Mine is a voice of a holocaust survivor - a witness to the darkest moments in the history of mankind.
A voice of a vanishing species, whose days are numbered, as there are only a few of us alive.
I thank you for inviting me and allowing me to stress the historical significance of the holocaust.
I shall be telling about the atrocities committed against the Jewish people, and educating today's youth and adult groups - I'm sharing my personal experiences - i'm enriching your knowledge and your commitment to fight against bigotry and prejudice.
Building a better tomorrow starts with an awareness of the past.
The following is a presentation that I have given to various youth and adult groups throughout Minnesota and western Wisconsin.
Time permitting, my presentation will include a period of questions from you, the audience, after completion of my program.
My name is Julius Ancer and i was born in Konin, a small town in central Poland. I immigrated with my wife and my daughter to the USA in the year 1954. Today, I am retired and live in Minnetonka.
In today's holocaust presentation, I'll cover the events that involved:
- My family
- The Jewish population of my birth town
- The tragic fate of some Jewish communities in surrounding small towns
- And my individual journey through the holocaust.
The very low survival rate of the Jewish population must be credited to the strong anti-Semitism that was actively practiced by the Polish-Christian population for generations. Anti-Semitism was widely taught from the pulpit by preachers, teachers and spread by the political extremist groups.
According to my grandpa, my ancestors settled in Poland in the 16th century. The men of the last two generations fought in two world wars. My father, a cavalry officer in the polish legions, defended his fatherland from Russian Bolshevics in 1920. My two older brothers and I served in the polish army defending our country against the German Nazi aggressors in 1939. My sister, Rose, settled in the city of Poznan after graduation from the university of Poznan. She returned to Konin in midyear of 1939, after rumors about expected German Nazi aggression became predictable.
My father was a businessman and a horse breeder. He owned real estate, a sawmill, timber, and grazing land. He also served on the city council. My mother was active in promoting charities.
In the following, I'll describe the cruel annihilation of the Jewish population of my hometown including my parents, two brothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and nephews. I will also describe the killings of Jews in some small towns, where entire Jewish communities perished without a trace of survivors.
My information comes from witness' certified statements and documentaries based on authentic records from German and polish sources, as well as my own experience in the war.
The killings of the holocaust victims by the Nazis and their collaborators was dominated by their diabolically efficient pre-planned methods for mass murder. Nazis also widely practiced sadism and cruelty.
It was the most brutally horrifying time in the history of mankind, marked by engineered genocide with the cooperation of their own people and the cooperation of many people in the occupied countries. On September 1, 1939, Konin was bombed by the German air force. 12 days later, the city was taken by the German army. This happened on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
A few days later, the Gestapo, the German secret police, arrested 12 prominent Christians and six Jews on a false accusation that a German soldier was found murdered. My father was among the 12 prisoners who were abused and beaten around the clock.
On September 22 of the same year, the Gestapo drew the name of one Christian and one Jew: Mordhai Slodki, a Jewish merchant, and Alexander Kurowski, a restaurant owner - they were executed by fire squad on the city square.
The Jews were ordered to wear a yellow star on their clothes. They were beaten and abused on sight and forced to do all kinds of filthy work, mostly street cleaning of cattle and horse manure.
My oldest brother, Matt, returned from the war. His infantry unit was practically wiped out. He miraculously survived, terrified and exhausted, but otherwise unscratched. Shortly after his return, he was arrested on false accusations of spreading rumors about nazi atrocities. He was imprisoned for several weeks, beaten, starved, tortured, and finally released.
The Nazis stripped the great synagogue of all religious artifacts. The torah, the holy scripts, and the prayer books were burned with the furniture. The synagogue had been rebuilt into a horse stable with local Jews forced to maintain it. The Germans then vandalized and destroyed the Jewish cemetery.
A Christian, a very good friend of my father, visited my parents early November of 1939. He predicted that the Nazis would murder all Jews. He urged my parents to move to his cabin located in the forests of the eastern Lublin district. He promised to care for them through the end of the war.
My parents were deeply touched and asked if rather matt, my oldest brother, his wife and two sons aged four and two years old could move to the cabin instead. He agreed.
Shortly after they took off for the cottage, my parents were happy to learn that our friend got a job for my brother in a sugar refinery nearby. They were disguised as a gentile family.
My parents were still worried about the whereabouts of my second older brother, Nate, and myself. We still hadn't returned from the war.
On November 30, 1939, with only minutes notice, 1100 of the 3100 Jewish residents of Konin were ordered to assemble at various locations. Men, women, elderly, and children were held outside for hours in the cold and rain. They then had to march down to the railroad station. Among them were young mothers carrying infants. They were rushed, kicked, and abused by the escorting S-S men.
Included in this group were my parents, sister, younger brother, and my brother Nate's wife and their one and a half year old infant. At the railroad station, after hours of more waiting, they were herded into box railroad cars. With more than 80 people packed into each car, they were transported hundreds of miles to the ghetto in Ostrowiec Kielecki without food, water or sanitary provisions.
Several weeks later, the entire Jewish population of Golina, a town 12km west of Konin, was forced to dig their own graves. They were then executed on the spot.
In early 1940, the Germans executed many prominent poles. Most were high district and city officials. They were buried in a mass grave in the Jewish cemetery in Konin.
The Jews of the town of Zagarow were victims of some of the utmost brutal mass murdering that i have ever heard about. It took place in the forests of Kazimierz-Biskupi, some 40 miles northeast of Konin. The information about these sadistic killings is based on certified testimony of Doctor Mieczyslaw Sekiewicz. Sekiewicz, with other inmates of the Konin prison, were brought to segregate Jewish clothes and backfill the mass graves after witnessing the cruel and agonizing deaths of tortured men, women, and children.
During the evening of November 15, 1941, the Jews were brought to the Kazimierz forests. At daybreak, they were ordered to strip naked and jump into a huge deep mass grave filled with a thick layer of quick lime. Macabre scenes evolved. The resisting victims were shot and thrown in. Children were thrown in with their mothers jumping in behind them. The screaming, crying, and cursing were horrendous. The Germans then pumped in water brought earlier in cisterns on flatbeds. The water activated the quick lime. This burned and decomposed the agonizing victims, who were inhumanely screaming and moaning for hours in indescribable pain.
The next morning, a big gray vehicle shaped like an oversized van arrived. The nazis opened the tight fitting back doors and dead bodies of men, women, and children were falling out. The Jewish victims were gassed on the way to their burial with fumes directed from the engine's exhaust system. The murder vans made numerous trips, bringing the poisoned Jews for the mass burial. The polish government has since put up a monument at the site to honor the thousands of victims.
Earlier in 1940, the remaining 2000 Jews from Konin were marched 15km to the town of Grodziec, which was now a ghetto. Among this group was my teenage girlfriend and her family. My girlfriend survived the holocaust and we had been married for almost 50 years before she passed away on January 7, 1995. In 1941, those remaining Konin Jews from the Grodziec ghetto were deported hundreds of miles east to Josefow, in the Lublin district.
In July of 1942, the Jewish ghetto population of Josefow was herded into a stone quarry and machine gunned down. Among the victims were Konin's senior rabbi, my Hebrew teacher, and their families. My girlfriend survived by hiding with her parents in a concealed compartment in an attic where they were cared for by a nice gentile family. Six months later she managed to escape after their hiding place was reported to the Gestapo. Her parents were shot on the spot.
She was captured in Czestochowa and placed in a concentration camp where inmates were slave labor in an ammunition factory.
On March 3, 1942, Jews from the town Demblin were brought to Konin and placed in the concentration camp Czarkow.
On August 9, the inmates rebelled and burned the camp. The captured prisoners were executed and buried in a mass grave on the catholic cemetery in Konin.
For several days, starting in October 10, 1942, the Ostrowiec ghetto's 42,000 Jews, including the first group of 1100 Konin Jews, were transported in box cars to Treblinka death camp, where they were gassed and burned. Among the victims were my parents, my younger brother Joseph, Nate's wife and four year old son, and dozens of relatives and friends.
On August 19, 1944, a small number of the remaining Jews in Ostrowiec ghetto were transported to Auschwitz. Among them was my brother, Nate, who was released in 1941 from a German P.O.W. camp and put in the Ostrowiec ghetto joining his wife and son.
In the summer of 1944, my oldest brother matt, his wife, and their two little sons were shot by the Gestapo, after a polish peasant woman reported their hideout to the Nazis. A few weeks later, the soviet troops broke through.
In January of 1945, only a few Auschwitz inmates, including my brother Nate, barely survived the dead march through the mountains to "KZ" Gusen and Mauthausen. Nate was liberated in May of 1945 by the allied troops. By then he looked like a skeleton, weighing just 80 pounds.
My sister, who escaped the Ostrowiec ghetto in 1941, was liberated from a concentration camp in Germany by the U.S & British troops landing in Normandy.
This brings us to:
My journey through the holocaust towards freedom.
The following are my experiences during the holocaust.
In February of 1939 I was drafted into the Polish army (mandatory draft). In the middle of august i was sent with an artillery battalion to Krakow where we were outfitted with heavy artillery, ammunition and supplies. We were reinforced to brigade strength and sent west where we manned the earlier prepared defensive positions a couple of miles east of the German border.
On September 1, the German big guns started pounding us early in the morning with infantry moving forward behind the charging tanks. We had been taking large casualties in dead and wounded. I suffered light shrapnel wounds from exploding shells.
After repealing several German tanks and infantry charges, i was knocked unconscious and was run over by an empty ammunition wagon pulled by a team of panicky galloping horses.
Sharp pain helped me regain my consciousness and Ii noticed that the remaining members of my unit started retreating. With great difficulty, I tried to stand up and wave my arms.
Another wagon stopped and I was thrown in with my MG, accessories, and ammo.
The Germans ran over our positions and started collecting the loot. This helped us to disengage and move as rapidly as possible in the easterly direction.
After several days we re-entered the main east-west road. We figured we were a safe distance from the purging Germans. We were surprised to catch rifle fire from ahead of us. A captured wounded attacker informed us that the shots were coming from Ukrainians, deserting polish soldiers. They were ambushing retreating polish army units.
We continued fighting both adversaries for several days until word came that Russian troops were just about to enter Poland from the east. We crossed the mountains south to Hungary where we were disarmed and put in a P.O.W. Detention camp.
After 10 days in the camp, I volunteered to cut down trees for firewood. I took the opportunity to escape. On a Friday afternoon, marching through a small town in the dark, i noticed a small house with Sabbath candles burning inside. I entered the house, joined in the prayer, and was given shelter.
Several days later i was escorted to Budapest and taken care of by a Jewish institution. The institution was housing several dozen Jewish-polish soldiers and civilians that were escaping from Poland.
I established contact with my brother matt and my family in the Ostrwiec ghetto. They strongly urged me not to return to Poland. I decided to make a run for Palestine - today's state Israel. I was captured in Yugoslavia and turned over to the Hungarian authorities, who brought me to the polish border and handed me over to the German Gestapo in Sanok.
Fortunately, the Nazis didn't suspect that I was a Jew yet i was badly beaten during the interrogation. For seven months in prison, I was starved, manhandled, overworked, and finally released.
I went to Matt hoping to find a job, but none were available. I then went to Ostrowiec and rejoined my family in the ghetto.
I arrived just when the typhoid epidemic was reaching its peak. Hundreds were dying daily, with no medical help or medications. There was no food for the sick, elderly, children, or anyone else who didn't work. Forced laborers were given food, but even they only got less than half of pound of bread a day, made of grain flour mixed with sawdust and eikorn flour. My brother and sister were the only bread recipients, and they shared it with my parents.
Nate returned from a P.O.W. Camp and joined his wife and child in the ghetto. I was forced to work as a slave laborer in a roofing factory located outside the ghetto. I had a pass to leave the ghetto and was showing it to the ghetto guards, who were Jewish policemen armed with clubs.
After a few days work, rather than return to the ghetto, i was going to farm villages trying to work for food and scraps of wood. Often i was hiding in churches overnight, returning to work and sneaking back in the ghetto in the evening with whatever i could smuggle in.
We were suffering from starvation, plagued by unending hunger, crammed in unsanitary conditions, and freezing in unheated quarters with no warm clothing.
The Nazis were thinning out the ghetto population by getting ghetto inhabitants lists, rounding them up, and shooting them on the streets. There was also random shooting at Jews in the streets and hunting them down with dogs.
The most feared s-s man was Peter and his trained German Sheppard, Rolf. At the command, "Jude! (Jew)" the dog instantly attacked the victim, viciously tearing him apart.
In late 1941, I helped my sister escape from the ghetto. I had no idea where she was going.
In the summer of 1942, rumors started circulating that some of the smaller ghettos populations were being shipped out in freight trains and vanished without a trace, or survivors.
People were getting panicky expecting the worst. My father had diabetes and was very ill. He asked us to hide and stay overnights in a shed on a pastor's premises. The shed was located a few blocks outside the ghetto. My father was taking care of the pastor's horse.
On October 10, 1942, we woke up because of loud screaming, crying, swearing in German, and sounds of sporadic gunfire. We understood that our ghetto population was being marched to the railroad station.
After three days of practically no food, I announced that I would try to escape later that afternoon. My parents were shocked, noticing two Nazi armed guards outside the fenced garden. Their posts were some 100ft apart overlooking a ravine down to grazing land with buildings some 400ft away. The guards would meet each other halfway between their posts, right in front of our hideout. After they chatted, they would slowly return to their posts.
With the guards turned away from me as they were returning to their posts, I snuck out of the shed, jumped the fences, and ran down the ravine. About halfway down the ravine, I heard command screams in German; halt! Halt! They turned their submachine guns on me. I ran in a zigzag, staying low to the ground. What lousy shots, I thought as I reached the other side. What a waste of ammo.
Two weeks later, exhausted and half dead, I made it to Matt's (my oldest brother) cabin. He tried to find me a job but couldn't. After a week I was combing the forests trying to find and join an armed resistance group. I was working occasionally for farmers in exchange for food. I decided to leave the area, as I would never have survived the forthcoming winter.
One day, after several miles of walking, i came to some railroad tracks. I followed the tracks in the westerly direction. On a harvested vegetable field I found a few carrots. At dark, I reached a small rural railroad station and rested in some bushes nearby. I boarded a freight train after it stopped for a couple of minutes. I don't know how long I slept. When I woke up, the train had reached its final destination. I took refuge in a church, and fell asleep in the storage room downstairs.
Loud voices woke me up. I realized that a service must be in progress. I joined the parishioners and went through the motions
After the service ended, the people started to leave. Loud screaming and crying could be heard. The Germans surrounded the church and separated efficiently the elders and children from young and middle aged men and women. We were forced to march to the railroad station where we were packed into boxcars and taken to "KZ" camp Blechhammer in Upper Silesia. There were thousands of co-slaves of 17 nationalities including British, Russian, and French P-O-W's in the camp. There was a gigantic industrial complex near an oil refinery under construction, including huge pipe installations.
The work was very exhausting. To make things worse, the foreman, an Austrian Nazi, was hitting us with a piece of a 1" diameter pipe which he kept at his side at all times.
We were given one meal a day. Some strange thin mud called 'soup' and a little less than a pound of bread a day. Oversleeping meant to be shot by the s-s men inspecting the barracks.
Once i had a case of very bad indigestion at night, and went to the latrine. Suddenly i heard a dog barking and German speaking voices. I got out and was immediately attacked by a German Sheppard. The dog was circling around me and bit me before i could move out of the way. The two s-s men were laughing, having a ball, and were encouraging the dog. I got on my knees and elbows to protect vital parts of my body. When the dog, encouraged by my passiveness, got closer, I kicked him in the head with a fine soccer kick - the same kick that had once qualified me as a starting forward on the high school soccer team.
"Don't you ever hurt the dog!" Screamed one of the S-S men while delivering a solid kick in my ribs. "The dog is entitled to some fun."
In 1944, the complex was often bombed by the U.S. air force. We were always herded into the target area. Signs of chaos became more evident. We could hear the Germans talking about allied forces landing in Normandy and the Russian armies pushing the German Wehrmacht out of the Soviet Union.
By the end of the year, i could hear the sounds of Russian artillery coming from the east. German civilians started packing and escaping. Many deserted s-s men followed their example.
I escaped two days after no food was distributed any longer. It was relatively easy to escape, or maybe I was just turning into a pro.
I found shelter in a small village with and elderly German couple who agreed to share with me their food and home after I promised to tell the expected Russians that they were good people. The village was bordered by a waterway, the Adolf Hitler channel, on the east, and a forest bordered the west. One day, the hosts went out trying to get some food while i was resting on the second floor. Suddenly I heard some commotion outside. German army patrols were entering the village and doing a house-to-house search. A sargent leading a squad knocked on the door.
I opened the door. The sargent, looking at me suspiciously, asked, "Jude?" ("Jew?"). Surprised, I pointed to my chest where a purple "p" on a yellow background was pinned.
"I'm polish," I said. He seemed to be confused. "Sargent," I said, "I don't know if any Jews are in the village. I only know that the Russians are just on the other side of the waterway."
He looked as his soldiers, and then turned around to me and said, "You see, comrat, what's going on?" He chuckled ironically. "The Jews in the Blechhammer camp outsmarted the s-s men and are escaping in large numbers. We are here facing the Russian troops less than 200 yards away, ready to attack us at any moment. Not only do we have to stop the Russians, but in addition, do the S-S men's job. We got orders to hunt the Jews as top priority."
"I couldn't agree with you anymore, sargent," I said. "You're right. The S-S men should rather help fight the Russians and leave the Jews in peace."
The war was finally over for me after the Russian army broke through. After six years, Konin was an unfriendly ghost town. The mayor, a former janitor of the city hall, greeted me with words that stayed with me since January of 1945: "Another Christ-killer survived." Then the mayor added: "We poles should be grateful to the Germans, they widened our borders and killed off most of the Jews."
He told me that I would be requested to testify before the court against George Trenkler, our former tenant. George was an ethnic German, a polish citizen, and a very good friend of my family.
"The case is simple," said the mayor. "He is a German and he will be hanged." I told the mayor he is an honest man and asked what he was charged with.
The mayor yelled at me saying, "Guilty or not, he is responsible for all German crimes. I'm surprised that you, who suffered so much and lost your family, are defending Germans."
I told him that the bad Nazis deserve to be punished, but the court would be wrong to punish the innocent ones.
George Trenkler was declared innocent and moved to West Germany.
My girlfriend survived and returned to Konin. We got married on April 23, 1945. The wedding was attended by the eight Jewish survivors of Konin.
Three days later I was drafted and sent to the polish military academy. There we were treated more like prisoners than cadets. I was commissioned in the spring of 1946, and later that year we escaped to West Germany where we joined thousands of refugees supported by the Unrra.
In 1946, my daughter was born in Bamburg, Bavaria. We applied for a U.S. immigrant visa, but with a long waiting list of tens of thousands of refugees, we realized it would be many years before it materialized.
We went to Sweden where we stayed for six years. I got a job in a steel company as a laborer, shoveling ore into an open fire furnace. I was working the swing shift. I rode my bike 10 miles to work each day, even during the six to eight month Swedish winter.
By the time our U.S. visa finally arrived, I had my degree in Architectural Engineering from a local college. We arrived by plane to the United States in early 1954.
All our belongings coming by boat were lost when the Swedish freighter sunk in a north Atlantic storm. All we had was our carry-on flight luggage and a five-dollar bill.
On my first job, I lasted only 10 days. I spoke 4 languages, but none of them were English. Furthermore, my technical education was based on the metric system.
I started frantically learning English in addition to polishing up my technical education. Six months later, I was ready and started as a third draftsman with a national custom designed home builder for one dollar per hour and continued at the University of Minnesota.
After my wife started working, we opened a savings account depositing five dollars a week. For the first time since World War II, we could own something that no one could take away from us.
Prior to my retirement, I held the position of national manager of architecture and engineering with 167 technical employees responsible to me. God bless America! Only in the land of the brave and free this can happen. Here in the spirit of democracy and freedom, success is born thousands of times a day.
In conclusion, I would like to recite to you some the lessons of the holocaust.
- To encourage young minds to grapple with the past, so they can prevent genocide in the future.
- To awaken men and women to bigotry in all forms, so that hatred and prejudice will never swell into a notorious killing machine.
- Reach tomorrow's leaders, today's young people by enriching their knowledge of the holocaust and their commitment to fight against bigotry and hatred.
- I'm practically convinced that my chances to perish were numerous and outstanding - it took more than a share of good luck to survive.
- I believe that god led me through the perils of World War II because god selected a mission for me.
- To meet people from every walk of life and tell them about what can happen when people let evil take over.
For schools only
In the meantime, be aware that education is extremely important. It will provide you with skills necessary to achieve the quality of life needed to change your dreams to reality.
I thank you for the opportunity to present the fragments of the holocaust that touched me directly.
It is my belief and hope that all of us are inspired to strive for a better tomorrow, when peoples of the entire universe will join hands to build a better world for themselves and generations to come.
Shalom - peace