Oral History

Leo Melamed describes going to school in prewar 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.


Well life in Bialystok was, uh, quite normal for that time in our century, 19...late 1930s. I was a little child. I was in kindergarten. I would go in the morning and come back in the afternoon. It was just mornings. And, uh, I knew the kids and we played games and we learned the alphabet and the kind of things that kindergarten teachers teach. And when I'd come home, uh, my grandmother, my Bubbe, would be there waiting for me, um, naturally to give me, um, lunch and to ask me how things were. But it was a quite normal life and very, very comfortable. My parents were schoolteachers themselves so that, uh, they were away for the...most of the day, of course at a different school than I went to. They wouldn't let their son go to the same school they taught because they knew that would be an unnecessary pressure on my life. And so I went to a different school for kindergarten.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum
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