Oral History

Leo Melamed describes saying goodbye to father as he fled 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.


My mother woke me in the middle of the night, that was when it turned out that they were leaving, uh, they being all the aldermen. Um, and I hadn't...she hadn't told me, um, for fear I might say something to a friend or anything. So I didn't know except that she woke me in the middle of the night to tell me that I must get dressed and I'm...she's taking me to say good-bye to my father. We, uh...she dressed me hurriedly. And, of course, it was a blackout. Uh, the, the city was being bombed. And you could hear the, uh, air raid sirens and the "aak-aak" of anti-aircraft gun explosions echoing through the buildings as we ran. Um, and occasionally a flashing of a bomb. And uh, it's something you, you just never forget. Uh, I was seven years old and my mother pulling me by my hand till we came to where, uh, they were to meet. And there there was this lot where there was this big van, um, waiting with a bunch of people milling around. Uh, wives and children there, like me and my mother, having come to say good-bye. A lot of weeping. Uh, as I say, the...the moment stands out in my memory, one that I'll never forget. My father embraced me, not knowing, of course, whether and when he was coming back. And I, of course, knew nothing of all of this and, uh, what was happening.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum
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