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Marcel Drimer: Escaping the "Concert of Death"

First Person Podcast Series

Marcel Drimer, his sister, and mother hid in a wheat field while a German aktion—a violent operation against Jewish civilians— occurred in their town of Drohobycz, Poland, in August 1942.



MARCEL DRIMER: We could hear the Germans shouting, the dogs barking, people screaming, shots. My sister and I call that the “concert of death.”

NARRATOR: Over 60 years after the Holocaust, hatred, 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.

This podcast series presents excerpts of interviews with Holocaust survivors from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s public program First Person: Conversations with Holocaust Survivors.

In today’s episode, Marcel Drimer talks with host Benson about narrowly escaping a German aktion, or violent operation against Jewish civilians, in Drohobycz, Poland, in August of 1942.

BILL BENSON: Marcel, during that time you had several close calls, miracles—would you tell us about some of those, including about your nanny?

MARCEL DRIMER: Yes, a few weeks after the war [started], my grandfather, whom you have seen in the picture here, his wife died of natural causes. He came to live with us because he just couldn’t manage by himself, preparing food and all of that. My grandmother, whose husband was beaten and died as a result, she also came to live with us.

And my father’s sister, Rivke, with two small children, one was an infant and one was about my age, also came to live with us.

It was a small place that our family of four could live, not comfortably, but live. But with the additional four people it was very very hard to live. And my nanny, Jancia, she could come every once in awhile and bring us something to eat. One day she came and she looked at that place and she said, “It’s terrible. You are walking over each other. Let me help you by taking Marcel to my house for a few days. He will be with me and you won’t have to worry about one more mouth to feed.”

So I went with her and I stayed with her a few days. She was pregnant, quite advanced. After a couple days, my sister started complaining that she wants to be with me, she would like to play with me. She misses me. So my mother said to everybody, “I’ll go for a few days and I’ll bring Marcel back home.”

When she came to my nanny’s house, the woman went into labor. There was no telephones, there was no getting a doctor, so my mother helped her deliver the baby but the baby was stillborn. We stayed there for another overnight. Her husband worked the night shift somewhere. He came home and he said, “There is an aktion going on in town. They are rounding up Jews for deportation and if they come here and they see you here, the Germans will kill us. You have to leave the house. Do whatever you need to do to survive.”

So my mother took us, the two of us, my sister and me, and we went to—there was a forest about 300 meters from the house and there was a wheat field. It was August 1942, and it was brown, regular color. My mother had a raincoat the same color so we went close to the forest and we all laid down there. My mother covered us with her raincoat and we stayed there. An hour or so after we got the place to hide, we could hear the Germans shouting, the dogs barking, people screaming, shots, you know people dying. My sister and I call that the “concert of death.” It lasted three or four hours and then it started raining and it sort of quieted down.

We waited another hour and we just got up and started walking towards the nanny’s house. As we were approaching the street where her house was, we saw a German—I don’t know if it was an SS man or Wehrmacht, most likely Wehrmacht, the regular army, a guy with a dog walking the street. He looked at us. He saw my mother, my sister, and me. He just stopped for a moment, turned around, and walked away. This was a miracle. If there was two of them, this wouldn’t happen because one German would be afraid of the other that he helped Jews, that he didn’t do his job properly.

But, he was by himself with his dog. He just turned around and walked away. Miracles like that were countless. Each one that was not positive would lead us to the Belzec concentration camp. We came to Jancia’s and stayed there overnight and it quieted down. We didn’t know what happened to my father, but he was at the factory. There was a dormitory there where the laborers could stay. So we went back to our house.

We came there and the house was empty. Everybody was gone. Everybody who was there was gone. The house was a mess. I don’t know why the Germans did it, but they always tore up the pillows and the feathers were flying all over the house. It was just an unbelievable sight.

NARRATOR: You have been listening to First Person: Conversations with Holocaust Survivors, a podcast series of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Every Wednesday at 1 p.m. from March through August, Holocaust survivors share their stories during First Person programs held at the Museum in Washington, DC. We would appreciate your feedback on this series.