We have our little things outside of the door?
Yes. I didn’t bother to take it off.
Today’s date, December 6, 1994.
The survivor, Leopold Page.
The interviewer, Branko Lustig.
The city, Beverly Hills, California.
The language, English.
Okay. Tell us please your name
and where are you born and when, the date.
My name is Leopold, original name is Leopold Pfefferberg.
I was born on March, the 20th, 1913,
in Kraków, Podgórze,
the most beautiful town in the whole Poland.
Old, over a thousand years old.
I was born to a beautiful, middle-class Jewish family.
Religious. My grandparents were very religious.
My parents were religious too, not Orthodox, but Conservative.
I have a beautiful youth.
I was the first in the family, of my grandfather’s family.
There was eleven brother and sister. I was the oldest grandson.
I was like a treasure for my grandfather.
And you had some brothers, sisters?
Three years later, my sister was born
on February 9, 1916.
This time my father was not present during the birth of my sister.
He was already drafted to the Austrian army
during the First World War.
We didn’t know in this time when he was located.
We found a few months later, after my sister was born,
that he was wounded in the northwestern part of Poland.
What was your father occupation?
First, my father’s name was David Pfefferberg.
My father was a representative of a company from Germany.
In this particular time, has a sales office in city of Kraków.
This company was importing goods from South America,
like coffee, tea, nuts, raisins
and other types of normal imports from this part of the world
and was doing very well.
But the war started in 1914, and he was drafted,
and he got wounded in 1916, and then he was released.
The family of my father was a very well known Jewish family
of city of Kraków for centuries.
His family consisted of about nine sister and brother.
He was the oldest one.
When he was 18 years of age and finished high school,
he went to America in 1905,
because the family has relatives, cousins and uncles, someplace in New York.
I never found them.
Lately, I’m getting now some feedback
that they are from the family of Kraków of Pfefferberg.
My father spent 30 years in America.
Their family was wealthy here in America,
but they give him a chance only to stay with them about a month,
and then they said, “You are on your own.”
He got a job in Metropolitan Opera in New York, in the chorus.
He has a beautiful tenor voice, and he was singing over there.
When he came back to Kraków?
He came back because as an oldest son–
his father got gravely ill in 1912,
and my father returned to support the family.
My grandfather– I never knew my grandfather from my father’s side
because I was born in 1913.
He died in 1912.
But my name, Leopold,
is after my grandfather, from my father’s side.
My sister was born in 1916,
and her name was after the grandmother from my mother’s side.
And their name was Pauline.
When your father came back, he continued to work?
No, not exactly, because he was a very young man in his 20s.
He came back and he met, by coincidence, his future wife,
also from a very prominent Jewish family,
from family name Goldfluss.
Moses Goldfluss was my grandfather.
Very well situated, and they got married,
and I was born in a short time.
About exactly 9 or 10 months after they got married,
because they married in 1912, and I was born in 1913, in March.
- When he came back from the war– - Yes, my father.
Yes. Then he–
My father, when he came from the war, in the 20’s,
you must remember, when he was wounded, he was released.
But in 1920, the Bolsheviks invaded Poland,
and he was called to the Polish army.
So the whole period of time, since 1914 till 1921,
he was mostly on and off from the army.
He couldn’t make any living,
but my mother was a very talented interior decorator,
so she was supporting the family.
In the beginning, we were living together in my grandfather– Moses Goldfluss,
my mother’s father and mother–
we were living in the beginning in their house.
They have a big farm,
not far away from the city of Kraków in Podgórze.
Later on, when she started making a good living,
we take an apartment in Podgórze,
on its main street, Limanowska Street.
That was a Jewish quarter– A lot of Jews was living in Podgórze, right?
There was not only in Podgórze.
The Kraków has, in this particular period of time, close to about 60,000,
what grew later on to about 75,000, 80,000 population before the war.
- How many synagogues were in Kraków? - There were quite a bit of synagogues.
The main was the Tempel, what exists even today.
But the rest of them, small shuls.
Depending on your wealth and of your status in the community,
you belong to certain shuls what have the similar group of Jews,
prominent kind of Jews and...
my father belonged to the Altshul, to the old.
- And you went to the shul? - I was going to the shul.
Till I became 18 years of age.
When I graduated from high school and went to the university,
I went on the shul to the big holidays,
on account of the sentiment,
on account of my father was a Conservative Jew,
you understand, I went to the shul.
So you finished high school in Kraków? There was a Jewish high school?
Let me tell you something about my father.
He didn’t have a university degree, but he has a high school degree.
But he was extremely talented.
Spoke fluently a few languages–
Polish, German, English, Hebrew, Yiddish–
and in writing and speaking.
And he wrote beautifully. My father was very talented in writing.
- I don’t have the talent of my father. - But you went to a Jewish high school?
No. I was one of the lucky one that went to the government high school.
This mean free of paying, free of charge.
I went to the high school in city of Podgórze,
very prominent high school.
And it was difficult. Is not like high school here.
Gimnazjum was a much higher level because the classes–
I was 10 years old when I went to the first class of gimnazjum.
We have already three languages: German, Latin and Greek.
How many Jews were with you in this high school?
Coincidentally was substantial amount.
In the class was roughly between 35 and 40 students,
was about 50% was the Jewish students.
How was it between the Poles–
We didn’t have no problem in the high school with anything.
Like against the Jews or things.
The only problem was to get to the gimnazjum.
You have to be a B+ student, minimum.
When, for example, general public, the Catholic students, could get–
the minute they are entitled to go, they were accepted.
We have to go– everybody has to go to the entry examination–
but it was much more difficult to pass for the Jewish boy.
The demand was much bigger because they have to eliminate them.
According to the status of Poland–
Because in Poland, in average,
was between three and three and a half million Jewish population
between First and Second War, there was the quotas,
was quotas for the school, 10%.
Was easier to get to a government school for the Jewish boys
because we are excelling in studying.
We knew to stay in the school, you have to be very good.
- And then you went to university? - The university, the quota was very strict.
Particular to the things like medical school,
the department of physical education school.
Was easier to get to law or to other department with different qualification.
Engineering was very difficult to get in.
To what you went, to what kind?
I went to medical school.
The medical school with a special implementation
to the physical education.
But this was all more like preparing these young people
to teaching in a high school, or gimnazjum or university.
When you became a master degree or doctor degree,
you could go and teach in the university.
I got only up to master degree.
I have master degree in education from University of Kraków.
I became a teacher in 1934.
The minute I finished high school, I already got a job
because there were no Jewish–
Not high school, you mean the university.
No, in high school. In the first year, I was in a Polish high school.
Because when they send me for the practice on the first year,
I was assigned to the high school which I, four years before, graduate.
All my ex-teachers became my colleagues.
It was a little bit strange, but I build a pretty good reputation over there.
Your sister also went to the government school?
No, with my sister was a little bit difficult.
She couldn’t get to the government school
because there were not too many girl high schools.
Remember that in Poland in this time was not coed education.
So there were men’s, boys’ gimnazjum and girl.
And the amount of boys’ gimnazjum was three time as many as a girl.
Was difficult to get for my sister–
- You didn’t have other brothers? - No.
My sister went to the Hebrew gimnazjum.
Was an extremely hard high school
and a very high scholastic level.
Because they have to graduate high school–
In this time, the high school was eight years long.
Later on, the division came between junior high and liceum.
You have to be a very good student
to pass the examination of all the general classes,
what every high school has to go through.
Plus, also Hebrew classes when they have extra curriculum
in Hebrew, in language or religion, and so forth.
When you finished the university, and you went 1934,
you was member of some Jewish organization?
Only I was a member of Jewish school or university but not–
There were not political organizations.
There were mostly more like fun and game and meeting people and–
No Zionist groups?
There was high school. How do we call this?
There was Jewish high school organization.
But there was some groups of Jewish organization like Zionists.
No. I didn’t belong to any political type of group.
Not to the Zionist, not to Betar, not to any of them.
I belonged to the sport organization Maccabi,
what was very well organized sport organization,
because I was an extraordinary sportsman in every field.
- So what I heard– - I was swimmer.
- But you was a skier, right? - Skier and swimmer and hockey player.
Were you accomplished, you was a very good skier, right?
Yes, excellent. I became first Jew in Polish National Ski Association
to reach the rank of the instructor.
A full-fledged instructor of teaching.
Skiing for me, as a teacher in physical education, was very important
because I could make extra money by teaching children or anybody else.
And you was living with your family, with your mother and father still?
During your– 1934.
- I stayed with my family. I never– - You never–
I stayed at home. I have a wonderful family,
warm relationship with my parents and with my sister,
and we were extremely loving family.
My parents protected and sheltered us,
and tried to do everything possible for the children and–
When you heard first time something that in Europe,
in Germany, and in Austria, and all around Europe,
they start to persecute Jews and–
Is an interesting question about you are asking me to answer.
In my youth,
I never saw any
anti-Semitic against me personally.
There were some story what you hear that something happened.
Sometime maybe overexaggerate
because the anti-Semitism in Poland,
what we consider was the biggest country with the biggest anti-Semitics–
is very overexaggerate.
Poland, in general terms, was not more or less anti-Semitic
than in Germany or France.
I even consider the Frenchmen and Englishmen and German
more anti-Semitic inclined because they do this in white gloves.
And a Pollock, when he didn’t like you, he tell you, “You dirty Jews,”
and this was– everything over.
But when first time you heard about
things was going on in Germany against the Jews?
Oh, I watch the history of Hitler from the beginning.
From about 1928, when he begins to take little power
and with lots of stories written in the papers and things like this.
And we knew that this man is really a danger to society.
Not only in Germany, but influence also every other country around him,
like France, Czechoslovakia,
Croatia, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Poland.
But you was worrying that something can happen to you in Poland?
I tell you– You see, I was–
Remember, I was a teacher already in 1934.
Then I went to the army, to the officers’ school in 1935,
and then I got my master degree in 1936.
I was more involved with personal things
in this particular time
than thinking about the political aspect, what is going on.
But, then, when I start to teach in the Jewish gimnazjum
because that’s what I start–
- What year was this? - In 1936.
In this time, I realized that what is going–
We watched much more carefully what was going in Germany.
Particularly 1937 and 1938,
they start to expel German citizens born in Poland.
They were shipping them from all over Europe, Czechoslovakia.
For example, in 1938, my mother, my father,
accepted a family from Moravia.
We kept the whole family till they decide to go out
because Czechoslovakia has an agreement with Russia in 1938
that they can go through Russia.
They were sent and permitted by Germans to go over after that.
I never heard that a Jew became in an officers’ school, in a Polish army.
- I was the lucky one. - How did this happen?
I’ll tell you what happened.
When I was on the university–
Because when you became high school graduate,
you are eligible to go to officers’ school.
regardless of your religion or nationality, you are a Polish citizen.
You have to go to the army.
But you can get exempt when you start to study.
So I got exempt for five years
because takes about five years to graduate university and get the degree.
I finished in three and a half years this way.
I figured I’d rather– I want to go to the–
I personally want to go to the army.
I want to prove that we are not any different, the Jews,
than any other Polish Catholic boys.
And they send me to the most strict, the most
difficult officers’ school, to Bydgoszcz.
Bydgoszcz was a non-city of Germans
because Bydgoszcz was annexed to Germany till 1918.
In 1918, they got the part of the Germany to Poland.
Originally was always, for centuries, Polish ground.
In the Bydgoszcz was lots of German family
who became Polish citizens.
And in this particular officers’ school–
this was close to about 400 students–
90% were the Germans.
- We called them Wasserpolak. - You were the only Jew.
I was the only one Jew in the officers’ school.
I’ll tell you something.
There were certain requirements for Jews.
You are the best, or you are out.
When you are not the best, you are going to the army for two years.
You want to finish in one year, you have to be best.
I was very lucky.
I finished with the highest rank from the officers’ school
as a sergeant officer candidate, and three of us was there.
You saw the picture. The two boys who are friends of mine.
That’s who send me the picture. We were the three top in the class.
Tell me, where you heard–
- Then you came back from the army? - Yes.
Home? Teaching in the Jewish school?
Yes, I have right away a job.
From all over the Poland, the all-Jewish private school
was looking for a teacher of physical education.
Also, I have a right to teach ROTC as an officer candidate
because I was nominated in 1938, full-fledged officer.
And I was the guy what was important.
I have offer from every high school in Poland,
but I stay first in Kraków.
Where hit you the war– Where hit you the war in 1939?
I will tell you right now.
In 1938, I got a wonderful job
in a brand-new Jewish high school in Czestochowa.
with the best teachers what the money can buy.
What they selected, and they can only lure them there
to the little town from city of Kraków or Warsaw or Wilno
by giving them almost double salary.
I was– You must understand that in this time I was 24.
No, in this time I was 26 years old.
And I was getting close to 300 American US dollars a month.
I don’t think anybody in America in 1937 or ’38 got so much money.
You was in Czestochowa when the war–
I took the job and over there till 1939.
For the last two years, ‘38, ‘39, I was teaching there.
There was beautiful two years for me as a young man.
Then I came back to Kraków.
When the war started, I was teaching
in city of Kraków, in the Hebrew gimnazjum,
one of the best and most prominent Jewish high school in Poland.
What do you have done when the war came?
When the war coming, I was–
Mobilization came to me with a secret telephone call
because I was trained as a company commander.
The same day, in August 1930,
I got the order to go immediately to my unit what was in Rzeszów,
was about 200 kilometers away from Kraków
in eastern, toward east.
I arrive there Friday morning, about 4:00 in the morning.
6:00, the war started,
and the first planes was bombing
all the barracks and the regiment.
Rzeszów was bombed the first Friday night on the third–
I became second in command of the company
because the professional captain–
I was a lieutenant– captain was the officer in charge.
I was his right-hand, the second in command.
On the sixth, we have the first
attack by the German motorized army,
by the city of Nowy Sacz.
This what happen that our company commander was killed,
and I took over the company.
We stayed for two days defending this particular so–
You actually shot Germans at this time? You were shooting on the Germans?
They were about 400 meter away.
I was shooting and I was–
I didn’t say that my bullet to shoot anybody.
One thing I know that my company was completely almost wiped out.
240 soldiers– I took out from under the fire about 45, that’s all.
The rest all got killed or wounded or ran away.
Who knows what happened?
I was wounded the day after.
- Second day. - Yes.
- No, there was about seven– - Then you went to a German–
No, no. I was still limping and still–
Our company was first towards the German invaders,
and when we start to retreat, the whole division,
my company was the last one protecting the retreat.
So we were going toward Lwów, toward east.
By the city on the River San, Przemysl,
we dig in, and we decide to stand up against the German.
When we were sitting there– I remember like today–
this was around the 20 or 22 of September–
two tanks come from the west side
and about three tanks from the east side.
The German tanks and the Russian tanks.
We stopped– Standing up, we were thinking the war will be over
because the Russian are coming to help us.
But then I saw a strange thing.
On the River San is a bridge.
The German officer got out from the tank.
Russian officer got out from his tank.
They went on the bridge, they shook hands, they come back,
and we knew that we were double-crossed over there.
The Germans crossed the River San and took Przemysl,
and we were forced to retreat over Lwów.
But my orderly, 18-years-old boy from city of Rzeszów,
from a village not far away from Rzeszów,
was very badly wounded in the arm.
So I decided to take him back to the hospital in Przemysl.
Even though I knew that Przemysl will be in a few hours in the hands of Germany.
But other way, he would not survive.
I brought him over there to the hospital.
The same night, in the hospital, I met my friend who is a priest.
Young fellow who was a priest, was from childhood we knew each other.
He came to me and said to me,
“Poldek, this Wojciech– is the name of the orderly–
“will not amputate his arm, he will not live in the morning.
And he won’t let us do it.
The doctor can do nothing. I, as a priest, can do nothing.”
The orderly was a Catholic boy.
“Maybe you can do something.”
So I limped to his bed, and I said,
“You have to let them do it. Other way, you will die.”
“Oh, no. I, as a farmer, without hands, is not worth anything.”
I said, “Look, you are losing the arm for fighting for Poland.
Poland will never forget you.”
“When you give me order to amputate the arm,
I will obey.”
I give him the order, the hand was amputated,
the boy survived, and strange things.
I got a– I have it here–
a letter from a Polish nurse from Poland–
They found out I put an ad in the paper that I’m looking for my orderly.
That he lives some place around the Rzeszów.
That I should contact the combatant organization of Poland.
They will find him for me.
I didn’t have the time, but this came about a month ago.
So I have still time to look for him.
So you was one of the very rare Jews that was fighting the Germans–
There were lots of Jews fighting the Germans in Polish army.
Quite a bit. Soldiers and officers.
There were other Jewish officers.
and trained professional Jewish officers were there.
How did the war finish for you?
My life was completely changed.
Because I was destined to do something else.
But on account of the war,
my whole education, my whole talent was wasted–
But how the war finished? What happened at the end of the war?
When Poland surrendered–
I was taken prisoner of war.
I was in city of Przemysl and the German–
Because, remember, we are under jurisdiction of the army.
Not Gestapo or SS.
The army control everything.
They give a choice to the officers–
they didn’t ask that I’m Jewish or not Jewish–
that we can to go the prison of war to Russia
because Russia was taking back
this part of the River San from Germany.
So they give a choice only to the officer, not to enlisted man,
that we can go to prison of war to Russia or the prison of war to Germany.
We were officially prison of war of German, but they give us a choice.
Many of my colleagues, because we were thinking to go
east to Romania, across Romania, go to Yugoslavia,
from Yugoslavia take the ship to France.
The Polish army was organized in French resistance this time.
I was thinking a different way.
I knew that Russia never signed the Geneva convention.
I knew mentality, what will happen, the Stalinist period.
That I will probably wind up some place in Siberia.
This is what I was thinking.
Germany signed the Geneva convention.
I said, “They will obey the rules.” That doesn’t mean they would.
But this was my thinking in this time.
Then I decide to go to German prison of war instead to Russian.
I found out later, and I have the book to prove it,
that 16,000 Polish officers, and some of them the Jews were there,
was killed in Katyn and surrounding area.
I escaped– The train was passing for city of Kraków,
and we have to change the train to different one.
And when I was there–
is interesting how easy little story can change everything.
When we were there in the hospital
because I have three and a half years of medical study,
the professor of anatomy from Warsaw University, Professor Lode,
was the officer in charge of the hospital because he was a doctor.
He need an assistant. I was his assistant.
I was with the nurses and with the other doctor doing operation.
Very serious some of them.
When I will talk about this, you wouldn’t believe what we were doing there.
- So we just arrived to Kraków and you– - No, we are not in Kraków yet.
In the city of Przemysl, because I was assistant to the doctor
who was the chief operating doctor, I was participating in all the operation.
Not only on the Polish soldiers, but also on the German soldier
who was brought to the hospital.
We received a piece of paper signed by the army
with the German spread eagle,
that we have a right to go outside the hospital, to the field,
to pick up the wounded soldiers.
And I kept this.
When they decide to move out from city of Przemysl, the German,
and give it to the Russian, so the River San became the Curzon Line
between Russia and Germany from 1939,
later on till June 1941.
They took us by train back to Germany.
The train stopped in city of Kraków.
They were holding us in the–
I know the city very well.
I know the station, every inch of it.
They put us in the first-class waiting room.
There were a couple hundred of the officers.
We were waiting because they were changing the train to take us to Germany.
Then I notice a strange fellow, staying on the rear door holding a guard.
A soldier, not SS man, no Gestapo, soldier.
I came to him because I spoke very well German.
Educated language German, not the slang.
I ask him a simple question, “Can you lesen?” And he’s, “Jawohl.”
So I took the piece of paper, what I got from the authorities in Przemysl,
and show it to him, “Read it.”
He looking and there it is written that I have a right to get out.
So he open the door, and he knew we are officer.
Salute, good-bye. I went out 6:00 in the morning, I jump on trolley car.
My home was exactly about five minutes by trolley car from there.
I came home, about 6:15, I was home.
Then I burned my officer uniform except the breeches,
what I died black so I could use them.
Because I have beautiful boots. They’re very good.
Because it was October, November, December.
Was good to have because in this time
all the Polish people was having high boots.
I want to look pretty good, like the general public.
- Who you find home? - My mother was there.
My father was there, and my sister was there.
They were the closest. All my family was intact in this time.
This was in beginning of October 1939.
Then I found out three days later,
from the lady who was supervisor of the apartment building where we lived.
She likes me very much, because as a single man,
I was sometimes coming after 10:00 when the door to the building was closed,
and you have to ring her up, give her a tip.
I give her 20, 30 zlotys, like five, six dollars a month.
I have a key, and she likes me. Always I found her a gift or something.
She call me and say, “Poldek, you have to hide.
The Gestapo is looking for you.
They were here and they asked me to report the minute you come over.”
So I start to hide different places every night.
I never come back home.
Sometimes I sneak home during the day to see my parents or my mother.
My father was working in this particular time,
because they took all the businesses away,
with Jewish gemeinde as one of the workers there.
Volunteer, not volunteer: They get paid little bit, but not too much.
He didn’t make too much money.
My mother was the biggest supporter.
You’re supposed to wear the–
Yeah. They came in, about in October time, with the order
that every Jew over 13 years of age has to carry the armband.
No, I carry the armband when I consider it’s important to carry.
Mostly I keep it in the pocket or I didn’t wear it when I was out.
Your grandfather, grandmother, they were with you?
My grandfather was not alive. My grandmother was alive,
from my father’s side.
From my mother’s side, both parents were dead already.
But the family was intact.
This mean that his brother and sister and the cousin and uncle.
Family close to about 100 members of the family–
from both sides– was a tremendous family.
So, you was working on this time something?
I was working till the gimnazjum was closed,
till the 1st of January 1940.
Then they closed the school.
So, then you have to do something.
Because I was very well known between the Jewish circle as a teacher,
and my students’ parents, some of them were very wealthy.
For example, I’ll give you a small example.
One of my student’s father has the imports of the velour hats.
In Poland, velour hats were expensive, like about five dollars in this time.
Like 35 zloty or 40 zloty,
what was quite a bit amount of money in this time.
Somebody wanted– I got few of those velour hats from him
and make a couple zloty or few dollars.
Then, everything was permitted,
except you cannot sell currency,
like dollars or German marks
or English pound.
This was not allowed by the law and was punishable by death
for the Jew or for Pollocks,
maybe to go to jail for few years
or maybe even to a concentration camp.
Tell me, how you met your wife?
- How I make my life? - No, no. Your wife.
I met my wife. She should probably tell you too.
This was extraordinary story
because in this time, I was living with my friends.
Not with my parents, I left.
- So you left your parents. - Yeah.
And my friends still have the store.
Wholesale skin, raw skin.
Like for shoes, for clothes, for helmets, you understand?
We were trying to unload as much as possible of those skins
so that we’ll not be confiscated by the Germans
because they were confiscating.
This way I was making certain amount of profit,
and making living, supporting my family.
My father didn’t make any money.
My mother still was interior decorator and still was making some money,
but was very, very difficult.
Because we were kicked out from this apartment,
I think, by the end of October or beginning of September,
and we lost everything.
When we received the apartment back, it was completely empty walls.
Nothing in it. Everything disappear.
So we lost almost everything in about half an hour time.
Now, what happened with my wife?
This is a very interesting story.
One day, there came a order
that the Jewish family has to accept people.
Not only Jewish– they were liquidating the intelligentsia of city of Lodz.
They took about a thousand most prominent Jewish and non-Jewish
and Gentile family out, confiscating everything.
Doctors, attorney, professors and teachers.
My mother-in-law, mother of Mila,
was a very prominent doctor.
She was a skin and venereology doctor.
She was first on the list.
Mila didn’t have to go with her.
But she was only in this time 19 years old.
So, she didn’t want to stay alone.
She went with brother, and they sent her to city of Kraków.
In this time, we were also working
to have a document that we working.
We were also involved in a work in the Jewish Judenrat.
I was assistant to the president.
What was my job?
I was keeping the appointment. I stay by the door.
Everybody want to see the president.
And I was the man who was responsible, who can go and talk to the president.
My friend, where I stay with him,
was in charge in the welfare department there.
He got the order to go and pick up some family
and assign some apartments for them.
He saw a young woman, who was introduced as a doctor, Maria Lewinson,
and a beautiful young lady around 19, 20 years old.
He has three apartments to his disposal.
He decide to take this Dr. Lewinson and her daughter, Ludmila Lewinson,
to our apartments because we have a tremendous apartment.
Then was Friday evening, about 6:00 in the evening.
I’ll tell you something.
They came up in a droshka. You know what is droshka?
Horse and carriage. And it was pouring.
I was waiting. I didn’t know that he is bringing any company.
And he said, “Pol, I have a guest today,
and you have to run and buy anything, the best you can buy.
Ham, cheese, bread, liquor.
Anything you can put hands on it, go and bring it home
because we have an important guest.”
And he introduced me to Dr. Lewinson and to Ludmila.
And he said,
“I have to introduce you my best friend, Professor Leopold Pfefferberg.”
And I met my wife.
- And then you– - I met this way my wife, Friday night.
How long was until you married?
I’ll tell you something very interesting.
He said to me, “Pol, I will marry this girl, so stay away.”
So I stay away, but not long.
Later on, in December, I kiss her, and he said, “You can have her.”
So I took it. And I married her.
- In the church? - We got engaged.
We got engaged on the day when my sister got married.
That was in March when I was–
In this time, my 27 years’ birthday.
She was not even 20.
One week after we got married, she was 20 years of age.
You were married in a synagogue or–
Yeah. We were married in a private synagogue.
The synagogue was closed, in a private thing.
I came about 45 minutes late.
I still was not sure I was doing the right thing.
But we got married, and then we went home.
When we were using the trolley car,
there were some young punks over there,
the Nazis, and they kick us out.
They said, “This Yiddish scheiss, raus.”
What that means?
Jewish shit, get out from here.
In this time, was very difficult to live in Kraków, right?
No. Still was quite pleasant.
I was making pretty good money because I met Oskar Schindler.
Later on, I found out that he is a very decent human being,
who was interpreter.
He came to my mother, recommended by a Jew.
My mother redecorated apartment for the Jewish fellow,
and he purchased from the Jewish fellow.
He pay him 50,000 zloty, what was quite a bit amount of money in this time.
Maybe 5,000, 6,000 dollars.
This Oskar Schindler came over, was recommended.
My mother hesitated.
Is interesting, you know?
I still have my pistol.
When I was dressy-up– this was not the real military revolver.
This I lost over there, is buried in the ground in Przemysl,
over there in the hospital someplace.
I dig it in the ground.
My little one, dressy, when I was dating a girl,
and I went in uniform, I put the pistol to impress her little bit more.
That’s sort of what was the fun for it.
When I saw– When somebody was knocking on the door,
and I was alone with my mother,
my mother looked through the looker in the door, the viewer,
and she said, “Pol, is Gestapo.”
She saw through this door looker
a guy with a big swastika.
She was thinking is Gestapo.
I have the pistol put behind my belt.
I figured I’d probably have to fight out.
Stupid thinking, you know.
But this way you think when you are young.
You still didn’t know what kind of problems you can have.
And I said to her, “Let him in.”
I hide behind the door and listen to the conversation.
From his tone of voice and his way he was talking to my mother,
I realized the man is some different type of guy, and I stepped forwards.
He was taller than I.
I considered I was pretty handsome, but he was extremely handsome man.
I look at his eye, he looks in my eyes,
and what happened?
Some thread of sympathy.
Some understanding between the German Catholic
and the Jewish-Polish officer started.
I was always dressed very well.
After he was talking with my mother and explained what he want for her,
she still hesitate, she was afraid.
So I talked with my mother–
“Go ahead and do with him the business because we need the money.”
He said, “You know, I see you have a wonderful shirt, pure silk shirt,
and I need something like this.”
So I said to him in German– everything is going in German–
“Do you know how much cost this?” I got fresh.
“Do you know how much cost this type of shirt?”
He said, “I don’t care how much cost this shirt.
I would like to have a dozen.”
I said, “Will cost you five dollars apiece,” equivalent in zloty.
He took the money, and he give me the money,
and said, “Take the measurement. Get me this.”
And this way start the friendship
between Oskar Schindler and Leopold Pfefferberg
what lasted till the day he died
in 1974, in October the 9th.
When was the Kraków ghetto open?
What happened with you then?
We were living in the city of Kraków
till the end of 1940.
Then the rumors came in that they will have a closed part of city
only for Jews, to keep them under the supervision
and protected them from the Polish population.
This is the reason they want to consolidate.
One part of city of Kraków, down in Podgórze, this is suburb.
I personally didn’t like the idea,
but we said, “Let’s try to get the permission.”
To do this.
So we apply.
Coincidentally, my family was not protected by the Jewish federation,
because they were not essential worker over there,
and we didn’t get it.
We have to move from this city to anyplace we want east from Kraków.
Because my brother-in-law, husband of my sister Pauline,
was from Sanok, they decide to go to Sanok,
and I decided with Mila to go to Sanok too.
Then I got a bright idea.
Why should I move from Kraków?
I was born here. I didn’t do anything wrong.
I will go to the city hall
and ask them for the permission to stay in Kraków.
So I went, dressed beautifully with a Jewish armband,
and asked for the mayor of the city, Mr. Pavlo.
They said, “Mr. Pavlo is not here, but his assistant is here.”
I said, “I don’t care. I will talk to his assistant.”
And what they bringing me to a beautiful office,
and behind the desk is a SS officer sitting,
handsome guy, and I couldn’t believe my eye.
It was a friend of mine from Vienna,
who was instructor of Polish national ski team.
In 1939, in February, was first Federation International Ski exercises
in Zakopane, in the mountains,
winter-type of Olympics Game.
He was the instructor of Polish group,
and they need somebody who is also instructor who speak German.
The Polish National Ski Organization selected me.
I met him. He became a very good friend. He was coming to my home.
We are going dancing. I introduce him to some lovely Jewish girls, you know?
When I look in his eyes, I said, “I couldn’t believe it.”
He couldn’t believe it and he said to me,
“Poldy, was machst du hier? What you doing here?”
I said, “I didn’t get any permission to stay. You know I’m Jewish.”
He didn’t know that I’m Jewish because I spoke German,
but I look like another nice Polish fellow, you know?
“Did you something wrong?”
I said, “No, I didn’t do anything wrong.
I was officer in Polish army, and I fight for Poland.
You are officer in the German army. You were fighting for Germany.
When this is a crime, this is the only crime I committed.”
“So what you would like me to do?”
I said, “I would like to have permission for me, my wife and my family
to stay here in Kraków and go to the ghetto.”
They didn’t call it the ghetto.
They called this only a special section for protection of the Jewish population
of city of Kraków against the Polish people.
He said, “Okay, I will try to do it.
I’ll let you know. When you have to leave?”
I said, “Sunday afternoon we’re leaving.”
This moment, I went home, and I said to my family,
“We have a chance to stay.”
Sunday, we went over there to the assembly place
from which we were going to the city of Sanok.
I didn’t see this Mr. Br– Let me, you have–
- Why don’t you give me this? - Thank you.
- You know. - Yes, and then?
I didn’t see anybody.
This guy didn’t show. The– doesn’t show up.
But about 3:00 afternoon, somebody is yelling,
“Pfefferberg, Poldy Pfefferberg.”
So I came over and he say,
“You and your wife, you can get out. Go back to your apartment.
But your parents, I couldn’t arrange it.”
That was the last time I saw my parents, and my sister, my brother,
and my mother and father.
Mila and I will stay home till March 1941,
when they decide to move all the Jewish population
from the city to the ghettos.
So we took a little bit of our things because the furniture was impossible to–
Expensive furniture, expensive furniture.
Mother pay about, before the war in Vienna,
ordered about $3,000 for the furniture, was magnificent.
And we went to ghetto.
We stay in ghetto from March–
from my birthday, March the 20th– till March the 20th, 1943.
What happened to your family? They went to Sanok?
Your mother, father and sister, they went to–
They went to Sanok. They stayed in Sanok.
I got the information after
that my sister, my brother-in-law, his brother and his wife,
went under false paper.
They got themselves false paper.
I advised them to go across the River San–
because Sanok is on the River San–
to cross the River San and get to Lwów and to go to Russia.
I found out later on, and this was in 1942,
that my brother-in-law and my sister, and his brother and his wife
are in Czestochowa, and they are blackmailed.
They need few thousand zlotys. I send them the few thousand zlotys.
That was the last time I heard from them.
After the war, I found out that they were caught, by coincidence.
His brother, with his wife, survived,
and they, coincidentally, got in the trap.
They had apartment in Warsaw,
and this apartment was under surveillance.
- And your mother and father? - They were in city of Sanok.
They lost their life when the city of Sanok was liquidated.
Probably they were sent to Grodno camp or to Belsitz.
I don’t know what they–
Tell me, and then you–
My sister was arrested with my brother-in-law in Warsaw in 1943.
They were executed in the forest of Ponary,
about 20 kilometers from Warsaw.
I went there.
I have some photos from the Jewish tombs and Catholic crosses.
But no names, so I’m not sure where they really were buried.
When you came to the ghetto with Mila in 1941,
from 1941 to 1943, two years.
What happened in the ghetto? How you lived in the ghetto?
You see, I was very–
How I will tell you?
When you have a connection, and remember,
as a teacher I have lots of people I knew,
and I was respected,
by the parents.
When somebody has any chance to influence–
like, he can give me in Jewish gemeinde,
what was run by the Jewish gemeinde–
permission to get out, I got the permission.
Maybe cost me few zloty that I could go outside.
Going outside, I was riding on the bicycle,
always on the bicycle.
Because that was like a shield and protection.
Normally, the Jew could not ride the trolley car.
They couldn’t use the droshka.
He could only walk and have the armband.
The minute I was outside the ghetto,
the armband went sticking out some place.
And I was riding on the bicycle, and I have lots of Polish friend.
Tremendous amount of friends.
From the university, from the army, from the school,
and they were very supporting, very supporting.
Everything I need something.
So I was smuggling some things like, for example,
strawberry jam or juice to make wine.
Was a winery in ghetto.
Because sugar they couldn’t get it.
So I brought him about 50 bottles of it.
Because I knew somebody who was on the guard with the things,
and with few dollars, you could bring them in.
You make a living.
I was always traveling with a big bag,
and in the bag you could find anything you wanted.
That was very dangerous.
When I would be caught, I wouldn’t be talking to you.
I didn’t think about the danger in this time.
I was thinking that I’m so smart that I can avoid everything.
But you never know what–
- You was sure you will survive this ghetto? - I’m sorry?
You was sure you will survive the ghetto?
I was sure I will survive the ghetto. There’s no question about it.
I will survive the war too.
You saw the people disappearing from the ghetto. Did you start to think–
I’ll tell you something. I have a chance to go out anytime.
But Mila was little bit scared.
Remember, she was only 20, 21 years old.
She never lived yet. She didn’t see the world, nothing.
I was at least seven years older, and I saw something in my life already.
But you saw the people disappearing. You know that they are killed.
I know they were going under false paper.
I knew they were going to the border to Czechoslovakia, to Hungary.
I knew everything.
But, remember, Mila got a one big complex.
She was thinking that she looks too Jewish to go out.
I tried to persuade her that she doesn’t look Jewish.
She looks like a French girl, like an Italian girl, like a Romanian girl.
She has a birth certificate that she is born in Romania
because she was born in Romania.
- When she was not– - I’m not asking this.
I’m asking, you did know in this time the Jews are killed in Treblinka, in–
We knew it. I’ll tell you what it is.
My uncle was a big shot in Jewish gemeinde.
He was arrested with the president of the gemeinde
because they were bribing a German official
to allow the Jews to stay in Kraków, not to get to ghetto.
- What is gemeinde? - Is a Jewish federation.
They arrested three people.
One of them was the president, who was a teacher before the war.
He was my teacher.
When I became a teacher, I was teaching in the same high school
what he was teaching, and we were colleagues.
This is the reason I was selected by him to be–
give me the documentation that I work in the Jewish council.
My uncle was
They tried to bribe a higher official
to allow the Jews to stay as long as possible in their homes.
They were sending them every day to work, the forced labor.
Because every day they assigned lots of people to work.
For example, when I supposed to go this day to work,
I took 10 zloty or 20 zloty.
I give a guy, and he took my card.
He went for me there, so I didn’t have to go.
You could buy your time.
This way I have a chance to go and make some–
Somebody has a diamond ring.
A jeweler. He couldn’t go out. He was locked out.
He give me the diamond ring. I went outside. I sell it.
I give him the amount he wanted,
and the difference I kept as a commission.
This way I was making a living.
But I’m asking, you heard about the Jews are killed this time–
I’ll tell you what happened.
We knew that the Jews are rounded up and sent to different places.
Supposed to go to labor camps.
Still would never dream that any murder
will be committed in this particular time.
Nobody dream in 1940, 1939 or 1941 even.
But when you first time?
The first time I found out that my uncle was arrested in 1940,
for the supposed bribing this official, who denunciated him.
He was sent to Auschwitz.
We were getting a note.
Till one day, came a little box with ashes
and a note that my uncle, Joachim Goldfluss,
died from lungenentzündung, from the inflammation of the lung.
- That was in ’41? - That was in ’41.
In this time, we already were getting information.
For example– Polish officer who report themselves
because the order came in that all reserve officer,
or any officer who is civilian,
now has to report themselves to Gestapo.
I didn’t go because Gestapo was looking for me.
So I didn’t register myself.
But a few of my friends, Polish friends,
who were also officers, registered, and I told them not to do it.
We just stopped that the guy, Buchner–
He came from Treblinka. He escaped.
He came back. His hair was completely white.
He start to talk to us about what he saw with his own eyes.
Nobody believe him,
particularly people who were in charge in the Jewish council.
They were thinking that he got crazy.
Impossible, something like this.
When I heard him, I realized that he is telling the truth.
Because there was no reason for this man,
who was extremely intelligent, math person, educated,
to make a story like this up.
We found out one thing.
Remember, that the ghetto, when we came in 1941, in March,
they start to make a selection right away.
Starting in June and repeated quite often every few months
because supposed to be only 15,000 people
who supposed to be important
for the industry, for armament.
And the rest, old and children supposed to go out.
But they didn’t want to break right away the families.
So when somebody was working for a German establishment,
the family and him came over,
but they never allowed them to take anything,
except five kilo from their home from outside.
So they make the people completely paupers.
They didn’t have enough to eat.
The ghetto was starving, and people has to make a living.
Though we were trying to smuggle, sometime the people got caught.
Sometimes they were making– in ghetto.
Because this ghetto, from 15,000, grew up.
People were sneaking in, who didn’t have permission to stay.
So they were making selection, and those people were sent some place.
Supposed to be to the labor camps as a penalty,
but they were sending them to Treblinka, or Belsitz, or to Chelm,
or to other places when they were killing them the minute they arrived there.
There are single people who survived, like the Mr. Buchner.
But you was working for the council–
There was some ghetto police units. You was working on one of these?
Yes. I was there from exactly–
When the Jewish council transferred to ghetto,
and I was working in the Jewish council as assistant,
the president, before he was arrested,
because he was arrested few months later,
he asked to join it because they needed the police.
In this time, I figured out, this is an obligation and is a moral duty
to protect the Jewish community in the ghetto.
Particular, the Germans was–
We were not under jurisdiction of Gestapo in this time.
Only under Jewish jurisdiction and the Schutzpo.
- There’s two different branches. - Schutzpolizei.
They said, “You will protect the people from the outside world
who would like to come over or steal something.”
I was there from March, maybe 15 or–
Because I was still working as assistant to the president,
and you have to join it.
And there were about 40 of these policemen, so-called.
You had some uniform?
Yeah, we have the uniform, sure.
Can you describe what kind of uniform?
Coincidentally, I was using my black pants, the officer pants,
because I dyed them black, and I have boots.
We have a jacket, regular, like these clothes with the buttons here.
And we have the armband here.
Strange things, a couple months later–
And the hat, a special hat.
Similar what we saw in the movie.
That’s exactly the way we were dressed.
Not everybody has the same uniform.
Sometimes they have their own clothes only with the armband.
Because it was beginning.
The duty was, for example, that we patrol the street
and the perimeter of the ghetto.
Later on they built the walls.
So was very easy only– They stay on the guard, on the gate.
But in April, about two months later–
- April which year? - 1941.
When they closed the ghetto, they got information, the Jewish council,
that from jurisdiction of Schutzpo,
the jurisdiction is coming to the Department 5 of Gestapo.
This is political department, Jewish department.
Then I said to Mila,
“Mila, this is not anymore job for me.”
“But you cannot quit. You cannot say, ‘I don’t want to be.’”
So I went to a brother to the president, Dr. Biberstein, Marek.
Biberstein was the president.
Dr. Alexander Biberstein was a family doctor of ours
from before the war.
I went to him, and he was a doctor appointed by the Jewish council
to be a doctor for the OD, the Ordnungsdienst.
I went to him and say, “Look, I have to quit.”
“You are not sick.” I said, “No.”
“You have to find something that I should quit.
I don’t want to be in the police.
I don’t want it. I don’t like to be under jurisdiction Gestapo.
Particular that Gestapo was looking for me
when I escaped from the prison of war.
They get my name and bingo. They have me.”
“Can you pretend that you have a bad back?”
“I can pretend because I got a bad back before
from an accident what I have, I can pretend.”
And he taught me how to react to certain movement.
So I report, instead to duty, I report as “I’m sick.”
So they cannot put me in the work.
So I was working with a cane and limping.
And they still didn’t want to release me.
I asked to be kicked out.
“No. You have to go to a German doctor.
And German doctor can release you.”
So I talk again with Dr. Biberstein.
He told me, “When he will put you leg up straight, jump– is hurting.
When he will bend the knee and push it in, you don’t hurt nothing.”
When I was there, the doctor examine. What he could find out?
Or is inflammation, or nothing he couldn’t find it.
He start to moving my legs.
Every time he stretch, legs was lifted up, I yell.
Every time the leg was bent, I–
So he wrote me a letter that I have serious inflammation
of the leg nerves and has to be released from the duty.
What happened? Four months later, I was on the list to Auschwitz.
And who saved me?
I was in the evening, 10:00 at night, going to bed,
when two aldermen, one was a student of mine,
came in and say, “Polerand, you are on the list to be sent to Auschwitz.
Hide any place you want, and we report we didn’t find you.”
So I went to another apartment.
There were lots of apartments of my friends in the ghetto.
You didn’t have to go on the street to get to this apartment
because we make holes between the walls from one building to another.
We can travel all over the ghetto without even going on the street.
And I stay with them for few years till everything cool off.
- And where was Mila? - Mila was home.
- She was with you. - Yeah, we have a little room, kitchen.
One only kitchen we got in the building
on Jozefinska 2, on the second floor.
- And you– - And then–
Then I found a job. I went to the German Arbeitz.
A work assigning place.
There was a colonel– Hungarian-German, who was wonderful.
He was executed later on for helping the Jewish by the SS
in end of 1943, for helping Jews.
And he looks on my ID card and see.
The ID card was written– “Magister Leopold Pfefferberg.
Gymnasiallehrer, high school teacher.”
He looks, and he said to me in German,
“Das ist kein Beruf.” This is not a occupation.
We don’t need any Gymnasial Professor.”
I said, “But I am a good mechanic.”
“This is a good profession.
He erased this and put Schleifer, a mechanic, polisher.”
You never heard in this time about Schindler anymore?
Yes. Every time I could get out, I was in the Schindlers’.
Or in the factory or in his home.
Till almost to the ghetto was closed.
How happened that you never went to the factory?
He asked me many times.
I always was dreaming that I have to get out.
How long I was with Mila, you understand,
I was in because I have to protect her.
I figured out when anything happened, that we will be separated, I get out.
And I could thousand times get out.
No problem for me to get out from the ghetto.
The day when was ghetto liquidated, I was trying to get out.
Then I found out, when the place when I was hiding,
what was a very good place–
the dogs what were going with Amon Goeth through the street will smell me out
because they smelled about 300 meter away
a woman with child, and they killed them.
Then I stepped out from behind, and I pretend that I didn’t see them
and I start to move the bundles, what people left,
when they were sent to the Plaszów already or to Auschwitz already.
Because they separate the one to go to Plaszów
and the one to go to Auschwitz.
And when they came close to me–
I still have my boots and my breeches–
I click, report to him military-way
that I got the order from another officer to clean the road.
They start to laughing because it was a stupid order.
But he was a officer.
And I have a wonderful article written by American air force major
what means salute in this respect to the superior.
Superior will obey what you have to say it to him.
The plot was working very good because I knew–
besides I was watching, too, what he’s doing,
when he will go for gun, probably I will go for his throat.
I don’t know. It’s nothing to lose anymore.
I was watching him. They were laughing.
He hit me with the– and said, “Verschwindet!”
This mean “Get lost.”
I salute again, click my heels, turned,
and, slowly, I was going away till the next corner.
Then I run, when he couldn’t see me.
When I will be running, he would shoot me.
- Mila, where she– - Mila was already–
We make arrangement with Dr. Alexandrovich–
a dear friend of mine, MD doctor–
that he, his wife and his child, Mila and I will go with the sewers out
because he already make arrangement with friends to accepted us.
But he went earlier
because the segregation start in his area sooner than in our.
You know, they did section by section.
He went to the sewers, and he was one of the few
who really got out early in the morning from the sewers,
and they disappeared in the city.
When I came in to look for them, I was thinking that they’re still there,
and I left Mila in the apartment.
She was very scared, and I was scared.
Everybody was scared in this time.
When I come back, when I found out that they already went to sewers,
and already were killing people in the sewers.
So I went for Mila, I came over, is no Mila there anymore.
So I start looking in the hospital
because there were about 60, 70 body laying there.
Or maybe she got killed or something.
Then somebody told me they saw Mila, going with a group of Madritsch,
because she was working for Madritsch, to Plaszów.
Then I decide to hide because I figure out when I get out,
I can be much more help for her than being inside with her.
But I couldn’t do it. I was lucky I came out with life.
I was one of the last one.
The group was maybe about 25, 30 people
who were supposed to clean something.
When this group left, ghetto was sealed.
Close to 70,000 people was killed over there.
When you saw all this killing around you and all these people,
do you believe in God, in the religion, that God will save you?
This is a very difficult question to answer.
Believing is God, this is– Pray and say–
I believe more in destiny.
I believe that you create your own destiny.
I was looking always for way to get out, not to stay in.
I am not a follower. I’m a type of a leader.
I never follow, I try to be–
When somebody lead me, I think I’m as good as him or maybe better.
So I always try to be the leader.
In any place, any time.
I select my work the way I think is proper for me in case of emergency.
Like I was working the garage. How I got to get out?
I saw a guy with black glasses in Plaszów working,
and I asked the people what the guy is doing.
He is a welder, and he can walk around the camp.
Nobody bother him? No.
Because maybe he has a job. This is for me.
When they were asking me–
They saw me, my Kennkarte, that I am a mechanic.
“What specialty?” “I am a welder.” I never weld in my life.
They send me to this guy in the Gestapo.
Officer from the camp brought me in and said to this guy–
That was Mr. Mandel, became a good friend of mine
after when we met–
who was a real welder, a professional for many, many years.
He was much older than I.
He said, “This guy is a welder, and I know you need a helper.
Try him out, I’m going for lunch,
I’m coming back in about half an hour, 45 minutes.”
He left, and he’s looking at me, “Show me your hands.”
I show him my hands. “You are not a welder.”
I said, “Who told you I’m a welder? I told him I’m a welder, not to you.”
He knew about me a little bit that I was a professor.
I was a teacher. I have–
“How I can teach you welding?”
“You show me how you start and what you doing, and I try it.”
I got a little touch of it.
When the guy came in, he said, “How he is?”
He said, “Oh, yes, he’s good, but he needs little practice.”
And then, they guy asked me about the welding.
I said, “I’ll tell you something.
The temperature is 1,200, the hottest point.
The other is about 750 Celsius.
When you melt it, you have to watch it to melt it the proper way.”
He didn’t ask me to weld it.
How long you was working in the garage?
I was working almost to the end to liquidation
of the camp.
But in between, I was lucky again.
They need a welder to weld the kühl house.
This mean the–
- Refrigerator. - Refrigerator. Refrigeration.
Two of us, they pick up and we will be the welders,
and we will supervise all the pipes and everything
because always something to be–
For few months, we were there, and this was a part of the refrigeration
for German officers.
They have sausages and butter and cheeses.
But you find Mila in the camp?
Yes, every day we saw each other.
She was in the women barrack. When she came from work, I see her.
Sometimes in the upper plaza I saw her.
I could go to their barrack. She can came to our barrack.
Sunday we could see when we don’t work.
So the living condition for you wasn’t so bad in Plaszów.
I wouldn’t say they were good.
Maybe I would say you can tolerate this condition.
You have a chance that you have your wife or your mother
or your sister or someone to talk with them.
Later on they separate. They put an electric wire
between the women and the–
But it took time to build it. The Jews were building this for–
But you heard that they’re killing lot of people around Plaszów.
You wasn’t afraid that they will kill you?
May I tell you something? I didn’t think about this.
I didn’t. Never.
Is this a secret to survive, not to think about?
It is a secret. You cannot be cowardish.
Not a coward. Only that you have to put the head in your sand.
I considered myself, because I was welder,
that I could go anyplace
welding some part of the welding machine or something,
or took some tools,
put my glasses on the head, and I was going,
“Something is wrong there in this barrack.”
I was looking around the way how eventually in emergency
is the way to escape from there.
But there was no escape. It was very difficult.
You met Amon Goeth?
Almost on a daily basis.
Because we were working in his garage.
We got three times whipped.
First time, we got 15 on the back.
Why? Because one screw in his car fell out,
and he was afraid that this is sabotage.
The second time something else happened.
We got 25. The first time I faked it out.
I put a piece of rubber on my back,
and they didn’t ask us to put the pants down.
The second time, they asked us to put the pants down.
And the third one, they came on Sunday,
and they killed a dear friend of mine, his sister-in-law,
who was cleaning the cars.
He was assigned to clean the cars.
For some reason, Amon Goeth came over and didn’t like it,
and they call all of us, and he asked Ivan, his chauffeur,
to kill the girl.
In our presence, he killed the girl.
And then we got another 15 on the back.
But there were a lot of selections in the camp.
There were lots, but garage, there was about 15 or 14 of us there.
Was like a special group, untouchable.
Because they were a very good mechanic,
and we have about half a dozen cars to service.
In this time, there was a lot of killing on Hujowa Górka. You heard about this?
What we did– We cut out from the roof of garage
a little part in the roof.
We lifted the flap, and we could see
just on the level of the Hujowa Górka,
on the hill when they were shooting.
- I have the photos, some of this. - Yeah?
Yeah, and we were watching.
Like one day, I saw the German officer was executed there.
We didn’t know who.
I think that it was the Bosco.
The guy who was under– wonderful human being,
because when I need something, to go in the ghetto or get out,
he was in the guardhouse,
he gave me a pass.
So you was thinking you will survive–
I always was thinking I will survive.
- In Plaszów, definitely. - Positively.
But the most important things happened in 1944, in May.
There came a group of Gypsy women from Hungary
what were on their way to Auschwitz.
But Auschwitz didn’t have a place ready for them,
so they hold them in Plaszów.
With friend of mine, who is a doctor–
In this time he was not even doctor, was a medical student.
Rosenberg from city of Lodz, a friend of Mila.
A story unusual with him, unusual.
Almost similar what I did.
He saw me walking with the glasses.
He said that he’s welder, and they brought him in.
We said he is a good welder.
But later on, he transferred to the medical group,
and he was assistant in the medical barracks there.
We were walking Sunday, and we got just a piece of bread.
Maybe this size. You know, you were there.
We were going and talking we should eat right now the whole piece
or maybe leave a little bit for later.
We were walking, and we see the Gypsy women yelling to us.
We approach the wire separating the women of us,
and try to find out what they want.
Little bit German, little bit Hungarian.
We didn’t know what mean kicsi kenyér.
Kicsi kenyér. Give me a piece of bread.
A bread, a brot in German.
So I broke a piece of bread, and I give it this woman.
She doesn’t want to take it.
So I ask her, “Why don’t you take it?”
“Gypsy don’t take. Gypsy will tell you something what is your future.”
So I said, “Fine. You want a piece of bread? Tell me the future.”
She took my hand and look on it and said,
“You and a close person to you will survive the war.
Will go over big water and will live happy after.”
“Wonderful,” I said.
“What happen to you tomorrow
probably will happen to me after tomorrow.”
Then, my friend give the other Gypsy a piece of bread,
and she ask him to tell him.
She is telling him word for word the same what they told me,
so we were laughing.
Isn’t that funny? The same proposition that they survive.
He survived with his father. I survived with Mila.
We went over big water. He is in Australia.
I am in United States, and we live happy after.
Tell me, Poldek. Your family–
I don’t know if I asked you– was religious?
- Yeah, my father was Conservative. - Yeah, you told me.
My grandparents were Orthodox.
Yeah, but you in the camp–
In the camp, we didn’t think about these things of praying.
As a child, every night when I went to bed, I said,
“Dear God, keep my parents and my family healthy.”
And then I fall asleep. From a little kid.
- And always in camp. - I always–
- In the camp too? - In the camp too. Even today too.
So, now we’re coming to–
You heard that the camp will be liquidated, you told me.
The Plaszów was liquidated.
And we knew that Schindler is preparing to move his factory.
How you knew?
Because there was a lot of talking about.
Everybody wants to get on the list.
I figure out I have no access now.
Even that Schindler many times was asking,
“I want to get a welder,” to take me out there.
But Amon always said to him,
“When somebody works for me, cannot work for you.”
And I was there. I was figuring that the garage is protected.
When the garage is protected, then I will be here till the end.
And when the Russian coming–
We knew the Russian army would be 100 kilometers away,
and they’d start to liquidate it.
Someway, sometimes, and they come,
in the right moment, I will get out from there.
And Mila was very lucky because she was already in the transport in Stutthof.
One SS man, whom I broke his spirit,
pull her out.
I don’t know if Mila told you about this.
He came over and almost killed me.
I stood up to him.
He became my friend, and he was giving me always
a piece of bread or apple or something for Mila.
We were still together– This was in October 1944.
Mila said, “Pol, get us on the list to Schindler. He is your friend.
He did so much for you and for the family.
Maybe will put us on the list.”
So I went to the SS man, whom I broke, Hans Schreiber,
and I asked him to give my name and Mila’s name to Mr. Schindler.
But Oskar Schindler, on his own already, put our name on the list.
We found out ourselves on the way to Brinnlitz, to the new factory.
You didn’t went directly to Brinnlitz, right?
We went to Brinnlitz, but not directly.
The men and women were separated.
Nine hundred men went to Gross-Rosen, and they stopped over there.
We were stopped over there.
We were sure that we were never going to see Oskar Schindler again.
About one week we spent there.
One day, they give us half a loaf of bread to every one of us,
and, by list, they put us on the train to Brinnlitz.
How was the condition in Gross-Rosen?
In Gross-Rosen? Horrible condition.
For the whole week, first of all, we didn’t work.
There were no conditions to sleep
because in the barrack was about 900 people sleeping,
in the whole barrack.
We didn’t sleep. We were sitting between the legs.
One after another like in a row. And we couldn’t sleep.
But they changed your outfit there.
Yeah, they took everything, and we got the striped uniforms.
And you get some numbers?
Yeah, my number is 9069006.
It is branded in my mind.
It’s easier for me to say from memory right away the German because–
- But you didn’t get it under– - No, they never numbered us.
This was strange, too, because we were not supposed to stay there,
and when we will stay, we were not supposed to be alive.
So they didn’t have to give us the number.
The number, people were getting in Auschwitz, in Gross-Rosen,
in Mauthausen or Dachau, only when they were considered
that they will last for few months and do the slave labor.
- Then, when you get– - When we found out that we leaving–
Gross-Rosen was a death camp. You understand what I mean?
We start to breathe. Where we going to send us?
Probably to Schindler, to Brinnlitz.
Because is no sense to throw us from Gross-Rosen to another camp.
So we knew we are going to Schindler.
About 24 hours later or two days later–
I don’t remember the amount of time that passed by–
we found ourselves over there in Schindler’s camp
with food waiting for us, with a place.
We slept on the floor because we have to build our wooden bed,
what we did it ourselves,
but we were with him, so we were not afraid anymore.
He told us, “I don’t”– We start to ask him, “Where is”–
He knows Mila, he knows me, my family.
He knows– Moshe Bejski
and all those people who work with him.
Always, we’ll cross to him and ask him,
“Herr Direktor, where are the women?”
I don’t know till one day, maybe four, five days