Oral History

Norbert I. Swislocki describes leaving Warsaw with his mother upon the outbreak of war

Norbert was 3 years old when Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. He and his mother were in Warsaw; his father had been drafted into the Polish army and later ended up in Vilna. Norbert and his mother set out to join him and the family was reunited after a few months. After the family had been in Vilna for about a year, Norbert's father was able to obtain visas for Curacao in the Dutch West Indies and visas for transit through Japan. Norbert and his parents left Vilna in January 1941, and arrived in Kobe, Japan, in February. They stayed in Japan for the next eight months, until Japanese authorities required them to leave for Shanghai in Japanese-occupied China. Norbert and his parents spent the rest of the war in Shanghai. In June 1947 the family immigrated to the United States with the aid of Jewish American servicemen stationed in Shanghai after the war.


My mother, uh, decided to flee after, uh, she received word from my father who was in Vilnius [Vilna] at that time. We were in Warsaw still. And, uh, his message, which was delivered by a friend who was returning to Warsaw from Vilna, was that my mother should take me and any other members of the family and just leave Warsaw, 'cause Warsaw was occupied by the Germans. And Vilnius was in Soviet hands, and the Soviets were not considered to be as dangerous as the Germans were. And so she went around as I recall, talking to some relatives, grandparents, brother, sisters, uh, trying to convince them to leave with her and none of them wanted to go. Uh, so she decided to take me and just leave. Uh, it was a remarkable decision I realize at this time, uh, for a woman to decide to take her less than four-year-old son and just essentially walk out of Warsaw with what she could carry. I mean she had me in one hand, by one hand, and in her other hand she had this small suitcase.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum
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