I am Salek Rafael Monitz, a Jewish man from Poland who was caught up in the German labyrinth where Jews were treated as sub-human. I was 17 years old when I volunteered to take my fatherâ€™s place and was arrested by the German SS. This is a memoir of how I survived four years in the German death and labor camps during World War II, and of my life after liberation.
I owe my survival to G-d and to my family, especially to my motherâ€™s love, wisdom, and training. At the roughest times during my years of captivity, I always felt she was waiting for me. I remembered her words, â€śDonâ€™t be scared, and donâ€™t give up.â€ť She gave me strength in my darkest hours.
I am a survivor, the last of my family, and this is my story. No book could ever cover all of the daily brutalities that I lived through. While I was in the German camps, I did not know from one minute to the next what I would encounter. I thought constantly of my family and hoped that my imprisonment would spare them any suffering. From 1941 through April 30th, 1945, I was imprisoned by the Germans, and:
- separated from my family and friends;
- forced to work endless hours in all weather;
- subjected to intimidation, torture, and beatings;
- forced to go without food or drink for days on end;
- given no medical care, heat in winter, clean clothes;
- forced to witness murders, starvation, and cruelty.
May this book help prevent others from having to see or experience what I did.
Foreword by Dr. Michael Berenbaum ... 1
Preface ... 9
Timeline of Significant Events in My Life ... 11
My Early Years in Pabianice, Poland ... 13
September 1939 ... 25
Four Words ... 32
Bentschen (1941 â€“ 1943) ... 35
Auschwitz-Birkenau (1943) ... 58
Warsaw Ghetto Cleanup (Autumn 1943) ... 74
Death March to Kutno, Poland (July 1944) ... 78
Boxcar from Kutno to Dachau ...Â 80
Dachau (1944 â€“ April 1945) ...Â 82
Dachau Armament Factory ...Â 82
Ampfing ...Â 84
A Waldlager Labor Camp ....Â 84
Meeting Ebi and Her Mother ....Â 87
Liberation Day (April 30th, 1945) ....Â 96
Germany to Hungary and Back (1945 â€“ 1946) ...Â 109
My Daughter Erika is Born .... 114
Working for Bricha (1946 â€“ 1948) ..... 116
America (1949) .... 120
Epilogue ...Â 122
Appendix A: On Being a Survivor ...Â 125
Appendix B: Family Trees .... 128
Appendix C: Family and Friends .... 132
Appendix D: Displaced Person Card ...Â 142
Appendix E: Glossary of Terms ...Â 143
Appendix F: Bibliography ...Â 151
My Life in Pabianice
We lived in the town of Pabianice, which can be found in Central Poland on the Dobrzynka River, about eight miles southwest of the city of Lodz. Pabianice is roughly 127 miles southwest of Warsaw, Poland. Before World War II, the estimated Jewish population of Pabianice was between 7,300 and 9,000 people. The nearby city of Lodz was home to about 223,000 Jews.
The synagogue in Pabianice was a brick building in the old town on BĂłĹşniczna Street. In 1939, the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) began at sunset on the first of Tishri in the Jewish calendar year 5700. The Germans destroyed the Pabianice synagogue on this Rosh Hashanah. They converted the synagogue remains into a stable for horses.
The Jewish cemetery in Pabianice is at the intersection of the present day Jana Pawla II (John Paul II) and Jana Sniadeckiego Streets. The cemetery was founded in the mid 1800s and is surrounded by a concrete wall. The key to the cemetery gate is at the Pabianice City MuseumÂ where about one hundred stones still are standing.
My father owned and operated a large textile factory founded by my paternal grandfather, Friedman Monitz. The factory, Monitz Textile Manufacturing, produced silk and other fabrics for export to European counties. My father, who was respected highly throughout the community, employed about five hundred people. I respected and loved my father and wanted to spend as much time as I could with him.
When I was growing up, Poland was anti-Semitic. Many Catholics in the country (about 91% of the population) openly blamed the Jews for killing Jesus Christ. Jews often were assailed, so we preferred traveling in groups for safety.
On Sundays the Poles went to church. After the church service, they tried to get even with the Jews for killing Jesus Christ. They would beat up Jewish people and damage their property. My familyâ€™s prominence seemed to keep us safe, because we were not subjected to these brutalities.
I had two younger brothers, Szlamek (pronounced Schalmic) and Beniek (pronounced Benyek). I was about three years older than my brother Szlamek, and roughly five years older than my brother Beniek. Szlamek was the â€śsmartâ€ť one, but he unfortunately, had a handicap and a pronounced limp. We always made sure to include him in all of our playing. Beniek was the â€ślittleâ€ť one, the baby, and he always shared everything he had with his older brothers. He would often say â€śI have something for youâ€ť and dig deep into his pockets to pull a half-piece of candy he had saved for me. My brothers looked up to me and I very much enjoyed having younger brothers.
I started taking piano lessons when I was two years old, and I began preschool early, which made me feel smart. After school, my parents always wanted to hear what I learned that day. Education was very important to my parents, and they encouraged me to excel in school.
My family lived at Koscie Ins 18 in Pabianice, in a three-bedroom home with a living room, dining room, kitchen, and basement. The house was two stories high with a balcony on the second floor.
I remember my mother on the balcony, watching and waiting for me and my brothers to come home from school. First, she would see me coming around the corner, and then she would see my younger brother Szlamek, followed by my youngest brother Beniek. When she saw us coming home, she would have a big smile on her face. My family was warm, respectful, and loving.
As children of a successful family we had rules. For example, when I left home to go to school I would kiss my motherâ€™s hand and when I returned home I kissed my motherâ€™s hand. As warm and loving as she was, my mother was also strict with us. I remember mother helping me with homework from school and I had to get everything right. She stressed that we learn to read and write and speak proper Polish. No slang, no accents, no improper words. Even sloppy writing had to be rewritten. We had to read too. As a boy, I enjoyed reading books such as Les Miserables by Victor Hugo and The Count of Monte Christo by Alexandre Dumas. I pictured myself as the hero in these books.
My parents hired Stefa, a woman from a Polish farm, to help with housework. Even with Stefa at home, my mother made sure we children made our beds, picked up after us, washed ourselves, and shined our shoes. We HAD to have shined shoes.
We did not have indoor plumbing in our home. There was a pump in our yard that provided water for our neighbors and us. We kept a pail of water in the kitchen. When we needed hot water, we heated it on the stove. In winter, the water froze overnight in the pail. As kids, we were not unhappy about it, and would look at each other and laugh. We would turn the pail over so the frozen water came out and we said, â€śLook, we have two pails.â€ť
My mother wanted me to become a medical doctor. My paternal grandmother, Raizel Monitz, wanted me to be a knowledgeable and respected rabbi whom all people would consult when they had questions or needed advice.
My mother was a good cook, but as a young boy I did not like the food she made and did not eat much at home. I remember there was one dish she made that I really did not enjoy. It was a barley soup named krupnik, which means â€śeverything.â€ť I especially remember that we ate a lot of potatoes.
My grandmother, Raizel Monitz, had trouble walking, and I would accompany her when she went shopping in Pabianice. She would lean on me, and I would help her carry her purchases home. If I were hungry, my grandmother would prepare the foods I liked. I enjoyed eating them at my grandparentsâ€™ house. She made me cholent, boiled potatoes, and sauerkraut. Cholent is a traditional Jewish stew that is precooked and eaten for lunch on the Sabbath (Saturday). There are many recipes for cholent, but most contain kosher meat, beans, barley, and potatoes. The cooking of cholent usually begins on Friday before the Sabbath begins. The dish is cooked slowly overnight and is served as a hot meal for lunch on Saturday.
In Poland, the winters are long and cold with a lot of snow. We had double-pane windows in our home, and, in winter, would insert cotton lining between the panes to keep our home warm. Of course, the cotton blocked our view and when the weather became warmer, my parents would remove the cotton lining so the sun could shine into the house and we once again could look out the windows.
My mother did not heat every room on winter nights, because she said the heat would make us sick. We had to gather together as we only one room that was warm. At bedtime, Stefa would warm our pillows against the stove. We used to run to bed as Stefa ran behind us with a warm pillow. We raced to bed so we could get a warm pillow and cover up. There was so much happiness at home over little things with my family, just being together was great. We brothers never fought. I never thought those days would end or that our time together would be brief.
Richard Monitz was fifteen when he was forced to work for the Nazis who invaded Poland. He survived the entirety of World War II as a Holocaust prisoner, transferred from camp to camp within the Nazi concentration camp system. His wits, faith and miracles kept him alive while he witnessed others murdered. In this memoir, Richard describes the horrors and experiences of his five year ordeal. We relive his moment of long hoped for liberation, and experience with him his first sight of the American flag atop the liberating tanks of the United States Army. Â
At the end of the war, Richard found himself aloneâ€”without family or home. Upon liberation, Richard married a fellow Holocaust survivorâ€”a Hungarian womanâ€”with whom he could not communicate without an interpreter. He remained in Germany to work for a clandestine Â organization to transport Jewish survivors to Palestine. Ultimately Richard immigrated to the United States and pursued a successful career as a business owner and entrepreneur. Â His tears for his family taken from him never stopped.Â
May this book help prevent history from repeating.