Chaim's family came from a small town where his father owned a textile store. When antisemitic pogroms broke out in Brudzew, the Engels moved to the industrial city of Lodz. Chaim was then 5 years old. In Lodz he attended a Jewish school that also provided a secular education. After finishing middle school, Chaim went to work at his uncle's textile factory.
1933-39: Chaim's neighborhood in Lodz was predominantly Jewish, so most of his friends were Jews. As a young adult he began his compulsory army service. On September 1, 1939, only two weeks before his tour of duty was scheduled to end, the Germans invaded Poland. After a few weeks he was taken as a POW. One German captor learned Chaim was Jewish, but he didn't shoot him. Chaim was taken to Germany for forced labor.
1940-44: In March 1940 all Jewish POWs were returned to Poland. Chaim was deported to the Sobibor killing center in the summer of 1942. In October 1943 a small group of prisoners revolted. Chaim stabbed their overseer to death. With each jab Chaim cried, "This is for my father, for my mother, for all the Jews you killed." The knife slipped, cutting Chaim, covering him with blood. Chaos took over; many prisoners ran out the main gate. Some stepped on mines. Some gave up and didn't run at all. Chaim grabbed his girlfriend and they ran into the woods.
Chaim hid in the Polish woods with his girlfriend, Selma. After the war they married and lived in Europe and Israel. The Engels settled in the United States in 1957.