Oral History

Leo Melamed describes fear after German occupation of Bialystok

Leo was seven years old when Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. Before the war, Leo's father was a mathematics teacher and member of the Bialystok City Council. Fearing arrest, Leo's father fled Bialystok for Vilna just before the German occupation. Leo and his mother eventually joined his father in Vilna. After the Soviets occupied Vilna, Leo's father obtained transit visas to Japan. The family left Vilna in December 1940, traveled across the Soviet Union on the Trans-Siberian Express, and arrived in Japan in January 1941. Leo's family obtained visas for the United States and immigrated in April 1941.


Now, of course, life was no longer the same because there was a, uh, there was a feeling of fear that hung you could cut with a knife. Uh, stories about people who disappeared during the day and actually never were seen from again or heard from again. Um, were things that, you know, affect you immediately and it creates a fear factor that you're always apprehensive, or will your mother come home, uh, this next day and so forth. And of course, under those kinds of conditions you don't act, feel, or live normally. So everything was scary. Uh, my mother made sure that I never left the house anymore. I couldn't play with the kids in the courtyard or outside. I could not leave the house, that was instructions to my grandmother and, uh, I, of course, didn't during that whole period of time. And when my mother did come home, people spoke in like whispers, uh, as if they were afraid that somebody was listening to everything. Now that, that obviously impacts... everything you do is quite different under those kinds of conditions.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum
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