Oral History

Wallace Witkowski describes harsh living conditions for non-Jews in Poland

Wallace and his family were Polish Catholics. His father was a chemical engineer and his mother a teacher. The Germans occupied Kielce in 1939. Wallace witnessed pogroms against Jews in 1942. Wallace was active in the anti-Nazi resistance, acting as a courier between partisan groups. In 1946, in liberated Poland, Wallace witnessed the Kielce pogrom. He was reunited with his father in the United States in 1949; other family members followed. The Communist regime in Poland, however, denied his only sister permission to emigrate for nearly a decade.


We were, of course, survivors of a period in which every able bodied person, age 14 and up, had to work 10 hours a day, 6 days a week. Otherwise, we would be shipped to Germany to forced-labor camps or to work in factories of the German war machine. We were given rations of food so, um, most of us went often hungry. We were decimated by disease. Typhus, typhoid fever, was prevalent. My mother survived typhoid fever. Us kids did not get sick. Uh...we were...uh...terrorized by continuous...uh.. dragnets, "lapanki," [roundups] we called it in Polish. You walk on a street from your house to your aunt's house, and suddenly the street is closed by the gendarmes on both sides. And all the people are surrounded and asked to show their papers. "Are you working somewhere? Who are you? What's your occupation? What are you doing now?" And whoever appeared not employed in a meaningful way that involves supporting the German war effort was being singled out, put in a truck, and shipped to the railroad station and put on a train and shipped to Germany. There were hardly any families that did not feel the...the tragedy of war.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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