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Leonard Zawacki Interview


The terror was right from the first day, the Germans came, they started terrorizing people. Matter of fact, some of my relatives who belonged to organizations, which the German thought were unfriendly to them, they were arrested right on the spot and taken into the forest and shot on the spot, and all trace disappeared. So the terror was there right from the first day of occupation. And why he did this I couldn't tell. Well, I can go further, and that was when I came home. It was in October in ’39, and I think after three weeks I was arrested. Not myself, with some other friends of mine, students. I was arrested by the local Germans who formed special units, protective units. They called, the German name was Selbstchutz, and they wore armbands, green armbands and with black lettering saying “Selbstchutz,” and they were local Germans because my town had approximately 10 percent of the German population, and I was arrested just when we were visiting a friend and as we walked out of his apartment, they were in the hallway and they arrested us, two of them. Matter of fact, I knew one of the German. He was a young man also, attending the gymnasium in my hometown. There were two prewar, there were two gymnasium, you know high schools, German high schools. One was in my hometown and the other one was in southern Poland in Silesia. I don't know exactly which town but I think it was Bytom, and, so he was, you know, a student at the high school and became this Selbstchutz, and he arrested us and we were taken to a place as hostages. We were kept in a huge hall and there were no beds. It was only straw on the sides of the room on which we for the night spread, and we had to lay on this straw. We had no blankets or anything. We were allowed, after a few days, we were allowed to contact our parents and our families and they could deliver to us food, because they didn't supply any food. I stayed there for three weeks and only because a friend of mine who knew, who had a German friend who was associated with some German organization. Matter of fact, he studied journalism in Germany, in Berlin, and after he finished his studies he became a member of the propaganda ministry, Goebbels' propaganda  ministry, and his parents lived in my hometown, and he was visiting at the time. And my parents asked him if he could get in touch with this friend of his, whether he can get me released. So they did one night. I think at midnight they called me into a small room where there was three Germans. There was one in charge of this camp, hostage camp. He was a local veterinarian doctor, German. Then some other person which I didn't know and this friend of his, of my friend whom I knew only from sight. And they interrogated me and, you know, what I was doing and what I intend to do. And I said, “Well, I don't know, the war...” They said, “We’re going to release you but under the condition that you have to leave these territories.” These territories which we lived, you know, were the western and north territories. We are right away incorporated right in into the German Reich. They considered these lands as purely German. So they said, “You cannot live here. You have to go to the part of Poland which was not incorporated into Germany but which was formed as what they call it, General Government.”

Leonard Zawacki remembers his capture by an ethnic German “Self-Defense” unit. —US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Born in 1916, Leonard Zawacki was a Polish Catholic serving in the army at the time of the German invasion. In September 1939, he was taken as a prisoner of war but escaped. He was captured a second time, in October 1939, by a Selbstchutz (“Self-Defense”) unit made up of ethnic Germans from Poland. In this clip, he describes his second capture. Zawacki took part in the Polish resistance before he was captured and sent to Auschwitz.

View Leonard Zawacki’s full interview.