Natan Offen

Natan Offen

Born: December 15, 1922

Cracow, Poland

Natan was one of four children born to religious Jewish parents. They lived in an apartment in Cracow's [Krakow] Podgorze district, a predominantly Jewish area on the southern bank of the Vistula River. Natan's father was a shoemaker until 1936, when he became a dealer in billiards equipment. His mother worked as a dressmaker. Natan and his siblings attended Polish public school.

1933-39: When Natan was 13 he built a crystal radio. Late at night, Natan and his father would listen to stations from all over Europe. In August 1939, when a German invasion seemed imminent, the Polish army opened flour, tobacco and chocolate warehouses in the city to the public--they didn't want the Germans to get the goods. His family got a sack of flour, cartons of cigarettes and chocolate. On September 6, 1939, the German army occupied Cracow.

1940-45: On their way back to Germany, injured German soldiers arrived in Cracow from the Soviet front. Natan carried them from their train to a delousing car set up in the rail yard. One SS soldier with badly frozen feet spoke to him in Polish. He called Natan "friend." His cordiality angered him. How dare he think they were friends. Natan hoisted him on his back, letting his feet drag. Carrying him across the rail yard, he wailed in pain as his feet struck the rails. Later, Natan wept; he felt he'd lost his humanity. He felt he'd become a beast like him.

Natan was deported to the Plaszow labor camp and then to Gusen, a subcamp of Mauthausen. He was liberated by Americans in May 1945. Natan moved to the United States in 1951.

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