Were the 5 Million?
Personal Stories of Courage
Books, Videos, Tapes and DVD's
of Books Especially for Younger Readers:
By Irene Opdyke
An intimate and compelling memoir of a 17-year old Polish
Catholic nursing student
who began by hiding food under a fence to hiding Jews in the villa belonging
to a German commander.
and Heroines Men, women and children that risked their lives
to save Jews.
and Deported - One Polish Man's Story from the Holocaust
Joseph S. Wardzala of Derby, Connecticut - 1996
I was kidnaped on a street
in Tarnow in April 1941, pushed into a goods wagon and transported to Germany.
Three days later, the train stopped in Braunschwieg. We were told to leave the
wagon. Here we were met by other Germans who were choosing people for work they
than one million Poles were deported to forced labor
camps in Nazi Germany. There are no books, nor data showing the number
of people who were murdered in those camps. Those who survived remember
how cruelly they were treated. I am one of them. I have lost my young
years and health over there.
Germany started the war, they mobilized every young German into the Nazi
armed forces. There was a shortage of laborers at home. At first, they
appealed to Poles to go and work in Germany. Some Poles went, since they
had no means to survive in Occupied Poland. Later, the Germans applied
forced deportation for work. They kidnaped young men and women in the
street, in the marketplace, and in front of churches on Sundays. Special
camps were set up for Poles, separate ones for men and others for women.
assigned to work for a firm that was building underground shelters for
Germans in the neighborhood of Wattenstadt, where a huge Herman Goering
factory was located. The work was exhausting, 10 hours a day, six days
a week, often even on Sundays. Older people were dying of exhaustion.
The camp was surrounded with barbed wire. It was administered by Germans.
Every morning we were divided into groups and led to work under strict
supervision. After work, a bowl of soup and microscopic cube of margarine
and bread was given. This was the only meal for the day. We felt hunger
all day long. Every morning, we were so exhausted that we could hardly
move. A brown leather whip was used to make people work faster.
liberated by the American Army in April 1945. Displaced Person Camps were
created and organized. Now, children were able to begin their education
in schools in the camps. On Sundays we were finally able to attend the
Holy Mass. People were given jobs. We lived in the same barracks as during
the war. Some people lived in the previously military buildings. I taught
school in a D.P. camp, organized scouting, helped the priest in the chapel,
and worked in the office of the Polish Displaced Persons Camp.
in the United States in 1950, and settled in Derby, Connecticut. Since
1966, I have been organizing exhibits and showing films, spreading information
about Polish history and culture. In 1990, thanks to the Kosciuszko Foundation
of New York, I was invited by the Holocaust Committee to Washington, D.C.
to describe my experience in the Nazi camp. The interview was recorded
and may be seen on video in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.
my documents showing my work as a forced laborer in Nazi Germany: my identity
card, food stamps (which showed my number and date with large "P" in the
background). A part of the stamp was to be turned the kitchen to obtain
a meal. Every Pole had to have the letter "P" sown on clothing. It was
forbidden for Poles to ride in busses, trains, to enter a restaurant or
"P" can be seen in the Holocaust Museum (3rd floor). There is also a list
of persons (including my name who contributed to souvenirs from the forced
labor and extermination camps. I also donated 20 books on Polish experiences
during the German occupation: Warsaw Upheaval, Ghetto Upheaval, Forgotten
Holocaust by Richard C. Lucas, and a documentary book Martyrs of Charity
by W. Zajaczkowski. In the last book, there are hundreds of names and
localities where Poles were murdered for helping Jews.
is also included in the computerized television list of donors to the
Holocaust Museum. This may be seen on the first floor. In the Wexner Learning
Center, on the second floor, there is a computerized system of persons
who survived and reported their experiences.
is located in the area of the Smithsonian Institute at Independence Avenue.
There are many exhibits showing concentration camps, photos and various
souvenirs. Among them, there are exhibits related to Poland: the German
invasion of 1939; execution of Poles in Bydgoszcz and other places; there
is an actual-size replica of a Polish border gate with the emblem of the
White Eagle. There is the original train wagon used by Germans for transporting
Jews to the extermination camps. The wagon was donated by the Polish government.
white long wall, there is a list of heroes who helped Jews during the
occupation of Poland and other countries. On the list there are more Polish
names than any other ones. There are also films in which Jews give the
names of Poles who hid them in their homes, which was punishable by death.
some exhibits show only half-truths, and that offends those of us who
survived and knew the real situation under German occupation. For example:
sometimes, the terrorized Poles transported Jews to the camps. Refusal
to comply with their orders was punishable by death.
was built to show the next generations the horrible crimes committed by
Germans against Jews, Poles and other nations: it is built to prevent
the repetition of such crimes; there is a need for the reconciliation
between Poles and Jews; but the film "Shtetl" just increases the animosity
between these two people.
advise people to visit the museum, and send their remarks to the Polish
American Congress. I attended the opening of the museum in April 1993.
Later, I gave three interviews to reporters of dailies in Derby, New Haven
and Bridgeport, Conn. Lately my interviews were in the Polish newspapers,
Nowy Dziennik and Narod Polski. I continue writing to Polish papers about
the Polish Holocaust, since I witnessed the Polish martyrology.
given many lectures on the Holocaust for various organizations. I thank
God for my survival. Let's try to reconcile to prevent repetition of such
from the author: The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum was not built
to stir up painful memories of World War II, but rather as a tool to educate
generations of people in the hope that this will not happen again. In
the Museum book store you can buy postcards illustrated with patches worn
by Jews and Polish people showing how the Nazis isolated them and excluded
them both from society. A copy of my "P" patch is shown on the postcard.
The Museum also has a large poster of the same illustration.
transcribed by: Michael McDermott, Canyon Country, California
Who Were the 5 Million?
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