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world war I

  • Wladyslaw Tadeusz Surmacki

    ID Card

    Born to Catholic parents, Wladyslaw attended schools in Warsaw and earned a degree in survey engineering in Moscow in 1914. After fighting in World War I, he commanded a horse artillery division in Warsaw, worked for Poland's Military Geographic Institute, and taught topography courses. He started a family in 1925, and after he retired from the army in 1929 he founded a surveying company.

    1933-39: When war with Germany became imminent in the summer of 1939, Wladyslaw volunteered to fight but was rejected as too old. In early September, when Germany overwhelmed Poland's western defenses, he fled, hoping to fight in the defense of eastern Poland. In mid-September, a day before the Soviets invaded Poland, he was given a chance to leave the country and go to Great Britain but chose to stay and fight with the Polish resistance.

    1940-42: Wladyslaw became chief of staff of TAP, one of the groups of the Polish underground. In the summer of 1940 he was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. As prisoner #2759 he worked as a surveying engineer in the camp's construction office. His work enabled him to go outside the camp. He used his status to smuggle letters and, by October, to help organize a military underground. In November 1941 he was released on the intercession of a former German engineering colleague, but was immediately rearrested and put in Warsaw's Pawiak Prison.

    Wladyslaw was taken to a forest near Magdalenka and machine-gunned along with 223 Poles on May 28, 1942. They were buried in mass graves and later moved to the local cemetery.

    Wladyslaw Tadeusz Surmacki
  • Julian Noga

    ID Card

    Although Julian's Polish Catholic parents had immigrated to the United States before World War I, his mother had returned to Poland and Julian was born in a village not far from the large town of Tarnow in southern Poland. Julian was raised in Skrzynka by his mother on her four-acre farm while his father remained in the United States.

    1933-39: At 16 Julian left home and worked as a dishwasher in an elegant Jewish club in downtown Tarnow. When the Germans invaded in September 1939, he returned to his village. There, 27 of Skrzynka's Jews--people Julian knew--were forced to dig their own graves and then shot. In some nearby woods he found and hid a rifle abandoned by a retreating Polish soldier. But Julian was betrayed, and deported to Austria to do farm labor for a rich landowner near Linz.

    1940-44: Julian fell in love with Frieda, the landowner's daughter, and she loved him too. When her father objected, she moved to another farm. They continued to meet secretly even though Nazi law forbad romance between Poles and Germans. The Gestapo warned Julian, "If you see Frieda again, you're going to be hanged." He was reassigned to another farm, but they continued to see one another until he was arrested on September 19, 1941. He was imprisoned nearby, then transferred to Flossenbürg to do backbreaking work at a quarry.

    Julian was liberated on April 23, 1945, while on a forced march out of Flossenbürg. Reunited after the war, Julian and Frieda married and immigrated to the United States.

    Julian Noga
  • Erzsebeth Buchsbaum

    ID Card

    Erzsebeth was raised in Budapest, where her Polish-born Jewish parents had lived since before World War I. Her father, a brush salesman, fought for the Austro-Hungarian forces in that war. The Buchsbaums' apartment was in the same building as a movie house. There was a small alcove in the apartment, and Erzsebeth's brother, Herman, made a hole in the wall so that they could watch the films.

    1933-39: Every summer Erzsebeth, Herman, and their mother took a special trip to Stebnik, Poland, to visit Grandma. Their father stayed back to work. Erzsebeth loved Grandma's village. They'd walk near the train station and smell the flowers. Erzsebeth would play with Grandma's dog, Reyfus, and sometimes they would travel by horse and buggy to the nearby spa, where a band played and people sat and sipped drinks. In 1938 when Germany annexed Austria [the Anschluss], Herman immigrated to America.

    1940-44: Since they were Polish-born, Erzsebeth and her family had to leave Hungary in 1941 when all "foreigners" were forced out. They went to Kolomyja [Kolomyia], Poland, where a ghetto was imposed in 1942. Thousands were killed, and by summer Erzsebeth decided to escape back to Hungary. A smuggler took their small group through the woods. They slept by day and walked all night. On the 12th day, they heard a German shout: "Get up!" After Erzsebeth crawled into a hollow tree trunk, she heard shooting and voices crying "No!" Then it was silent. The smuggler had been wounded. The others were dead.

    Erzsebeth escaped Hungarian work camps and many brushes with death before liberation in 1945. She moved to the United States in 1951.

    Erzsebeth Buchsbaum
  • Lutz Haase

    ID Card

    Lutz was one of two children born to religious Jewish parents living in Wrzesnia when it was still part of Germany. After World War I, Wrzesnia became part of Polish territory. Preferring to remain as German citizens, Lutz's family moved to Nuremberg. There, his father opened a kosher butcher shop. In 1926 the Haases relocated to Berlin and reestablished their butcher shop there.

    1933-39: Like many of Berlin's Jews, Lutz was assigned by the Gestapo to a work detail in 1937. He laid electrical cable for which he received a pittance--only 37 cents a day. After the Nazis rampaged on November 10, 1938, destroying synagogues and holy books and smashing Jewish store windows during Kristallnacht (the "Night of Broken Glass"), Lutz was deported with many other Jews to a forced-labor camp outside Berlin. There, they were kept in leg irons and put to work repairing train tracks.

    1940-44: After two years of forced labor, Lutz became too weak to work. The commandant condemned him to an underground bunker where few survived more than a day. An SS general who was present when Lutz was condemned had been a classmate of his before the war. Privately he told Lutz, "I remember you. You helped me start my stamp collection. Now I'd like to help you." "General," Lutz said, "Do what you have to." He replied, "If I do that, you'll never see daylight again." Through his connections, he arranged his way to Shanghai.

    Lutz arrived in Shanghai in late 1940. There, he published a newspaper with war information obtained from the Soviet news agency and radio reports. He immigrated to Canada in 1949.

    Lutz Haase
  • Beno Helmer

    ID Card

    Beno was the oldest of three children in a Jewish family. His mother, originally from Austria, came to Czechoslovakia after World War I. Beno's father, a Swedish Jew, arrived there in search of work and became a successful merchant. The German-speaking Helmer home was frequently full of guests. Every day some students from the local rabbinical academy were invited to join the family for a meal.

    1933-39: Beno's parents sent him to Budapest to attend high school. Later, because of his talent with languages, Beno got a job as an extra in movies. Each scene was shot in German and Hungarian; since Beno was fluent in both, he was always on the set. After his parents fled to Budapest to evade the Nazis, they tried to bribe a Hungarian official to help them. But this backfired; Beno and his parents were deported to Poland. He ended up in Lodz, just before war broke out.

    1940-44: They were always hungry in the Lodz ghetto. People were dying all around them. In the ghetto Beno worked scooping out cesspools with a cooking pot. One day the Nazis took them into a home. They lined them up in a semicircle. One lady had a child. A Nazi asked, "Whose child is this?" Terrified, the mother did not admit that he was hers. He took the child by the legs and swung him against the wall, killing him. Paralyzed by fear, the mother looked on as if the child belonged to someone else.

    Beno survived the Theresienstadt ghetto, and the Auschwitz and Buchenwald camps. After the war he helped track down war criminals in Europe. In 1947 Beno settled in the United States.

    Beno Helmer
  • Karl-Heinz Kusserow

    ID Card

    Karl-Heinz was born during World War I, while his father was in the German army. After the war, his Lutheran parents became Jehovah's Witnesses and gave their children daily Bible lessons. When Karl-Heinz was 13, the family moved to the rustic Westphalian town of Bad Lippspringe. Their home became the headquarters of a new Jehovah's Witness congregation.

    1933-39: Because of the Jehovah's Witnesses' missionary work, and because their sole allegiance was to God and His commandments, their activities were banned by the Nazis. After 1936 the Kusserow's home was repeatedly searched and religious literature seized, and Karl-Heinz's parents were arrested more than once. The family continued to offer refuge to fellow Witnesses, and also continued to host Bible studies, illegally, in their home.

    1940-44: Karl-Heinz's brother was executed in April 1940 for refusing to serve in the German army, contending that such service violated God's commandment, "Thou shalt not kill." The Gestapo attended the funeral; seven weeks later they arrested Karl-Heinz because of a prayer he had said during the funeral. When he refused to give the Hitler salute, he was knocked down and beaten. He spent two months in prison, where he was tortured, and then was transferred to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. After two years, he was sent to Dachau.

    Karl-Heinz was released from the Dachau camp in June 1945. Gravely ill with tuberculosis, he died in Bad Lippspringe the following year. He was 28 years old.

    Karl-Heinz Kusserow
  • Helene Waldhorn

    ID Card

    Born in her grandmother's house in a village in the eastern tip of Czechoslovakia, Helene was the oldest child of religious Jewish parents. Her father had been an officer in the Austro-Hungarian army and had met and married her mother in Yasinya during World War I. When Helene was a young child, her parents emigrated to Paris, where they made their home.

    1933-39: Helene is glad that her parents moved to Paris. Life here is more comfortable and more exciting for her than in Yasinya. Her mother speaks broken French, but Helene, her younger sister and brother speak French fluently because they've grown up here. In her high school they also learn German. The French history lessons make her think that the French won't let themselves be pushed around by Hitler, and so they'll be safe from the Nazis.

    1940-44: Helene has been deported to the Ravensbrueck concentration camp for women. After Germany defeated France in 1940, she managed to avoid the deportations of 1942 by hiding her Jewish identity with false papers. With her new identity and her high-school German she got an office job with the German military stationed in the town of Alencon. She also began collaborating with the French resistance, but was denounced for this by an informant in 1944. Now Helene is a political prisoner--the Germans still don't know she's Jewish.

    Helene was liberated when Soviet troops entered Ravensbrueck in April 1945. After the war she returned to France.

    Helene Waldhorn
  • Pinchas Galperin

    ID Card

    Pinchas was one of 16 children born to a Jewish family. Only nine of the Galperin children lived to adulthood. Pinchas' father worked as a typesetter for a Jewish newspaper and his mother ran a small grocery store. After World War I, Pinchas married Sara Bernstein and the couple moved to Siauliai, Lithuania, where they raised three children.

    1933-39: Pinchas and Sara owned and ran a dairy store where they sold milk, butter and cheese that they bought from local farmers. Every morning they would rise early to purchase the dairy products for the store. The family attended Siauliai's Landkremer synagogue--kremer meaning "small businessmen" in German. In 1939 Germany invaded Poland. Lithuania, at the time, was still a free nation.

    1940-43: A year after the Soviets occupied Lithuania, German troops entered Siauliai in June 1941 and set up a [Siauliai] ghetto. On November 5, 1943, the Nazis issued conflicting orders on reporting to work. Confusion reigned. Jewish police warned it would be safer to find a work brigade that day. Sara was not in a brigade; Pinchas was, but was home on his day off. He gave her his Jewish star--needed for leaving the ghetto--so she could join a work brigade at a nearby factory, assuring her, "I'm a strong, big man; they won't take me."

    Pinchas was rounded up while Sara was at work that day. She later learned he had been deported to Auschwitz and gassed on arrival.

    Pinchas Galperin
  • David Mendel Petranker

    ID Card

    David was one of eight children born to observant Jewish parents living in the small town of Delyatin. During World War I, David served in the Austrian army. Following the war, he married Frieda Gaenger and moved to Stanislav [Stanislawow]. There, David worked in his father-in-law's lumber business.

    1933-39: David had a post as vice-director of the forestry ministry's regional office. His three daughters attended private schools. David was an ardent Zionist, and looked forward to moving his family to Palestine soon. In August 1939 his oldest daughter married a man from Palestine; just before Soviet forces occupied Stanislav on September 18, 1939, the couple left for Palestine.

    1940-45: The Germans occupied Stanislav in July 1941. Before year's end, they had killed David's wife and youngest daughter, leaving David and his middle daughter, Amalie. In 1942 he was deported on a train headed to the Belzec killing center. He pried boards from the car floor and escaped by lowering himself from the moving train onto the tracks. He ran to a farmhouse where a Ukrainian peasant agreed to keep him if he worked on her farm. Though safe, he felt he had to look for Amalie. He boarded a train for Stanislav.

    En route, David was betrayed, turned over to police, and executed. Unknown to him, Amalie had already escaped from Stanislav and was living near the farm where he worked.

    David Mendel Petranker
  • Nenad Dusan Popovic

    ID Card

    Nenad was the youngest of nine children born to Serbian Orthodox landowners in the eastern Croatian part of Yugoslavia. During World War I the Popovic family was evacuated to Vukovar by the Austro-Hungarian army, which was then at war with Serbia. In 1928 Nenad moved to Belgrade, where he attended Belgrade University, graduating with a law degree in 1932.

    1933-39: Nenad's specialty was law related to economics and he found a job in the economic research department of the Yugoslav central bank in Belgrade. Also, he served as an editor for the daily newspaper, Time. Nenad was openly anti-fascist and was alarmed by the rapidity with which fascist ideas were spreading in Europe. When war broke out in Europe in September 1939, Yugoslavia declared itself neutral.

    1940-44: On March 27, 1941, two days after Yugoslavia concluded an alliance with Germany, Serbian army officers overthrew the Yugoslav government. On the morning of April 6, the Germans bombed Belgrade in a punitive attack. Nenad had just left his apartment when, minutes later, he saw his building get blasted away. He tossed his keys, and with nothing but the clothes on his back, set off to join the resistance. He never made it. In Sarajevo he was captured by the Germans, and ended up in Germany as a political prisoner.

    On April 16, 1945, Nenad was liberated in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. After the war, he returned to Yugoslavia and served as a diplomat. He immigrated to America in 1961.

    Nenad Dusan Popovic

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