Oral History

Leo Melamed describes the 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.


We lived on the outskirts of the city by then. We were living in my father's building, which was a, uh, two-story brick affair and it was considered safer during the bombings than our regular home which was a wooden bungalow in the middle of the city. So that we had moved prior to the bombing, out to my father's building, which he had inherited from his father. And therefore we were on the outskirts of the city, um, on the day in which the...the Nazis actually, uh, came in. And it is also a sight that I will never forget because I was peeking through a keyhole that I had made in a windowpane with a key, so that I could see, uh, 'cause everything else had been painted black for the air raids. Uh, and I saw the tanks. These giant mechanized, uh, vehicles that I had never seen, not in pictures and not ever even imagined what they were, coming towards the building. Uh, a sight that again has remained in my memory forever.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum
View Archival Details

Thank you for supporting our work

We would like to thank Crown Family Philanthropies and the Abe and Ida Cooper Foundation for supporting the ongoing work to create content and resources for the Holocaust Encyclopedia. View the list of all donors.