Learn More about Marcel
- Podcast Listen to Marcel discuss narrowly escaping an aktion in Drohobycz, Poland
- Echoes of Memory Read Marcel's stories
As a boy, Marcel Drimer of Drohobycz, Poland, was continually on the move to avoid being discovered by the Nazis. He and his family hid in a field, under wood in a lumber yard, in a hole in a mattress, and in an attic so small that even a child could not stretch his limbs. His former nanny, a policeman bribed with family jewelry, a Christian doctor, and even a German soldier contributed to his survival.
Germany Invades Poland
Marcel Drimer was born on May 1, 1934 in Drohobycz, Poland a small town now part of Ukraine. His father, Jacob, worked as an accountant in a lumber factory while his mother, Laura, raised Marcel and his younger sister, Irena.
When Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939 the town of Drohobycz fell under Soviet control in accordance with the German-Soviet Pact. While Jews were not singled out during this period, Drohobycz was changed into a Soviet town and Marcel was made to go to a Russian kindergarten. Many Polish nationals who were deemed enemies of the state were sent to Siberia.
On June 22, 1941, Germany violated the German-Soviet Pact and attacked Soviet territory. Within a few weeks Drohobycz was occupied by German forces. On the first day of the occupation, German soldiers looted Marcel’s grandparents’ home. In the process, Marcel’s grandfather was severely beaten and died days later from his injuries. Laws were soon imposed that put restrictions on Jewish citizens, and Jews were forced to wear a yellow Star of David on arm bands in order to identify them.
Marcel and His Family Go into Hiding
Living conditions for Jews under the occupation became difficult. Marcel’s nanny, Yancia frequently visited the family to bring them food and often took Marcel for days at a time to bathe and feed him. During one visit to Yancia’s, a roundup or Aktion, took place. To avoid capture, Marcel, Laura, and Irena hid amongst the wheat fields for the better part of a day. While hiding, they could hear the screams of the Jews being taken away. During this specific Aktion, much of Marcel’s extended family was taken to Belzec where they were gassed upon arrival.
In August 1942, Marcel and his family were forced into the Drohobycz ghetto, where they lived in one room with little food. Jacob was able to continue working outside of the ghetto at the lumber factory, which allowed him to barter for food. He was escorted to and from work by a Nazi guard each day. During roundups, Marcel and his family hid in secret bunkers in hopes of escaping deportation. Before the liquidation of the ghetto, Jacob was able to bribe the guard who escorted him to work and the family escaped the ghetto. They hid for a time in the attic of the lumber factory before threats of denunciation forced them to look for another hiding place.
In August of 1943, a Ukrainian/Polish family, the Sawinskis, agreed to hide Marcel, Laura, and Irena. Eventually, Jacob, and other Jews joined them. While originally hidden in a tiny attic space, then in the stable, fear of being found caused the family to hide in an underground hole for the remainder of the harsh winter. Capture by the Nazis would mean death for not only Marcel and his family but also for the family hiding them. The Sawinski family has been named Righteous Among the Nations.
After the War
In August of 1944, the Soviet Army liberated Marcel and his family. Due to the hunger and physical depravation of his time in hiding, Marcel’s legs would no longer support his body and he relearned how to walk. During the fall of 1945, Marcel and his family moved to Walbrzych, where he finished high school, and he later graduated from engineering college in Wroclaw. In 1961 Marcel moved to the United States, where he met his wife, Ania, who was born in Siberia during the war. Both Marcel and Ania are volunteers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.