|mp3 55.65 MB »|
Good afternoon, and welcome to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. My name is Bill Benson and I am the host of the museum’s public program, First Person . Thank you for joining us. We are in our tenth year of the First Person program. Our First Person today is Mr. Herman Taube, whom you shall meet shortly.
This 2009 season of First Person is made possible through the generosity of the Louis and Dora Smith Foundation, to whom we are grateful for again sponsoring First Person . First Person is a series of weekly conversations with survivors of the Holocaust, who share with us their firsthand accounts of their experience during the Holocaust. Each First Person guest serves as a volunteer here at the museum.
With few exceptions, we will have a First Person program every Wednesday until August 26th. We now have First Person programs on Tuesdays, beginning today and lasting through July. The museum’s website at www.USHMM.org provides a list of the upcoming First Person guests.
This year, we are offering a new feature associated with First Person . Excerpts from our conversations with survivors will be available as podcasts on the museum’s website. Several are already posted on the website, and Herman’s will be available within the next several weeks. The First Person podcasts join two other museum podcast series: Voices on Antisemitism and Voices on Genocide Prevention. The podcasts are also available through iTunes.
Herman Taube will share his First Person account of his experience during the Holocaust and as a survivor, for about 40 minutes. We will follow that with an opportunity for you to ask a few questions of Herman. Before you are introduced to him, I have several announcements and requests of you.
First, we ask that if it at all possible, please stay seated with us throughout our one-hour program. That way, we minimize any disruptions for Herman as he speaks. Second, if we do have time for a question and answer period and you have a question, we ask that you keep your question as brief as you can. I will repeat the question so everyone in the room can hear it, including Herman, and then he will respond to your question.
If you have a cell phone or a pager that has not yet been turned off, we ask that you do so now. For those of you who may be holding passes for the Permanent Exhibition today, please know they are good for the entire afternoon, so you can stay with us until 2 o’clock and then go to the Permanent Exhibition.
The Holocaust was a state-sponsored, systematic persecution and annihilation of European Jewry by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945. Jews were the primary victims; six million were murdered. Roma and Sinti, or Gypsies, people with mental and physical disabilities, and Poles were also targeted for destruction or decimation for racial, ethnic or national reasons.
Millions more, including homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Soviet prisoners of war, and political dissidents also suffered grievous oppression and death under Nazi tyranny. More than 60 years after the Holocaust, hatred, and Antisemitism and genocide still threaten our world.
The life stories of Holocaust survivors transcend the decades and remind us of the constant need to be vigilant citizens and to stop injustice, prejudice and hatred wherever and whenever they occur. What you are about to hear from Herman Taube is one individual’s account of the Holocaust. We have prepared a brief slide presentation to help with Herman’s introduction.
And we begin with this portrait of Herman Taube. The arrow on this map of Europe points to Poland. And on this map of Poland, the arrow points to the city of Lodz, where Herman was raised by his grandparents.
As a young man Herman worked at a hospital in Lodz to help his grandparents make ends meet. A typical day consisted of working at the hospital, going to school, returning to the hospital, and finally returning home to do his homework. When Herman’s interest in the medical field became more serious, he was advised to volunteer with the Polish army, which might lead to the opportunity to attend medical school. On August 4, 1939, he was accepted into the army.
A few weeks later on September 1st, German and Soviet troops invaded Poland. Herman’s division was captured by the Soviets and he was sent to Siberia. In this photo we see refugees boarding a deportation train for labor camps in Siberia. Herman worked as a medic in Siberia and was sent from camp to camp.
When German troops attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, Herman was freed by the Soviets and went to Uzbekistan where he worked as a medic in a malaria station. The area on this map shows the approximate location of Uzbekistan. Later Herman received his papers to rejoin the Polish army and he fought in the front lines until the war ended.
In 1947 Herman immigrated to the United States. Here we see Herman with his wife Susan and two of their four children in their store in Baltimore, Maryland. And we close our slideshow with this photo of Herman taken in Pomerania after the war in 1945.
Since his arrival in the United States in 1947, Herman has established himself as a respected poet, author, and newspaper man. Until two years ago, he wrote regularly for the Jewish newspaper Jewish Forward, where he worked and wrote for 60 years. And he still contributes to the newspaper.
Herman’s poems are still published in the Jewish Forward and other places. He has published eight novels, thirteen volumes of poetry, two works of nonfiction, including his most recent book published in 2007, Surviving Despair: A Story about Perseverance. It is, in total, his 23rd book. I must mention that our First Person program plays a role in Surviving Despair.
Herman will be available after today’s program to sign copies of Surviving Despair as well as a book of his poems. And both are available for purchase not only after the program today but also in the museum’s bookstore. I’d like to mention that Surviving Despair has also been published in Japan under a different title.
Herman and his wife Susan lived for many years in Baltimore before moving to Washington, D.C. about 37 years ago. They have four children, 8 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren, two of whom were born this past year. Herman continues to volunteer here at the museum for the archives where he translates documents from several languages, including Polish, German, Hebrew, and Yiddish. And for good measure, he occasionally translates documents written in Russian. He is translating memorial books presently that memorialize entire communities that were destroyed during the Holocaust.
And with that I would like to ask you to join me in welcoming our First Person, Mr. Herman Taube.
Herman, thank you so much for joining us and for your willingness to be our First Person today.
Let’s get started, we have so much to cover. Before the German invasion of Poland you were a young man supporting both yourself as well as your grandparents by working at a hospital in your city of Lodz where you were born. Why don’t we start today Herman, with you telling us about your early years; what life was like for you, your family, and your community in those years before the war.
Good afternoon. Thank you for coming to listen to an old man telling his life story. I was born and raised in the city of Lodz. My parents had died; my father died at a very young age and my mother followed him five years later. So my grandparents raised me, sent me to school. Since they were very religious they sent me to an Orthodox Jewish school that I attended until the age of 12 or 12 1/2.
Then I felt that the financial situation in my grandparents’ home was difficult to make a living so I decided to do something else. So I went to the Katzenelson gymnasium and they helped me find a job in a hospital, the Poznanski Hospital in Lodz, a Jewish hospital. But the chief manager of the hospital was an Orthodox Jew so he did not like that I worked on Shabbat, on Saturdays. He couldn’t swallow it. So he kept nagging me; I should find something better.
You know the nurses in the hospitals in Poland were mostly nuns and there was a priest, Father Jaglan of blessed memory, who liked me and always was interested in my future. He knew I am orphaned. So he found me a job in a hospital 8 kilometers outside of Lodz in Aleksandròw, in a military hospital to do the same thing. Just to cook the instruments, prepare instruments . . . and help out. And this was going on for a number of years.
I went to school and also worked in the hospital. But he always asked me “what do you want to be?” this is not a future for you. So I told them I would like to go into the medical field. They said “Don’t fool yourself. You come from a poor home.” Medical school is a very expensive thing. We have a Numerus Clausus this means a quota in Poland. So many minorities can go to medical school. So the only way if you want to go in this field, volunteer to the Polish army. He recommended me and signed papers.
On August 3, 1939 I received papers to report to the 4th Army of the Polish army stationed in Lodz. Nobody knew that thirty days later, September 1, 1939, Germany will attack Poland.
Herman, before we turn to the war beginning, let me just ask you a couple more questions. While you were young, you actually quite young began to write poetry. Tell us about how you got started and how you managed to be able to write poetry.
When my mother died I was nine years old. I was very lonely. My other grandmother lived in another town. And relatives – each one struggled to make a living. I used to write letters to my mother. “Why did you leave me?” This type of poetry. I didn’t have any paper so I used to write on the wall in my room and then erase it. So one day my grandmother discovered it and bought me a copy book that I should write it in that. And so I started to write notes. Actually it wasn’t poetry. Writing notes to my mother always asking “why did you leave me so alone?” and, “how dare you leave me” so this was my beginning.
At school, at gymnasium later I started to write poetry for a newsletter, a school newspaper. In the beginning we didn’t even print it. We had it on the wall hanging there every week. So I always contributed poetry to that. And this was the beginning. And at the age of fifteen, for my birthday they surprised me with a small booklet with 48 of my poems, 48 pages, a booklet. They surprised me as a gift for me for my birthday.
At that time I met the editor of the Jewish, Yiddish newspaper there in Lodz, Mr. Borde… a poet who lived on the same street as my grandfather. And he took a liking to me. He used to invite me to his home. I had a crush on his only daughter Anka, she’s still alive in Florida. You know. But so he took some of those poems and published them in the weekly edition, they call it, to the newspaper. And this way I started with poetry.
Herman you were starting to tell us a few minutes ago that in August of 1939 you joined the Polish army and little did you know that just a few weeks later Germany would attack Poland. You quickly found yourself under Russian control.
Let’s now jump to that because not I found myself. My unit crossed the Bug River. So we stationed our field hospital in the church. So one day we . . . on September 17, only seventeen days after the war started the Soviets came in. They claimed “my was osvobodili” “we liberated you.” Actually they right away arrested the leaders of the community. They took all Polish officers, from all the units that are stationed on this side. This is half of Poland. And arrested them and sent them to Katyn, into Minsk, into Minsk Mazowiecki.
If you know, those of you who have read history, they claimed later . . . they killed all those, cream of the Polish officers, 15,000 of them. Can you imagine? And killed them all. They blamed it on the Germans. Later, years later they found out that the Soviets did it, the communists did it. So the officers they sent to Katyn. With us, the small-fry, they told us to give help to the wounded. And as soon as we did they took them off to a hospital. So they took us and sent us to Siberia.
Not direct to Siberia; first to some training camps to get out the capitalistic mentality or religious mentality for some of them. They sent us first to Kuybishev (Samara) and from there to Siberia.
Herman, if you don’t mind, tell us a little bit about your journey to Siberia.
I usually in my writing, in all my books, in all 23 books, I never write about myself. We have no right to write about myself. We write about those you give their lives, that I can be here and the people that survive can be here. But it was not pleasant. That trains . . . you can find in my new book I have here. I write about other people.
So the miserable conditions of those trains. We got water only when the train stopped to let another train go by. The food, they gave us bread talons, ration cards for food. But when they stop at the station . . . usually the train stopped two or three kilometers away from the regular station. So they said that train will stay for thirty minutes or an hour to take on coal or water. Only the real young ones, the strong ones could run and try to find something with the talons (ration cards). But when we got to the station there was no food whatsoever. Everything was closed and if it was open it was only for their officers, not for war prisoners, always with a guard.
It was a miserable experience. Finally when we arrived there the trucks were waiting and took the people to the forest. There was no barracks. They had to build their own barracks. It’s a chapter with no comparison . . . you know a lot what happened in Europe, in European countries during the German occupation, but people don’t realize that a million and a half people died in the gulags by the communists. Millions of people died from the Ukrainians especially. When they came and wanted to create collective farms, kolchozes they called it, the farmers didn’t want to they had one cow or a few goats. So they were arrested, most of them sent to Siberia. A lot of them killed right there. So if you want one of those things . . . you need a long program.
Herman, tell us – obviously there’s not enough time to talk about all of those chapters, but tell us a little bit about what life was like for you in Siberia and what you were made to do.
I worked in ambulatorium - first-aid station. So compared to what the people suffered . . . people died from frost. 30 below zero and the wind chill, another 15. So thousands of people died in the forest. But I had it good in comparison. I worked under a roof. You know what it means in 25 or 30 below zero. In first-aid, they used to bring people to us to give them first-aid. Most of them had frozen arms, frozen legs, coughing. We were not allowed to give them . . . some of them begged “give me 24 hours of rest.” Only the chief doctor could do it. We were just allowed to give the first-aid.
Many-a-times, and this I saw with my own eyes, a man asked, he was a former pulkownik it is a colonel in the Polish army, he asked for permission to relieve himself. A man of about 38-40. By the time he went, the man in charge said “come on, what takes him so long?” and we went over and touch his shoulder and come back, he was frozen to death. He died standing with his pants down. It’s not comfortable to speak in the presence of children about this.
Those were the scenes on a daily basis. Thousands of people died in the gulags, thousands. When the Prokurator Wyszynski (Attorney General of USSR Wyszynski) of the Soviet Union made a deal with the Polish Government in London to let Polish prisoners out from Siberia. So only you could find from 145,000, claimed that only 25,000 survived. So those 25,000, after they become allies with America, after the German attacked the Soviet Union in ’41 and they become allies. And so Wyszynski allowed those people to leave the camps.
So the Russians wanted to take those people to the Russian army. And we said no. And then General Anders organized a new Polish army to fight the Germans in the Soviet Union but not on the side of the Soviets. They left the Soviet Union and went to Persia, to Iran and from there to Palestine and from Palestine to Europe. And they were fighting in the war there on the side of the Allies. Any other questions?
Herman, at that point when you were released from Siberia with those Poles that were left alive you would make your way to Uzbekistan. Tell us why Uzbekistan and what you did when you got there.
When I was given my documents that I am free, that I am no more a war prisoner. So I heard from the Soviet propaganda, the radio, the only thing we had; no newspaper, they had a radio, that we heard that in Germany they kill Jews. The Jewish community – everybody was killed and taken out to camps - we didn’t believe it, we thought it Soviet propaganda.
But then I received from some other soldiers that they also received actually letters from relatives who escaped from Poland to Lvov, so that really, killing is going on. They established ghettos, labor camps, not concentration camps – we didn’t know about concentration camps – labor camps, that people are taken and they disappear. First, the children disappear, then the people over 40 and 50 disappear. So I knew that I don’t have anybody more in Lodz.
So they asked me where I want to go. So before the war I got a book, Tashkent, the “City of Bread.” Maybe some of you read it. So I said I go to Tashkent, a warm climate – it’s not a Siberian climate. And so I go to Uzbekistan. I registered . . . I arrived in Uzbekistan in Tashkent they didn’t let us off the train. They had enough refugees they said, their own. They don’t need any Polish refugees here, so they sent me to Andijon, a city further up. When we got to Andijon they said we can only stay here a short while, you’re not allowed to settle here, you have to go to some camp.
Finally a woman came over to me. She saw the red cross on my arm. This was my savior. One thing the Soviets did they respected the doctors, wratch they call it or medics. So they asked me what I am doing around here. I said I’m looking for something to eat and cannot buy nothing with talons (ration cards). They asked me “what are you doing?” I said I’m a medic. They said if you want to, at the border of Uzbekistan, he said “We are building a malaria station. If you want to go there you will have a job. We will give you a roof over your head and you will be secured with food . . .” and so on. I said I’ll take everything. I’m hungry.
So they gave me a place where to stay overnight. A day later they picked me up in a two-wheeled wagon. And they took me, this was 22 kilometers away from a railroad on a sandy road. I arrived in Kizikishlak, kishlak means a village. And I arrived there and they took me to the doctor, Khaydarov, a Muslim, a very fine man, God bless his soul. If it wouldn’t be for him I wouldn’t be alive today. Not only me, several hundred people who were dropped off by the Soviets in that village. Their own refugees from Lithuania, from Bessarabia, from Romania, from Poland. So they towed them up there. Also some people who were parents, the children were fighting on the front line when they were evacuated so they came to that village.
So he gave me a job, he gave me a kibitka, means a one-room house built from dung. A real small one because it was close to the malaria station. And an iron bed from the first revolution, probably from the Czarist times. And a box, I said, there was my table, a medical box, no chairs, nothing. And I started working in that malaria station.
BILL BENSON :
It wouldn’t be long though before you would find yourself getting in trouble with the Russians.
I was in charge of the room where they delivered the food. Every time they delivered something the cabbage was rotten, the rice had little worms in it. Everything they sent . . . first, it was always late. The Russians believe “kto nie ratotayet nie kushayet” - “who doesn’t work don’t eat.” So the first one was they served their militia, their police, their KBG agent and the people that worked for them. But the hospital, they delivered bread at twelve o’clock in the afternoon. By the time they got it and start cutting it up nothing was left.
So, medications we run out right in the beginning. They said “Fatherland is War” “Otcvhestvaya Vayna” (War for the Homeland) and everything goes to the front, don’t expect any medications. But food, I said, “Those mothers who are in the hospital with malaria, those women or the men, they have children fighting on the front for this country, so why don’t you give them food?” So when one transport came in with rotten cabbage I went and complained. So Dr. Khaydarov said to me, “Go to city hall.”
I went to city hall. The secretary said “Listen, I am a Uzbek, I am a Muslim. You would think that I am the head here from the village, but actually, the Communist Party, the one who’s sent from Moscow here, he’s the boss. What he says goes.” I said “can I go and see him?” She says go ahead. So I went to see him and I said “Listen, three days ago I received from Andijon that they sent out a transport of cabbage. But what came to us is probably two or three weeks old. It is rotten. People are starved, people are dying from hunger.” By the way, we had at that time an epidemic of typhus and after typhus people are hungry. One liked to eat and there was nothing. 400 gram breads and by the time it got to them it was 200.
They cut it so that a lot of them fall off and was lost. So I said to him, “Somebody’s stealing our cabbage, our foods.” So he said “What? You’re accusing me, a representative of the great Stalin, the father of the Soviet Union? I’m the representative and you’re a Polish Jew.” No he didn’t say a Polish Jew, “You’re a Pole. A former prisoner of war accusing me of stealing?” So he called in a militiaman and said “arrest that man.”
So they arrested me and put me in a room there. It wasn’t exactly a jail. It was a hall. So I was reading poetry to myself, saying prayers. I never prayed so hard. Whatever I remembered in prayers I used that night. And then the next morning, so when my doctor found out, a woman doctor was there, and when they found out they arrested me they came running to let me out. But he let me out on one condition, that I immediately leave that village. He didn’t want any enemies of the people here. That I should to be sent to Upper Tashkent, to the coal mines. They said ok.
So when I got back to the malaria station, to the small hospital we had, Dr. Khaydarov called me in and said “Listen, for 3 months I am keeping some papers from you from Wanda Wasilewska, from the second Polish Army. They want you, but I didn’t want to give you that letter because I needed you here, we don’t have no personnel. So please, do not go to the mines.” He gave me back as much money he said you need. For all those months I didn’t get paid, I just got food. He said here’s some money and here’s some papers and a letter of recommendation. He gave me back some of my papers. And I took a train and from there I traveled for three and a half days to Saratov, headquarters of the new Polish Army.
After a while . . . I had to have other training, other methods, I was assigned to an ambulance. And on this ambulance I went from the Kursk offensive, after Stalingrad the Kursk offensive was the most important action of the Soviet Army with the Lithuanian Division, with the Polish Division, with the Czech Division. Then we liberated Poland. I went as far as, almost to Brest Litovsk.
And on June 12, never forget it [in] my life, 1944, my ambulance – we were ordered that we should clear the main roads, the main roads were for the big, big trucks with reflectors so we shoot down planes and also tanks, that we should take with ambulances side roads close to the main road.
So we went to a side road and my ambulance stepped on a mine. I was thrown out from the ambulance and the driver was killed . . . no the doctor was killed, the driver was terribly wounded. All I remembered . . . and I was wounded, I was laying there and he kept screaming “Help me, help me, help me! Holy Mary, Mother of God! Please help me!” I tried crawling to him and I passed out.
I woke up, I don’t know, two days later or three days later in a hospital, in a lazaret [infirmary]. My legs were numb. They put me . . . a pipe here, a pipe in my ear. I was a mess too. I don’t want to talk about myself.
Interesting. One thing they kept saying to me, “This is not the Polonia Hotel. This is a hospital. We have people laying on the floors. You better move your legs, if not we will amputate and get you out of here.” Russians, God bless them, the way they are, they cuss, you can’t write it down. It’s something you cannot . . . it’s some vocabulary. I hardly could hear. The same woman, she was a colonel. She was in charge of the hospital.
A woman in her forties, also a high officer with a lot of medals. I saw only the medals on special occasions. Always on a white uniform. So the nurse noticed that I moved my legs, so she kept running and tell that. So she came in and said “Gospodin” “God Almighty! He moved his leg! He’s saved.” And I want you to know for saying “Gospodin” God, in Russia at that time you could get ten years [in] Siberia. You know they were atheists, they didn’t believe in God. And especially for an officer to say that, it was . . . but she said it.
Later when I left that hospital, I’ll make it short. When I left that hospital I went up . . . I left the hospital a couple days after Christmas. It was very cold. This was my second . . . I want you to know that I already worked as soon as I could go around on crutches, and later with canes, I already worked in that hospital helping other people. Doing minor . . . cleaning up after them and you know covering them up during the night if they kicked off their covers, or cover them when they said it cold, and help them feed them. So when I said goodbye and they sent me back to the Polish Headquarters in Lublin, I went up to say goodbye to her and I walked up a flight of iron steps and she started crossing me, “Why did you come? You could have got killed!” – I went with a cane. So I said no, “I wanted to thank you for saving my life.” And when I said it to her she wished me well. She said “May God be with you.” She looked on both sides and said it to me.
Herman, I know that you don’t want to talk about yourself too much. We don’t have time to talk about that period that he just kind of glossed over about being in the Kursk offensive, but I have to admit that I knew very little about the Kursk offensive. We know about the Battle of the Bulge . . . look it up.
The Soviets lost a major nuclear sub several years ago called the Kursk, named after this offensive. And after Herman told me about it in great detail and I read about it, the extraordinary loss of life and how that influenced the direction of much of the war, it’s something we should know more about. And what Herman doesn’t talk about is his role as a medic on the front lines of unbelievable fighting for a long time.
After you recovered from your injuries, and you didn’t fully recover, you would be haunted by them for a good long time.
I was bleeding until I got to Baltimore, to Johns Hopkins. And Dr. Joseph Kimmler, brain specialist, operated on me and stopped the wounds, took out the tonsils and stopped the wounds, stopped the bleeding. I was bleeding until I arrived in Baltimore.
After you were out of the hospital you would return to Poland and you would learn about a place called Majdanek. Would you say a little bit about that?
The headquarters, I was sent to Lublin/Majdanek from the hospital. I didn’t know that Majdanek was a concentration camp [where] 800,000 Jews died. 800,000 Jews; men, women and children died there. So I didn’t know that the Second Polish Army took some of the barracks of the headquarters for the army. So when I got there I saw a line of people staying; Americans, English officers, other officers, staying in line and I said “What are they doing here, joining the Polish Army?” I didn’t know that because Majdanek was liberated in August when I was in the hospital. So I was there. I write about it in some of my books.
So I saw the gas chambers, the so-called “Dizenfekzionkammer” where they killed the people with the Zyklon gas. And from there I was asked if I want my papers, I was an invalid. I said no use. By the way, Father Jaglan survived, also in Siberia. And he came to visit me and saw what I’m doing. So he told me “no use for you.”
On January 19, 1945, the war was still going on, Lodz was liberated; the city of Lodz, my hometown. He said “It’s no use for you going back home because none of your family survived. All the 230,000 Jews of Lodz perished. Only 800 people survived because the Gauleiter [head of the German administration] of Lodz, Hans Biebow kept the 800 Jews to clean up the ghetto and the camps. So what did they do when they saw the Russians and the Polish Army comes close, they were hiding in a Christian in a Polish cemetery. They survived, but only young people. So I knew none of my relatives are there.
So the doctor asked me “What do you want to do?” I say there’s still war, I want to go and fight. He gave me my papers and I was assigned to a unit in Pomerania. He sent me to Greifenberg in Pomerania, to the headquarters of the frontier there of the Polish Army. When I got there the doctor took one look at me . . . not me. The officer Major Martinov take one look at me and so and so. I don’t want to repeat the words here. He said, “I need doctors and they send me invalids? I don’t need any patients here.” Because I was bleeding. My wounds opened up. So I said “what can you do?” [He] said “I cannot send you to the front.” I said “You know what? Send me to this small town that we passed. We saw a lot of dead people laying there.” Poles and Russians and Germans. Women and children laying dead there. I said I would help clean this up. I have the experience.
So he sent me to a town called Platte. Now in Polish it’s called Plote… in Pomerania. So first of all I took three rooms, three empty houses and made a first-aid clinic. This is the only experience I had with clinics. We had very little; we tried to get it from the empty houses, the medications. This was the first-aid. Also, the Polish Army gave us some medications. Then, on the railroad . . . if you go today to visit Poland or Pomerania, other railroad stations . . . we digged up a mass grave and buried all those dead people – Germans and Poles and other nationalities who were there, Lithuanians, in a mass grave – and I put a sign up: You’re our liberty. People told me years later who visited, it’s still there. They didn’t move it.
And after that I worked in that hospital until May 8th; the war ended in 1945. And then a mass of people from all sides; Polish people and Lithuanian people and other ones who were liberated by the Russians started wandering back home from where they came from. So they came to the town and I organized for them a P.U.R., a Polish repatriation service. Gave them some food. We had plenty of clothes to give. A lot of them, forgive me, had lice, so we made a shower from two barrels with holes and a piece of pipe. We washed them up, gave them some clothes, let them stay overnight and sent them further. But this was going on . . . one month after the war I ran out of medications. But no use having a clinic . . . it didn’t even have a kogutek ; A kogutek is like an aspirin. So they told me there is a German warehouse in Koszalin, from CIBA, like buyers. So that can go there. So I ask the commandant of the city, Major Martinov, if he take me there. And we went there on a Saturday afternoon. And I got there.
So first of all my commander went off drinking a little bit of vodka with the mayor of the Commandant of Koszalin. And I went to find a place to stay overnight because it’s Saturday night. So when I got there, so the men in charge – there was a picture you saw here with the first group – told me there are some survivors of the Holocaust from Vilna, or Vilnius. If I want to meet them. I said ok, so he took me there to this street and I started talking to those people and a young woman pat me on the shoulder.
She saw my uniform and the red cross. She said “Are you a doctor? I need some help. We live here. We are survivors of the Holocaust. The Russians keep us here to work for them and one of the girls has a high temperature.” I said, “Don’t you have a Russian doctor or a feltcher or a medic?” She said “Yes, she’s out drinking, it’s Saturday night. There’s nobody there to talk to and she’s burning up.”
So I apologized to the group and I went with her, fifth floor in the house. And I came in. six girls sitting on the bed of that sick girl, she’s burning up, spots all over her face, she’s got a fever. First I chased them out. I said “Bring me a towel and let’s sponge her down.” I said “I have no medications with me. Now one of you will volunteer and come with me to that warehouse. The guards will let me in and I’ll give you some medications.”
So the girls and I go. We went to the warehouse. I took some medications. And then I realize, I can’t let that young girl – I don’t know how old she was, 19-20 – go Saturday night with drunken soldiers all on the roads. It was dangerous. A lot of bad things happen to young women of all nationalities. They didn’t care if it was Russian or Polish or German; rape was going on day and night. So I said “You know what? I’ll go back with you.” I went back with her. On the way she told me that she herself is from Germany, that she was in a concentration camp, her mother was killed, her sister was killed; her grandmother was killed in front of her. And after they were liberated they were marched in. The Russians kept saying “We liberated you. You worked for the Germans. Now you better work for us.”
They took them to a farm and they worked on the farm. And later they transferred them to Koszalin to work there in a work camp. It wasn’t as bad as a concentration camp, there still wasn’t a guard. She said, “But I want to get back to my hometown because the Russians saying we lost 20 million people in the war and we need you to help us rebuild our country. We want to send you to Russia.” She said “I didn’t want to go to Russia. My father escaped and he is in America. I want, I may be able to find him and go there. Can you help me get out of here?”
So anyhow, I was sitting there two days. Not only that I got medications, also translated from Latin to Cyrillic (the Russians write with Cyrillic alphabet) because they didn’t know what the medications are. So I helped them. I said “All I want, there’s a girl there, but I need my hospital in those.” He said “Ok, come back next week. I have to ask the authorities.” I got back next week and he said to me . . . no he wasn’t there, he was out drinking.
So, but he left a note that I should translate a little more, that she will be free the next day. And this was going on till the 17th; about four or five weeks. Then came an order that we - that the Russians must leave Pomerania and give it to the Poles. To give it to Poland in exchange because they, the Soviets took away half of Poland and gave it to the Ukraine’s up to Lvov. So this commandant of the city, Mayor Martino came to me, “Please accompany my unit to Halle Merstenburg, that’s in East Germany, and then you can be free to do whatever you want. You can go back to that hospital of yours.”
So when I saw it so bad, I was afraid they would take all those women and the men, send them to Russia. So I hired a jeep and I went to Koszalin. The girl was sitting and eating rice and milk for breakfast. So I grabbed her hand and said “Ready to go?” I had a folding bed and was in a doctor’s uniform. So the guard kept screaming, “Propus” [permit] and I said, “Get out of here. This is a typhus case.” And we grabbed the girl and I took her with me. Several hours later, about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, we went to Halle Merstenburg.
But on the way we had to stop in Potsdam but they didn’t let us in because President Truman, Stalin and …. were there. So we had to sleep in the cemetery. So we slept at night in the cemetery. Next day we went to Halle. I gave them the truck full of medications and instruments. And I got my papers. And I told the girl, “Now you’re in Germany. You can go.” And she said, “I heard that the Russians occupied my town and I’m afraid of them. Can I go with you to the hospital, back to Poland?” I married her.
So this is another story. I married her. And we lived in Poland till July 4, 1946. Was a pogrom in the city of Kielce, Poland. We were the only Jewish family in that town, in that hospital. And from there we went to Germany, to Berlin and then to the home town there she came from.
So from there, April 18, two days from now, 1947, we came to the United States. Thank god we have a nice family. We have children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. And they’re all well off. I have a granddaughter who is now in medical school in North Carolina, another one is a teacher, the third one is in the University of Maryland. And all the other children, thank god to America, they’re all well off. I have another minute?
Before we get to that Herman let me do a couple of things. One, Herman’s wife Susan will be a First Person guest later this year, so we’ll . . .
You can see her outside; she’s sitting at the membership desk. Every Tuesday religiously. For years she didn’t want to speak. Now she speaks. Today she will speak to a school, at 3 o’clock, she will speak here to a France school about her experience.
Herman, we have time for just one or two questions from the audience of you before we close the program. So why don’t we entertain a couple of questions and if you have a question ask it, make it brief, I’ll repeat it so Herman and everybody hears it. Any questions anybody want to ask of Herman? We’ve got a gentleman right here in the front.
This question is, “Wonder if the fortitude that you showed to help you survive was helped or came about because of the fact that you were helping so many others?”
Beautiful question. If there is any reason, I cannot speak about other people, that I saw, that I had a calling to help people. I knew the word “mamma”, “mamma mia”, “mama mamusia", “mutter” . . . in ten, twelve languages. If they were Germans, Poles, if they were Austrians or Hungarians or Russians, or Lithuanians or Jewish. So it disappears when you wear the Red Cross. You get color blind. Size of noses don’t mean anymore. Color of eyes doesn’t mean anymore.
It’s human beings. This kept me going. Every time I could help somebody get out of bed, or sit up, or even talk to me, or pray with me. I was once arrested for a Polish man so my red cross started to say his prayers. He said “Oh, you’re spreading religion.” So they let me out. The officer realized it. So this made me go on.
After I retired from teaching; I was teaching for a number of years, at American U here and Maryland in the College of Jewish Studies. I worked for the community for twenty years and charitable – had taking care of widows and children. So after I retired. You lost interest while you go on living. But for nineteen years I was supposed to help out, for one month, chaplaincy, hospice you know to go and visit terminally ill people of all faiths. It turned out from one month from nineteen years till this spring when my doctor didn’t allow me anymore to drive, I had some trouble with my eyesight.
This kept me alive and I know of many people, my own wife had an operation just a few weeks ago. So I told her, one day after she spoke here at the Hebrew Academy, I said “Why do you do that?” She said, “There must be a reason the good Lord let me here and that I survived. I have an opportunity to share, an opportunity to keep the memory of those who died alive.” And this is what keeps us going.
Passover we had a few days ago. And we dedicated 25 people, not only relatives, some children from University of Maryland who are not able to go home for the holidays. So we always have them, all those years we have guests. It’s a tradition. So we dedicated half of that Seder to tell the story about the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto in April 1943. And they asked questions just like you did. And we talked to them. So after that my wife was tired. It was so good; we brought back the memory of our people. They were here with us. Anything else?
Do we have a question here?
Your question would have been was, “Did Herman feel he was spared to help other people?” A wonderful answer.
I think we are out of time. So I’d like to, before I turn back to Herman to close our program, first, thank all of you for being with us here today, thank Herman, of course, for being our First Person. We will have a First Person program each Tuesday through July and a First Person program on Wednesdays through August 26th.
So out next First Person program is tomorrow, April 15th when our First Person will be Mr. Marcel Drimer who is also from Poland. After Germany attacked the Russian-held portion of Poland in 1941, Marcel and his family would be forced into a ghetto where they were able to escape deportation by hiding in secret bunkers. In 1943 by bribing a guard, Marcel’s father was able to get his family out of the ghetto and into hiding. For a year they lived in a hole under a floor of a Ukrainian family until they were liberated by the Russians in August of 1945.
So we hope that you will come back to another First Person program tomorrow or again later this year, or again for your plans to come to Washington next year. We’d like to remind you that you can also access excerpts from our First Person programs as a podcast, either on the Museum’s website or on iTunes.
It’s our tradition at First Person that our First Person has the last word. So just before I turn back to Herman with his closing thoughts I wanted to remind you as we mentioned earlier, that Herman will be signing copies of his books after this session, so I have a request of you. After Herman is finished, if you wouldn’t mind staying seated so Herman can make his way to the back of the room and go out to where the table is set up, we would appreciate that. And so on that note, let me turn back to Herman Taube to close up this week’s First Person program.
I planned today to read a poem, but I’d rather say something about the books outside. My 23rd book there, Surviving Despair, deals with a couple of survivors, who both of them were volunteers here. And one of them was interviewed here on this stage. When she was interviewed, this gentleman here asked her “You were eighteen, nineteen years old, did you have a boyfriend?” And she said “Yes, unfortunately the Russians arrested him and sent him to Siberia and I never heard of him anymore.”
In the back here was sitting a man who worked on the 5th floor as a translator, right here in the archives. And when he heard little by little when she spoke, now she’s turned blonde but she was a dark-haired girl, and so little by little he came down and they recognized each other after 54 years, they recognized each other. My book deals with their lives, their towns, their communities, their families, how they survived, how they lived to come to America, what are they doing now. This is the story of the book I have here.
I really want to thank you all for coming. Thank you for the questions. It was a pleasure seeing you. It is not a pleasure talking about those things but like I said before, we have an obligation to keep memory alive, that this, no Holocaust, should not happen again. Thank you so much.