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Harry Lenga

Image of Harry Lenga
Nationality: Polish
Location: Auschwitz Concentration Camp • Austria • Ebensee • Germany • Israel • Italy • Kozienice • Mauthausen • Melk Concentration Camp • Missouri • Modena • Poland • Rome • St. Louis • Starachowice • Stuttgart • United States of America • Warsaw • Wolanów
Experience During Holocaust: Family Died During the Holocaust • Family Died in Gas Chambers • Forced on a Death March • Liberated • Lived in Multiple Concentration Camps • Lived in Warsaw Ghetto • Sent to Concentration Camp • Sent to Ghetto • Suffered from Disease • Worked in Factory

Mapping Harry's Life

Click on the location markers to learn more about Harry. Use the timeline below the map or the left and right keys on your keyboard to explore chronologically. In some cases the dates below were estimated based on the oral histories.

“It was the only thing that was on our minds - THEY WON’T DESTROY US - as long as they don’t put us in the gas chamber or a bullet in our body, THEY CAN’T DESTROY US! We’ll have to survive… we have to survive. That’s exactly what we built in our minds.” - Harry Lenga

Read Harry's Oral History Transcripts

Read the transcripts by clicking the red plus signs below.

Tape 1 - Side 1 (Prince)

LENGA: I appreciate the opportunity of giving me to talk to you. My name is Harry Lenga. I live in St. Louis. I’m married and I have three children. I was born in Poland, in the city of Kozienice, south of Warsaw, approximately population – my birthplace – of about 10, 000.
My father was also in the jewelry business, which I had here in the United States when I came…a jewelry store. My purpose talking to you is to describe to you what happened in the time, in the Second World War and especially the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis.
I’ll start with you to tell the story – the first – when the war broke out, when the German forces invaded Poland. I was at that time working in Warsaw, employed in the wholesale jewelry store and I’ll never forget that moment when the radio announced that suddenly German planes invaded Poland. And the first thing what they did, they bombed a school, a public school and killed about 57…57 children. That was the first thing what they did, when they bombed Warsaw. And of course, the rest is history. Warsaw was surrounded for four weeks until the Germans entered Warsaw. They bombed, they destroyed whatever they could. Their aim was not only to destroy the armed forces of Poland, but also the civilian population – whatever they could. Whatever they saw on the streets, on the highways, people marching or running with their personal belongings, they lowered their planes down and they gunned them with machine guns…down. They strafed with machine guns and the highways they’re littered with bodies. And of course, when they came in and they took over Poland, the first thing they start to make special ordinances for the Jews. As you well know, I am Jewish and I went through, I’m one from the survivors, and I went through the Holocaust. And it’s a pleasure especially to me, right now, to tell you that story, and know it should be retold from generation-to-generation.
PRINCE: Harry, where were you born?
LENGA: Where ever you born?
PRINCE: Where were you born?
LENGA: Oh, I was born in Poland, in Kozienice. That’s a town south of Warsaw.
PRINCE: In what year?
LENGA: 1919.
PRINCE: Tell me about your family.
LENGA: Well, I had three brothers and one sister.
PRINCE: And your father had a jewelry business?
LENGA: My father had a jewelry business, right. And I learned watch making from my father and later I decided to go to Warsaw and work on my own for somebody else.
PRINCE: Let me ask you about the time when you were growing up. Tell me about your family life.
LENGA: Well, I was attending public school which, and besides that, I attended also the religious school. When I came home from the public school, I went to a religious school. So altogether, I was constantly in school about 10 to 12 hours a day.
PRINCE: Your background – your religious background?
LENGA: Well, we were Orthodox Jews. My father, my father was a strictly observant Jew and he tried to raise us the same way that he was.
PRINCE: How did you dress?
LENGA: Well, we especially were dressed in the Judaic – they used to call it the Jewish dress uniform. It was a long caftan and a round hat. In fact, I can show a picture of my father. (VOICE FADES – MR. LENGA IS NOT SPEAKING IN THE MICROPHONE). (SHOWS PICTURE). That’s my oldest brother what lives in Israel now and that’s one that lived in France and he’s dead now.
PRINCE: That’s your father?
LENGA: Yeah, that’s my father. That’s the time when he took him (my brother) to the Yeshiva. You know, that was the real high school, and send him to Shedlicer.
PRINCE: But he didn’t have the long curls.
LENGA: Yeah, he had the long peyos…under the ears.
PRINCE: Oh, under the ears, all right. How did you…this was your town…Kozienice?
LENGA: Kozienice, yeah.
PRINCE: Was a center – a Hasidic center?
LENGA: It had a Hasidic center, yeah. Well, it used to be.
PRINCE: Used to be?
LENGA: And they had it too…we had a rabbi too which was named a Kozienice Rabbi.
PRINCE: So you were – what do you mean a Kozienice Rabbi?
LENGA: Well, they were especially holy men and each holy man had disciples…disciples.
PRINCE: Disciples?
LENGA: Right. And the town what he was born in, or lived in was called the Rabbi from Kozienice – the Rabbi from Ger – the Rabbi from Lizhensk – the Rabbi from Kotsk – the Lubavitscher Rabbi. The town that they lived, that’s what they called the rabbi from that particular town. And each rabbi used to have Hasidim and the Hasidim believed in that rabbi. They used to come and…for holidays, especially the high holidays, they use to go and visit the rabbi…to see the rabbi.
PRINCE: How…how did…was each town – were all the laws the same, or were they different in each town for being a Hasidic Jew?
LENGA: No, the laws were the same all over. There’s nothing to the laws, it’s just…it was that they believed that he is the most holiest man, the closest to God, their rabbi. Each one believed their own rabbi. There were many of them.
PRINCE: How did being a Hasidic Jew, as a child – in a town like Kozienice affect you? How…what was it like?
LENGA: Well it’s first of all…we were not like any other average child in the city. We have to always to show a better example with our behavior – with our way of life. We didn’t play in sports like other kids did. Mostly the time was mostly dedicated to study and to learn the Torah.
PRINCE: Was it because you couldn’t plan in sports – because of your religion, or because of…
LENGA: No, it was the religion. That was a tradition, it was a built-in tradition. You’re not supposed to waste time playing sports…use to be like wasting time. Why would you waste time playing with a ball when you could sit by the table and study the Torah. That was the idea.
PRINCE: How did you feel?
LENGA: Well, when I was young, I liked it very much because that’s the only thing I was. Of course, later when I started to go to the public school and I saw the other kids playing, I resented it but of course I didn’t complain because I knew it won’t help me. My father…if I would come to my father and tell him I would like to go out and play – he would have thought I got crazy (LAUGHTER).
PRINCE: (LAUGHTER) It would be absolutely, “No.”
LENGA: Right.
PRINCE: How about with other children in school, when you went to the public…
LENGA: Well, the public school, we usually use to stay together. The Jewish kids use to always congregate and play, you know, together in one group. The Gentile kids never accepted us as equals. We always used to be somebody else…a minority. We felt that we are the minorities. In the classroom, in the recess, on the school backyard…we always felt that we are minorities and even in the streets too.
PRINCE: And the teachers?
LENGA: And the teachers too. They…they treated us like minorities.
PRINCE: Was this an all-boys school, or was it…?
LENGA: Yeah, it used to be all-boys school. Yeah. Uh huh.
PRINCE: Well as you grew up, and you, uh, uh…how did you have a social life…as far as meeting girls?
LENGA: Well we didn’t think about meeting girls (LAUGHTER). We thought that was something “taboo” to go with a girl, or to talk about a girl…that wasn’t the right way to do.
PRINCE: What was the right way?
LENGA: Well, the right way was mostly to talk about the study…what we studied and we used to have some games in cheder when we used to go, but they were not those games, you know, what Gentile kids used to play.
PRINCE: How did you observe Shabbat?
LENGA: Oh, the Shabbat was observed…was strictly observed. When it came…one hour before candle lighting, candle, the time where it was supposed to be candle lighting, I’ll never forget, it used to be the old tradition that the Shamus used to go around and he use to knock on each door to let them know it’s time to prepare for Shabbos.
PRINCE: What is a Shamus?
LENGA: Well, a Shabbat…
PRINCE: No, a Shamus.
LENGA: A Shamus is that…a man which he was doing all the things serving the synagogue – attendant – a synagogue attendant. That was his job, too. That was a tradition actually from the times when people didn’t know…didn’t have clocks or watches, to know that the Shabbos comes. So he use to go around from door-to-door to all the Jewish people and knock with a wooden hammer on each door, and they knew. He gave three knocks and that meant it was time to prepare for Shabbos. All the merchants start to lock up their stores, and run home and wash themselves and run to the mikvah – put on their new Shabbos clothes and go…prepare themselves to go to shul to welcome the Shabbat. And we went to shul and to the prayer. We had to pray for about an hour and then we came home and there was a special Shabbos meal prepared.
PRINCE: Did the women…just the men went to…?
LENGA: Friday night – only the men, only the men went. And Saturday, next day, then the women went too…to shul.
PRINCE: Well, go back to Friday night. So you would come home…
LENGA: We came home from shul…So first of all my father used to sing special hymns – like Shalom Aleichem and Ashes Khail, a special hymn and praise to the woman of the household. And then we made Kiddush and was two big nice challaslaying on the table…
PRINCE: Bread?
LENGA: Bread, yeah. And the candles were lit before we went to shul. It was the time before, you know, about a half hour before the sundown, and we came home. We use to make Kiddush, and the head of the household, like my father, used to say Hamotzi…the blessing of the bread, and cut the challas and cut off each one a piece of challas…pass it around to each of the family and sometimes we use to have guests take home…poor people to join us with our meal. It used to be people you know that come from other places. They didn’t have where to dine so each resident, you know, if he was in middle class or rich, or not so rich, and if he could afford – he used to bring home a man and give him a meal…a Shabbos meal. And we used to sing all kind different zmirot, we used to call it, you know, songs…especially for Shabbat…for Friday night. It was a beautiful thing. In fact, now…the people we used to sit by our meal much longer than anybody else in our town. And people used to be through with their meals…they used to walk by our house and stop and listen to our songs – how we used to perform our zmirot. They told us, made us compliments…we are very good singers. ( HAPPINESS AND FEELING IN MR. LENGA’S VOICE).
LENGA: Well Saturdays was the same. We got up early in the morning of course. We went to shul again. We used to have a shtiebl, you know, a Hasidic shtiebl.
PRINCE: What’s that?
LENGA: That was a smaller place of worship. Each congregation, according to the Hasidim, to the rabbi what they belonged to. Like if you belonged to the Kozienice the rabbi, it used to be a Kozienice Shtiebl – they used to call it. It used to be a place, and all those people what they belonged to that rabbi used to perform their prayers, Shabbos prayers at that particular place. Now the Ger Rabbi…
PRINCE: The what?
LENGA: The Rabbi from Ger, another town, they have their Hasidim – used to have their own, their own place that they used to come to pray. So that took up from about nine o’clock till about 12 or one o’clock in the afternoon. Then we went home and we sat down again to a meal. We used to eat the cholent that used to be brought from the baker. It was for Shabbat. It was not made fire…or turn down the light. We used to have an automatic clock to turn off Friday night, the lights, and then we never cooked anything on Shabbos or we didn’t light even a match on Shabbos. We used to bring the cholent…it used to be a special kind of warm food. We used to put Friday before candle lighting to the baker’s oven and we took it home, and we came home. And that was the meal.
PRINCE: And you did that?
LENGA: Oh, many times I went to the baker when I was a child and bring home the pot of food. We used to have a kugel made inside, all kinds of different foods.
LENGA: It was delicious. I’ll tell you (LAUGHTER) I miss that…even now.
PRINCE: Your mother was a good cook.
LENGA: She sure was. And then after Shabbos, after the meal, the same things…singing the zmirot, songs and after the meal my father used to take each one of us and make…examine us…what we learned the whole week. You know the Chumash and the Gemara. And after that, we had to go back to cheder – that was the Jewish school – cheder. And we used to learn in the summertime…we used to learn the Ethic of the Fathers, the Perke Avot.
PRINCE: What is that?
LENGA: That’s a book…The Ethic of the Fathers.
PRINCE: Etiquette of the Fathers?
LENGA: Ethic of the Fathers. In the wintertime they used to learn book Brokhi-Nafshi and the Songs of David. So it kept us busy till the time to go again to shul for the evening prayers.
PRINCE: Do you think your father would have liked one of you to be a rabbi?
LENGA: I would…I think he was dreaming of it. He wouldn’t have objected (LAUGHTER) but none of us became a rabbi.
PRINCE: And then on Sunday?
LENGA: Well, Sunday was actually a day not of rest, but we had to observe because the Catholics…Poland was a Catholic country. They, for them, it was their Sabbath, the Sunday. And they imposed it very strictly. They had police. They didn’t let anybody have open the stores on Sunday. Even if you have your store open on Saturday, but Sundays had to be, all the stores, had to be closed. Because it was the Sabbath of the Christians, of the Catholics. But usually, you know, the Jewish merchants managed sometimes to go on into the stores, you know, and keep the doors closed because the Polish people, the population when it came to Jewish in the villages around…they like to come up in the church and buy some things. You know, like, some of them short of groceries…some of them short of material and they even brought in, you know, watch to fix, too. So we used to stay inside, but close the doors and if they knock, we let them in.
PRINCE: Let them in?
LENGA: Right.
PRINCE: Were all the Jews in Kozienice Hasidic?
LENGA: No, not all of them. They had different extractions. We had very rich Jewish population and there was a diversity…you know, different groupings that we used to have a big Bund organization. There was a Jewish Socialist organization and we had Communists…not so many. But we had Jewish Communists there, too. Of course, it was, the Communist party was illegal in Poland and we had a big, a very big Zionist organization, too. And we also had the Folkisten, that was also…it was diversity.
PRINCE: What is the last one?
LENGA: Folkisten.
PRINCE: What is that?
LENGA: Well, they are for mostly for assimilation. They preached that if you lived in the country, you should assimilate with them…talk the language, you know, like the, the…they live in and be like the Poles.
PRINCE: As you were growing up, did you feel any antisemitism, or…
LENGA: Oh, in Poland, very much. We never…we never forget, they never let us forget that we are Jews. We were always criticized and accused of things, and even in…especially in the public schools, you always felt that you are Jews. You are Jew and you are minority. They made a Jew feel that way. Even we didn’t have to come Shabbos to school because Saturday was a day of school too. But the Jewish children were excused not to have to come to school. But for example, if something was learned on the day of Saturday and we came back Monday, and if they made a test, and if we didn’t know, they gave us an “F”. We claimed we didn’t know about it. We didn’t have a chance. They said, “That’s not my business, you should have come.” Even the teacher said that, many times.
PRINCE: And that happened often?
LENGA: That’s right. And we had to find out from our Christian kids what was taught on Saturday so we’ll be able to catch up.
PRINCE: I noticed you said, “Christian kids”. You did not say “friends.”
LENGA: Well, I would say very seldom we had friends. Not because of us, they didn’t want to do anything with us. The only way, they always tried to beat us up. In the yard, when we were playing, the only thing they tried to do was either make fun of us or beat the hell out of all of us. And that’s why we always stayed together so they won’t be able to penetrate. If they caught us single…singley…they did it.
PRINCE: When you asked them for help, for a test on Saturday, or for information, did they give it to you?
LENGA: Some of them they did, some of them, they…they were nice. Well you have to…to reward them for that. We use to give them candy, or something like that – so they did it.
PRINCE: Okay. Tell me, you were…you were in Warsaw when the war broke out…
PRINCE: And you, I think we talked about how, well – talk about Warsaw…where you were.
LENGA: Well –
PRINCE: Begin, maybe with what happened after the four weeks, with the Germans.
LENGA: All right. Then the German forces, they marched in – I’ll never forget that. Of course we were surrounded for four weeks and we didn’t have no food whatsoever. But the Germans, the German Army starts to give out bread. And we formed big lines, and they gave everyone a bread. And right then – right away, the Germans even didn’t know yet, the Poles start right away to point fingers on us. And say in German, that this is a Juden. So when the Germans heard we are Juden, they threw us out of the line, so we couldn’t get the bread.
PRINCE: This is a Jew.
LENGA: That’s the number one. The first incident I remember, the first day when the Germans came in, I stayed about six hours in that line and I was really close already to get the bread. So a guy behind me, a Pole says, “He is a Juden.” So the German says, “Raus,” and he told me to get away from the line up there. (VOICE FACES AWAY) And I had to go away without the bread. That was the first day. And of course, after that, it happened much worse things.
PRINCE: Which was?
LENGA: They started to make, you know, all different kind of ordinances, right away that the Jews can’t move freely around in the city…right away. And they have to register and they have to declare their money and their merchandise and they confiscated the coffee. If anybody had coffee or they had gold…everything…they had to give it over to them. Every day they came up with new laws, with new things. So finally they came up with the law that they going to make a ghetto and they made a curfew. The Jews couldn’t walk, you know, after seven o’clock. No Jews were allowed to walk on the streets and they made arm bands that every Jew had to wear to be recognizable that he’s a Jew. And they used to grab to work, everybody, every day they used to come out and grab Jews off the streets, off the streetcars, off the buses, and take them down, and take them for work.
PRINCE: For work?
LENGA: For a day, for two days, for three days, for five days. In fact, that story what I told you…what happened to me that time…
PRINCE: Tell me now.
LENGA: I was going…I worked in a place in Warsaw which was Gentile quarters. And I had to take especially the streetcar to go to the Marshall Pilsudski Street and there my boss’ store was. And so I went down on the streetcar. A guy shouted a German SS man that I’m a Jew, and I was lucky. I didn’t have my arm band on because I was afraid for that…because usually on the way to the streetcar they could catch you to work. So I used to take a chance and take it off. But when I came down, I knew I’m a lot, you know, with a lot of Poles in the Polish quarter and they’ll recognize me that I’m Jewish, so I had to put it on.
PRINCE: Because they knew you?
LENGA: Because – not they knew you – they could tell…they could tell who’s a Jew because they lived with us all the time. They could tell, you know, just on your looks…on your face to know that you’re Jewish, you’re a Pole, you’re a Christian, or a Jew.
PRINCE: Just by your face?
LENGA: Just by the face, they could tell. So when I stepped down, I already had my arm band on my arm a little lower. And I moved it up. He thought I’m going to hide it or take it off. So he start to yell to the SS men, which was on the streets looking for Jews, “He is a Juden, he is a Juden,” and they grabbed me. They grabbed me and they put us out in a closed yard. It was closed out and they brought constantly more and more and more until there was about 150 of us, Jews. And they took us down to the headquarters where they were stationed, the SS, the German gendarmerie, and they kept us there, turned, with our faces. They lines us up and we were turned to the walls with our faces. They didn’t let us…they gave us an order not to turn around – not to look behind us – only to stay there (SPEAKS SOFTLY). And we knew that something is going on because every few minutes they took another guy away…another guy away. But we didn’t see the ones that come back to our lines. We only saw that the lines got smaller and smaller…took away. So finally it was my turn. They grabbed me behind my collar… “YOU ARE NEXT – YOU ARE NEXT.” So I start to walk at them and I came in a room and there were sitting four SS men, drinking beer. And the first thing they asked me, they asked me for my ID card. So I took out my ID card and I gave it to them. They asked my name. I gave them my name. They asked me where I lived and I told them where I lived. Of course, luckily, my ID card was written down the name that I lived. I didn’t live there anymore. It was bombed during the war…was completely ravaged, you know, completely destroyed…those few blocks. And I took a chance. I said, you know, and while they finished me, was asking me all those questions, they start to walk after me. One guy came over and says, “Where did you learn German? You speak German so good.” I said, “I didn’t learn German…I just, you know.” (PAUSE) So right away he took his fist and right in my eyes…he gave me a real hit. Right away, I didn’t know what’s going on with my eyes. I start to get…get dizzy and I fell back so another guy behind me grabbed me back and pushed me back to the other guy. And two guys came close and start to beat me up in my face…only my face. And then came another guy and start to straighten up my hair. And he said, “Oh, you have beautiful hair,” and start to beat again on me. And I start to feel blood coming down my face and my teeth and my nose. And he throw my ID card back to me. He told me to go out and showed me another place to stand there. When I came out and saw the other guys, the way they looked, so they told me that I’m not so bad beaten up that they were. And then after we were staying up there the whole day, it was from nine o’clock in the morning until about five o’clock in the evening – and when all those people were beaten up and registered with the names and everything, and put back in the other side, they told us we would have to come every day for a whole month…come to work there. Every day at nine, at eight, at seven o’clock in the morning till six o’clock in the evening. Whoever won’t show up will be shot!
PRINCE: And you didn’t know what kind of work it was for?
LENGA: No. We knew we already heard what’s happening before. You know, what they do. Mostly, they beat the hell out of you and they told you to do the worse kind of work. And if you survive after those 30 days, usually, you are already handicapped. You can’t walk straight…something is wrong with you already when they let you out. So, I decided not to go because the only reason I could do that was because I didn’t give them the right place where I was living and I was taking a chance. And I was really in fear. I was so scared for several months. I was really scared that they’ll catch up with me. And they could if they really would like to. They could find out where I am, but I figured they have so many Jews there, you know, they might not…I hope, pray to God, they won’t. So finally after several months I find out that that unit was transferred. Then I start to relax. Otherwise, I was under terrible fear…every day. I wasn’t sure…I was hiding constantly. And that was one incident how people went through when they grabbed them to work. Of course I was grabbed in many other places, you know…to work. They used to tell us to wash floors. In many cases, they just tortured us. They made us lay down in toilets and told us to clean with our tongues.
PRINCE: Tongues?
LENGA: With our tongues – to clean. And who didn’t do that, they beat the hell so much…so much…till they died. For them to kill somebody, to torture somebody, was a pleasure. They were sadists. And that was just in ghetto, for them, whenever they needed somebody to either for fun, or to do some work…they just came in and they grabbed up how many Jews they needed and they took him for work.
PRINCE: So you…
LENGA: Well, then I decided I can’t stay there anymore because I had to steal away – I had a home in Kozienice and I had…I received some letters still and they told me…my father wrote to me constantly…why I’m not coming home. I should come home. So I said to myself, “Well, that’s it. That’s enough to…to be independent. I’d better get out of here while I still can – I’m alive.” So I heard in somewhere that they have some people what come from other towns with passports, but they get money for it. They bring passports and they smuggle you out from ghetto…from the ghetto, and that was already 1941. So it was, I think, it was around May, I finally made contact with a man what does that and he wanted 600 zlotys so he had a passport which was approximately my age – and a watchmaker too – so everything fit the right description. So he says, “That’ll be good for you.” So the way – first of all – we had to get out, smuggle out from the ghetto. That’s what we did in the middle of the night and the police, the Polish police with the Jewish police. There were Jewish police guarding the wall inside the ghetto. There were Polish police guarding the wall outside the ghetto and then the SS guarding the gates all over – around. So you had to bribe the Jewish police – you had to bribe the Polish police. So that guy…he took care…the guy what you paid him the money – he took care of that. So what happened is…it was around one o’clock, we picked a place, he knew all the while the weakest place…not so much police, concentrate at that particular place.
PRINCE: Was this day or night?
LENGA: It was in the night time…in the night time…dark. He picked especially a dark night when the moon wasn’t out at all. It was real dark. And he went to that place, it was buildings, all of them standing there…ruins, bombed, you know…bombed. So we went in those buildings and we stayed there. We went in the daytime in the ghetto. We stayed there until about one o’clock midnight…after midnight. And after midnight, the policeman that was bribed, he gave us a whistle that it’s safe…that the SS moved away that minute so we can jump over the wall. So we jumped over the wall. It was eight of us…eight people, including the guy what made the…
PRINCE: That was going with you?
LENGA: Yeah – what made the transaction with us.
PRINCE: Men and women?
LENGA: It was…it was, I think, it was six men, two women. Yeah, it was two women. And we jumped over – as soon as we jumped over, we run into another ruin the other side of the ghetto and we stayed there…hidden…in the other ruin. The building that was also bombed, but it was on the outside of the ghetto.
PRINCE: Was it a vacant room?
LENGA: It was a vacant, yeah, you know…bombed. All was left was a skeleton, you know, burned out. It was left only a skeleton. A hiding place was enough – you couldn’t see from the street what it is. A rubble, a bunch of bricks. You know how it is those buildings. So we were hiding there from about one o’clock until about seven o’clock in the morning. Seven o’clock in the morning, he had made out with a guy, a coachman, what has those horses with the coach or the…like a taxi now. You know what they call in English – the cabs, you know – but it wasn’t like…
PRINCE: Hansom cab – horse drawn?
LENGA: Yeah, horse drawn. And he was a Polack, you know…Pole. And we got into him and soon as we got in he made up with him to pay him five zlotys to take us to the station, to the railroad station.
PRINCE: What would that be in American money?
LENGA: Well, who knows now.
PRINCE: What was it then?
LENGA: Then it was about four, five zlotys was a dollar. So that’s what the agreement was. Now the passport was good only now in the ghetto. We no supposed to be in the ghetto. Soon, soon the law said after you went into the ghetto, you can never leave it. If a Jew is in the ghetto, you could be from another town, but soon as you came into the Warsaw ghetto and if you left the Warsaw ghetto, then you are shot. Now that passport was all right to go to Warsaw, but not get in the ghetto, as a Jew, but go in the ghetto. In other words, what happened is like this. My passport stated that I am especially allowed to go to Warsaw because I have to buy materials for watches which I fix for the Wehrmacht. Being I fix those watches for the Wehrmacht, I’m allowed to go to Warsaw and buy those parts. But I’m not allowed to go into the ghetto. If I would go into the ghetto and then come out from the ghetto, then I violated the ordinance and I’d have to be shot!
PRINCE: So once you went out…
LENGA: So when I was out from the ghetto, then I was safe, that is, if they don’t find out that I had a false passport. So that cab driver told him that he wants a hundred zlotys for each head, after we were already inside. He was driving with us already, you know. He said to take us to the station. He says, “If you’re not going to give me a hundred zlotys for a head, I’m going to take you to the gendarmerie, to the SS.” So you see the leader, our leader, wasn’t a smart man, too. Now in a case like that, I would promise him I would do it. I’ll give you a hundred till he takes us to the station…in the station he couldn’t do nothing to him. You know, it was his word against his. He said, “Where did you found…find the Jews?”. I found them outside the ghetto. Right?
PRINCE: Mmmmmm.
LENGA: We could have said that he didn’t found us and that we came to the station, and that’s it. So what, they couldn’t have…and we could have told them that was his mistake. But he said, “No, you told me you’d take five zlotys a head and that’s what I’m going to give you.” So he went and turned right away towards the SS.
PRINCE: He…he did what?
LENGA: He turned…
PRINCE: He turned the cab?
LENGA: He turned the cab towards the SS – the direction of the SS instead of to take us to the Union Station. So he turned us in a different direction and sure enough, a patrol came right away with horses and two SS came riding toward us with two horses and he stopped and told the…JUDEN…that’s all he had to do. So they took us, they told him to drive us all the way to the headquarters and they took us in…into the headquarters and they told us to undress (TALKS VERY QUIETLY)…completely naked. They beat the hell out of us. They interrogated each one separate (PAUSES) and one guy, I tell you, I felt so sorry for that guy. He was about in his 50’s but he had a passport that he’s 20 years old.
LENGA: 20 years old! And they took him under interrogation. They said, “How can you be 22 or 23 years old the way you look?” And every time they asked a question, they beat him…hit him. And if they would have caught, or if he would have told them the truth, what’s going on, we would have all been shot. And finally he was smart enough to know what to do. So they still insisted – so finally he says, “When I was born, I didn’t have a father…my mother, I was about eight days old – my mother died. And I was raised just from the people, but they never knew me and I didn’t know them. And when I was ready to go to the service, to the military service, they finally asked me how old I am. And I didn’t know how old I am because I never have a birth certificate. I didn’t have anything but I was looking good, and looking young so they made an estimate. They took me – they asked me – one said can I be 25 or can I be 30 so they made it that I am 23…whatever it said there. And that’s what they put it up accordingly.” They took it – they bought it!
PRINCE: They bought it?
LENGA: Yeah. They let him go. They let him out. Of course they went through with everybody, you know. With me, they didn’t have much to go through.

Tape 1 - Side 2 (Prince)

The reason was the passport and the age was the right age and it also said a watchmaker, which I was a watchmaker, too. They start to go through my clothes and my pockets. They found old materials for watch repairs so they believed me that I am what I am. Of course my real passport was hidden in my clothes – in my overcoat – in the lining underneath which I tried how much possible it is to cover up that they shouldn’t go through with it. And then they beat me up…not too bad…they gave me a few smacks over my face and over my head. And then they told me to run. And I ran down…there were on the second floor and I run down the steps to the yard. And I say, “Where’s my clothes?” He said, “We’ll give it to you.” And they threw it through the window…down…all my clothes, down on the yard. So I got dressed, in a hurry, took about two minutes (LAUGHTER) and put on what I could…however I could…I didn’t button up. I just went and I started to run towards Union Station. And then I came to Union Station – I was the last one – they kept me till the last and when they saw me coming, they were very happy that the whole group is together.
PRINCE: How did you get away? Took a train?
LENGA: Oh yeah. Then we got the train there at Union Station. We waited and the train came. We got on the train and that’s it! We proceed to Radom and at Radom I had to give back that passport what I used and I departed from that group and I took a bus to go home to Kozienice.
And I came in to Kozienice, I was so scared to go…even home…from the bus station. So I stayed in the bus station and I found somebody what I knew and I told them to go to my home and tell them that I’m here waiting and they should come and get me. So my brother came running and he says, (SPEAKS WITH FEELING) “Come on…it’s all right – you don’t have to be afraid.” And I was so terrified, I was afraid to walk on the street. A German might see me and catch me again…what had happened.
PRINCE: Were there Germans all over?
LENGA: Oh, there were Germans all over the city constantly, walking, patroling. Whenever you saw a German you had to take off your hat for him and step aside so let him go. If he walked on the sidewalk, you’re supposed to walk down on the road so he can pass by. And you have to take off your hat for him. Finally, I got in the house. Of course, everybody was happy to see me and I told him what I went through and everybody cried and they said, “Well, it’s not so bad here than in Warsaw, yet. But they’re talking about establishing a ghetto here, too.” And life about…till about September was half the best…was much more food to eat. We still had our store and we still had, you know, a lot of work, to fix watches, so all of us helping my father in the store and there was plenty food to eat…till the ghetto came. Then when the ghetto came, we had to move out, give up the store, and we had to move in to the ghetto quarters.
PRINCE: How did they let you know that this was going to happen?
LENGA: Oh they put up ordinances on the walls and they announced it on the public speaking places.
PRINCE: Was everybody frightened?
LENGA: And they notified the Jews there was a Judenrat formed which they cooperate with them and they, they had…they sent all the communications to the Judenrat and the Judenrat sent out all the ordinances and the new laws to each individual citizen.
PRINCE: Harry, explain what a Judenrat is.
LENGA: Well, a Judenrat was a body of the Jews which supposed to be as leaders and responsible for the Jewish community. And they had meetings and the Germans usually came all the time to them and told them what they wanted. Like, if they needed, let’s say, 50 people for work. They use to come to the Judenrat and say, “You have to deliver.” So they sent out the police, and the police went from house-to-house and grabbed 50 people and delivered to them 50 people for hard labor.
PRINCE: And the police were who?
LENGA: They were Jews. They had a special kind of uniform and they were promised they’ll be treated different than any other Jew.
PRINCE: Was this something that they volunteered for?
LENGA: Yeah – most of them they volunteered.
PRINCE: Were you surprised at certain people?
LENGA: Absolutely, absolutely. In fact, we had quite a few of them which we, all of us hated. They did more than they were supposed to. They tried to show that they are real loyal to the Germans. We of course after what we went through later that was uh, uh…compared nothing. And when the ghetto was formed, then life started to gotten much worse. We couldn’t go out anymore from the ghetto and food was very scarce, but still the poor people had a harder time to survive. And we tried to organize relief agencies so we can support the people what don’t have any food. We formed a hospital. The Jewish doctors tried to work with the sick people and people volunteered into the hospital. And how much medicine, of course, there wasn’t medicine enough. They didn’t want to give us medicine or nothing. And it was just how it happened – it broke out epidemics of typhoid fever. It broke out in the ghetto and a lot of people died.
PRINCE: Was the…was this organizing done through the Judenrat, or was this done by small groups in different…?
LENGA: It was done by small groups. Of course, the Judenrat tried to give subsidies whenever they could. But it…we would just have waited for the Judenrat, what they will do, things would have been much worse.
PRINCE: How did you get through? How did your family get through?
LENGA: Well, our family, like I said, it wasn’t so bad. Because my father was the only watchmaker in town. And the Polish population, and also the Germans needed us. So they opened – through our window where we were located in the ghetto – they opened the window they could come to window and hand us in the work…the watches. And we fix them and by the window they picked them up too. And also the Polish population if they came…so we didn’t ask for money – the ones that we knew we didn’t ask for the money. The Germans they…whatever they wanted to pay – they paid. If they didn’t want to pay, we didn’t ask them. If they ask, “What do I owe you?” We say, “Whatever you want to give me,” it was all right, and if they didn’t want to give nothing, it was all right too. But for the Polish…if we did something, we ask, “Please bring me some flour, bring us eggs, bring us whatever…potatoes, or.” That’s how we were trading.
PRINCE: And the Poles did that?
LENGA: They did it, yeah.
PRINCE: What did happen? How did the Polish people act toward you?
LENGA: Well, a very small percent…percentage of the Polish people…they helped, tried to help…a very small percentage. But the most of them didn’t. They always looked for ways how to get away – take away from us whatever they could. They came out and told us stories what happened in other towns, so you better give it before the Germans take it away from you – give it to us. That’s the way they talked to us.
PRINCE: Let me ask you something about the food. You kept kosher…
LENGA: Well, yeah.
PRINCE: Before, so what did you do now?
LENGA: In the ghetto, that was a very hard thing to, to…have meat. The meat was a luxury. You mostly lived on chickens, or geese, or duck, but meat was not available at all. And a farmer came into town, like I said, he came over to us – what was a tailor – they had some trades which they made specially accessible for the Polish population. And that’s how they smuggled through a chicken, or flour, or some eggs. And that’s how it was. And some of them traded for other things…like salt, like kerosene, like any other thing. But it used to be in the ghetto still yet.
PRINCE: How did they define the ghetto? Was it just patrols of Germans?
LENGA: Well, first they made a wall.
PRINCE: They made a wall?
LENGA: Oh, they made a wall around…
PRINCE: Out of bricks?
LENGA: No. It wasn’t of bricks. It was of wire, barbed wire. And they made only one opening to go in and to get on out in the ghetto. And it was a big gate and they kept that gate locked up and two Germans, they’re constantly guarding that gate.
PRINCE: Did anybody try and leave?
LENGA: Some of them tried to leave…to smuggle in things, you know, in the night time. Of course many of them were shot. They caught them…they killed them.
PRINCE: How was your…how was your, or, your emotions? How was your…how did you feel? How did you help each other with your…with your feelings?
LENGA: Well, we knew that something good will never come out of this. They are planning something. We heard some rumors going round that the ghetto is only made in preparation to keep us together, close together, under their control. So when they are ready to grab us and destroy us, they’ll be able to do that…we’ll be in one compact place. And we’ll be accessible to them and any time they want….we knew that already…it was going round rumors already. But of course we still didn’t know that all the transports what they take in trains and took away…they said they took to Russian territory – the Russian war broke out – they attacked Russia and they took over the territories in Russia in the Ukranian. And they said they’re taking us to re-settle there and to work. And most of us believed that and we knew that something was…was going to happen. And life got everyday…it got harder to get by.
PRINCE: In what way?
LENGA: In each way. They grabbed more people for work. In the beginning they used to keep them in town…working. Later they used to send us out to other places with trucks. In the beginning, they kept us a day. In the morning they took us, they brought us back in the evening…back home. Later, they decided to keep us there all week – sometimes two weeks. Then they started to form camps and kept us in camps there. Slowly…it was everything was organized to fool us that we wouldn’t understand what was going to happen. Like this week they made that we should stay in a camp the whole week. They grabbed about 300 people and they send them out and they kept them at that camp for about three weeks. We figured, okay, they needed them to work three weeks. Work was nothing…sometimes they just told us to pick up rocks or trees or lumber from one place and put it here and that way we’re going one day. And the next day they told us to take the same lumber what we brought over and the rocks or bricks or whatever it was and put in back in the same place where we took it yesterday from – just to keep us at hard labor. And after that, they started to keep us longer at camps already. And that’s how it was, constantly not to think that it will come the real moment – and they’re going to take us away to destroy us – and we’ll still think maybe they’ll take us somewhere else to work…for work.
PRINCE: When you got back in the evening…in your home…with your parents, and your mother – what did you talk about?
LENGA: Well, we told them what was happening to us. And of course, they felt, you know, our hands are bleeding from hard work and we were real tired and we ate something and we went back to bed to go to sleep. And of course the next day we tried to hide so they shouldn’t catch us again. We were lucky if they didn’t.
PRINCE: Where could you hide?
LENGA: Well, we usually tried to go up to the attic and hide there and take away, you know, that ladder that nobody can go up there. But eventually the police…the Jewish police they have, eventually, they knew. They came in the house – they didn’t find us in the house – so they would look somewhere else to find, and finally they found the hiding place up there. We couldn’t run out in the ghetto because it’s the death penalty. So the only where we had to hide was in our…in our home or somebody else’s home – where they knew nobody there and young people which were able to work. They wanted only people what can work.
PRINCE: Did people – were they shooting people in this particular ghetto?
LENGA: No – not…they were shooting for any little things, ordinances which were not obeyed. For example – if you walked out in the ghetto, they killed you! If you didn’t turn over your fur – if you had a fur coat, you didn’t turn it over and they came in and they searched the house and they found a fur coat – they killed the whole family. Shot them right away in the house and left them there…laying. Or if they found contraband merchandise where you’re not supposed to have, like for an example, they gave an ordinance everybody what has coffee should bring it to the German authorities – to the Judenrat – and they will give it to the Germans. If they come in, let’s say, in the middle of the night, let’s say 12 o’clock – two o’clock. They knocked on your house, they broke in the door, they came in, they start to search your house. They’re looking for arms, they say, they’re looking for arms. They knew we don’t have arms – nobody have arms. But whatever they found – they found a little bit of coffee…just if they found (TALKS WITH FEELING) a little tiny piece of paper with a little bit of coffee in it – that was a reason to kill!
PRINCE: Since you didn’t have any guns and you couldn’t resist in a physical way, give me…tell me if there were any examples of passive resistance.
LENGA: Oh, we had a lot of passive resistance. I imagine that each one of us, whoever lived in the ghetto, put up some kind of a passive resistance.
Now, I remember the first things when we came in to Kozienice, of course, I wasn’t at that time in Kozienice, I was in Warsaw, they burned the synagogue. There was two houses of worship and they burned that too. They assembled the most honored Jews and my father included, because he was at that time a member of the Judenrat – and they told them that we have to bring about 20,000 zlotys in ransom and assembled them and they lighted the synagogue and they told them to take out all the books. Before they light the fire in the synagogue…in the worship houses…to take out all the books and throw them in. They had a fire outside already burning, and throw them and burn them. Then they told them to take out the Torah scrolls in the synagogue and they asked for the rabbi. He walked over and said, “I’m the rabbi.” So he said, “You take the scrolls and throw them in the fire.” So he took the scrolls and he went forward to the fire, but when he came to the fire, he stopped. And the SS men commanded him, “Throw it in…throw it in” and he didn’t move. He didn’t do nothing. So finally he came over and hit him over the head and pushed him into the fire! So he fell into the fire. Of course the Torah scrolls fell out and descended to the fire and a few Jews who were standing close, grabbed him, picked him up and took him out of the fire. Then the SS men told him to dance around the fire and sing happy songs.
PRINCE: Happy songs?
LENGA: They they lighted up the synagogue – they throw gasoline – and they light it, and the fire was burning and they told them to dance! (PAUSES) And that’s how it…that’s how it ended. And they cut all their beards, all the Jews, including my father. And when that happened, my father came home from the last meeting what he went there, and he said, “I’m resigning. I don’t care if they’ll kill me. I don’t want to be in that kind of assembly…to be a stooge for the Germans. Whatever they’ll want me to do for them, I’ll have to do it.” He really said that.
PRINCE: That is passive. That is a lot of resistance.
LENGA: And he resigned it. And they threatened him, that they’ll have to tell them that he resigned it. He said, “I don’t care if they kill me, I’d rather be killed than do the things what they’ll ask me to do.”
PRINCE: And he…
LENGA: He resigned and thank God it happened so that somebody else right away, you know, filled his post.
PRINCE: Gladly.
LENGA: Gladly…he was, he was, happy to do that.
PRINCE: And they took no action?
LENGA: No, they took no action. I don’t think they even notified the German authorities about it, because they didn’t have any need, because they had someone in. About 80 percent of the people after that resigned…the ones that were in Judenrat before the war…they couldn’t do it, but of course it came to ones, you know, they are not so high-class people. And they became the leaders.
PRINCE: So you must have been very proud of your father.
PRINCE: Now, so you said…life went on for a few months and it wasn’t so bad in the ghetto – and then when did it change?
LENGA: Well, it started to get all the time worse. Like I said, it broke out that an epidemic – typhoid fever epidemic, and people start to die by the hundreds. There was no medicine. There was no way…in fact…I myself got sick, too. Luckily, fortunately, and thank God, I survived. And it wasn’t long after that, it was in ’42, they finally get a decree that all of the Jews will be settled out in the eastern front…the eastern front. They had new places to work. But they didn’t give a day. They didn’t say when but we knew that it’s going to happen because it happened in other towns already. They just emptied it out, the whole town. They took everybody and load them on trains and took them away, and never was anything heard about it. And we didn’t know actually what’s going on. But whoever wanted to believe – there were optimist and pessimist. The pessimists, they usually, you know, tried to explain that its death. They take us, those people, and they destroy us but mostly the optimists – they didn’t believe this, including my father. They said, “It’s impossible. I can’t believe it, that human beings can do things like that.” We were talking about that they were doing this, but he didn’t want to believe it…till the last minute. In fact, he had a chance to go with us to that labor camp and he refused. He said, “I want to be with my people…wherever my people go – I go.”
PRINCE: I want to ask you about your mother at this time. She had always…
LENGA: Well, I had a stepmother. My mother, my real mother, she passed away when I was four years old by having a childbirth. I had a stepmother. In fact she was a very (PAUSE) uh, how do you say, dedicated, dedicated person to help people. She used to go around to the sick and try to help…heal. She knew all the remedies, you know. And somebody had things, she knew how to put the blankets, you know. I don’t know if you know – it used to be when somebody had a cold, they used to put little glasses on the back. Did you ever have it? Used to be remedies like that…or strip out a throat and she knew those things – so she used to go around. Not for money, just to help. In the hospital, she used to help out with the sick people. She was a volunteer.
PRINCE: So she would help people around…
LENGA: Oh yes, absolutely. In fact, she even helped…she even ran out of …of the ghetto – in the night time. We were against it to let her do that, in order to be able to conduct some business.
PRINCE: What kind of business?
LENGA: Well, for example, if it happened that a customer let us know he couldn’t come – he hadn’t the opportunity – but he let us know through somebody that he would like to buy, let’s say, a golden coin or something like that…a golden chain, you know, what he wouldn’t want to come…he was afraid so if she can come to his house to deliver – he will do it. And she took the risk. We didn’t like it. We were against it and my father didn’t want to go…he couldn’t because, you know, they would know him very well. Even the Polish population. He was the only jeweler in the town, so everybody knew him. So of course if they see him outside the ghetto, any…any Polack will be sure right away he is a Jew working outside. But my mother, they didn’t know, you know, so good. And she didn’t look like a typical Jewish woman either in her looks. So she took a chance and many times she walked out of the ghetto.
PRINCE: So she was also responsible…
LENGA: Yeah. She made…she made…she sold some…that’s how we got some money to be able to buy food.
PRINCE: So she was responsible – she helped there and she was also responsible, I suppose, for seeing there was food and…
LENGA: Absolutely.
PRINCE: Watering the soup or whatever.
LENGA: Whatever, yeah. She had to cook and she had her mother too, a paralyzed mother. She took care of her, too. And it’s a funny thing – the mother, she was paralyzed, she took care of her all by herself – all the time – she washed her. She couldn’t go down to the bathroom – she had to wash her, clean her, and take care of her. And she took her to the train. Can you imagine that? She found, we don’t know about it, but somebody told us about it – we didn’t see it…how it happened. But it came the aussiedlung, the transfer out to clean out the whole town from the Jews to the train…my mother organized a wagon with a horse from somebody she rented and she put her mother on that wagon so she can go to the…to the station. Because all the sick…she knew, she heard what happen to the sick, because they said everybody has to go on…whoever stays, whoever is not going on will be shot right in their bedroom…what they did. So she didn’t want her to be shot in her bed so she took a wagon with a horse from somebody who was in the ghetto – and she probably must have paid – you know, people told us later those two what escaped – they came back and told us that stuff. And she took her to the train. In fact, they told us also too that my father was completely undressed – not a thing. They searched – they know he’s a jeweler and they thought he had gold with him and everything else. So they told him, “TO GIVE.” And you know what my father did. Everything that he had, a day before, he took everything together and he packed everything and he gave it to us. He knew we are going away to that camp. And we told him, I says, “Dad you can’t give us everything – the tools, watches, and rings.” You know, whatever he had, and he gave it and he said (SPEAKS QUIETLY) “I don’t need it – you have a chance – you’re still young – no matter what will happen to me – I won’t be able to use it, but you’re young. You might have a use for it…so you take it and keep it!”
PRINCE: And that really obviously helped you later on.
LENGA: It did help. And I should tell you. I can tell you a story about how much it helped us by having that. He bought our lives many times because of that.
PRINCE: So he helped save your life.
LENGA: That’s exactly true.
PRINCE: Before I get away from the ghetto – this may seem like an odd question, but was there any humor?
LENGA: Well in the ghetto…in the ghetto itself, even it was deep tragedy we were constantly living under fear and what tomorrow will bring. But yet you still was telling jokes, you know. They used to have a joke to say, “Don’t worry, tomorrow you’ll probably go on the train without having to pay for a ticket.” So that means, you know…you know, that…that’ll mean the de…
PRINCE: Deported
LENGA: Deportation, right. And they used to say – there was a funeral – and they used to say, “Hey” and they knocked on the box – “Give me your bonus…you know, your ration card, because you won’t need it anymore – I can use ration card.”
PRINCE: All right. Uh, so you decided to…you and your brothers decided to…
LENGA: All three of us we left…the last night…it was in Sukkot, or the first day of Sukkot it was evening and we know that the next day, it will be for sure, the deportation, and we left. Of course we asked my father again to go with us and he didn’t…wanted to go…he refused. Of course, one thing that was involved – it was my mother (my stepmother) and my father and her sister stayed with us – and the mother. So my mother said she won’t leave and go away from her mother. Her sister said she can’t go away and leave the mother with her sister. My father said, “I can’t go away and leave my wife with her mother.” And that’s how it was. One felt responsible for the other person. But all of them agreed that we three should leave. Let’s take a chance. Of course, we didn’t know what’s going to happen but let’s take a chance. You’ve been working there – you’ve been registered in that camp. We were registered in that camp because we worked there before. Like I told you before, they called us and they took us to that camp. We used to work in that camp so they know – so we could come there, stay and work. And that’s what happened. The next morning we found out that the whole city was surrounded with Gestapo and they didn’t let nobody in – and they didn’t let nobody out (PAUSES). They exported the whole town into the trains – into the wagons and there was not a single Jew left (SPEAKS SOFTLY).
PRINCE: What did you do? I mean, how did you…
LENGA: It was terrible. We cried the whole – everybody in that camp on that day, that morning, that Sunday morning (PAUSES). We were standing and crying. We didn’t know what to do. And of course, it was right away rumors that they’re going to come after us, too. And it was different kind of rumors going round – some of them said, “It’s true, they’re going to work there” and some of them said, “That is the end.” But we felt that we won’t see them again, anymore.
PRINCE: And you…you weren’t positive of where they were going, or you just…
LENGA: We still hoped – we had still hope maybe, you know, until what happened is…suddenly two of them escaped somehow and came back to our camp. That was about 10 or 12 days later and they told us the whole story what happened.
PRINCE: Were those the two men…?
LENGA: That’s the two men what came…what came back.
PRINCE: Tell the story.
LENGA: Well, they said at the camp – the train drove in to Treblinka, and it stopped. There was a big concentration camp there, and they start shooting. The SS stepped out and start to make a lot of noise with their guns and shooting into the air and also into the wagons, and open the doors and say…everybody, “Austreten, Austreten,” to get out from the wagons. And everybody got out from the wagons and the train and they told them to undress. And they handed them soap and they told them they’re going to take them into a shower. Now those two (LONG PAUSE) they were…when everybody was undressed…before they start to undress…they took out about 150 men, young men, for work. And their work was to throw in the clothes what the men…what the people took off…back into the same wagons…the clothes.
PRINCE: Back into the trains?
LENGA: Right. So what they saw is, those two, while they were throwing in the clothes – they say…they took the other people, naked people, already out and they took them to a big…big chamber. It was big, like a barn…a big barn, you know, like a…it was about two or three blocks long. And it had two big doors, you know, when you open those big doors…
PRINCE: Like a big hangar.
LENGA: That’s right – like a big hangar is right. And they pushed them in. They were standing, the SS, with sticks and the guns. And they hit them…they hit them…by the door they hit the people so everybody was escaping into deep…in to fill it in…till it was so packed that nobody else could go in anymore. Then they locked the doors. (PAUSE) And they saw – there was still working – throwing that clothes into the wagons – then they saw…they went up on the roof…and they put in the gas – on the top! (HESITATES – SOFTLY SPEAKS) And they told us the voices…the noises…what they heard from that gas chamber…from the outside, was terrible! They said it took about five or 10 minutes and after that they opened the doors and they went in with masks. Oh they had already had people, also Jews – they took out the bodies and threw them into ditches – and put gas on them and burned them!
LENGA: These men saw that. So when they saw that, they decided they won’t finish their job. And they told their co-workers that they were close to them, they said, “We’ve decided we’re going to jump in the truck and cover us with the clothes.”
PRINCE: Back into the train?
LENGA: Into the train. If you want to come with us, come too. So they took a chance. They jumped in and they were covered. They covered them with the clothes. The train went back…back to Poland. And on the way they managed to jump out of that train and they came back to Kozienice and they came to our camp. They told us the whole story. Then we knew exactly what’s happening but of course, it was already too late. We couldn’t save anymore, you know, our town. But they still had other cities which they, you know, didn’t take care of and that was going, according to the map, and each day they took care of another city. So how much possible it was through the Polish farmers, if somebody knew somebody, you know, we told them to let the peole know if it’s possible what’s going on.
PRINCE: I would like…I keep thinking of what was going on in your mind besides the shock…the horror…the disbelief…the sadness…being scared – you must have of….
LENGA: Well, we knew only one thing. That the ones, here now, we won’t survive. They want…they want to kill us all. They want to destroy us all. We didn’t see no possibility, any possibility, to try to save ourselves, because it was impossible. We were living between people which, just didn’t care. They were glad that the Germans are destroying us. It’s simple like that.
I remember, I had a farmer what I knew very well – he used to come to us all the time and used to do business – and that was very close to that camp…he lived near that camp. And he, one time, walked by and he saw me working by the ditch and he said, “Oh, I have a clock what I would like you to fix it for me.” And he says, “If you can make it to my house – I live not too far away…I’ll give you something to eat if you’ll fix the clock for me.” Now listen to that. And I went there, I did…I ran over and I fixed his clock. He gave me to eat and I also asked him some more for bread for my brothers, and he gave me that, too. But I told him I would like if he can hide us. I told him – I gave him a proposition. I says, “I’ll give you everything what I have – just hide us somewhere underneath the ground or something like that. And I guarantee you after we survive…after the war,”…He says, “I won’t hide a Jew under the risk, you know, that I’ll get killed.” Now, that was considered a nice guy because most of them…some of them…they went right away and reported you to the Germans. But he didn’t. He was honest enough to say that he didn’t want to do it. So…
PRINCE: No help at all.
LENGA: There was no help at all. And if you got out somewhere…got out somewhere and if they saw you, they right away reported you to the Germans. They caught you, and they handed you over to the Germans. They got a pound…two pounds of sugar for it – a price – for a Jewish life, and many, many collected it.
PRINCE: So there you are, working in the camp and you still have all the things that your father had given you.
LENGA: Right.
PRINCE: Where did you keep them?
LENGA: Well, I, we, kept them…in the beginning we didn’t have a barracks there, enough, they didn’t have enough barracks to house us in those barracks, so we use to sleep outside during the night, and that was already October. It was already chilly. But we used to have our pernes in the house and we took with us.
PRINCE: You took what?
LENGA: The pernes. You know those pernes – the covers on a bed where you cover yourself with in the night. You know what a pernes is? You know, a down…down…
PRINCE: Quilt, uh huh.
LENGA: Yeah. And we had about three of those, you know. My mother make sure we take this with us too, and it was very handy.
PRINCE: Did you have suitcases?
LENGA: We had suitcases…we had, you know, sacks. We packed all of our things in sacks, whatever we could, you know, packed together. And we had our tools, too. Now this helped us a lot, too, later. And we stayed there about three weeks in that camp. And after that, about a certain day, we were at that place of work, the Gestapo came with somebody else…some civilians, and they said that they are going to take us to another camp. And we said, “Oh, that’s the end of it. They’re probably going to take us on a train to Treblinka.” So they made a roll call. They put us out and counted us and selected us, the strong ones they took, and five tried to escape while we were in the roll call. All of us thought that they’re going to take us to the train and probably send us to Treblinka, too. So five boys jumped out and jumped the fences, and they escaped.
PRINCE: Standing in roll call, they escaped?
LENGA: In the roll call, you know. They were in the back row. They lay down on the ground, and they were crawling so. And they passed the fence and then when they were already out the fence, the Gestapo noticed them, and they started to shoot at them and they brought them all back…dead!
PRINCE: As an example…
LENGA: So that’s, you know, that’s what it is. You saw that there’s no way how you can save yourself…it’s impossible. They were already out…free. So luckily they didn’t take us to the train. They took us on trucks, and they took us to another camp.
PRINCE: Now the camp you were in, was Wolanov?
LENGA: That’s the…the new camp what they took us to – it was Wolanov. That camp that we were at before was actually not organized at all. It was just a…not an organized camp yet which had all the facilities what a camp should have. It was just…it wasn’t permanent. It was just for the time being.
PRINCE: So this was 1942.
LENGA: That was 19…that was 1942. Now in Wolanov we came in, that was already a real organized camp with barracks and…
PRINCE: Did they take you by train, or…?
LENGA: They took us by trucks.
PRINCE: Trucks.
LENGA: Trucks, yeah. Now we took only what we could carry with us but all the big bundles, like the pernes and all the things, we couldn’t take it because it was too much, and we figured…we were 90 percent sure…they’re going to take us to the train.

Tape 2 - Side 1 (Prince)

The only thing then in that camp, it was an organized camp, like I said, and we…it was more…we had already something to eat and warm food, like potato soup – something like that which in the other camp – they never gave us any, you know, warm food. They only promised us that later they’ll build it up and make it, but they didn’t have a chance – they took us away from there. But in Wolanov was already an established camp, like I said. And it was hard work, but we managed somehow until what happened in November. They brought us over in October and in November, there was a tragic day for us. And that day they said we don’t go, we don’t have to go to work. We knew right away something is going to happen. And SS came – a lot of them we saw, and the Ukraines – the SD they called them, especial Commando Killers.
PRINCE: They were Ukrainians?
LENGA: They called them Jew Killers, yeah. And they assembled us. They made a roll call. Everybody had to step out, and they took out 117 men from us…women…children, whoever was there…young children, whatever they found, and strong and healthy people, and sick people. And I (PAUSE) I recall that, before we went out, my brother didn’t…hadn’t shaved for several days and I said to him, “Mylech, you shave right now.” He said, “Oh, come on.” I said, “No, you shave – you won’t go out till you shave.” And finally he listened to us and he shaved. And he had a coat, he worked very hard and had to carry a very heavy material…the iron, steel railroad things…
LENGA: Ties – and his coat was all torn up. And I told him, I says, “You don’t go out in that coat.” It was cold. He says, “What – if I go out like that, it’s so cold, I have to have something. It’s really cold.” So I says, “No, I’ll tell you what I’ll do – we’ll turn the coat up…inside out…and you put it on. It won’t look, you know, torn apart.” And do you know, that saved his life!
PRINCE: By looking presentable?
LENGA: That’s right. You know they picked up all the ones that clothes was torn, and the ones that they were not shaved. They were beaten up or, you know, cut their faces from hard work – you know how it is. And thank God I was smart enough that minute…
PRINCE: How did it come to you?
LENGA: I don’t know. It just came to me…just like that. Now Morris tell you that…he remembers that too.
PRINCE: It’s like you had to stay on top of everything.
LENGA: I don’t know. I, I felt like it…it was given to me, the divine, ummm….responsibility. And they cooperated with me like with that shaving. He refused it, but when I start insist to do it, and of course Morris agreed with me too. Somehow I remember – you see, I had to shave everyday. I already had the job of the watchmaker. When they took us to work, the Commander, they took us out to the place there to work – that was a Hager-Heine place…
PRINCE: A what?
LENGA: In fact, I heard that Hager-Heine is here, too.
PRINCE: What is that?
LENGA: Hager-Heine – it was a construction company, a big construction company. And that was the place, I used to work there, at that place. And somehow I had a chance to talk to a foreman and I told him that I am a watchmaker, so that foreman told that German that he’s a watchmaker. As soon as I told him I’m a watchmaker, he called me in. He was an architect and he had an office, a warm office, and he called me in and he told me he has a watch and he would like to know if I could fix it for him. Remember I told you a story about another story…that’s a different story.
LENGA: That’s in Wolanov – the other was in Starachovice. So he took me in and I sit down and I was working there for watches every day I came since then I worked there for him…his watches. I fixed his watches and I was inside. So I shaved every morning before I got up – I especially got up very early to shave, you know – to look presentable like sitting in an office. When you work outside at hard labor, you don’t have to…you know…have to shave every day. So my brother he worked (TALKS TO HIMSELF MORE OR LESS)…what kind of work did he do? Yeah, he worked outside. He was carrying those steel railroad tracks. So it just came to me, I knew, we all knew that something is going to happen – we didn’t know what. Anyway, they selected 117…
PRINCE: And took them…
LENGA: And took them, right. They didn’t take him, they just told us to go back into the barracks and we did this. And they killed them all out!
PRINCE: How did they kill them?
LENGA: With machine guns. They lined them up. They strafed them out…like that. A few survived, by miracle, a little boy, he was about 10 or 11 years old. He jumped into a barrel…there was a barrel.
PRINCE: A bell?
PRINCE: A barrel?
LENGA: Yeah. There was a barrel standing and he saw it and he jumped into that barrel and he was sitting inside, and he survived because of that. Some of them fell down, just from the shock, and dead bodies fell on him. He survived, too. About five or six survived.
PRINCE: But then when they took the bodies, didn’t they see that someone…
LENGA: No. They didn’t took…you see they killed them all out. They shot – they thought they were dead. It was already evening, and they went back in the morning they came – so by that time already the ones they digged themselves out and they came over to us.
PRINCE: Explain this camp to me because you…you still had things of your own – that you could shave – this camp was different?
LENGA: Well, we had our…
PRINCE: And you also said there were women and children.
LENGA: There were two camps, yeah, there were two camps. There was a man’s camp and there was a woman’s camp. They were separated but they were not too far away from each other. And the women, they used to have their children with them, you know, still what they brought. That camp was organized before our town was taken away. That was already in existence about eight-nine months before. Now what happened there – that camp was created there because they had there the Luftwaffe – Wehrmacht was stationed there and they had barracks a little farther away, and they need people to work for them. You see, that’s why they organized that camp.
PRINCE: I’m surprised there were still children at that age.
LENGA: In that time, till that selection, but that selection – they finished off all the children. They took all the children out…they killed them all out, except like I said, a few of them (SPEAKS SOFTLY) survived through a miracle.
LENGA: That was our saddest day in that camp what had happened. After that, every second month, they came and they made those selections. Of course, we already knew we hide – the children we hide, you know. We were hiding out the children so they shouldn’t be caught. Sometimes they caught them and sometimes they didn’t.
PRINCE: Were there children in the men’s camp, or just in the women’s?
LENGA: In the women’s camp. You know, if they were…if they were, let’s say, young children with the women. If they were boys, let’s say 11 or 12 years – then they were in the men’s camp…with the men. And if they were girls, then they were in the women’s camp.
PRINCE: Uh, you were a young man at the time.
LENGA: Right.
PRINCE: Uh, did you ever have, or ever want, or ever try to have any contact with any of the women?
LENGA: We had not contact. We saw each other, always we used to work, sometimes together, or we used to go over, you know, like a man and a wife – they used to be husband and wife. So she used to stay in the woman’s camp and he…so sometimes if they knew the guard – they used to have Ukrainian guards – you know, the security guards – they used to guard us. So if you knew a guard, you know, he let you to go through.
PRINCE: If you paid him off?
LENGA: If you paid him off, or the policeman Jew there, you know, they used to have Jewish police too. And if you know him you know what I mean, they let you go into the camp to see your wife. But to go in to make romance or something like that, you know, that…you didn’t have that in your mind.
PRINCE: To busy trying…
LENGA: Not too busy…too depressed. You know, you didn’t feel that’s…that’s a part of life anymore. We were not fed that well either, you know, to be able to be in good, healthy condition.
PRINCE: Tell me about the food. How many times of day were you fed?
LENGA: Well in the morning they fed us in the morning. They gave us about a half a quart of coffee, you know, made out of, oh – what you call those…radishes – they (SNAPS FINGERS) oh gosh – they was white.
PRINCE: Radishes?
LENGA: Like radishes…turnips! They burnt the turnip, you know, and that’s what they made coffee out of.
PRINCE: Well, start with a typical day.
LENGA: That’s in the morning, they gave us a half…
PRINCE: How did they wake you?
LENGA: Well in the morning, it was around five o’clock in the morning, each barrack had a Commandant – they used to call them. It was one from us. He used to be responsible to see that everything is clean – that everybody makes their bunk, you know, ready in the morning when they get up. He used to wake us up in the morning, you know, to see that everybody leaves the barracks and goes to work. That was a Commander. And his privilege was – he didn’t have to go to work. He had to stay the whole day there and see that everything is clean and everybody had to respect him. He was not a policeman. Then they had police – Jewish also – from the prisoners, you know, from us. They used to see that we go out, stand up for the roll calls, and we go out to work. Let’s say – that company needs 100 people, so they make sure they have 100 people to send out to that place – they have 200 people to send out to that place. They already knew where is going to where, you know. That was their responsibility. They had a doctor too, supposedly, to help but he was not helping at all. He was Jewish too. They had a hospital, also supposed to help, but…but God forbid if you had to go to the hospital. In fact, I want to come to that too of how I saved my brother Morris from certain death.
PRINCE: In this camp?
LENGA: In this camp, yeah.
PRINCE: Tell now.
LENGA: So, after we had the selection and they killed 117 people that time, the mood quite changed. We realized, you know, that sooner or later will be all finished there. In meanwhile, a typhoid epidemic broke out – typhoid fever. If you will recall, I mentioned that I was sick with typhoid, but I was fortunate, I had the sickness at home and I was treated by doctors with medicine. And my brother suddenly got that sickness, too. Now when you got sick of typhoid, it was the law that the obligation of the doctor, first of all if he found out – he put your name on it of the old ones and he had it over to the Germans. They took them out, and they shot them to death! That’s how they fought the disease. You can imagine my brother got the typhoid and he had 104 fever. He didn’t know what he was talking about, you know, unconscious. And if you didn’t go to work – you see in the morning at six o’clock – everybody had to get up. You got up, you went for your coffee, you got out in the roll call and from the roll call, you went out to work. Then they inspected the barrack and they see if nobody’s there. If anybody was laying in bed, they told them to go down – they said, “He’s sick.” The doctor put his name down and they took him to that “so-called” hospital. When you come back, he was dead already. They took out, everyday, you know, whoever they had…five, 10 people – they shot them. When we came back later, they were gone already. And here was my brother laying. Now, remember, I told you the story about the selection. And there was a German which was the lager commander. You know what that means? He used to come every day, and he was the main guy. And he was the one – he was a murderer – he was a murderer…terrible guy. He did more than he was supposed to, you know…demanded of him.
PRINCE: Extra…
LENGA: Right. So after – when he made that selection of 117, somehow, I don’t know, he found out about me…that I am a watchmaker and I’m working in that place. He probably heard from that German what we was talking about, and I had in my mind, it’s a funny thing sometimes how psychic things work like that. And I said, “God forbid, if they should pick up one of us.” And I told Morris and I told my brother Marcel the same thing. I said, “Listen, if they should pick up one of us, I’ll step out and I’ll tell them that all two of you are watchmakers, too, and maybe we’ll be able to save you.” So thank God, they didn’t pick us up at that time. But after the selection, while the selection was going on, he suddenly takes out a piece of paper – that Lager Commander takes out a piece of paper, and looks at it and says, “The watchmaker which works for Hager-Heine should step out.” (PAUSE) I said, “Oh gosh, that’s it, that’s me.” And I step out. And he says, “From now on you won’t go there anymore to work. You’ll work here in my camp. I’ll bring all the watches to you.” You see he found out – he wanted to be the bigshot, you know, “And you’ll do the watch work here.” So I says, “I have two brothers, they are watchmakers, too.” Just like that. He says, “Call them out.” I called them out. He says, “All three of you from now on won’t go to work – you’ll sit here in the camp and you’ll do watch repairs.
PRINCE: And you still had your father’s things?
LENGA: Yeah. And he calls over the police Commandant and he tells him, “Those three watchmakers – from now on they don’t have to go to work. See to it that they have a place of their own so they can fix the watches that I’ll bring to them.” That was after what was going on – that thing. So when my brother got sick, I was already a watchmaker and he was already supposed to stay in the barrack too, with me. No…no…wait a minute. He wasn’t yet included. It was my older brother, the older brother, I included him. You see, he was a watchmaker, too. But my third brother, Morris, I didn’t include him yet. And we didn’t have yet the separate rooms – we were in the barrack. So, when he got sick – so two days I covered him up and I was sitting in the barrack, you know, and doing watches…fixing watches. So I kept an eye on him, you know. I covered him up and they came in to inspect…I covered him up with the blanket and I made it so that it won’t be shown and was scared to death. And two days had went by and it was all right. I heard…the doctor told me…he already know I was already somebody special, you know, because I was not going to work and fixing watches. So the doctor told me that tomorrow they’re going to come for inspection into the barrack, and there’ll be a real tough inspection. And how did the doctor know you – that was another thing of bravery for me. I went up to the doctor and I told him, I say, “Listen my brother’s sick.” He says, “Oh you fool – why did you tell me?” I said, “I had to tell somebody – you’re the only one left to tell, and you’re the only one I have hope in.” (SPEAKS QUIETLY) He said, “I can’t do nothing.” I says, “I know, but you’ll have to.” He said, “You shouldn’t have told me, because if I know now, I have to put him on the list and if I put him on the list, you know what will happen.” And I said, “No, you won’t put him on the list – not only will you not put him on the list, but you’ll have to go and see him.” He said, “You don’t know what you’re talking.” He said, “I won’t do it – you don’t leave me any alternative, I’ll just have to report him.” That’s exactly the type of conversation that’s going on. I say, “Listen, you know that I have possibilities of talking to the Lager Fuhrer, too. And I know your sister was sick, too. Did you report that? Oh, I took a look you know, he didn’t like me when I said that. He said, “Well, I tell you – I won’t come in but I’ll give you medicine and I’ll tell you who will give him those shots. She’s a nurse, you know, and you go to her and you tell her that I said she should come in and give him shots. If they see me coming into the barracks and look at him, then they’ll talk to me, you know, like you talk to me now. But otherwise, she’ll come in and they won’t know what’s it all about.” And it’s already dark after eight o’clock, and that’s exactly what I did. He gave me that penicillin, you know, and I told her and she came in and gave him three shots…every day a shot. And he got well. That’s why I say – I saved his life. And he remembers that. He talks always about it.
PRINCE: Oh, Morris?
LENGA: Yeah. And you know the day when that inspection – that’s what I’m coming back to. Remember I told you the doctors told me they knew he’s sick and there’s going to be inspection – that sickness took 14 days. Either you died and if you survived the 14 days, you know, the fever start to come down and you got well. You know what that typhoid fever is…it’s transferred by lice.
PRINCE: What were the symptoms?
LENGA: Well – you suddenly got fever. You got so high fever, you burned up. You couldn’t eat – you couldn’t drink – you couldn’t do nothing, you know. He had hallucinations, he thought he was seeing my father – he talked to my father constantly. He says, “Don’t you see him, he stands in front of me.” And you know he really got it bad – without medicine too – without food. Me – they use to feed with all kinds of different things, you know, in order to make me strong to be able to fight it through. Of course, a lot of people died. They couldn’t make it. You…it’s a terrible sickness. You get burned up in fever and that’s how it is, and you die. So that day when the inspection is supposed to come close to the barracks…I took a chance…I dressed him and I put him by the bench and I put him up a loup and I told him, “You don’t talk nothing – I’ll make you for a watchmaker.” And I took my brother…listen to that…and send him to work in his place but he supposed to be with me. And I send my brother to work and I put him by the bench and I told him, “Please don’t shake.” He was shaking, you know, terribly, from the fever.
LENGA: Weakness and everything. But he understood. He knew what I’m talking to him and thank God, he came in and I didn’t even…I thought…I won’t even let him come close to the bench. As soon as I saw him coming in the door, I got up from the bench and minced around towards him and greet him and bowed and hand him the watches, so he shouldn’t come close and thank God he didn’t come closer. That’s how I survived that inspection. If he would only took a look at me – I was a watchmaker to me – you know what I mean, which he treated me a little different already than the others…
PRINCE: He needed you.
LENGA: That’s right. But he would have killed him anyhow.
PRINCE: You must have felt very good. Were you sort of…would you say you were – well, I don’t mean in charge of your brothers, but…
LENGA: No, right away we made up a pact between us – no matter what happens to one it’ll happen to all of us. If one goes away to be killed, we all want to be killed. If we can save each other, we have to save each other…and we did! It’s three times happen in our time in the camp which one helped the other to save the other one – because of death.
PRINCE: When you went to sleep at night and when you woke up in the morning, when you opened your eyes…two questions…uh…
LENGA: Will I come back tonight from work? That’s what it was. Each day was a…
PRINCE: Could you believe where you were? I mean…were you surprised in the morning? I mean…maybe you might have dreamt something about home, or…
LENGA: No. The only things what we dreamt was if we had a piece of bread, or if we had something to eat – a meal to fill up our stomach. That’s the only thing actually what we dreamt.
PRINCE: So you didn’t dream about the past?
LENGA: The past, no. I don’t think so.
PRINCE: It was mainly, day-to-day?
LENGA: Just to survive – just to survive. That’s all just what’s in our mind and we tried how much we could. We tried ourselves. We convinced ourselves that we have to survive. We had to outlive them. We knew from the beginning, till the end, we knew that Germany has to be destroyed. We knew that. But the question is…if he’ll destroy us before. And that’s what we struggled – to be able to outplay him.
PRINCE: Everyday was…
LENGA: Everyday was a struggle for survival for that day. And let me tell you something – that camp is nothing compared to what was in the concentration camp.
PRINCE: It was just the beginning.
LENGA: Yeah. I was telling you about the rations. Now when we came back from work, we had already soup. They gave us a soup. It was not bad, and they gave us a piece of salami, or meat, whatever it was. And they gave us a nice portion of bread. So in other words we could survive…not for that kind of hard work. Eventually you know, you lost weight. You didn’t have that kind of energy – but we could survive.
PRINCE: Everything is relative – if it had stopped there, but what…Let us go on then. You, I suppose, we’re into 1943 now…
LENGA: In that camp we were in till 1943. Wait a minute. Yeah, till 1943 and they suddenly evacuated us to another camp. From there, they took us to Starachovice.
PRINCE: That was the…
LENGA: That was the munition factory…the steel…the steel, you know. They have a steel mill and the munition factory is there.
PRINCE: And I believe you mentioned it had been named for Hermann Goering, is that correct?
LENGA: No – not Starachovice – not Starachovice. You’re talking about Skarzysko.
LENGA: That’s a different camp.
PRINCE: I thought this – I thought this was…okay.
LENGA: That was a real tougher camp already than it was in Wolanov. And over there, of course, I didn’t have that privilege already to work as a watchmaker in the beginning. But I mentioned once to you…once talking before…that I made contact again with the German supervisor and he took me in his office and I worked for him as a watchmaker too. Now all of that helped us a lot – to be able to survive through the whole process.
PRINCE: Did you still have your father’s things.
LENGA: Then I still had my father’s tools, yeah. You know, all those parts and everything. Right…right. And we still had a little more extra to eat than anybody else because we fixed…worked for the Germans.
PRINCE: Did other people resent you because of this?
LENGA: Oh no, no, no. They liked us because for one thing, we didn’t look for trouble. You know, we tried to protect, always. Now, I’ll give you an example what happened one time. When they tried to take us out from that camp, Wolanov, and I knew that German like I told you, that Lager-Commandant, was a very terrible guy. He went around to shoot everybody. And of course I talked to him whenever he came to the camp. He came over to me with the watches and I used to talk to him. In fact, I can tell you a story. I don’t know wheter it’s relevant to it, but it’s very interesting.
So he noticed that a guy tried to go to the fence and tried to escape. And he had this rifle with him at that time. And he pulled out his rifle, ready to shoot him. And I was standing talking to him while this was going on, and you know what I did? I took my hand and I bent his rifle out of his hand. Now if I would have done that to him, not knowing him, or he wouldn’t know me – even knowing me – he could have taken out his revolver – he usually did those things – and killed me just then…on the spot.
PRINCE: Did you know what you were doing, or was it an impulse?
LENGA: It was an impulse. And he said (SPEAKS WITH FEELING) “What are you doing?” And I said, “He’s not escaping – he just went to take a look and see if somebody’s there.” And they saw what was happening – all of them saw and they gave him a sign, and he started to walk back. I said, “You see, he’s walking back.” Now he could have been killed already…shot dead. Shooting a Jew there – in the camp – was nothing. It was like you for to throw away a burned match. Now I felt I saved that guy. I don’t know if he’s still alive, if he survived. I have one family lives here what was in Wolanov. They know me from that time.
PRINCE: Oh really.
LENGA: And we never tried to do mean things like other people who had power. You know, I had a little power by knowing the Commandant. But I never tried to use it on somebody else’s misfortune, you know, somebody else’s misery, you know, to make myself better than somebody else.
PRINCE: You came from such a warm, loving home, and caring people that…
LENGA: That’s right. That is true. That has a lot to do with it. I felt that myself, if I could help anybody – I helped. Why many times, I handed out some food, you know. If somebody was in need; or if I could help somebody – to give advice and help them to do something – I did it.
PRINCE: What did people talk about, Harry?
LENGA: Well we talked about everything that’s going on. In fact, I don’t know if I should bring it up. Do you know I talked to that Lager-Commander and he made us a separate room. We had our separate room which, remember I told you, we made the Passover seder…that was in that camp.
PRINCE: Well you told me, but we want to talk about it.
LENGA: They made us a separate room and we had a bed – we had a stove, a little stove. It was like a private home – a private room. And we had our bench. I explained to him that we had watches, valuable things, and if we lived with everybody, you know, they’ll be taken away and I can’t be responsible. So I told him it would be a good idea to make us a separate room and we shouldn’t have to stay with all the…to stay together in the same barrack. And he agreed with me and he gave the order and they made us a little home for ourselves…a little room. So we had a bed; a special bed…to be a little large for three and we had a table, a bench you know. We had a little stove and it was terrific. We were watching all the time out when he came, you know, in the morning, you know, we should be…
LENGA: Sitting by the bench…busy. And that’s what’s going on. It came Passover – well before Passover – I want to tell you. Being we had that separate place, a lot of dignified people which they’re in the camp, used to come into to us and talk over things, you know…what we can do…how we can, you know, try to help somebody. We used to have one guy – he was a shochet, you know, Shochet is one…he’s doing the ritual killings of the animals. And then we had a teacher, his name was Finkler, he was a very intellectual guy. They were all from Szydlowiec. Do you know Szapszewitz?
LENGA: He know them, because he’s the Szydlowiecer, too.
PRINCE: That’s a town?
LENGA: That’s a town. He knows the guys what I’m talking about.
PRINCE: Because he was from the same town.
LENGA: Yeah. No – he was in Starachovice. He wasn’t in Wolanov. In Starachovice but that happened in Wolanov. So they used to come in and we used to talk together sometimes. In the barracks with a lot of people you didn’t know who was listening. With us, they knew they could do a lot of things. In fact, sometimes they performed services in my separate…It was a place to come together to pray.
PRINCE: A refuge.
LENGA: That’s right. So one time they came in and we had a meeting and we decided it would be a good thing, in case they’re going to kill us out – we expected sooner or later – it’ll happen, you know, we didn’t know. So they wanted to build a hiding place so we should dig out, under my floor, a hole big enough so people, you know, about 10 or 12 people should be able to get in there and hide. And we agreed, and you know what kind danger it was if they would have found that in my…all three of us would have been shot.
PRINCE: What did they do with the dirt?
LENGA: Put it in the pockets. Took them out and distribute them all over the yards, you know, it shouldn’t be noticeable. We worked for about three weeks and we did it. What a terrific job. We made the floors to look – if you look – you don’t see it. In fact, a guy brought in a gun and we hide it there. I took it apart and wrap it up with grease, just in case we have to, you know, if it comes out that camp is to be finished off and we survived, we should have something to protect ourselves, to be able to survive. And I’m telling you, one time they came and they start to search each barrack. They took us all out, and they searched the barracks to see if anybody has arms. You can imagine how I felt.
PRINCE: But they didn’t find anything.
LENGA: They didn’t find anything.
PRINCE: Tell me, how was Starachovice different from Wolanov.
LENGA: Well, Starachovice was already a more…harder labor and more strict. And there was, uh (PAUSE) it wasn’t that kind organizing like it was in Wolanov. Wolanov was a smaller camp.
PRINCE: This was the unloading. This was getting steel from Sweden.
LENGA: That was the unloading, yeah. The raw steel – the raw iron – from Sweden, right…to unload and to unload coal in carts. That’s what I worked in the transport.
PRINCE: In carts?
LENGA: Cokes, cokes, you know. They burn coal and make coke out of it. What do they call it here? It’s that light coal which is manufactured…you know what I’m talking about?
PRINCE: Yes, but I don’t know the name.
LENGA: Mmmm – what do they call it in English? They use it for heating, you know, the raw iron to make steel out of that and they pour it out – they melt it, the iron. That’s burnt coal. They take coal and put it in the ovens and burn it to the point that it doesn’t get to ashes. And they take it out before, you know, so it keeps heat much longer than regular coal.
PRINCE: Explain what exactly…what was done in…
LENGA: I already talked about taking us from Wolanov to Starachovice.
PRINCE: Yes. Now what did they do in that camp?
LENGA: In that camp. It was a munitions factory and also they have a very large steel mill which they produced iron and steel. And I was assigned to work in the transport division. And that is, you know, to unload all the transports what came in, like raw iron and coal, cokes, steel, you know, anything what had to be loaded and put together. You know, physical, heavy, physical work. And we worked there and the conditions were already much worse. We had a tighter guard around us constantly when we were working. We had to rush – we were beaten when they thought we weren’t doing the right tempo of work, keeping up. And the food was much worse already, too. They didn’t give us enough already to be able to survive.
PRINCE: How much weight had you lost from when you left…when you left?
LENGA: Well I was about 155 when I start out to the camps and when I was liberation, I was 75 pounds! (LONG PAUSE)
PRINCE: Uh, now you…from Starachovice – you went to…
LENGA: To Auschwitz. They took us to Auschwitz and it was at the time when Italy was taken. We knew we heard about it, that Italy was liberated by the American forces. And we were scared that it’s going something to happen to us. And they organized an escape in the camp. In fact, I was between the ones too what we were ready to escape, and some did escape, but 80 percent got killed.
PRINCE: Is this before you went…
LENGA: In Starachovice – before we went to Auschwitz. That was about a week before we went to Auschwitz. Somehow the security guard, they found out what’s going to happen. In fact they took away our shoes and they kept us in the barracks constantly. They made a curfew and we couldn’t go outside.
PRINCE: Why didn’t they just shoot you?
LENGA: Well, it looks like they tried to take us to Auschwitz and put us in the crematories – that’s probably what was the idea. Now some escaped…a few escaped. In fact a friend of mine, a real close friend from my town…he escaped…he lives now in Canada – Salzberg – he escaped that time, too. And by the time we supposed to run out the gate is was already too late, and they were already laying there dead and the wounded. And they let them lay for two days. They didn’t do nothing. They didn’t even kill them. They didn’t finish them off even. They let them suffer so slowly to die. They were laying wounded and nobody could do anything. We looked out and we saw them and we couldn’t help them. You can imagine how we felt.
PRINCE: So they didn’t really know you had anything to do with it?
LENGA: No – they didn’t know because we saw what’s going to happen already so we just, you know, didn’t run out from the barracks anymore. It was organized at nighttime and they knew. I don’t know how, somebody squealed on us or something like that.
PRINCE: How did they take you to Auschwitz?
LENGA: Well, they took us to Auschwitz – it was already under real, real heavy security. They were lined up…Gestapo and SS with machine guns and they brought over the trains, you know, almost into the camp, because they had lines there which led to the machine factories. And they loaded us into the wagons, the railroad cars, and they locked us up. It was closed railroad cars and the little windows you know with the…
LENGA: Bars, you know, closed up. And they pushed us in real, real, you know, the first time we witnessed something like that…about 100 people in one railroad car. And we was so tight there that you know, we didn’t even have room to raise, you know, our arms…to stretch our arms.
PRINCE: So this is where you did not have your father’s things anymore?
LENGA: Oh no – that was already – no, that was on the way to Auschwitz. We took only little small…they told us not to, you know, to take too much, the only things you could hold in one little package.
PRINCE: So that was the end of that?
LENGA: That was the end of that. I had a little bit of pictures, you know, I tried to save. They told us, you know already, that we can take. We thought they were going to finish us off, like that’s the last trip we’re going to have. We didn’t know where they are going to take us but we figured that will be…will be the last stop!
PRINCE: Harry, when you’re in a car like that…a cattle car like that…squashed in…what do you say to the guy next to you?
LENGA: Well, I’ll tell you we were, fortunately, there were people in other cars…a lot of them got killed in the car, just by arguing, you know, by having arguments with each other – and each one to give orders and the other ones not obeying them. Fortunately we got into a car with decent people which respect each other. And we start to make…a guy got up…and he said, “If there’s anybody can do a better job than I, please let him step forward…the only thing what I want to organize here we should be able to survive where we are going.”

Tape 2 - Side 2 (Prince)

And even if we were crowded, real crowded in that railroad car, but he ordered us how much possible it is, we should clear one corner in that railroad car and that should be used for personal needs. And everybody obeyed and understood that that’s the right way to do. Of course, we couldn’t get rid of it because the little windows had bars and we couldn’t even put through our finger. And that’s what happened. We were taking it like that’s the best way we can manage.
PRINCE: So you maintained your dignity?
LENGA: Right…right. And that was the thing we did and we survived. It took about 14 hours till we got to Auschwitz. And suddenly, the train stopped and we thought…we imagined that we’re already at the destination wherever they’re taking us. And suddenly we heard a lot of voices talking from far away in a distant way, but we couldn’t make it out what kind of language it is. And everybody tried to listen and to make out what it is and there were many people what understood different languages but nobody could make it out what kind of language it is. So we thought maybe they’re taking us to some kind of crazy house or something like that; and we didn’t realize what it is and it really scared us. And we had somebody what looked out and he said, “I think it’s Auschwitz.” We actually didn’t know where they’re taking us. All that way time we were…were traveling, but we didn’t know where they’re taking us. Until it got, you know, dawn…in the morning…it got light and suddenly we saw…we looked out. Of course, not everybody could go to that little window and see. But we had some scouts which they looked out and they were close to the window. They looked out and told us they see some Germans…Gestapo coming up…others says, you know, stormfuhrer, majors and big battalion of SS and then suddenly the doors opened and they told us to step out. And we stepped out from those cars and they used real…frightened us with terror – with sticks. They had like baseball bats in their hands and sticks and they tried to…with the rifles…whoever got by close to them, they hit. And they told us to line up and take everything out – all our belongings – whoever had anything with them – and the wagon should be clean. Then I saw from the other wagons…cars…they started to carry out dead people (PAUSE). Luckily in our car, you know, we cooperated with each other. We didn’t develop any fights and misunderstandings so we didn’t push each other. And later they told us what happened in the other cars. The people start to push each other and not to agree with each other and they started to step on each other. They killed each other. That’s exactly how it happened…anger and frustration. And then, when we were all lined up and I saw there was one high-ranking officer, a Gestapo guy came by, and I think that must have been that Dr. Mengele. I imagine so, and he came by and he looked us over. And he start to make each one separate. He looked at them and told them to either go to the left side or the right side. And there was plenty of us which was directed to go to the right and the other ones to the left. Now, we were selected to go to the left side and we formed a column and they start tell us to march…and we marched. And of course, we looked around and we saw those high chimneys in the crematoriums! We saw the fire coming out of the chimney – no matter how high the chimneys were, we saw the fire coming out…spraying out from the chimney. And we thought, maybe we didn’t know, where we’re going. We thought maybe that’s our last moments already. And they took us to a certain place which was a big hangar. It looked like, you know, and we stopped there and we found some prisoners too which some of us knew from before. They were working there.
PRINCE: Oh, you saw them?
LENGA: Yeah. They were working there when the Commandos…in that place, and some, from other towns and they recognized each other. They said, “Hi, how are you?” And the first thing they told us, “Don’t be afraid – you’re not going to die. You are the lucky ones. You are selected to still…to work – so don’t be afraid.” And we still didn’t believe them too. Because we thought they are, you know, not telling us the truth because they don’t want us to know. So we didn’t trust them. But anyway, we were a little bit relieved but yet we didn’t believe all 100 percent of it – that we are not going…going to be gassed.
And finally they told us to undress and give up all the belongings whatever anybody possesses, because if not, everybody will be checked and searched and if they will find anything…in your mouth…or anywhere else, you’ll be shot instantly. The only thing what they told us was to keep our shoes. So I had a few pictures, my brothers, too. So we decided we don’t know what to do. And of course before we went in, we promised ourselves to hold ourselves together in case it’s true and they’re going to kill us…let’s stay together and we’ll know that we died together. And we walked in and then they came out and they start to shave our hair off our heads, under the arms and everywhere, and disinfect us with some kind of a solution that was so terrible, you know. That alone…
LENGA: Oh burn terribly…for hours later. But we didn’t care, we saw that they’re not handling us like they’re going to kill us.
PRINCE: Also you must have been extremely thirsty from being on the…
LENGA: Oh that was, yeah, we didn’t have nothing yet to drink and they didn’t give us nothing to drink or nothing to eat…anything. You know, we didn’t have that desire, the physical desire that the body requires under such circumstances that you are constantly under the strain of thinking this is your last moment of your life. So I didn’t feel the thirst. I just was thinking that’s these are the last moment of our lives. And then they took us into another place and we finally saw the shower on the ceiling, and then probably we saw pipes for water. And we said, “Well, it can’t be gas, it looks like we are going to stay still alive.” For how long, we didn’t know. But so far, we made it. Then they gave us soap and each one got a piece of soap. And when they checked us through, of course, before we went into the shower – they looked in our mouths, everywhere, with a flashlight and all the other places…looked in where anything can be hidden – for diamonds, for gold pieces, for watches…whatever. It was impossible to get through there with anything. They looked in the shoes. They saw the pictures, and they took them out and threw them away. And I asked him, I said, “That’s all what I have left of my family. Can I keep them?” And it was a Jewish prisoner too what did that. And he said, “You be glad that they let you keep your shoes.”
PRINCE: He was doing you a favor.
LENGA: Yeah. Because nobody could pass anything through…nobody.
PRINCE: Yes. If it would have been somebody else, they would have shot you.
LENGA: That’s right. So then when we came out, we went in the shower – we washed ourselves and then we walked out. They didn’t give us any towels. We just, you know, went dripping through in another place and then they handed us, each one, they handed us a package of clothes to us…clothing. They didn’t ask our size…nothing…and we dressed up. But at the time we were dressing, I didn’t see my brothers – they were a little farther away. And finally we walked outside and I start to look for them and I couldn’t find them. And suddenly I see that they’re standing real close (LAUGHTER) and I just recognize their faces but I could make out it was them. And I started laughing and I looked at them and they’re laughing…looking at me. (PAUSES AND LAUGHS) When I looked at them – the one what was my oldest brother (he was a tall guy) they gave him a pair of short pants that reached him to his knees and I was shorter – they gave me a pair of pants that was covering over my shoes (LAUGHTER) and I had a big jacket and a round hat and a shirt. And that’s all what they gave us. That’s the kind of clothes, and it took us quite a while…just laughing. And we were surprised that we are able, in such a moment you know, to laugh. But I guess we had some kind human in us, you know. We saw that we survived the first crisis in Auschwitz.
PRINCE: What were other people around you doing?
LENGA: The same thing, same identical thing. Of course, we knew each other. Most people didn’t know each other. They didn’t even know, you know, how they looked…maybe they remembered. But of course, my own brothers – I know constantly know how they dress and suddenly I saw the way they looked, so it looked funny. And then they lined us up and took us to the camp. And that was around three o’clock and there was a barrack commander and he gave us ordinances – what we can do and what we cannot do. The curfews by eight o’clock, everybody has to be on his bunk bed…there was three bunks…three…
PRINCE: Tiers.
LENGA: Tiers yeah. One on the bottom and of course we three…another two, it was five in one bunk…was sleeping. And it was 15 in one…one group. And it was a long stove all through the barrack. The barrack was about, I would say, about (PAUSES) about 100 yard from one length of the barrack and on both sides was the bunks.
PRINCE: Like a football field.
LENGA: Right. It was a long barrack. And the next morning, around four o’clock or three o’clock, I think about three o’clock, everybody had to get up and they had a washroom…a long washroom…the same length like the barrack and just water was just dripping. No soap, no nothing. We were just supposed to go in there – the latrine and the washroom together – we had to do everything at the same time…to wash yourself…and to take your needs…
PRINCE: Well what if when you had needs you couldn’t…in other words, you couldn’t go when you wanted to?
LENGA: In the nighttime – no. In the nighttime there was a special barrel standing and whoever had to do it – had to go to that barrel…
PRINCE: And ring a bell? Oh, go to a barrel…barrel.
LENGA: To a barrel! Oh, how do you call that? You know a wooden…big…
PRINCE: That’s a barrel.
LENGA: Yeah, yeah. And that’s what it was in the nighttime.
PRINCE: But there were certain times during the day when you could go?
LENGA: Oh daytime – in the daytime, you could go out in the barracks…only in the camp. But after eight o’clock, that you couldn’t do it. That’s in the summertime. In the wintertime when it gets dark earlier – I think it was at four o’clock. And then we had to line up and get our coffee. They gave us about one-half quart of coffee. The coffee was beets, you know, burned beets. It taste terrible. In the beginning when we was drinking that in the other camps, before the forced labor camp, we had the corn coffee.
LENGA: Yeah. They burned corn and they made coffee out of that. The ersatz coffee, they used to call it. But it was much tastier than that. But of course, when we came to Auschwitz, they didn’t give us this – it was the beet coffee.
PRI NCE: Auschwitz was a whole different thing.
LENGA: Oh completely, completely different. There was electric wires…double, double wiring fence, I mean, there was one fence and about three or four feet away, there was another fence built around and with electric power. You touched that – you got electrocuted. And besides that, there were guard towers each few meters – guard towers and watched constantly with reflectors and watched day and night.
PRINCE: Your feelings of being in the other camps, each time was bad.
LENGA: Worse…worse from the first one. Each camp when they transferred us to the next one was worse. So we realized the one before that was much better than we are now. And that was going constantly through the end like that. Any time that they transferred us to a different place – it was worse than it was in the first. So in the first week, they didn’t take us to work yet – but constantly they were selecting us, looking us over. In the morning we had to go out like I said, and lined us up and were standing constantly for hours, just waiting – we didn’t know what’s going to happen. They let us just stand.
PRINCE: Could you talk?
LENGA: We should be…we had to be quiet but sometimes we whisper to each other. But we couldn’t have any conversation. When they walked by, you had to stand at attention constantly and not to move – and not to talk. But of course, if they didn’t see – we whispered to each other…what they’re going to do with us…what’s happening. And after about a week they selected…they selected quite a few…a hundred from us and they took them to the crematorium.
PRINCE: On what basis?
LENGA: Just…they didn’t look strong enough…they didn’t look young enough…they were too short…they were too thin…they’re not good, unshaved…any little thing. Whatever they might…
PRINCE: Unshaved?
LENGA: Unshaved too…some of them. They – if they didn’t take care of themselves…they were dirty.
PRINCE: But you had a razor!
LENGA: Yeah, we had a razor.
PRINCE: And you shaved.
LENGA: That was in the – not our razor – we didn’t have a razor. There was a barber in the block and he was shaving. There was a few of them like that, you know, they were doing that. And whoever walked over to him and asked to be shaved – he had to wait in line – so they…they did it.
PRINCE: And the ones that didn’t…
LENGA: The ones that didn’t care – they didn’t care for it and so…you know…
PRINCE: They didn’t realize…
LENGA: Later we found this out. We saw what they were doing. They had to pick out a certain amount. It didn’t mean just because you didn’t shave, it just happened they picked you. It could have been any reason. Sometimes they took real healthy, strong men too – for any reason – maybe he didn’t like his look, something like that. He picked them out…just decided between life and death and just with a move of his finger!
PRINCE: And for no reason.
LENGA: That’s right. For no reason…no reason whatsoever. He didn’t even talk – didn’t even ask anybody nothing…just went by – back and forth – back and forth. He could pass us by, then he came back and looked again at us. Many times we rubbed each others cheeks so they should look red, so we should look real healthy…strong.
PRINCE: It sounds, it seems as though you needed to have somebody, uh, to…to help you.
LENGA: Well of course we cared for each other because we tried always to be together – how much possible it is. But the ones what didn’t have a brother, you know, each other helped each other the same way. Maybe not so intensive like we did, but they helped.
PRINCE: Did you ever come across people that didn’t?
LENGA: No…no. Whenever you have something like that – everybody was willing to do what you are asking them to do. If I told them sometimes to see if my collar…
PRINCE: Not your brother?
LENGA: Not my brother – somebody…a stranger. And I would ask, please I would like you to see, please, if my coat in the back is straight – it’s not torn – something like that you know. You had to watch very much. Soon your clothes got torn and that’s a reason to…to be selected – to be taken to the gas chamber. If your clothes were already, you know, torn apart in pieces and that’s usually happened when they work but, you know, they didn’t give us new clothes. And you had to watch. Many times we used to come home, we used to try to sew by ourselves together what was torn – to fix it how much possible it is. Sometimes we used to do it with pins and we used to pay for it with pieces of bread – that was the money exchange. You had to give a piece of bread or a few spoons of soup.
PRINCE: If anybody died – did you ever try to utilize their clothes?
LENGA: No – we couldn’t do that. And the Jewish people didn’t do that. Now the Russians, they did. There was a couple, you know, who tried to grab away the bread and take away their clothes…that happened. But in our barrack you know, we were always for each other. We felt an unrespectable thing to do even no matter in that conditions…still…we remained human. You know, the Russians – I saw in one camp, in the last camp in Ebensee – it’s a funny thing, they cut off from the dead the flesh and they cooked meat! I saw it with my own eyes what happened. I couldn’t stand even smell later…the smoke…and the frying of that meat. It almost killed us.
And after a week they finally organized groups and send us out from the camp to go to work. And we went, the first Commander what took us out, was digging ditches. And we were standing about three-four hours in the dark and lined up waiting, and the orchestra was playing, it was a big orchestra sitting around there in the cold, and we were cold, and they had to play all kind different, you know, Mozart symphonies – all kind different marches; and we were standing like that, and the SS was constantly counting us. And that’s all what they did…back and forth, counting to see how many we are and so on and so on and so on…till after about 7:30. That was, mind you, from five o’clock we were standing till 7:30. So finally they opened the gates and they took us out and we walked about, I would say, about three miles to the place where we worked. And they told us to dig ditches and so on and it was going on until about four o’clock. Then they assembled us and they took us back to camp.
Now during the time while we were at work, that was the hardest time for us – those Kapos and the SS were constantly over us. No matter how good you did or you didn’t…you didn’t do, or you did, or you worked out or you didn’t work out – they just beat the hell out of you. They always find something to complain about. You didn’t do fast enough – you didn’t work enough – you stay too long – you work too slow – that was the worst thing. Not only you have to do the hard work, you have to watch constantly if he’s not coming to you with his stick to hit you over the head or on your body. And a lot of them got beaten and if they got beaten up, and they start to resist the beating just to try to protect themselves, you know, like putting their hands up – they threw them down on the floor and other Kapos came for help and they beat them up to the point that he couldn’t walk anymore. Then we had to pick up, you know, pick up the prisoners and carry them back to the camp. And they brought them to the camp and they put them…it was called a hospital – and over there – we never saw them again…after that.
PRINCE: So if the Kapo didn’t beat you enough the SS would get after the Kapo?
LENGA: Well he didn’t go after…he saw the Kapo…
PRINCE: But if they didn’t?
LENGA: I think it was more up, you know, when the SS walked around and look, then they show they are performing their job in good faith. But even if the SS were not there, they tried always to find fault and to have an excuse to beat us.
PRINCE: Anyway…
LENGA: That’s right. And like I say, that’s the only thing you had to do, it was…no…you didn’t have a chance to complain…to say, “Why do you do that to me? I do whatever you’re telling me to do.” You couldn’t because for telling just that alone – it was already reason enough for them to hit you again. So the best thing to say…is not say anything. Say, “Please, I’ll do it now…the way you want me to do”…to get by not to be hit again.
PRINCE: How did people keep their sanity?
LENGA: It was very hard. I recall one incident with my own younger brother. One time he was so beaten up from work and he came home and he said, “That’s it – I’m not going anymore to work. I feel sick.” He was bleeding from his face…from his head. His back was, you know, all beaten up from this stick, you know, it was swollen and like all of them, they did that when it happened to them. And my other brother and I said, “Oh no.” We grabbed him into the washroom, with force. He resisted this. He really didn’t want it. And we washed off the wounds…we washed off the blood and we talked to him and we said, “Are you going to let them do what they want you to do for them? They want us to be killed. You have a chance to survive. Any day…when we survive a day…that means that’s one day closer to our liberation…to our redemption. So you fighting back – that’s what you have to do is fight back.” And we told him, “Please it’s not too far, we heard rumors that the American forces are real close already to the borders in Germany, and it can’t be long that they’ll come to us and liberate us.” Even if it wasn’t true, but we manufactured those kind of things, and it helped.
PRINCE: You almost believed it yourself.
LENGA: That’s right. And it helped him too and finally we made him to stand up, to go in the line. You could only get your food alone – nobody could get your food for you. Now if he said he don’t want to go anymore he’s sick and he can’t do it, he couldn’t get his food anymore. In the morning if he didn’t got to work, they beat the hell out of him. And then they take him to the hospital and that’s the end of it! Soon you were taken into the hospital, that was the end! Nobody came back from there. So, I think we helped each other very much in that case. And sometimes it happened to me – you know – I got beaten up…not that bad like he was. And I got in the same mood, too. I said, “It’s not worth it.” I wanted to give up. And the moment you gave up – you said – that’s it, you know, you fall in apathy – you said, that’s it – I won’t fight anymore. You had to fight EVERY SECOND and the time of your life there…to survive. EVERY MINUTE – EVERY SECOND – you had to fight. If not physically fighting, I mean, mentally, mentally, mostly to strengthen, to try to strengthen yourself. To say, you have to survive…you will survive. Constantly talk to you like that…
PRINCE: Did you try and blend in and not stand out in Auschwitz so that nobody would notice you?
LENGA: How much possible it is. That’s right. We never, all three of us, tried that. A lot of us tried not to be a smart aleck, you know, to say something what could hurt. You had to be very careful, you know, even talk to your own inmates too, you had to be careful. You don’t know who they are…to whom you are talking, you know, spies or something like that. Because it happened…things like that, too.
PRINCE: What did people, the men in the barracks talk to each other about in the evening?
LENGA: Well, the mostly thing when we were sitting in the bunkers, you know, when the time was up – when they put out the lights – I think it was around nine o’clock – they put out the lights. From that moment on it had to be quiet, not to whisper in the barrack. But till that time, we would be sitting in the bunks, on the bed…bunks…and just talk. Sometimes we used to sing songs, you know, from home and we used to talk about how life used to be, before, what we used to do in our life. Everybody told his story, where he lived and how he lived. And we talked about all different things and sometimes we exchanged news, sometimes from our place of work. There used to be Germans (the foremans) and they supervised the work, so they used to tell us sometimes what’s going on. And that’s how we used to talk about those things. And mostly we talked about, you know, when will be our end!
PRINCE: Everybody, of course, was not from the same country?
LENGA: No – not from the same country…not from the same city too.
PRINCE: So you had different languages?
LENGA: That’s right. Well we usually kept…we mostly keep to ourselves, you know. It was bad to be in a concentration camp, in general, but if you were a German prisoner, you had more privileges…even you were a prisoner, you know, in the camp – you had more privileges than, let’s say, a Frenchman.
PRINCE: Are you talking about Jewish people?
LENGA: No, no, no. We’re talking about nationalities…nationalities. French. There were Germans, you know, they were criminals…they were political prisoners from Germany. They were the Christian Science – they put them in concentration camps too. There were Gypsies – they put them in concentration camps too.
PRINCE: Run down the…
LENGA: The nationalities?
PRINCE: Yes, how they were…
LENGA: The Degree. Yes, the most privileged was if he was a German, a Reichdeutscher, not a Jew – only a real Iron German. If he was a Jew, it didn’t matter if he was from Germany, or if he was Hungary, or if he was from Poland, or if he was from France. Wherever he was…so long he was a Jew. The Jews had a kind of special kind of insignia, you know, where it showed a star – that everybody knew you were a Jew. Now the other ones, they each…the criminally, the criminally, you know…like the murderers…they had black – they had a black thing…they knew they had black. Now there were all kinds…politically they had red, a political prisoner – like you didn’t agree with Hitler – you were a Communist or you said something against the regime, or something. He was a German, let’s say, then he had a red. Now there were French…Frenchmen mostly were there because they were in the resistance – they were fighting and they got caught and they did something you know, they had also the red. But you didn’t know. The Russians for example too, the same way. You know, they were like prisoners from another country. But the worst from all of them…was the Jew. And the Jew – everybody, you know, had privileges over – anybody could to do a Jew…anything.
PRINCE: How about the Gypsies?
LENGA: The Gypsies – they were higher than us too, even the Gypsies. They had more privileges than we did. Of course, they burned them the same way like they did us.
PRINCE: By privileges – what do you mean by privileges? Better food?
LENGA: No. The food was all the same but let’s say, by working…the Kapo…if he was a Gypsy – he respected him a little different than a Jew. A Jew he could do anything to…he know he couldn’t be criticized. In fact, not only criticized, he would be awarded, you know.
PRINCE: He what?
LENGA: He would be awarded that he did such a good job. He would be praised by the SS. So it was no problem. And the second was the Gypsy, the third was the Russians and the Poles. Then came the French – then came the Dutch – then came from Czechlosovakia. They respected the Czechs, they’re respected. Then the highest was the Germans. The German prisoners there, he was already, he had the better jobs; the better things to do. Let’s say if they took us out to work and it was somebody to sort out, let’s say, nails and screws – they took the Germans to do the easy work. The Jew always had the hardest thing to do because the idea was to finish us off. You worked so long until finally you get weak, and you got weak, they selected you and they took you to the gas chamber, and that was the end of it.
PRINCE: Were there any jokes in Auschwitz?
LENGA: There was jokes. The only thing we used to say – we said – we used to see the smoke and the fire coming up from the chimney, we said, “Probably tomorrow that’ll be our flight to freedom.” You see, they had a big sign on the gate… “Arbeit Macht Frei…Labor Frees You.” – makes you being free. That was the sign, and we said, “When we fly out through the chimney – that’ll begin our freedom.” One morning, they made a roll call and we saw they selecting the people for a special kind of job. Of course, we didn’t know for what purpose of what kind of job that will be. And suddenly the SS men comes up to me and asks my number. So I have to tell him and he writes it down and he wrote down my number…my tattoo number. And they they did it to other ones and then when it was over, I found out they selected us to fill in for the Sonderkommando – for the people what work in the crematorium. When I heard that, I almost died. I talked it over with my brothers and said, “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I can’t…I can’t go through that kind of work…to be there.”
PRINCE: That’s when you…the job is…
LENGA: The job was to push in the Jewish people into the gas chambers and see that they undress and then to take out the bodies and throw them in to the crematorium. And it’s not only…the thing too…we knew that they always, after a certain amount of time, they took all the Sonderkommandos and they cremated…they gassed them too so there will be no witnesses. They didn’t want that anybody should be alive, witnessing, later to be able to tell what happened. We knew that that’s why always they try to select some new men for that job. So I talked it over with my brothers and I told them, I said, “What should I do? I’ll die, I know I can’t go through with that.” They say, “Well, I don’t know what we can do.” So finally Morris says, “Listen, we have one watch left. Why don’t you take the watch and walk over to that Block Commander and try to tell him.”
PRINCE: How did you have a watch left?
LENGA: Well in Auschwitz, we used to, they found out we are watchmakers and they used to trade inside…they used to bring watches…the ones that used to work, they and the Sonderkommandos – they work for the people what used to undress them and so they took watches. They brought them in; they had to fix them, and that’s how we organized. Some…sometimes, you know what’s left, we had some watches there in Auschwitz. But we had one good watch at that time. So he said, “Why don’t you take that watch and offer the guy – the Block Commander – and maybe he’ll do it. For him, it doesn’t mean nothing. He’ll just take you off the list and put somebody else.” But of course, it was a risk because you never knew how he’ll respond to that kind of a proposition. He was a Polack…he was a Polish guy. And I didn’t…the only thing I knew that he ‘s a Block Commander and of course, he was dignitary, considered, because nobody else could come up and just talk to him and come. So I figured, anything is worth it to try. You know, I say, “What can be worse than to be sent over to…what will happen will happen.”
PRINCE: Certain death…
LENGA: Yeah, I’ll do. So I walked into his office. He said, “What do you want?” So I walked up to him and I said, “Listen my brother, (I didn’t take the watch with me because I knew if I would take the watch, he’d take it away from me and that would be the end of it – he don’t have to do nothing for me). I says, “I have a watch, but I can get it from somebody, (I didn’t say that I have it or my brother has it), but I can get it from somebody and I’m willing to get it for you. Only thing what I’m asking a favor of you, if you would be kind enough – is just take me off the list to send me to that special commando work.” They didn’t say what it was, of course, but my…and I didn’t want to tell them that I know what it was too. So he says to me, “Why is it so important to you – where do you think you are going to work?” I said, “I don’t know – the only thing I’ll tell you what I’m concerned about, I’ll be separated from my two brothers.” He said, “Well I can put your two brothers together with you.” So I says, “No, they are special trained already on their jobs what they are doing there, and they are known that foreman.” I told them the name what they are working there…they’re working, you know, by airplanes and that was a German Luftwaffe and he liked my brother – my older brother – that he passed away.
PRINCE: Was this a Farben works?
LENGA: It was old planes but they’re bombed. They brought them back…Americans or British and they brought them in there and they were taken apart, you know, and put up the pieces. And that was the job what my two brothers were taken there. They said they are metal workers…I did too…I didn’t tell them my profession was a watchmaker – also a metal worker. But they just took them there. They didn’t take me. So he says to me, “Well, are you sure you can give me the watch?” I says, “Soon as my number is taken off the list – I’ll give you the watch.” So he says, “All right it’s done!” I say, “How do I know that you didn’t forget?” Of course I didn’t want to tell him that he might be a liar. But I said, “How will I know that you won’t forget?” I says, “Why don’t you do it right now…take off that number and show me that, you know, take me off.”
PRINCE: You were frightened?
LENGA: Yeah. I was frightened because he might, you know, promise me and he won’t do it and if the SS come and say, “Give me the list,” then it’s no time anymore to negotiate. That’s it – they call my number – I have to step out and go with them wherever they take me…that’s the way! So he looks for the list. He found the list and he showed me – he scratched off that list and he took another list and looked up a number. I don’t even know who it was, and put it in place of that.
PRINCE: Did that bother you?
LENGA: Well, it did bother me, but I figured, you know, I… I didn’t worry too much, so long as I am off. I’ll be honest with you, so long as I saw I was off, of course, I didn’t know who the other guy was…

Tape 3 - Side 1 (Prince)

Then he told me, “You know, listen I did everything what you asked me, but you better watch out and be sure that you bring me in that watch, because if that watch is not coming in – in this room – in my hand – you know, I won’t take it to the Sonderkommando, but you’ll be inside.” Then he told me what it was. He said, “You’ll be inside the commando and I’ll see to it.” I said, “You don’t have to worry.” I still didn’t want him to know that we have it. I said, “It’ll be a couple of days, but you’ll have it.” So two days later, I brought him in the watch. And he said to me, “You know, I didn’t believe you…you were so brave. I admired you the way you got courage to make me such a proposition. But I didn’t believe that you could bring me a watch.”
PRINCE: And this man was…
LENGA: The commander – the lager – the Block Commander – Commandant of the block, which he was taken care, you know, taking care of the whole block. He was the administrator of that block.
PRINCE: Then he could have still taken the watch, and…
LENGA: And still put me out – that’s right.
PRINCE: So he had a little bit of…
LENGA: He lived up to his promise. Later they came and called out the names. We saw it, and my number wasn’t there and I was left back in that block. And that helped me later to unite with my two brothers because of that.
LENGA: Because two weeks later, suddenly they start to…we heard rumors that all the men what are working by the airplanes are going to be taken away. And I was separated from them. They were in a different block already, because they worked there and I didn’t work. I worked by the ditches…digging the ditches. So they said they are going to take them away from Auschwitz and we didn’t know where they are going to take them. But I knew one thing…that they are going to be separated from me and I’ll be left alone. And being I knew him – so I went in again to him and I said, “You did me one favor which I appreciated very much. I would like you to do me another favor.” And he looks at me and starts to smile. (LAUGHTER) He already knew me. Before he didn’t even know me. So he looks at me and he starts, you know, to smile…with irony in his look. And he says, “What is it now?” So I told him, I says, “My brothers they are in a different block and rumors are going around that they are going to be sent away. And nobody envies them because they’ll probably have it much worse than here, because here it’s a good place to be! And I…I just to be with them, I don’t mind. No matter what. Actually, you’ll do somebody else a favor how to put me with them to have worse.” So he gives me a smile and says, “I’ll do that for you.” (LAUGHTER) And he really switched me and that’s how we got united. And what happened, it was the opposite. What happened then, they cleaned out the whole camp almost, except that battalion what was working on the airplanes. They left all the ones what was working by the airplanes in Auschwitz and the rest of them they took away to different camps into Germany…deep into Germany. It was already starting to come close to the fronts…the fronts…the Russian fronts, and the American forces – they’re coming closer already to Auschwitz. So they’re already started. It happened, it was around in September…in August…I would say, September of ’44.
PRINCE: Did you know this then? Did you have news in the camps like this? Could you tell any difference?
LENGA: Oh we…we heard rumors of what’s going on. You know, we heard rumors but we didn’t know exactly. Like I mentioned before that the foremens what used to supervise the work, even some soldiers in…used to…the Luftwaffe…by the airplanes – sometimes they used to say something, you know, like… “It won’t be long,” ….something like that.
PRINCE: Did the Germans’ treatment change at all, as…?
LENGA: Not at all – from the Gestapo and the SS were they’re guarding us and we were in their hands. It was always the same thing. The only thing what happened to change suddenly, it was, I think, sometimes in November. Suddenly we heard that they stopped gassing. They don’t gas anymore. And rumors were going around that they demolated – it was, no – I remember now what happened. It was an uprising in the Sonderkommando – and they bombarded. They put a bomb in the crematorium, and they escaped. It was a daring escape and they escaped, and they were successful. Some of them made it. They escaped out from Auschwitz somewhere to the mountains, in the Carpathian Mountains. We heard this…we heard about it.
PRINCE: Did the Germans do anything to anybody else in camp because of it?
LENGA: What happened is…we were at work that day. Suddenly, and suddenly they stopped us from work and they told us that we should – they made a roll call – everybody should stand up and form the roll call. And suddenly we saw we got surrounded by SS with machine guns and things like that. We didn’t know. We thought they’re going to kill us. They kept us standing there for hours. All the work got stopped. Everybody had to get out from the factories…wherever they were working and come to one place and they concentrate. And after they took us home we heard the story…what happened. And what happened – they prepared themselves over there and they had smoke bombs – that’s the only way how they made it. Now the way I heard…I don’t know how much is in it, but this is the story what I heard. But even now, after the war, we heard about it that it was true…it happened. That the Sonderkommando that was at that working…doing the dirty work, you know – the crematoriums – the gas chambers – everything – they organized themselves. They had access to everything. They had access to explosives. They had access, because all the transports what came in, they always searched them – they could take out everything – whatever they found and they had a way how to organize themselves and to hide certain things. So they had ammunition. They had dynamite. They had a lot of things. So what they did, that day, that particular day when it was set up to do it – they took their SS men what was in charge over them to watch them that they do everything, you know, they pushed him in, they hit them – he didn’t suspect – they hit them from behind and they disarmed them and they threw them into the crematorium. And then they put dynamite and they exploded the crematorium and they had smoke bombs – a lot of smoke bombs. By throwing the smoke bombs, they covered up so they could run and the guards on the towers couldn’t see them – where they’re running. And they had everything prepared to cut, you know, the wires and to cut off the electricity…everything…anyway they…they…
PRINCE: Were organized.
LENGA: Organized. And they got out – they escaped. Some of them got killed but some of them escaped. And then we…only what was left, was probably about – I would say – about 5,000 were left in Auschwitz and not Birkenau at that time which were working by the airplanes. And the rest of them they were already evacuated. That was around already November-December.
Now in January of ’45, we already heard rumors that the whole camp is going to be completely cleared out because the Russian forces – they’re real close. And sure enough, they start to improve the food – they took out all the reserves what they had in the places…hidden before. They took them out and they start to distribute to us and they gave us bigger portions – bread and also soups…they made every day different kind of soups and real…they used to give us in the morning, instead of coffee, they used to give us soup in the morning too. And we thought something happening. We didn’t know, but, of course, we found out later that they had so much hidden before they didn’t want to distribute it, but now they had to leave it…to leave everything there, so they figured they might as well, you know, use it up – and give it up.
PRINCE: I’m surprised.
LENGA: They didn’t have enough cars or trucks to take everything that time already, you know, the war was getting all the time…
PRINCE: I would think that they would rather have it rot than to give you extra food.
LENGA: They probably tried that too. But I can imagine they were afraid for us. Maybe in those weak moments, maybe we can try something, you know. Of course, we didn’t know what ‘s going to happen. We saw that something is improving. It improved quite a bit and also the conditions improved a lot too. The Kapos not so aggressive anymore. Of course everybody, you know, worked accordingly. And we saw the guards changed a lot, too. They used to be young ones, you know, real aggressive ones. They put older fellows the SS guards…they were not so aggressive anymore. We saw something is changing. Don’t forget, it was already 1945, in January. They already knew that they are going to lose the war, but yet they still didn’t go down from their official way of persecuting and destroying us. They still, they’re doing everything according to their menu. And one day they announce – we are going to be evacuated – everybody has to step out – and we’re going to be evacuated. And it was that day, I think it was January 15th – they took us out of Birkenau – they took us out of Auschwitz, and in Auschwitz we joined with them and they drove us all by foot. We had to march. They didn’t have no cars, no trains, no trucks, no nothing. We had just to march. And the march started. Now in the camp, they gave everybody some bread – not much – but I think it was about a quarter of a bread they gave each one. And they gave each one a can of meat…the whole camp, suddenly, we never saw that before. And suddenly they gave us a can of meat and that’s about it. That’s supposed to be…underway for the march.
PRINCE: How could you get the can open?
LENGA: It was made so that you, you know, like a sardine can.
PRINCE: Roll it around…
LENGA: Yeah you could open it. And of course we ate up right away the can of meat with the bread. You know, we still hungry and we always believed in one thing, so long as you’re alive, you have it, eat it up, because you don’t know what a minute later – it can happen to you.
PRINCE: Did that extra food make you all feel…were you so dehydrated and so starved that it didn’t make a difference, or did it make a difference?
LENGA: Mentally it made a difference. But physically, I don’t think. Because, in fact, it was worse for us because a lot of us – we didn’t have any water to drink. They didn’t give us any water to take with us. And while we was marching in the daytime, it was hot – even while the sunshine – not hot, but you know, walking constantly – they didn’t let us rest so everybody got hot, and no water…we didn’t have no water and that thirst was worse than the hunger. And of course, later we lost strength. We couldn’t, you know, continue constantly. So we got weak too, besides, you know…being thirsty.
PRINCE: On this march when you had…you were all on the road and the Germans were on the road – did they feed you during the march?
LENGA: No – nothing was fed – nothing was given to us. We constantly was marching.
PRINCE: For how long?
LENGA: We marched at first, it was about three days without stop…day and night – they drove us and terrorized us, and…
PRINCE: Were they on foot, too?
LENGA: They were on foot too, yeah. Of course, the hierarchy – they were on trucks and in cars…behind. They were going behind. But the SS what guarded us – they were marching with us.
PRINCE: So they were miserable too?
LENGA: Absolutely – probably too. Of course they had to eat. They had canteen of water and food and you know, they could eat constantly. While they were marching, they ate and drank. But with us, we didn’t have anything, not to eat, not to drink. So finally they took us in…I think I told you about it one time…they took us in that big farm after three days and they let us rest that one night. And the ones that couldn’t – what got weak – they couldn’t continue the march and they were behind, you know. They always got behind…behind…behind…slower and slower, finally till they caught up with the SS what was going behind us, you know, with the cars – with the machine guns and everything. So they shot them. That’s it – they let them lay on the road. And until we got into that place, to that rest place. The next day they organized us again and they made a roll call and we start…continue to march. We hadn’t…they didn’t give us nothing to eat – nothing to drink – the same way we were marching. And we marched another day to a train station and then they loaded us on a train again, and at least we didn’t have to march and they took us to Austria, to the camp of Mauthausen. And over there, they brought us into Mauthausen concentration camp at about three o’clock in the afternoon; and they assembled us before a bathhouse. We were supposed to go in and change the clothes and take away from us everything again – whatever we had with us and distribute us to new barracks. And I’ll never forget that day.
It was cold…a cold day. It was about 15 below zero and we were standing and standing in one place. We couldn’t move and they took about 50 at a time into the bathhouse and then they took about maybe 15 or 20 minutes – they came for another 50, and so on and so on. And besides that, you were tired and thirsty and hungry. You were freezing yet too. And finally, they came up to us and somehow I got mixed up with another guy. We were three of us. We wanted to stay together so I got mixed up with another guy. They had a thing to carry, so they grabbed me – they grabbed another guy to carry the clothes, you know. They had to take out the clothes – the ones what undressed themselves already before they went into the shower. And by carrying the clothes, you were taken in the same time you were finished – you were right there close to the shower place so they let you into the shower. So I got mixed up with that other guy – they told me – the other guy to pick up the things and my two brothers were left behind. And I went into the shower and after that they took us out naked – completely naked, except the shoes…only the shoes.
PRINCE: At 15 below…?
LENGA: 15 below zero. And they let us stay there for two hours! I can tell you, I touched my head – it was completely covered with ice – wet – with no towels after that shower. I touched my head, you know, it was completely…I didn’t feel anymore the cold. In the beginning, I was shivering, and we were standing there for about three hours – just waiting. I don’t know what they were waiting for. What I had – they didn’t have any room. They were looking for a place where to locate us in the barracks. And we were just standing there freezing. (SPEAKS VERY QUIETLY WITH FEELING) And do you know (PAUSES) I didn’t even cough! If this would have happened to me in normal times, I probably would have got pneumonia and probably would have died, you know, just like that. I didn’t even cough. And do you know why? Because the only thing that was on our minds – THEY WON’T DESTROY US…as long as they don’t put us in the gas chamber or a bullet in our body, you know, THEY CAN’T DESTROY US! We’ll have to survive…we have to survive. That’s exactly what built in our minds.
PRINCE: The will to live.
LENGA: The will to live and that means very, very much. That helped a lot.
PRINCE: Why do you suppose some people had that – and some people didn’t?
LENGA: I don’t know. When you gave up then it was the end. If you decided that it’s finished, nothing will happen – you won’t be liberated – it’s a long way away – who knows when it will come. You can’t make it if you talk yourself into it, that happened – that’s right.
PRINCE: If you only had known you had a few months to go – just a few months to go.
LENGA: I still would fight – to be able to – that’s right. We knew, we already knew, it can’t be long! We knew it can’t be long! Because we heard what’s going on. But the will to live, you know, was so strong. We said, “If they want to finish us off, they could have killed us right in Auschwitz.” They had the possibility to do it, but still, they needed our labor and that was that gamble. We gambled with them and they gambled with us. In fact, I, later on, I want to tell you about why they wanted to destroy us in the last camp. They wanted to destroy us, but it was already too late for that. In fact, in many camps, they did do that. They destroyed the whole camp before the allied forces came in.
PRINCE: To go on – you were standing…
LENGA: We were standing up there in that cold weather for about three hours. I didn’t feel any more cold. It was to that point, you know, I didn’t feel any cold – everything was frozen on us. The only thing what we did was moving our feet back and forth and rubbing ourselves and we asked each other – we were close to each other – to come close, the bodies, so how much possible we’ll get some body heat.
PRINCE: Body heat?
LENGA: Body heat in each other. And that’s how we did. We stayed like that. So finally they took us in a barrack. And they had straw sacks. They didn’t have any bunk beds – they had straw sacks. And do you know what they did? They put…they told each one…the straw sack was long, about I would say from here…I would say about 15 feet, and there was no place to lay down on it. So the only thing what they told you to sit down on it – the next guy was sitting into you, a guy was sitting behind you. So when I walked in there, I thought, finally I have a chance to warm up and rest. So what happens – I had a guy…in back of me was a Russian guy…in front of me was another Russian guy – so when I got tired, he was resting on me, he put his whole weight…resting on me. And of course I try to do the thing that the other guy was behind me – that the other guy start to hit me with his hand…that I shouldn’t do that…lay on him. And I was so weak, you know, I couldn’t fight with either one. I couldn’t tell the other one that I can’t help it. So I had to concentrate all my strength to hold the other guy on me in order not to be hit on the head. When I tried to push that guy what was laying in front of me, he turned around and hit me, too.
PRINCE: Was the man in front of him laying on him?
PRINCE: Probably. The Russians, they were strong. The Jews, you know, we were really completely dehydrated…completely, you know, weak. You know, they exploited us in every way. They didn’t give us enough food like they gave the other prisoners. They give us the maximum amount of work – that they didn’t do to the other ones, you know. And we were always the weakest. And I couldn’t stand up after that. Of course, they went through the same thing. So you can imagine for seven hours – I had to sit in a position like that. ‘Till finally in the morning when they told us to get up, it was a relief for me that I could finally get up and I didn’t have that guy, you know, in front of me what was laying on me. And they put us on (PAUSES) – they didn’t give us yet to eat nothing that morning again. We still were not fed and then we start to march for about six hours to a station again…to a railroad station and they loaded us again in wagons and cars and they took us to another camp – to another camp – to Melk – that was closer to Vienna than Mauthausen. And finally over there, we finally got a place to lay down on a bunk bed. But the work there was very hard. We had to build factories in the mountains.
PRINCE: They were still building factories?
LENGA: They were still building factories in the mountains. You can imagine you had to stay with that electric hammers up like this (SHOWS HOW) and dig…and you didn’t even have any protection for your head. Many times rocks fell down on your head and you can imagine how you felt, you know, you had to watch out for each piece. Not only you had to hold that hammer which was so heavy and dig this up, but you have to keep your eyes constantly – the eagle eye – that when a piece of rock is going to come loose, that you have time enough to jump away to protect yourself from getting killed!
PRINCE: Or small pieces if your eye…
LENGA: And no glasses…no nothing, that’s right. And that was, that was the real tougher camp already than it was in Auschwitz. And the food was much worse too. And we stayed in that camp, let’s see, that was January…in that camp we stayed until about March…till March.
PRINCE: And you were still with your brothers?
LENGA: We were still together in that camp.
PRINCE: What happened in March?
LENGA: In March – now that happened, another story. When we came to that camp – to Melk – they had one block, a block they called, you know, it was barracks you know where they…the prisoners…were housed. It was made out of a regular building, a regular mason building – bricks. It was about a two floor building with good strong walls – good windows. And luckily we were selected to go in that barrack. And it wasn’t too bad. It was warm because the buildings was protected. It was a real good building. The rest of them there were shacks – built out of lumber and without windows…without anything. It was cold. It was a heavy winter that time in 1945 in Europe…in Germany, and in Austria. So while we were there about – imagine three weeks in that camp. One night the Block Commander comes out and starts to call numbers and starts to assemble the ones called out. Our three numbers, too – my two brothers and myself. So we step out and when we all assemble, he gives a speech to us, and he tells us that we are going to be transferred. It’s too crowded in this block and he can’t manage so many prisoners, so we’re going to be transferred to the shacks over there. I’m telling you when we heard that, we knew for sure that’s certain death. We heard about it that one day – by the time they come home from that heavy work and they lay down in that cold barrack – they die. You know, it doesn’t take a few days and they’re finished. And we still had two watches left…Morris smuggled those two watches through.
PRINCE: How could he – through showers…?
LENGA: He did that. I don’t know – he really took a chance. But I’m telling you he saved our life by doing that.
PRINCE: He carried them through that march?
LENGA: He carried them through the march. He carried them through Mauthausen and he got through the shower. They checked us every place and Mauthausen was the worst check there. And what he did, you see, they gave us soap, before we got into the shower, they gave everybody a piece of soap – so he melted…not he melted it…he made soft that soap so much that he put those two watches into the soap and he formed it up again and it looked like that piece of soap he was holding. Would they have taken the piece of soap out of his hand, they would have felt right away that it was heavy and they would have noticed it. But luckily, they just saw him holding a piece of soap.
PRINCE: How could he have marched all that time with those watches? If he had worn them – they would have seen them.
LENGA: Well, now, we had them in our pockets.
PRINCE: You had pockets?
LENGA: Yeah. We had them in our pockets…in our pants pockets…we had them.
PRINCE: I didn’t know the pants had pockets.
LENGA: Yeah. We had two pockets in our pants, and the jackets had pockets too…both sides. So he had them in his pockets. So we had one good watch – it was an Omega. And we talked again and who do they delegate? They delegate me again, you know, that I should walk up to him. Now that same…the reason I’m mentioning that story because it’ll be important later – he saved our life – later. He had a speech…now after we went through with everything…we came in his block…he had a speech for us and he said, (DO WE HAVE STILL ENOUGH ROOM?) So he announced… “Anybody what has anything…possessions…watches…gold…anything, he has last chance to surrender and bring it in voluntarily, right now, because later, if anything could be found by anyone, anything, they’ll be shot to death. And that’s officially from the SS, and that will happen.” He, that guy. And my two brothers tell me, “Well, the only thing we have anything to lose because we are so close now to the end…maybe they’ll liberate us and survive. And now we have to go there to those barracks. We probably won’t survive…it’s possible so we have to try.” And they say, “You go, you are the best, you know, you have ways…”
PRINCE: The most experienced. (LAUGHTER)
LENGA: You know (LAUGHTER)…to talk. I wish you would ask Morris about this story.
LENGA: Yeah, sure. So I walk into that guy and I tell him that I would like him to do me a favor. He looks at me again (MUCH LAUGHTER)…you know I wouldn’t have the guts anymore now – I really don’t – I am so bashful now. But at that time, something was driving me to…to…survive. Not so much for me, you know, I cared more for them than I cared for myself.
PRINCE: You had…
LENGA: Because I could have been shot, you know what I mean, for those things what I did.
PRINCE: You had it when you needed it.
LENGA: That’s right…right. So I walk into him and I says, “I’d like you to do me a favor.” He looks at me… “Who are you?”, you know. And I say, “I’m the one what you put to go, you know, into the other barracks.” He says, “You mean to tell me you don’t want to go?” I say, “No, I’ll go.” He said, “What then, what is it what you wanted?” I said, “I’d like to give you a gift.” I didn’t even prepare myself what I’m going to say – just happened like words came to my mind like somebody was…some divine power put them in my mouth…those words. I said, “I’d like to give you…” and I didn’t mention my brothers…nothing…you know. I just sat and talked about myself. In case something happened – I should be the only one. I was ready to sacrifice myself. He says, “What do you mean?” I say, “I’d like to give you a gift.” He said, “For what?” And I still didn’t say nothing. I said, “It’s a beautiful watch and I have it for generations and my grandmother, you know, she gave it to me, and it’s the most precious thing in my life, but I’d like to give it to you.” And I talked and talked to him and he says, (SPEAKS LOUDLY) “Come on, come on, tell me what it is – I like the watch, you know.” I didn’t show it to him yet, nothing. He said, “Okay, I like it. I know it’s precious to you – what do you want for it?” I said, “I wouldn’t like to go to those barracks there.” He said, “Why, where did you find out that those barracks are not so good?” I said, “I heard rumors, you know that it’s very cold there.” He said, “That’s all what you wanted?” I says, “No.” He says, “What else did you wanted?” I say, “I have two brothers and I want them to be left here too, with me.” And do you know what he says to me? He says, (LAUGHTER) “Are you crazy by any chance?”, and I felt already that I have him already on my side. You know, he could have hit me or tell me, “I’m going to take you to the SS and turn you over.” But he wasn’t talking like that, so I got more chutspa and I said, “I want my two brothers…I have two brothers and I would like them to stay here too.” So he says, “Do you know their numbers?” So I have the numbers – all the numbers were – my oldest brother was number one and mine was two – no, the last number was six. And do you know, I forgot my number already. I used to remember (PAUSES)…it’s one number moved one from to the next. You see mine is A19367…and my oldest brother Marcel was 66, and Morris was 68 – the same A19366, 67 and 68. So I gave him the numbers…their two numbers too, and he put it down. And he said, “You know what will happen to you if you don’t give me that watch?” I says, “You can be sure, you know, that you’ll get it.” He didn’t ask me where I have it, you know, and he didn’t ask me how I’ll bring it to him, but soon, those people were taken out the next morning – they were taken out from the barracks and I saw they didn’t call our three numbers. Then I knew and when we came back from work that day, I went in and I gave him the watch. And he liked it, and he took it, and everything was all right.
He already knew, us…because he saw all three of us and I wouldn’t say he gave us anymore favors, but he didn’t mistreated us like he did the other inmates in that block of his. He was a Reichdeutscher German and he was the Block Commandant.
PRINCE: Reichdeutscher German?
LENGA: Yeah it was a…Reichdeutscher means he was a German citizen. He was a German, yeah. But he was a political prisoner. He wasn’t a criminal prisoner because he had the red…
PRINCE: Red patch?
LENGA: Right. So he must have been either, you know, something…maybe a Socialist or Communist, or maybe…Anyway like I mentioned before, the Germans in the concentration camps, the prisoners…they have the best rights – more than anybody else – the privileges. They were very much privileged. But, uh, several weeks later, he came up to me and he said, “You know that watch what you gave me, it’s not running.” So I says, “Don’t worry about it, just let me know when I can come into your office and I’ll fix it.” Either you…or either my brother or I, whoever, we’ll fix it for you and it’ll be alright. Maybe it’s just a small…a minor thing. (MR. LENGA: SHOULD I TALK LOUDER, OR…)
PRINCE: That’s fine…be comfortable. Did you ever worry, Harry, that you wouldn’t be able to fix it. I mean…get a part?
LENGA: Oh no. Well, I was worried, but I had a screwdriver made out of a nail and I made out a tweezer from a pair of steel what we used to have earmuffs. So I broke off a piece of…
PRINCE: Earmuffs?
LENGA: Yeah, you know to cover the ears, what used to have a little spring around your head. So I broke off by a stone…I grind it down to make points and I made out a tweezer and a little toothbrush – that’s what we had.
PRINCE: I have to ask you where you would have found an earmuff?
LENGA: We had it somewhere…somehow…I don’t know, we…we found it somewhere in working. And I – they were old already, but I didn’t care.
PRINCE: You utilized it.
LENGA: The only thing I thought of it…useful be to me to be that little spring. So I can make a tweezer out of it.
PRINCE: Amazing.
LENGA: So he saw my brother…my oldest brother…what he lives now, he lived in France, he’s dead now, and he called him in and he says, “All right now, you can come in. Nobody will be here. You can come in and sit down and fix me the watch.” So he went in and he fixed the watch and he was very happy. And one time they were giving out the soups…
LENGA: Yeah, and he usually didn’t watch that because they had another, you know, somebody behind…below him which was a little, you know, an attendant in the barracks and he was giving out the soups. But it happened so that I came close to the barrel where they poured in…in that, uh….
PRINCE: Where the soup was.
LENGA: The soup in the, you know, and everybody had a…
PRINCE: Container.
LENGA: Container. And they poured in the container. He took a look at me and gave a smile. And then walks up and I got my soup…he walks up…”If you want a little more – come back right away.”
So I want to tell you that – an interesting story about what happened. So of course I ate up my soup in a hurry and I went back so if it’ll be still some left and he was still there waiting for me. And I walk over and he says, “Come over here…you want some more?” I said, “Yes sir.” So he poured in a whole container full, you know, usually when they put in the quart – it was about half the amount but he put in almost two quarts of it. And I walk away and I’m telling you, I was ready (TALKS WITH ENTHUSIASM) to eat it up right away, because the first portion that was given to you – it just built up the appetite for more.
PRINCE: Uh huh.
LENGA: But of course I knew I have two brothers and I wanted to share with them. And that was my biggest struggle in that few hours till they’ll get home. I hided it under my bunk, under there, so nobody should see it. Anybody would have noticed it, they would have, you know, stole. And I was constantly…every few minutes…my mind was pushing me to do it, but my heart didn’t let me do it. And it was the biggest struggle, you know. And I said…well if he would have given me half the amount, of course, I would have been glad to… “Let’s share the half amount,” and I was ready to take my spoon out and to steal a spoon of that soup in my mouth. But still I didn’t do it. I said, “No, that’s not right, after all.” You know, he didn’t give me that – he gave me all of it and that we have to share it. Each one has to have a spoon…
PRINCE: That’s a beautiful story.
LENGA: And I made it. It was hard – it was the biggest…the hardest thing for me to fight, and we…I made it!
So it was going…it was…we went to work. I used to work at that time at the morning shift and my two brothers, they worked at the second shift, so that I…we didn’t never meet together and I came in the morning. When I came home in the evening, they were still working. So I had to…I had to wait for them.
PRINCE: You were still doing this kind of work that you were talking about before?
LENGA: Yeah. Oh every day they took us into those mountains and we were digging tunnels underneath. In fact, they already had some already finished…completely finished – factories with machinery and everything. They used to make airplane parts in those factories underneath…(That’s the last “underneath.”) And, it was (PAUSES) until April. Suddenly one day, they didn’t took us off to work. They lined us up – they didn’t take us off to work and we heard rumors that they’re going to evacuate us. The Russian front came close already and they were talking they’re going to evacuate us out and of course we didn’t know what’s going to happen to us.

Tape 3 - Side 2 (Prince)

It was different from us…some of them said they’re going to liquidate us – some of them said that they’re going to take us to another camp. But we saw that they took…they only picked out the strong people and took them in a different side. The ones what were still good built and still had a lot of energy and looked real strong, and they took them out so…if we figured…
PRINCE: This was just one morning, Harry, things changed?
LENGA: Changed just like that…just like that. And I didn’t describe it to you what happened…how that…in that camp, was even worse than the Auschwitz. Every day when they used to take us out to that place – to the mountains to work – a lot of people got killed just by…not only by being beaten up, only by the accidents and the work was so hard and hazardous…dangerous, that we didn’t have any protection whatsoever. We didn’t have any hard hats to be protected and rocks they were falling down all the time. And a lot of cave-ins came while you were underneath and sometimes 20-50, maybe even 100 people got killed. It was very, very hazardous work and of course we…another thing…we had to take the dead bodies and carry them back to the camp…to the crematorium. And we didn’t have enough strength just to get by today, yet, but if you had to carry a body which was so heavy too…even if they’re so light – bones and skin – but still a dead body is…is heavy. And it only took two people to carry that body. So that was hard. And I always prayed to God I shouldn’t fall into that Commando that they pick me up to…to carry home a body.
PRINCE: You mean you prayed that you wouldn’t have to carry a body?
LENGA: That’s right, because the ones what did – they couldn’t…they wanted to rest and they fell down so they start to beat them, but in starting to beat them – they had to be carried home already.
PRINCE: It was enough for you to get home after your day of work.
LENGA: I mean, that’s right. That’s right – you could hardly made it. Anyway, and they used to come in…they used to search us every single day. If they found a piece of paper – they gave you 25 lashes. If they found a piece of paper behind your bed. We used to put paper in the cement sacks so we should stay…should warm us…we used to put them between the shirts in the body – it was so cold. And they searched and they caught me one time.
PRINCE: What did they do?
LENGA: I had two coats…I had two jackets on and I don’t know what happened…I’m telling you…I was lucky. He took it off…he told me to take it off…
LENGA: Not a Kapo – an SS man…an SS man. And he took down my number and I knew after that I’ll probably get either 50 or 75 lashes…’twas something like that. And if you get 50 or 75 lashes, you were finished anyway. And I was really worried and my brother said, “Oh, nothing will happen…you’ll see.” He looked to me…he looked to me like he’s not…other ones that they caught you something doing wrong – they right away start to beat them. Besides that, they reported you to the political Gestapo. They were a special unit that they took care of those, you know, the…
PRINCE: Misdemeanors…
LENGA: Misdemeanors, yeah. Things what the prisoners didn’t obey the rules. But he didn’t hit me. He said, “You shouldn’t have done it.” And I start…I start to plead with him. I says, “You know how cold it is and look it’s just so thin…nothing…and I work so hard…I work really hard and I found it laying somewhere and I put it on…just today. And it happened so you just found it. He said, “Oh I have to report you” – he reasoned with me. And then I told my brothers… “He is something, looks to be a nice man” and “I bet you” my older brother said… “I bet you he won’t report you.” And I was waiting two-three days and I didn’t hear. Finally they came to the fourth day…they called all those what they caught with things…a little piece of paper there…they took them out…they didn’t call my number!
PRINCE: They didn’t call your name? Number?
LENGA: They didn’t call my number – was no name. They didn’t call my number out. They I knew he destroyed it…he didn’t report me. I was lucky. So…
PRINCE: That’s very interesting, Harry.
LENGA: I don’t know, he…he did it.
PRINCE: Was this…was this because this was towards the end and maybe he was replaced…was he…by…
LENGA: I don’t know.
PRINCE: You mentioned earlier that (OVERTALKS)…
LENGA: He looked…I’ll tell you another incident. I don’t know if I mentioned it. You see, I think I told you that…when I was working, I made up my mind…we all three decided to do that. I tried always to explain it to my brothers…if you have to do the job, let’s do the job. It’s much better to be beaten up and be killed than not to do it – try to save yourself because you’re only asking for it. So when I was there to work especially when I saw the guards around me, I always acted…
PRINCE: The what around you?
LENGA: The guards.
PRINCE: The guards.
LENGA: Yeah. So I was always trying to be more active – to do exactly what they want me to do because I figured it’s still better than to be beaten up. And when you were beaten up to the point that you couldn’t get up anymore, you couldn’t work so they beat you more, till finally you were completely exhausted then they put you in a side…if you even…if you didn’t die yet, well they put you away and…so you couldn’t move anymore – so they just put you in a side till they take you home. But if you were still alive, then they took you into the camp…they put you in that hospital, they called it. And the hospital there – they finished you off anyway. So it happened, that’s what I want to tell you…one time we were carrying those railroad…to the…
LENGA: No the iron tracks. The railroad tracks…the iron…
PRINCE: Those aren’t ties?
LENGA: Not the ties – the wood.
PRINCE: The wood?
LENGA: No, it wasn’t wood – it was the iron…
PRINCE: The rails.
LENGA: The rails – the iron rails. Right. And only two men carrying one long rail. And some of them, they collapsed, and if one collapsed and they fell down in the front of you, and if you didn’t watch it, or see it, it gave you such a hit, you know, in your head or your shoulder and it killed you too. And whenever it came to that, I always kept looking at that guy in front of me…how he’s doing. Even we used to bend down because we couldn’t carry that load but I used always to be conscious of that man in front of me – how he is acting. And when I start to see that he’s really starting to sink down deep…he’s going, any minute he’s going to fall – I kept my eye only on him and soon I saw he’s collapsing…I jumped away, so, and that guard saw that. He saw what happened. And you know we went in a corridor, inside, where it’s real dark – I saw somebody touching me…I didn’t know who it is. And he came out – I took a look – I had a piece of bread…he pushed in a piece of bread in my pocket…inside…that guard. He did that so and I took a look at him, you know, and he looked away and he gave me a sign with his eyes… “Don’t make anything out of it.” You know, like, I understood him…what he meant. And he pushed it – an SS man. Now you could find maybe zero, zero, zero, one percent what have a little conscience in them.
PRINCE: Well, was this because the older ones were replacing the younger ones towards the end and things were…
LENGA: They were older guards, yeah. They were older guards. They were not the young guards anymore what they used to have before…that’s true, yeah…that is true – was older men.
PRINCE: I guess sometimes there is no explanation.
LENGA: Well I would say some people they have conscience, you know, that they have some pity. I would say, maybe they…you know…they felt they’re doing wrong…they…some of them I would say so, but very few.
PRINCE: I don’t know that we’ve got the words – that there are even words to describe…
LENGA: That’s right…
PRINCE: What we’re trying to say…
LENGA: I just wanted to bring it up that sometimes, you know, something like that…that happened, too.
PRINCE: Yeah. I wouldn’t…Harry, besides the fact that the bread was extra for you – I would imagine…
LENGA: Oh that means…that meant a lot for us. A piece of bread, especially in Melk, meant more than I would have a million dollars.
PRINCE: Let me…let me ask you this – did also an act of – whatever we’re trying to call this…”Kindness” (HESITATES OVER THE WORD “KINDNESS”)…
LENGA: Oh, sure it was kindness…he didn’t have to do it.
PRINCE: How did that make you feel?
LENGA: Well I appreciated very much and I said – you still see somebody what cares, you know…
PRINCE: So do you call it like an emotional uplift, or…
LENGA: Well no – it wasn’t – it didn’t weigh me either way, but I felt that you still can find some humane, liberal…a liberal human too, you know. That’s how I felt about it. In other words, he was afraid – if he would have been caught – he would have been dead. They probably would have sent him right away to the Russian front, I imagine, too. Because for him that wasn’t an easy thing to do. It wasn’t like being up in the front and fighting and get killed, especially to the Russian front. And they told me if they sent you to the Russian front – that was the most punishment.
PRINCE: And the Russian front was getting closer.
LENGA: Oh sure, and, but yet…he did it, he did it in the dark. He took a chance, let’s say for him it was a chance, you know, to take it. So he must had some humanity…possess some…(PAUSES)…
PRINCE: Spark.
LENGA: Spark of humane thoughts, you know…
PRINCE: Maybe the fact that you showed that you were still alive…
LENGA: Oh, he saw me that I was fighting, you know, for…for surviving.
PRINCE: And that touched him…
LENGA: That may be, that’s possible. So anyway, I want to go back to the…when they lined us up and what happened…the cause of that watch what I gave to the commandant. So finally they took me, Morris and myself, they took out…they didn’t take out – but they took my older brother out – what lives in France. Oh, wait a minute – no – the commander came by, the lager…the block altester, the older you know, the block altester – the guy what I gave the watch…he came, he walked by and he helped the SS you know, pick out things…pick out men which should be taken out. And he grabbed my brother and took him out.
PRINCE: Was that Marcel?
LENGA: Marcel yeah. And he took him out and he put them to the ones…to the strong ones. We already knew that the strong ones they’re not going to kill. And the older, the majority, you know, they left with us. So like I told you before, we have made up a pact between us where one goes – all of us goes. If one goes to die, we all going to die. That’s what we decided. If we can’t help each other, we’ll just disappear together. We wanted to perish together. So when he took my brother and put him to the other side and left him there. We saw it, but he didn’t see me there – the Block Commandant – he didn’t see Morris either. He just saw him and he took him. So while they were not looking, my brother run back to us. Listen to that. And he goes back again and he sees him again and he takes him out again. He says, “You fool what you doing? I took you out specially and you’re going back.” And he says, “I can’t, you know, I have two more brothers.” “Oh” he says… “Yeah that’s right.” He says “I’ll find them,” and he says “Don’t you go – stay there.” And he comes back – listen to that story – and sees me with Morris together – we were standing close to each other. So he takes us both out. Then comes an SS…he says, “What are you doing here? Why do you pull out, you know, constantly people from here…?”
PRINCE: Pull out what?
LENGA: Why do you pull out constantly prisoners out and put them to the other side? He says, “You told me to help you – to show you which ones are good workers and those are good workers.” He didn’t say “brothers” – he didn’t say nothing. He said, “Oh, if that’s it, okay.” He took us back…all three there. So we didn’t know yet if it’s good or bad – so long we were together and were standing on the other side. So from the whole camp, it was about…in that camp was about 50,000 – they picked up about 2000. Listen to that. They took all the rest – the 48,000 – they put them on broken down boards and they put them on the river. We didn’t…we…we…wait a minute. I have to go how it happened. We didn’t know what’s happening. They took them away – out from the camp completely – and they left us in the camp. And we continued…we continued to work – the same things what we used to do before – we continued to do the work. But the food improved…
LENGA: Yeah because they had more there – they had a lot of food accumulated in their warehouses and they saw the end was coming because the Russian planes…everyday, they stop…they flew over the camp and they burned…bombed all the military installations around the camp. In fact, they threw a few bombs in the camp, too.
PRINCE: Oh they did…?
LENGA: By mistake, yeah. I don’t know if it was a mistake. Possibly they made a mistake, but they completely destroyed one barrack and they killed several hundred prisoners, too.
PRINCE: When you were there?
LENGA: When we were there, yeah.
PRINCE: How did you feel about that, Harry?
LENGA: Oh we felt…we felt…we felt…We felt that we are alive but we were glad that something…we saw that…we saw with our own eyes that something is going on, you know. We didn’t mind to get…even killed…so long as we knew that they’re getting their payback – what’s coming to them. But we knew that it’s the end. If we can only survive another week…two weeks…three weeks – who knows – but we know we saw everything that it’s coming towards the end already. We saw the Russian planes all the time – we saw American planes flying by all the time – not anymore higher reconnaissance planes only they bombed…they were low flying all around…all the allies’ planes we saw constantly flying around.
PRINCE: Did you know who were the ones that bombed the camp?
LENGA: It was the Russians – the Russians, yeah. I think it was a mistake. I didn’t think they did it, you know. It happens. They wanted, you know, the fact in an air raid came on the only thing what they told us is to get out from the barracks and lay down under…they were hiding in the houses you see. But us, they told to lay on the yard – on the ground – outside. But they never…they could kill us…they, they even machine gunned the towers, the guards that were standing in the towers were machine gunned, but they…they never…Yeah, we saw that, sure…
PRINCE: How did you react?
LENGA: Oh, you can imagine how we reacted. We were happy to see those things. But of course, it could have happened that a stray…a stray bullet could have come…(OVERTALKS)
PRINCE: Physically could you do anything?
LENGA: No, we couldn’t do nothing. What could you do?
PRINCE: I mean physically – did you cheer…did you…?
LENGA: No, we didn’t…no, no…we knew to do something, they’ll kill us, right away. We had to be very careful not to show that we even enjoy ourselves, because that was showing them, you know, that we are against them. Of course they knew we are against them (LAUGHTER) but we couldn’t show them if you wanted to keep your skin on.
PRINCE: Right, I understand.
LENGA: So we stayed there another four weeks in that camp and we ate much better, and we didn’t work so hard. And finally they…after four weeks…the front came real close, they took us together and they put us in trains and they took us to another concentration camp. They took us…completely evacuated the place, in fact, the same commandant what I talked to him the last day before they took us out, he said, “They think about another day of, maybe a day and a half, the Russians will be here.” And they guarded us, you know, they guarded us so intense…so strict…that nobody had a chance even to get away, you know. Anything else, they didn’t watch so good, but us, like we would be the most valuable things to them…to kill. Isn’t that a funny thing?
PRINCE: It’s amazing…it’s amazing that they didn’t just leave you and…
LENGA: No, no, no…they watched you every minute. They stayed with machine guns while we were going in those wagons, in the cattle cars, they watched us perfect.
PRINCE: May I ask you, uh, as the war seemed to be winding down, uh, the…the SS, the mood, uh…
LENGA: It was the same…it was…except the older ones they were already, you know, not so aggressive against us.
PRINCE: Yes, but the fact that…
LENGA: But they obeyed the orders to the…to the…to the point. They did not, you know, miss anything.
PRINCE: No change.
LENGA: Right, right, right. The only – you could tell in their behavior that, you know, they are not so anymore, you know, they won’t go out to find fault, you know, they didn’t see it by itself.
PRINCE: They just didn’t want to get in any trouble.
LENGA: Right, right, right…that’s it. So they put us into those trains, the rest of us, and we saw they’re evacuating everything and they blow up…blow up everything in the camp. By the camp where the train was still standing we heard the explosions – it was so close – you can imagine how close it was already. And then they took us to Ebensee, to the camp, to the concentration camp…Ebensee. Now when we came to Ebensee, all those people what I told you they took into boats…they didn’t feed them…
PRINCE: Took them to…
LENGA: To…into…they put them into boats – into ships…
PRINCE: Boats – boats…?
LENGA: Into ships, yeah, on the Danube River and they transported them, you know.
PRINCE: 48,000…
LENGA: And it took them three weeks – the same three weeks what we stayed in that camp in Melk when they were taken away. It took them three weeks to get to that camp and more than half died out on the way. They didn’t have no food – from hunger and from thirst. They didn’t feed them. They didn’t give them nothing. They just left them like that. And whoever survived – grabbed something, I don’t know they…I don’t know how they survived. And the ones who survived were ready to go to the crematorium at Ebensee anyway. So you can imagine when we heard that…
PRINCE: I’m confused, Harry, uh, they were on ships?
LENGA: They put them on ships.
PRINCE: Where was this?
LENGA: In Melk. You see they docked at the Danube, yeah.
PRINCE: Explain it because, uh, they put them on…all right, there’s a river.
LENGA: There’s a river, like here, the Mississippi, for example…
LENGA: It’s a big, large river…
PRINCE: Which river?
LENGA: The Danube.
PRINCE: The Danube?
LENGA: The Danube, yeah.
PRINCE: The Danube River…
LENGA: Right, right…
LENGA: And they put them on ships and they’re supposed to be shipped over to Ebensee to the concentration camp…away from Melk.
PRINCE: I see, all right.
LENGA: It took them almost three weeks…almost the same amount of time that we were staying in Melk.
PRINCE: I understand now…
LENGA: And having everything to eat – a lot to eat actually – and we didn’t work so hard…we really…it was like having a vacation in those three weeks. But they…the ones what were taken away, they perished – most of them.
PRINCE: Did you find that you had gained a little bit of strength?
LENGA: No, no, not at that point, of course, but it helped us to survive longer. Because if this would not have happened, we probably would have been perished too, or we wouldn’t have been alive.
PRINCE: So when you got to Ebensee…these people…
LENGA: When we got to Ebensee we found out, we only find a few of them which survived…few.
PRINCE: There were crematoriums at Ebensee?
LENGA: Oh yeah, the same way where like in any other camps. They each…concentration…had crematoriums. But the only thing, later, like I told you, remember before – the last few months since January, they stopped gassing. They didn’t gas…they didn’t take people what are in perfect condition and put them in the gas chamber and then gas them and then burn them. But the ones what were weak or sick or dying – they took them and burned them.
PRINCE: And that’s what they did to these people at Ebensee. (OVERTALKS)
LENGA: That’s right…the dead ones. (OVERTALKS)
PRINCE: What are we already, maybe in March?
LENGA: That was in…that was already in April.
PRINCE: In April…
LENGA: In April that was already…very short because I was only in Ebensee three more weeks and after that, we got, uh, liberated. That was…that was the last three weeks. And it would have happened another week – the condition I was – I wouldn’t have survived anymore either, because Ebensee was even worse than was Melk. They gave us only a half of quart of potato peeling soup, without peelings – we would be happy to have peelings. In fact, I remember the first day when we came and my…Marcel he got the soup and he gave it a drink – he started to vomit it out. And he said, “I won’t eat it.” I said, “Wait a minute – I bet you tomorrow – not only you’ll eat it, but you’ll lick it up, you know, with your tongue…the container.” He said, “No I will never do it.” I says, “You better eat it now because you won’t live till tomorrow, but I want you to live till tomorrow to prove it to you that you’ll eat it.” So he ate it and the next day he was glad that he did because he was eating that soup with water, and besides that you had to work very hard. They took us out to the same kind of work what…there was a rocky mountains, you know, like in here in the…
LENGA: Colorado. Over there, Melk, it was mostly, you know, not so much rock, it was sand too but over there, you had strictly to hit rocks constantly. And it was much harder work and also they built factories in those mountains. It’s amazing what they did. They thought the war would go on for…for years yet. They were still constantly talking – they’re waiting for the new bomb…for the new arms. The way they were talking, they thought they were getting the atomic bomb. Somehow, they were hoping for it.
PRINCE: In thinking what kind of rumors, I mean, did you hear the guards talking at this time?
LENGA: No, we didn’t hear the guards – didn’t – never talked to us. The only thing we…
PRINCE: Between themselves…
LENGA: Between themselves. We couldn’t hear – sometimes we heard something some…but not good. They were very careful not to have any contact with us except when they watched us – they didn’t talk to each other either. They constantly had to watch us because they were watched too by the supervisors. But we had some German foremans, you know what they were called…
PRINCE: Foremen?
LENGA: Yeah, foreman – what they were doing the construction…the engineers and this and that. Now they were strictly together with us working, you know. They told us…
PRINCE: Were they citizens, or…
LENGA: They were Germans yeah – they were Austrians – they were Germans…
PRINCE: Like a company…
LENGA: Like a company. They came in the morning (OVERTALK). They did the, you see? We did the labor…the plain…
PRINCE: How did they treat you?
LENGA: Well they didn’t – they didn’t help us…nothing. But sometimes they talked to us, they told us, you know, if they had a chance, you know. We asked them how long till it…who will win the war, like for example…we didn’t go up to ask them when the Americans are coming. This would have been bad but we used to say, “Do you think – how long then – how long will be the war be over?”…something like that. Then Germany will be free, you know. So we wound them up and they start to say, “Germany, forget about it – Germany is “kapoot”…it’s finished,” they said…told us, you know. And that’s how we found out little things, and of course we magnified it all the time too. If we heard a little bit, we already said, they said they are maybe 50 miles away from here, and we used to say, “They’re only 30 miles away”…just to keep ourselves up.
PRINCE: To build yourself up.
LENGA: That’s right – to build our own up. Each day you had to survive…you had to fight to…to show something of will, why you want to live for, and that was the most important thing just to…
PRINCE: You had signs…
LENGA: Right, right, we saw it…right, right. We still were in their mouth, you know. Any minute they could close their jaws and then finish us off.
I want to come to that too – the last minute they want to finish us off too…to destroy, which they did. In other places they destroyed all the – a lot of concentration camps they completely wiped them out before the liberation. Anyway it was coming to that…that we knew it won’t be long and they still were bringing in new people from other places. That concentration camp was surrounded by mountains. We never saw the sun shine there…always were clouds hanging over and mountains were all surrounded around us. And it was very hard…was only, one big road was only leading…one road was leading to that camp and that’s the only thing was only to go in…the same road in and the same road out. So finally we were in that camp, it was very hard…Marcel…(I was really thin, Morris was really thin) and Marcel he start to swell. He says it depends on the, the…bodies of some people…he start to swell – he got – we thought suddenly…”What’s the matter with him?” He gets fat in the beginning but later his legs were getting swell and the reason he starts losing a lot of water into, you know, to sub…sub…substitute with the…instead to eat, you know. He used to drink and the water that filled up the fluid in him…
PRINCE: Uh huh. Could he get water anytime he wanted?
LENGA: Water you could get, yeah, water you could get because they had those washrooms and you would just get in and you hold your mouth under and you were drinking there because they rationed water too – because they needed it to mix the cement so the water was plenty all the time. And we start to…I start to fight with him to stop drinking and he already…he and Morris start already to eat dirt…
PRINCE: Eat dirt?
LENGA: Yeah. They picked up…used to pick up dirt and eat it just to chew it to satisfy, you know…I think I must tell you – I don’t know – I was the only guy which I controlled myself. I didn’t want to die and I fought them, too – not to do it. Because when you start to eat the dirt, you couldn’t help it – you had to swallow it, too – when you start to swallow it, your intestines comes enlarged.
LENGA: And then you got sick…diarrhea and then dysentery and they died. So I had to fight many times, believe me, many times, I saw he took a piece of dirt…I used to push in my hand to him and make him spit out.
PRINCE: Unreal…I don’t, I don’t…
LENGA: It’s unbelievable what one human being is able to go through. So finally that happened till May fifth – it was on a Sunday – we were thinking about it…it’ll happen…it’ll…now that was on Sunday. On Saturday – now listen to this story. They took us out, everybody had to step out from the barracks, if you make it…if you can’t make it, you have to be out, and the lager commander, you know, in Germany there were SS men…a major, you know, or something like that…you know really high rank – and he had a speech for us in German. And what he suggested that we go in to protective…he said, it’s going to be big air raids in here because the enemy is coming close and they’re going to bombard…bomb the camps and everything. So he wants to protect our lives and he wants us to go in – he’s going to take us. You see, he don’t have…he didn’t have anymore that supply of guards what he had it normally. And not anymore those real young ones, you know…what they were ready to kill…to destroy…but the older ones. So he had a speech…said he’s going to protect us from the air raids so we should go into those factories…underground in the mountains. Now he forgot that we were there putting in dynamite about three weeks before that, you know. That was our job to fill in dynamite in those factories so long when they said they’re going to do that – then the enemy would come close or they’ll blow this all up. So we knew what he wants to do and especially the…it was one guy, a Frenchman, and he was the secretary in the office and he was a translator and he translated in all the languages, you know…Russian and French and Polish and Spanish…in all the languages so every nationality will understand. So what he did in German, he did exactly like he said but in the other languages, he just gave a little hint.
LENGA: You know, he just said, “Do we have to be protected?”, you know, just like that, you know, that word which they didn’t caught on to it. And then we all with one, just like that, like it would have been organized…we said, “We are not afraid that we’ll be bombed. It doesn’t matter, no matter what’ll happen to us – we’ll die – let’s die from a bomb than from hunger. We’ll stay here.” And he saw he can do nothing, you know. It was like the whole masses, you know, was about a hundred thousand people there.
PRINCE: A hundred thousand?
LENGA: A hundred thousand in Ebensee, yeah. You can imagine what it was…it’s terrible. And all, all of us…they used to bring in 20,000 a day.
PRINCE: I can’t conceive those numbers…sitting here talking to you.
LENGA: Yeah, it was. People died out, about 20,000 a day. The corpses, when the Americans came in…we didn’t even know, they loaded, you know, blocks away…blocks and blocks…just corpses laying there. They had to take the German population in. They made them bury those skeletons. (LONG PAUSE)…and it ‘twas….
PRINCE: It was Saturday.
LENGA: That was Saturday and we refused that. We said… “We won’t go nowhere, we’d rather be bombed.” We didn’t say nothing…we want to wait for the Americans, but we said, “We’d rather be bombed,” you know, and everyone, like one voice, and he saw that…that’s what happened. And you know he tried to run away and his own guards killed him…in our eyes. He tried to get in a…a…car and take him away because he was a, probably they were close already…he couldn’t fulfill his…
PRINCE: Obligations.
LENGA: Obligations or his desire. Let’s put it…his desire. So he took off and they were afraid if he takes off, he’ll hand them over to the Americans because we knew that the Americans are coming on this side, you know. So they killed him. They shot him with their own guns. We saw that.
PRINCE: Because he was leaving them to take the blame.
LENGA: Right, right…that what had happened. And we knew that won’t be long and that was Saturday afternoon, and Sunday around…I think it’s 11 or 12 o’clock (we didn’t have watches, we didn’t know) but it was approximately that time in the morning…we heard yelling – “The Americans are here – the Americans are coming – the Americans are here.” And we start to move out. You can imagine. It’s true enough – you saw the American tanks rolling in…into the camp…
PRINCE: What did you feel, Harry?
LENGA: Oh, you can imagine – we didn’t believe it, you know, actually when it happened…we didn’t believe it. Is it true? Is it true? We are alive and we said, “We are safe…we are living…we are live.” (SPEAKS WITH FEELING) And we cried and all the nationalities and everybody was assembled outside…all nationalities start to sing their national hymns. In fact, they even had flags. Would you believe that each nationality had a flag? Somehow they managed to have a flag to show…to pull out like French…the Polish people.
PRINCE: They had flags?
LENGA: Flags…little flags, you know. They prepared themselves. I don’t know how they managed that. And finally when everybody was quiet – finished with their national hymns – the Jews, what was left of us – very silently…we couldn’t even sing loud because we didn’t have the strength any more…and we start to sing the “Hatikvah.” So all the other ones, you know, even they didn’t know what this is or didn’t pay attention – they start to make noises. So the tank commander what was in the front, he raised his hand, he said, “Quiet – I want quiet”…everybody should be quiet. “Do you hear somebody singing…another nation singing their national hymn…the “Hatikvah?” So they all quiet down and we sing the “Hatikvah.” And we felt that he must have been Jewish because who would have know what, you know, what “Hatikvah” is. And we ran over…we start to run towards the tank and embrace him and he embraced us, and he cried, too. Tears were rolling down his face.
PRINCE: What was the treatment, Harry? That man held on to you and hugged you and…but as they came in, uh, what…how…how did they treat you?
LENGA: Oh they treated us nice, of course…
PRINCE: I mean, what I’m trying to ask you is, to see you and to see the conditions, had to be very incredulous for them.
LENGA: Well, they…they put…what happened is, the guards gave up their arms. We saw that. They surrendered their arms, their rifles…the SS, right. And right away Germans…Americans…took over to guard the camp.
PRINCE: Why did you have an overt-action then when they put down their arms?
LENGA: Yeah. That’s why I want to tell you something. That’s what happened. While that was going on, they were surrendering, you know…the Russians, mostly the Russians, they start to take revenge on some guards and also some Kapos. Now there was a Kapo, one Kapo, he was such a murderous guy – he used to beat…killed so many people…for nothing. And the Russians caught that guy and it was close where I was standing. Now listen to that. They knocked him down…I hated that guy so much, you know, the times when I would have a chance, I thought I could have killed him. And he was laying, you know, stepped on…blood running out of him. And I had a chance to put my foot, step on him, too. Do you know – my foot got paralyzed…my head…my mind dictated me I should do it, but my heart didn’t let me do it and (SPEAKS QUIETLY)…I knew I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it.
PRINCE: And you’re still glad, aren’t you?
LENGA: Sure I’m glad. But I just want to tell you what struggle that was going on in me yet…I couldn’t kill. Now like I said, when it happened to me – those times when he hit me – I could have done anything. I could have killed him probably, but at that moment when I saw he’s defeated already, I couldn’t do it. I didn’t do it. They killed him you know, they…he was dead. I saw finally his guts from his head…his skull they cracked and everything. I wasn’t sorry, I saw it, you know, but I couldn’t take part in it. I could not take part in it. And now – we were free, but we were still guarded…we’re still sitting in that same camp.
PRINCE: Excuse me – one question. When you were prisoners, before you were liberated – the Jews were kept in different…
LENGA: Oh no – together – we were kept together.
PRINCE: Yes, but different from the Russians and different from the…
LENGA: No, no, no, together. We were…I was living with one Russian, I think I told you one time. In my bunk – it happened so one time, you know, that they took out…another guy died…so they put me and a Russian guy…I used to have a Jewish fellow with me laying in the bunk. He used to be so, room so…in each bunk used to be laying all the time, too. You know, it was made a bunk only for one person but it was so many people they didn’t have room, so they used to put two in…One, the head there and the other head on this side, you see. And we used to sleep, when one died…so…they put some other guy in and one time a guy what I used to be – he was a doctor, a Frenchman…a Jewish fellow…was a terrific man and I tried to help him, too. He was a great surgeon, you know, a neurologist from Paris. In fact he told me, I didn’t know, but I heard about him and he told me too, he used to be…people used to come from the whole world to have operations, to Paris, if they had something with the brain…
PRINCE: Do you remember his name?
LENGA: No, I can’t remember his name. I can remember him, but I can’t remember the name. He was a famous guy and he was living with me, and you know, he…he died about five days before. And you know why? Because he gave up. He gave up, he said, he didn’t believe anymore that we’ll live through it. You see, he believed it’ll take at least another year till the war left.
PRINCE: I don’t want to get off the subject…
LENGA: And it didn’t take long after he told me that, and I tried to fight with him and give him arguments… “It’s not so, keep on going, keep going on…keep going on…keep going on.” And he said, “No, I’m giving up.” Three days after he told me he’s giving up…he was dead.
PRINCE: Gosh it’s like a signal to your body.
LENGA: That’s exactly how it was. And the only reason we survived that because we believed we had to survive. We had to live and be able to tell the world because we thought the world would be interested. Of course, we were disappointed we saw what happened later.
PRINCE: I, I, I just – I don’t want to get off the subject of this, but I do want to ask you, I…in Auschwitz, the Jews were by themselves?
LENGA: They always…they mixed us always up.
PRINCE: Mixed?
LENGA: Yeah, always mixed us up. We were not, never…of course…if came a big transport, you know, we were a majority…Jews. Because in later time, they didn’t bring – the only thing that they brought in is Jews. And the ones what were there from before…you see the Poles they didn’t burn…they didn’t cremate…they didn’t gas them. The Germans, they didn’t gas. Any other nationality except the Jews and the Gypsies, they gassed. They killed them. They destroyed them. But all the other nationalities, they didn’t do it. They kept them till they…they died, you know…not normal death – from torture – from hard labor – from hunger. But the Jews were taken out to be killed there, you see. So we always – they always brought in more and destroyed, and brought in more and destroyed constantly. That’s how it was going in a cycle, like that. But they didn’t keep the…the Germans separate, you know. They’re in the same block…we could have Germans…we have Poles…we have French…we have Italians…we had all kind of nationalities.
PRINCE: Same barracks?
LENGA: Yeah. But we tried to stick together all the time – we are much possible it was, you see.
PRINCE: Okay. Uh, I have another question and then we’ll go on.
LENGA: I have to tell you what happened right after the same day we were liberated – what happened to…to me.
PRINCE: All right. I’ll write my question down and you go on.
LENGA: All right. Well that was Sunday – you can imagine – there was two guards…two M.P.’s…(LONG PAUSE IN TAPE)…or two American M.P.’s which they took over the guarding from the camp – from the Germans. And the only thing what came to my mind…

Tape 4 - Side 1 (Prince)

Now before liberation, we used to dream how wonderful it would have been if we were free – just to be able to go out into the fields and find a few potatoes and broil these few potatoes and be able to eat ourselves to the point that we fulled up. That was the biggest dream. And suddenly I…we are feeling we are liberated and we still have to wait for that food what they are going to give us. And I look around and I says, “What is it? We are liberated. We don’t see Germans anymore – we see Americans, yet we still going around hungry.” But they let us move around in the camp but we couldn’t get out of the camp.
PRINCE: This was still the first day?
LENGA: It was the first day. It was the same Sunday. So I walk over slowly and I try out my luck to see how those scouts will react by me coming close to them. And I walk up real close and they don’t say nothing. So finally I came real close to the gate where they were standing. And they show me…”Go back.” They thought I want to go out…they didn’t let us go out. So I says to…I didn’t speak English at all…I couldn’t understand not a word and I couldn’t speak a word of English. So I says to him in German, to that guard, I said… “I’m not…I don’t want to go outside,” you know, just with motions to show them. They says, “What do you want?” So I saw he wore two watches – one watch was the right time – ‘twas about…I think it was about four o’clock, and I saw it was around four, but the other watch he had, it was about eight o’clock and I knew that other watch is not running. So I show it to him that you have two watches and I’m a watchmaker. I tell him in German that I’m a uhrmacher and I would like to fix the watch, so he thought I want to watch from him. He said, “Oh no.” (LAUGHTER) It took about a half hour just…I showed him the, you know, the loop – that I look and I fix it. He finally got the idea that I am a watchmaker and I want to fix his watch. So he liked me (LAUGHTER), because the way I communicated with him. (MUCH LAUGHTER)
PRINCE: Oh Harry…
LENGA: (LAUGHTER) Listen to this. So he calls me in…he has an office…he calls me in and he takes off that broken watch and he lays it down and he says, “Fix it…make it run.” So I asked him for a knife. Oh, I didn’t know what a knife…how to say a knife, you know, I said a meseser in German but he didn’t understand. So finally he knew what I meant. So he takes out a pocket knife…he gives it to me and I opened that watch. Now the only thing what I had with me in my pocket is a screwdriver made out of a nail and a little tweezer what I told you I made out from a spring. And I lay it down on the table – I didn’t even have a loop, but my eyes were good enough. So I opened that and I saw…
PRINCE: A loop?
LENGA: A loop, a loop. It was a magnifying…yeah a magnifying L O O P. A magnifying glass what the watchmakers they look through. So then I show him I would like to have a toothbrush so he understood. So he got a toothbrush and I told him I need gasoline, you know, benzene. So he brought me a whole can of the stuff (LAUGHTER) and I took the watch apart and I washed out the watch. I cleaned it and I put it together. They were both watching us. I was doing this, me and my oldest brother. You know when I finally communicated, they were standing behind me, and I said, “Come in.” (LAUGHTER) And I took, and I put it together, the watch. I prayed to God I shouldn’t have complications you know, because I couldn’t do nothing. If I break something, that’s it…I’m finished. But just to take apart and clean it up, I could do with those two things…like a little brush and a little gas and I put it together and it starts to tick. Oh – he was very happy. I give it to him and he listens. He puts it up to his ear… “Oh” and he showed it to the other guy…
PRINCE: You’re in business.
LENGA: …and takes out his wallet. He asked me, “How much?” So I moved my hand that he should put back the wallet. What will I take money? First of all, I didn’t know what money…I didn’t know what a dollar is. I knew about dollars but what will I buy for money in the camp? So I says, “Don’t give me that.” He says, “What you want?” I says, “Cigarettes…cigarettes…cigarettes and cigarettes.” He says, “Oh, cigarettes.” So he brings…he puts down four American pack of cigarettes. Listen to that story. When I saw that – that was a fortune. For one cigarette, you could get a soup already, you know, in the kitchen. You could buy a soup from the black market. And here I had four packs…20 of them a piece.
PRINCE: Better than money.
LENGA: Oh, that’s why I didn’t want to take money. And that’s not all yet. The other guy comes over and brings me a bread…a white bread, you know, whole. That’s the first time in my life I saw bread that’s made so white, you know. I used to remember bread was made usually out from the rye.
LENGA: Dark. This is white, it looks like a challah what used to buy, you know, to make special for…for the Sabbath. We used to make specially challah. He brings me a big loaf of white bread and gives me that too. I tell a guy I was the richest man in the camp, right then. And I took those four packs of cigarettes and that bread and I gave it to Morris to hold it and I says, “Listen, you don’t have to go to the field now and find potatoes. We already – we are rich!” And I took one pack of cigarettes and I went up to the kitchen – into that Kapo – foreman…and I called him out and I says to him…I wasn’t scared anymore. I knew, you know, we are not anymore under the German rules, and I says, “Listen, are you willing to trade me four…three soups a day, extra soups, for how long I’ll stay in that camp, for a pack of American cigarettes?” He looks at me. He thought I’m crazy. He says, “You have American cigarettes already? The Americans just came in today – you already have…” That was about, you know maybe six or seven o’clock in the evening. He was a Russian guy. He says, “Yeah, I’ll do it.” He said, “Give me the cigarettes.” I said, “Oh,” I said, “Oh no. I’ll give you the cigarettes when it’ll take a few times till you get out soups.” And I say, “You’ll remember me, you’ll worry, you keep your word, then I’ll give you the cigarettes.” He said, “Don’t worry, I’ll do it…I’ll do it.” He said, “Do you have the cigarettes with you?” And I knew he was a strong guy…if I’ll tell him yes, he’ll grab it from me, you know. I told him, “No, I don’t have it with me.” You know, my two brothers, they’re away…not with me…and they had the cigarettes – they had the bread – the bread we were hiding comes right away under the straw sack in the bunks so nobody will see it. And he gave us soups every days, extra, you know…three big bowls of soup. And I gave him – finally after the third or fourth day, I gave him the cigarettes.
PRINCE: I’ve got some questions. You’ve opened up some questions for me. I would have thought, uh, that the Americans would have been in charge of soups and so forth. Why don’t you explain to me…
LENGA: In the beginning, soon, when they came – it didn’t change nothing because they didn’t have yet the supplies. You see, they were the first battalion what they just moved in. And like I told you before, that camp was a…put away in “nowhere.” You had to have only one road to get…they had specially to take a detachment and send it to the camp…to free the camp…otherwise it probably would have taken another week till all the supplies came in and the administration took over. It took a week. We still had the same food what we had before but they didn’t give us the amounts what the Germans did, because they found big reserves of bread. See, they gave us…they took up…they cut in four pieces…they gave you a quarter of a loaf of bread and that was a lot of bread for us. Of course, when we started – when we had to start to eat – a lot of people got sick because their stomachs couldn’t take so much. Everybody was…the three of us got sick – like I told you when we started to eat that white bread and we had the other breads, you know, and the soups – we eat so much – the stomach wouldn’t take, so we got dysentery. And Morris got even sick. I thought he’s going to die. Now about that I’ll tell you a story later.
PRINCE: I would like to ask you…you told me, you know, the first day, you go up and fix his watch, you had the inclination and the will or the strength to do that. Tell me about the people around you. Tell me about the other survivors around you. How were they acting?
LENGA: Well they…they…they were happy that they were freed. They were liberated but of course, you know, they – a lot of them tried to, you know, they didn’t let us out. In the beginning they didn’t let us out. Later they start to leave us out. Later, they made, you know…passes…you want to go out, you have to tell a reason why you want to go out. So you told them a reason – you want to buy something…or you want to, you know, see something…so they’ll let you out. But you had to come back.
PRINCE: Well, I think, what I’m trying to…to ask is that everyone was in a different state of survival – you were strong enough to walk over to them…
LENGA: Well a lot of them they got – they’re sick people – they kept them but they brought medicine…they tried to help…
PRINCE: But on that first day, there must have been…
LENGA: No, the first day, there was nothing changed. Everything was…
PRINCE: No, what I’m trying to ask is, you, on the first day, you had the ability to walk over to a guard…you were still upright. That must have been a day on which many people died just because that was going to be their day to die whether the Americans liberated…
LENGA: Absolutely, absolutely, sure. But like I said, you know, you could eat – if you wanted to eat, you could get food. The food what the Germans said – but you could have gotten it, you know, you could have gotten it. You got…they gave you a big piece of bread, and they give you a bowl of soup.
PRINCE: I would like to ask you about the reaction of the…of the Americans…(OVERTALK)
LENGA: Well everybody, I understand, everybody – a lot of them died, sure. A lot of them were sick, you know…
PRINCE: No, no…the reaction of the Americans. I asked you before but I still feel they’d never seen anything like you before.
LENGA: They didn’t. In the beginning they were very careful not to get close to us. We looked like a disease to them, you know, like people which are not…
PRINCE: Clean.
LENGA: Clean…we were smelling. You can imagine how we looked. So they didn’t come too close to us. In fact, everybody was wondering, you know, I imagine if the Captain, his, you know, superior would have known that he took me in – he probably wouldn’t have let him do that too. He did it on his own. Oh yeah, they didn’t …they didn’t mingle with us, you know…to be close – like in the beginning, like later – later they did. In fact that gave me the idea later to start to work for the American Army as a watchmaker which I’ll tell you later…the story.
PRINCE: But these…but these first weeks…
LENGA: Right. That’s the only thing, it took about, I think, about three days then came a different unit. We saw the Red Cross came in, you know. It was different, completely, and they went around in the barracks already – they registered the sick people who was sick. They took them to hospitals…field hospitals. They gave medicine and they start to completely to…and they made a mistake too. They made a super goulash – a real good goulash…so fat. And they start to distribute that. This was on the third or the fourth day, and everybody was so happy. And everybody got sick after that. It was too fat, and they realized…
PRINCE: People died?
LENGA: Yeah, they got sick. Then they realized what they did, you know. Then they start to feed us with milk and that helped.
PRINCE: Do you…do you know which battalion or which army…
LENGA: No I don’t. I…I used to remember. I was think about to…to find…to remember the thing, but I don’t remember. It was the Third or the Fourth Army – I can’t remember for sure. (TAPE STOPS FOR A FEW SECONDS)
Well Morris – we turned around and we saw that we still have to be in the camp…in the same camp…they kept us in the same camp – in the same barracks. The only thing what we knew, we were liberated, and we had some thing to eat…much better to eat. But we’re still not free enough to be able to have a different life.
PRINCE: Did it take you a long time, or did you feel stronger immediately. I mean…
LENGA: Well it took…it took a little while. It took about, I would say, about two weeks to recover, to be able already to walk normal and to look a little better. Now…
PRINCE: When you woke up in the morning, did you still think, did you remember immediately that you were…free…
LENGA: Oh sure, yeah. We knew that the minute when we got freed…that we are free. This was…
PRINCE: Yes, I know, but upon awakening the first thing in the morning, you know, when you just first opened your eyes, or before you opened your eyes – did it take a long time…did you have to think about it – that you were free?
LENGA: No, no, we knew…we knew that we are free. We knew we are free because it was a real, most important thing…event…for us to not to know because all the time we hoped for that moment. And it finally came. So we were sure that every minute – or even in sleep – we were sure that time. Later on, it start to come the nightmares. (OVERTALK)
PRINCE: Later on, you had nightmares?
LENGA: Later on, yeah. But in the beginning…
PRINCE: How much…how much later on?
LENGA: Oh I would say, maybe, about two or three years after that.
PRINCE: How did they make you more comfortable, or did they – in your barracks?
LENGA: Well, what happened is – right away, after they came…after they came in – they said that they can…that they don’t have much power and much facilities to make us comfortable. They told us, but they say – soon the supplies will follow them and the civilian administration will come in, then it’ll be a completely different change. But we used to live in the same barracks – where we were standing. The guards – the Americans – the German guards used to be American guards – they let you out from the camp when you wanted to go somewhere. You were free to go out, but you had to report before nightfall back into the camp, that is, if you wanted to belong to that group…to the…still in the camp.
PRINCE: And what about clothes?
LENGA: So – nothing…they didn’t give us no clothes…no nothing yet. That’s what I’m coming to.
Now Morris got sick. He start to get diarrhea and then dysentery from that food. We saw that he’s getting real bad. He lost his, completely, his strength. He couldn’t go down from bed anymore. He couldn’t eat – whatever they gave us that time. So we start to look for a solution how to help him. So I told my older brother, Marcel, I said, “Listen why don’t we go out and go near to an American camp where G.I.’s are and we’ll make some contact…tell them we are watchmakers.” We knew already what…that we fixed one watch…and they really treated us nice after that. “So let’s go…let’s try it.” So he agreed. We walked out one day – the guard asked us, where we going – so we said, “We’re just going to take a walk in the city.” So when we went by, we saw a big field, a G.I. field, you know…
PRINCE: What did it feel like?
LENGA: What?
PRINCE: To be out.
LENGA: Oh, it felt…it felt…terrific. Oh we, I was already several days – we used to go out, too. We felt right away all the Germans – they bid you good morning “Herr.” You know, they called you “Sir” suddenly. And some of them, you know, uh, tried to stop to talk to you and tell you that they didn’t know what was going on – which is a big lies.
PRINCE: Were you still in your outfit…in your uniform?
LENGA: Yeah, we’re still wearing the uniform…sure. They didn’t give us any clothes in the beginning at all. We were still in the same uniform. And they could tell that we are from the concentration camp. Our hair was real low, you know, like…
PRINCE: Short.
LENGA: Short, real short. And you could see on our faces, we’re not yet, you know, real…we didn’t look like normal people.
PRINCE: How did you feel towards them? Didn’t you want to punch them?
LENGA: We hate…no, we didn’t punch them…we hated them. We hated them all the time and we knew that they are just putting up a…an excuse that they didn’t know, and we knew it’s just an excuse – that’s not true. They knew, all of them they knew. And some of them…they went out more…they wanted to invite you to the house, you know. And some of them even, you know, some prison, uh, inmates…let’s call them “inmates” at that time, they went in with them and they gave them some clothes. Some of them went in and tried to steal clothes. They felt it’s coming to them. They took away everything from them. But we didn’t feel that way. In fact, I’ll tell you another story.
While we were liberated, the same day, a lot of them start to run out like from the camp and we heard shooting going on around – and Morris that time, and Marcel – my other brother Mailech, he said, “Okay let’s go out too…let’s…let’s see what’s up.” And I was the one – I said, “No, we’re not going out.” So long it’s not stabilized – I still hear shooting and I don’t know what’s going on. How do you know that’s not snipers there waiting in the woods and we’re going by…those Nazis will kill us. We went through so far, we’re already liberated. Some of them got killed by snipers – it happened, some of them got killed from the…the…
PRINCE: Just people out there picking them off…
LENGA: The concentration camp inmates what walked off – right in the beginning – you know, they got killed…
LENGA: By…by Germans or Nazis – by Gestapo. So I said, “Oh no, we’re not doing that. We’ll stay here for three days…not even walk out from the camp.” We had a little food, like I told – like I mentionned before – from fixing those watches for the guard whenever he gave me cigarettes – we had enough bread – we had enough soup. So I said, “Let’s wait until everything settles down normal and when the American Army has everything under control already.” Because they didn’t have a chance to clear out everything…the arms from the Gestapo…from the Nazis, or even from the civilian population too yet. They had – they told them to surrender everything but they didn’t have a chance yet to see to it that it’ll be telled – that’s right. So I says, “Let’s, let’s …better wait to see till everything is normal.” And they agreed. But after a few days, finally, we didn’t hear anymore shooting. Of course a lot of shooting was what the inmates, you know, grabbed their guns and start to shoot up in the air…
PRINCE: They would have guns?
LENGA: Yeah they grabbed the guns from…
PRINCE: Oh, they grabbed the guns.
LENGA: Oh yeah the rifles what the guards, the German guards, used to throw down and in big piles. So they used to go out and then grab a gun and start to shoot in the air, and some of them took handguns in their pockets and tried to go to terrorize, you know, you have a lot of people…it wasn’t just Jews there. There were Russians and there were French and there were Polish and there were…they’re all Europe – from all Europe there were…and there were – some of them – not just politically prisoners…political prisoners. There were, you know, criminal prisoners too what they put them in the concentration camps.
PRINCE: Well let me go back and ask you…
LENGA: But Germans like other, you know, like for, uh, killing or raping or all kind of different things what’s going on and everything…they threw us all together…with us. They all were, they were treated not much nicer than we. The worst thing was the Jews, you know, they were treated the worst…I mean, while we were under Nazi occupation. So finally we decided, like I’m coming back now, we…Morris – my brother – got sick and we saw that if…and a lot had died. A lot had died from just laying, getting sick and they didn’t have any help. They came in, the German doctors…the American doctors, and they gave you a pill and, you know, but they (PAUSES) they didn’t go in it completely so they didn’t have the possibility yet because the…the civilian administration was still army. It wasn’t there yet.
So anyway, we went out and we…we went over to the guard and we told him, ‘twas a guard standing by the gate, but at camp, it was an American G.I. camp already…they were stationed – barracks, you know, those, uh…
LENGA: Huts, you know, temporarily – temporarily huts and barracks they would put up so they can station themselves. So we went over to them, to the guard man and somehow, I don’t know how it is, he understood what we meant and he wasn’t…he was naïve, everybody knew that we are, you know, the D.P….con….
PRINCE: Concentration.
LENGA: Concentration camp people, you know, prisoners in the concentration camps…right.
PRINCE: Free prisoners.
LENGA: Right. So I told him we are known and I…we still didn’t have any tools – listen to that. And he said, “Wait a minute.” And he went in there somewhere and he talked to another guy, and another guy came out and he spoke German. And I told him what I wanted. I said, “I’ll be glad to work to fix the watches for you here and whatever you’ll give me – I don’t, you know, I’m not asking for much. I’ll be glad to do it for you.” And right away, you know, suddenly, just like that, he said, “Will you fix my watch?” You know, they had so many watches. They got it from those places, you know, what happened to the Germans – what they killed probably – what they bombed later…that late. I mean, they had a lot of them so I said, “Sure, we’re going to fix everything. Just give us a chance.” So they went in and talked it over, you know. I suppose, one guy…did I tell you about him? A Texan…Harvey was his name.
PRINCE: Harvey?
LENGA: Yeah. He was a Texan and he was a terrific guy. Oh, he was a terrific guy. He went out all the way – right away, he got attached to us. He spoke a little bit German…must have been…he must have been in German ancestry. He was blond, tall, you know. And he…he could look like a…to be about…he was born an American or maybe his father was born or maybe the third or the fourth generation. But he spoke a little…not enough to be able to have conversations but enough to know what we wanted…
PRINCE: Understand…
LENGA: That’s right. And he helped us a lot and he went around like a…he was the advertiser. He went around to all the G.I.’s and told them and soon the first day, we already had a table on the outside and we had those two tools, a tweezer and a…
PRINCE: That you’d made?
LENGA: Yeah, listen (PAUSES) and we had a toothbrush. Anyway, they didn’t do nothing and they gave us several watches and we tried to make tools to fix the watches what we already, they gave us benzene…and we fixed…
PRINCE: Benzene?
LENGA: Yeah, to clean the watches, you know. We needed that. So they saw we are not, you know, fooling around…
PRINCE: You’re really working…
LENGA: Really working. We gave them back and they took (LAUGHTER) the watches and they saw it’s really running and perfect. They they got really serious about it and they said, “Wait a minute.” And then they went and then they talked over with the Captain or whoever it was there in charge. And they gave us a permission to do it, officially.
PRINCE: Oh, so you were in business then?
LENGA: I was in business and listen what else they did. We didn’t have any tools. They asked us, “Do you have any tools?” Right away they organized…I don’t know what they have it…some had pliers and tweezers and loops, and I don’t know where they have, you know, from them alone, I almost felt…
PRINCE: All set.
LENGA: (LAUGHTER) …enough tools to work for both of us, you know.
PRINCE: Did you try, did they try to bring you anything else besides watches?
LENGA: No, only watches.
PRINCE: You went to him in the first place to see if you could get help for Morris.
LENGA: That’s what I’m coming to. In…remember I fixed the watches and so he takes out money, you know, and start to pay with dollars. I didn’t want to take any money. I said, “I don’t want to take any money.” So I says, “What can I do right now with dollars?” I knew that cigarettes, you know, chocolate is better than money. With money, in Germany, right from the beginning – you couldn’t even have any contact, you know…
PRINCE: It’s amazing, Harry, because of back to basics – it’s back to the very primitive thing of trading one thing for another…
LENGA: Yes, right…that’s right. Well that’s what we figured. Anyway they got a little attached to us. We went there the second day and I said, “Mylech,” you know was his name, I says, “Listen we have a brother here, you know why we came to you, you have to help him.” So that Harvey…I told him the story, I says, “I have a brother, he’s very sick. He’s going to die and he needs milk and he needs medication, and we don’t know what’s wrong with him.” He said, “Wait a minute.” He went away…he came right away with a doctor, listen to that, and he took a chance. He took one of us and I told my brother to go with him (the older one) and I said, “Take him.” And he went in that camp – in the garage…
PRINCE: In the American’s camp?
LENGA: In the American…NO…NO…in the concentration camp.
PRINCE: Oh in your camp…
LENGA: In the concentration camp and he examined him and he saw what’s the matter with him and right away they came back and they came in and came over to me and gave me some medicine to give him this…and this…and this. And they gave us milk, and they gave us cocoa. Right away – I’m telling you, I had a whole bag and you know they dropped me off because it was heavy…
PRINCE: Milk and what?
LENGA: Milk…cocoa…cocoa…
PRINCE: Oh cocoa…cocoa.
LENGA: Yeah, he had to drink – he couldn’t eat anything, not to eat anything, only drink milk and drink cocoa. And they gave us some cookies, you know, crackers. They were really good crackers, and he said this you give him. And after three-four days he really start to recover. And we were starting to work there and we came home…back to the barracks, you know, they saw we are carrying so much cigarettes and so much chocolate in all the pockets – they start to steal – to grab from us – to steal from us. So I said, “Well, let’s wait till Morris will get well…to be able to go down from bed, then look for ways how to get out of here.” Sure enough, he got better – took everyday we went – in the morning we got dressed, we left him over him and we took everything what we had…we told him, “Listen you keep this…guard this…don’t let nobody steal it or take it.”
PRINCE: Let me ask you something. Had a couple of weeks gone by…three weeks?
LENGA: No, it wasn’t three weeks…it was days – days.
PRINCE: No, I mean since they came…since they liberated you.
LENGA: Since they liberated me…when this happened?
LENGA: Oh about one…about one week.
PRINCE: One week?
LENGA: One week – that’s all what happened.
PRINCE: Okay. And how old was everybody now?
LENGA: Well, uh, let’s see that was in 1945. Uh, I was about, at that time, 25. Morris was about 23 and my older brother was about, uh, he was…let’s see…(FIGURES OUTLOUD)…1914 he was about six years older than me…he was about 30, 31…in that age group. So we went to the…to work everyday there and we fixed watches for them and they treated us like we are G.I.’s. We went…they gave us right away their uniforms to wear, clothing, not the…the fatigue uniforms, not the real uniforms.
PRINCE: Right.
LENGA: They had spare pants for my brother even there what is sick. They already knew I have a brother. Whatever they give us…they gave him, too. And we right away start to look like almost Americans. (LAUGHTER)
PRINCE: This is really due to Harvey?
LENGA: Yeah. He was the organ…oh, he was a terrific guy. I don’t…I really would like to meet him…to…
PRINCE: Did he do this for more than you all? Was this just the kind of person that he was, or did he just latch on to you all?
LENGA: He…I…he…just like that, he just got attached to us. I don’t know why. We fixed the watch for him but he gave us the same…he gave us even more than anybody else.
PRINCE: I imagine that this probably happened with other people too, that maybe an American attached themselves…
LENGA: Oh yeah probably, yeah he was…it was a good hearted fellow. You could tell. And when we told him – and do you know he…when one guy was a smart aleck – he didn’t want to pay…not pay…give us something for it – we didn’t mind – he said, “You tell me and I’ll make him pay.”
PRINCE: He protected you.
LENGA: Oh yeah, and how. I’m telling you, he said, “You pay those guys.”
PRINCE: But were other Americans like Harvey?
LENGA: No, no, he was…he was…they were all polite – they were nice. They were very polite – they treated us very nicely – with compassion – except one guy…he was a Jewish fellow. I really don’t know if I told you about it…
PRINCE: I think you may have.
PRINCE: I think you may have told it.
LENGA: Yeah – he was a Jewish fellow and I, you know, we had boils on us. Under those cir…you can understand it.
PRINCE: Yeah, right.
LENGA: In fact they used to give us an oil or something to put over our body and we used to go around almost half naked, you know, in the sun which should…
PRINCE: Yeah, dry it up.
LENGA: It should dry the sun…the skin should get, you know, back to…
PRINCE: Yeah. How long did that take?
LENGA: Oh it took – it didn’t take long – about three days and I got cleared up and all three of us got cleared up.
PRINCE: That’s amazing.
LENGA: Yeah. You know there was no nourishment – no vitamins – no food and we were completely exhausted from labor and work. You can imagine, I…we…walked like, like skeletons – that’s the truth. It’s a wonder that it was…we walked… we…we…just looked like that. We had a little, you know, it was little pimples or something around, you know, little…I…what do they call it?
PRINCE: Impetigo.
LENGA: I know in Europe, this…and this…you know, it itches you a lot, you know. But they put medicine, they gave us…all of us…they made everybody should have that. And after three days, we got completely cleared up.
PRINCE: And they sprayed you with DDT too probably.
LENGA: Yeah, well this…well we cleaned…we used to be because even the Germans kept it. They watched – they were afraid, you know, we shouldn’t have any lice because they found out this is…would bring typhus to them if we were working. So, we didn’t have any insects around…on us…but the…
PRINCE: The living conditions…
LENGA: The living conditions made that – that’s right. So that guy came and he says (that Jewish fellow). First of all, he was a wisecracking – he made to fun, he said, I don’t know why – do you know I couldn’t understand why. He speak…speaks Jewish…spoke Jewish. He must have been a spoiled brat, you know, at home…
PRINCE: He must have been afraid, maybe, that people would…
LENGA: And he didn’t even understand what…what Judaism is and what life is all about. He didn’t – I don’t think I blame him. I don’t know…so…
PRINCE: You don’t blame him?
LENGA: I says – not that I don’t blame him. I…I…didn’t hate him for it, you know. I…I didn’t like him, but I didn’t hate him for it because I figured, well listen, the rest of them are nice.
LENGA: So, I think that’s…here is a guy what he didn’t want to pay, I think, so…
PRINCE: Oh my God!
LENGA: That’s what. And he was there – he wouldn’t have said anything, but the other guy, Harvey, was just…used to spend…ever your time, he used to stay by us and watch us. (LAUGHTER) So he made him pay, so he got angry…he start to say…said we had syphilis – listen to that. A lot of them believed him, you know, he thought he knows what he’s talking about it. But Harvey – a different thing – he said… “He’s verruced,” you know, he knew that word…he’s verruc – he don’t know what he’s talking about.
PRINCE: Verruc is “crazy?”
LENGA: Crazy – yeah. He said, “He don’t know what he’s talking about.”
PRINCE: Is that Yiddish?
LENGA: No, that’s German, yeah. Yiddish is “Meshugana.”
LENGA: (MUCH LAUGHTER) So anyway, that’s the only guy we had…which we had a misunderstanding with him. And I told…I told him, I says, “Listen I can’t have syphilis when I wasn’t never together with a woman since I was born.” (LAUGHTER) It’s oh, and my other brother too, Morris, you know, and my other…the older brother, I believed he wasn’t either.
PRINCE: (LAUGHTER) Immaculate conception.
LENGA: So the doctor – I told Harvey, I says, “I was afraid because a lot of them start to (SPEAKS QUIETLY) move away from us. They thought we are contagious people.” So I told Harvey, I says, “Why don’t you bring the doctor, you know, the guy what…let’s take a look, let’s clear up once and for all.” So he went to the doctor and he came over, just, he told them right away that stopped, you know, he says, -“It’s no on the…that’s not where it is…on the arm.” (LAUGHTER)
PRINCE: (LAUGHTER) Harry…what rank was Harvey?
LENGA: Uh, he was, uh…
PRINCE: Like a private or a corporal?
LENGA: No, uh, a little higher than a private.
PRINCE: Sergeant?
LENGA: No, not a sergeant.
PRINCE: Corporal?
LENGA: He had one little thing – not a corporal. A corporal is two, isn’t it?
PRINCE: A corporal is two.
LENGA: Two. He had one yeah.
PRINCE: Well then he’s a Private – a Private First Class.
LENGA: First Class, yeah. He must have been a Private First Class, yeah. I wrote him a letter one time. I had his address, but I lost his address and I told you about it, you know. I thought maybe he’ll try to help me…coming here.
PRINCE: Oh, that’s right.
LENGA: Yeah. So he wrote me back that it would be nice we had now a State. It took a little while till he answered me. But by that time, Israel was already established…he told me that it would be nice, we have our country, and it’s good to go there to…not anymore persecuted, you know.
PRINCE: Nice while it lasted. (LAUGHTER)
LENGA: Yeah, well, so I figured, it’s all right. (OVERTALK)
PRINCE: He was there when you needed him.
LENGA: Right. He answered me the letter too. Another guy wouldn’t even answered. Right?
PRINCE: Absolutely, absolutely.
LENGA: So we worked there and when Morris got well – listen to that – and while we…we had the candies and everything. We became to have a lot of friends, everybody liked us. And of course we had some close friends what we knew from our town and we helped them. We gave them some chocolate – we gave them some cigarettes – without any trading…just to help them out. And one guy from them…from those…from that group, he says, “Why do we have to stay in that camp? Why don’t we get out?”
PRINCE: Excuse me one minute. I don’t want to interrupt you, but you’re talking about people in the camps now. Is this a mix, Harry, did the Jews stick together…?
LENGA: It was everything…everything…together. We were still not separated.
PRINCE: Socially, I mean. You say everybody came and now you’re talking about people…when you’re talking…
LENGA: The barracks – it was in a barrack. You cold have about 300 people in one barrack. And there were Poles and there were Russians, and…
PRINCE: And everybody mixed, I mean, remember now you were living under such terrible conditions…now conditions are better. Did people go off in little groups of them…of Jews and…
LENGA: No, no, that…we couldn’t, you see, I slept with a Russian…I slept with a Russian. I had to sleep – he drove me – he drove me nuts. He almost killed me. He used to put – did I tell you the story? He used to put his cold feet on me. He used to keep it all night, on my body, and I was cold myself (LAUGHTER FROM BOTH)…I used to pinch him, you know…terrible. Oh, he didn’t even take them off – he didn’t even feel it. His feet was completely dead. They were cold, completely dead like a cold body. He died too…no…he didn’t die – he survived. And you know, that guy, would you believe it? He was an actor – one of the famous actors in Russia. You should have seen later when he was…he didn’t want to tell this, you know…when he got liberated, he told us. The Germans took him away because he was, you know, there…so he told us that he was on the stage talking always against the Nazis, so when they took over that, he was not even in the Army at that time. But when they took over that territory, they heard about him and they took him and they sent him away to the concentration camp.
PRINCE: What did people talk about at this time? Did they talk about where they’re going to go, or what they were going to do?
LENGA: The only thing what we – at that time – what we talked…you mean after the liberation?
PRINCE: Yes – like you were in the barracks with people.
LENGA: Oh, after the lib…or before? Before, it was strictly – you didn’t know to whom you’re talking. You couldn’t trust nobody. The only thing we talked to each other is with my brothers.
PRINCE: No, I’m talking about…
LENGA: I mean, after we were liberated? Oh, we were liberated…we talked already, you know what will happen – what will they do with us. There were rumors they’re going to take us and send us back to Poland…all of them will have to go back to Poland and we said – we wouldn’t like that should happen. We don’t want to go back to Poland.
PRINCE: Did they make you think of wanting to escape – to leave the camp?
LENGA: Yeah we wanted…some wanted to be free but they didn’t want it because to let us out because they believed we are not ready yet, you know, to face society because we don’t have anything and we don’t know how to, you know, where to go…where to…how to start our life. But the main thing what we were talking that time – right after the liberation – that we survived and we looked for ways…we figured maybe, somehow, somewhere, we’ll be able to go to Palestine. So one of those boys – they’re about…there was one guy, he already finished rabbinical school that from our town – we met him – we suddenly discovered him there. He survived and there was another…all, all from our town – we got together.
PRINCE: Had you known them before in your town?
LENGA: Oh yeah…very…sure. But we didn’t know in the camp, you know, so many people…we didn’t know he was completely somewhere else and we never saw him at work – probably worked somewhere else. And we had about seven boys, including us, five more boys. And one guy – he was from another town – but he was a friend of another guy but they used to be together in the barracks…in the camps. So he walks out from the concentration camp and he saw a lot of barracks where the SS used to live…it was about…so he gave us an idea that maybe if it’s any possibility – to move in a barrack like that and being he knew that I’m working for the Americans in order not to do something wrong, we should be punished for it – so I should find out.

Tape 4 - Side 2 (Prince)

So then the next day I went to work and I walked there and I asked that Harvey again (LAUGHTER) and I told him the story about us. I says, “It’s so uncomfortable to live in the camp, you know, we’ve been too long in the camps already. Why should I live in a camp now when I’m…we are free?” And I told him, I says, “Here’s so many barracks – is it alright if we take a barrack? Will anybody interfere?” So he went over and talked to somebody and came back and says, “We can’t give you a paid bet that you can do it – but nobody will bother you, in case it happens something, just tell them that we said it’s okay.” You know, orally that’s the only thing. That’s all I needed it. So we went and we moved in. Well we didn’t have nothing to move. We just, you know, went with our…whatever we had. Belongings we didn’t even have, but there were beds…
PRINCE: What did you have?
LENGA: Nothing. Except my chocolates and my (LAUGHTER) few cigarettes…
PRINCE: And your tools.
LENGA: And the tools, yeah. So we went in there and there was enough beds there with the covers and mattresses…
PRINCE: You had nothing like soap or towels?
LENGA: No, nothing. We organized this later. I got everything from the Army later. Whatever I asked them – they gave me – whatever I needed, they gave it to me.
PRINCE: Was that about the way it was then – if you asked for it, you got it – if you laid back and…?
LENGA: No, no, no, no. Just because I worked – that’s for my work. Let’s say I finished a watch, he gave me a pack of cigarettes. I said, “I’d appreciate it if you would give me some soap.” So he brought me soap. He didn’t give me one piece of soap, he gave me right away, you know, a box of it. I told him I need some towels – so he gave me…me Army towels.
PRINCE: I guess I’m trying to get a sense of what was done for…
LENGA: No, now officially it was nothing…
PRINCE: Just food…
LENGA: Not a…a…they still kept you there. They gave you to eat good and that’s about it. And that, that…took…took about, at least, about three…about three months till they finally took us out from there and put us in another camp. And the reason they did that was because they needed that camp for the SS – what they had under arrest.
PRINCE: Oh, the barracks?
LENGA: The barracks. They took the SS and they put in that concentration camp where we were. And they took us out and they put us in another camp with medium security already. It was not, you know, you could go out, you didn’t have wires around. You didn’t have towers and everything else. But we still had to be in that camp…
PRINCE: And you’re still in Austria?
LENGA: And we’re still in Austria in the same…in the same city in Ebensee. But not in that place already where the camp was, but we were free. Ebensee was a big city besides the camp…the concentration camp. And I think it was about six weeks after we were liberated – that’s what they did. But ‘till that six weeks, we still were…what we didn’t have to go even to that camp – you stayed there.
LENGA: And that’s what brings me to the other story. Anyway, we worked there by the Americans and we brought home all the things and we lived – we helped those other boys, too…to eat with us. We lived all together. Now for the cigarettes – we had other meals – we could trade for bread, for meat, for whatever we needed and besides that we can be at our cards. We could go into the DP camp and get meals there too, because we were registered there as the (PAUSES) – the survivors – refugees – we used to call it.
PRINCE: What are we…what word are we looking for…refugees?
LENGA: Yeah, refugees – they used to call us. After that they called us Kazetnikes…Kazet, you know people – only concentration camp people – only they used to call us refugees. We became refugees. And then of course, UNNRH – that’s the law and they start to send in food and clothing and all kind different things.
PRINCE: Still the civilians have not…still the Army has jurisdiction over you.
LENGA: Oh the civilians took over. The civilian administration already took over at that time. The DP camp was already not under the Army supervision. ‘Twas already under the American civilian…civilian administration. Like they – what they set in a town, government right, general government…whatever they called it. So – but we actually very much didn’t mix with them. We stayed there in our barracks. It was by a highway, beautiful, with grass, with trees like in a park and we had our windows open and we had a kitchen there – we cooked for ourselves or whatever we wanted to do and we lived beautifully there. And finally that camp left – they had to be withdrawn and they took them somewhere else. So we lost our job, so I told my brothers, “We’ll find another…somebody has to be…they didn’t take away all the soldiers, you know, so let’s go somewhere else.” And they gave us a letter of recommendation.
PRINCE: And away went Harvey?
PRINCE: You lost Harvey?
LENGA: I lost Harvey, yeah.
PRINCE: Did he tell you goodbye?
LENGA: He told me goodbye, yeah, he told us…we were standing when the trucks moved out and he made…and I’ll tell you another thing…
PRINCE: Did you feel, Harry, that you’d lost somebody special because here you’d been so close for so many years. He was really the first person that…
LENGA: Yeah, yeah, he was the first person – and that gave me an idea, you know, I saw how Americans lived – how free they live – and how openly, open they are, you know. And how rich they are with how they waste…What they wasted, we could live a year – just what they were wasting, you know. They took their meals, you know, they threw it in the garbage cans all the time. I looked at the meat and thought, “Oh gosh, what are they doing?” You know…when you…when you go through so much and you saw those things.
PRINCE: How did that differ from…from anything else you had thought about Americans before?
LENGA: Well it looked to me like they are free people, you know, that made a big impression on me. They…they really, you could feel the freedom, the freeness in them…all over them, you know, in the way they talk and they…
PRINCE: No fear.
LENGA: No fear, no. You really felt free. In fact they gave me a…a…what the G.I.’s used to wear “U.S.” and I was so proud of it. I, he…pinned it up that Harvey…
PRINCE: Harvey, when he left?
LENGA: Now when he, before yet – until one time a colonel came up to me and he saw that and he says, “You’re not American, are you?” I said, “No.” He say, “Why do you wear this?” I said, “I’m working here,” you know, and I says, “They gave me something to wear that was on”- I didn’t want to get them in trouble, you know, so…
PRINCE: Insignia.
LENGA: Insignia, yeah. I saw right away that something is…it scared me to death. So he said, “Where did you get it? Who gave it to you?” So I said, “Nobody gave it to me.” I says, “I picked up…I didn’t have what to wear, so I picked up,” you know. It was a uniform what was in combat you wear…it’s not the real uniform…the real thin…it looks like a blouse…a jacket, yeah. So I said, “It was on – so I didn’t want to take it off, so I wear it.” So he said, “You can’t,” you know, he became suddenly soft. He says, “You can’t wear that, only Americans…real Americans.” So he spoke, he spoke beautiful German…”So only real Americans can wear that.” I says, “Should I take it off?” He said, “I’ll take it off.” He took it off.
PRINCE: Oh that’s too bad.
LENGA: No, I mean, I understood. I understood that. I had heard a little few remarks before that I shouldn’t wear it but I didn’t listen. They didn’t do nothing to me. But I saw a guy like a colonel, you know really dressed up and I…(LAUGHTER)
PRINCE: Had you any feelings of knowledge or impressions of America before…before the war?
LENGA: Well no, no, not at all. Nothing…nothing at all. I only knew about New York. I knew about Chicago. I knew about Texas. I knew about Washington. In fact, that’s what they asked me on the ship when I came over here. Who was the first President of the United States? You know, they give you intelligence test before they let you in.
PRINCE: We don’t have to worry about you passing that. (LAUGHTER) If you couldn’t pass it, you would have fixed their watches. (LAUGHTER)
LENGA: (LAUGHTER) No, they don’t let you in. A lot of them failed the intelligence test. They thought you’re not good enough.
PRINCE: Okay, so how did you feel? The Americans were gone…
LENGA: I…the Americans left so that bunch what I was…that division what I was there and they left – they gave me – that was the same colonel, later, gave me a letter of recommendation that I’m a good watchmaker and I served them and I worked for them and I’m an honest person like we can be recommended to do service for the Americans. And I had that…I’m telling you, everybody told me – if you got that, you can go anywhere. So sure enough we start to go and we found another camp and I didn’t (LAUGHTER)…I just took the paper out to show the guard and he reads it, and says, “Wait a minute.” He went in – “Come in.” (MUCH LAUGHTER) And we worked for another company.
Then Morris started to get well already too, and I took him too, to the work so he should enjoy the good meals there, you know. We ate there…breakfast, lunch and supper.
PRINCE: Now this camp was in walking distance of…
LENGA: Yeah it was in walking distance. Well we walked…it was a long way, but we didn’t mind it. We walked – it was good for us to walk.
PRINCE: Did you talk about what you thought you were going to do or were you just so happy to be…or comfortable having your three meals, I mean, after all…
LENGA: Oh no, no, no…we knew this is only temporary. We were thinking what’s going to happen.
PRINCE: That’s what I’m saying…you have come from one terrible trauma and all of a sudden…
LENGA: Well we got free, we were, that was the transit time. We didn’t know what’s going to happen to us. One thing I knew sure, we decided between the three of us, only only us, most of the Jewish boys decided, if they’re going to take us with force, to Poland, we won’t go. We will reject it, you know. And we had an idea that the Americans are trying – we heard the stories – you know, the papers that the United Nations is trying to pass a law not to force, you know, the D.P.’s and later on they named us D.P.’s…Displaced Persons. Now right away, now this…remember that…when they issued us certificates so they will have an identification – they asked me, “What nationality are you?” And I put right away, “Stateless.”
PRINCE: Oh you did?
LENGA: Right away we put “Stateless.” We didn’t want to have anything to do with Poland again. And they rejected that. You see, they didn’t want to put it in. They said, “Where are you born?” I say, “I don’t know. We are stateless. We don’t have a country. It’s not our country where we came from to begin with.” That’s what I did and it ‘twas a problem, I’ll tell you. They had a problem, they’re talking about it, and they told us to come back in a few days again. They didn’t give me the certificate again. Not only me…I was not the only one. Most of the Jewish D.P.’s….refugees…they – they did that. You see, Israel was not then yet established. It was Palestine.
PRINCE: Right.
LENGA: Poland – you didn’t want to go back there. They’re talking about they’re going to send us back to Poland. We didn’t want to go back to Poland because Poland was a…a country, which they were persecuting the Jews, all the time.

Tape 5 - Side 1 (Prince)

We were private, we had a private place to live. We were about eight boys, together, from our town and they didn’t have anything but we used to go to work to the American camp where they were stationed – the American soldiers – and we used to bring home all the food…mostly, we ate together, we shared, and…
PRINCE: Harry were they in the same, uh, condition you were? Were any of you any better off, or any worse off, physically, you were all…
LENGA: No, the same, same…the same condition. Well we – that was already several…several weeks later – maybe six, seven weeks after liberation. And one night, we were sitting and singing Hebrew songs and the windows were facing the highway. And we all…all of us were singing and at that time, we’re singing Hebrew songs (I can’t remember the songs). Anyway, we were singing real loud – we felt, you know, – free. Suddenly we heard a knock on the door. So I walk over to the door and I opened the door. And I see soldiers, but different soldiers, not like the Americans and I see a Jewish star on their hat and he’s asking me in Hebrew if we are Jews. “Juden, mata?” I says, “Ken.” I spoke Hebrew. I still remembered. So he says, “Shalom” and puts out his hand and grabs me and I says, “Who are you?” He said, “We’re the Chayalim, we are Israelis.” I couldn’t believe my eyes.
PRINCE: It was like a mirage.
LENGA: I said, “Come in” and they came in. There were three or four. They had a big truck and we looked outside – there was a truck there. And they came in and they introduced themselves and they start to talk Hebrew in Jew…you know, Jewish.
PRINCE: When you say, “Jewish,” do you mean “Yiddish?”
LENGA: Yiddish, yeah, right. And they told us what they…what they came from here…for here. They told us the whole history that that was the first time we found out about it, that they were fighting with the Allies and they have an individual unit – the Brigade – the Israeli Brigade – the Jewish Brigade…they used to…
PRINCE: Palestine?
LENGA: No, not Palestine. They didn’t call Palestine “Brigade.” They called it the…the Jewish Brigade – Jewish Brigade, yeah.
PRINCE: But it wouldn’t be Israel because Israel was not a state…
LENGA: No, Israel wasn’t established, right…right. And they had in Hebrew written Chayal…Chayalim and on that, you know, like the Americans have that eagle – so they had the star – Jewish star…Star of David and inside was a Chayal…Chayalim. And I read it – I could see it – and hear they had it too – Chayalim in Hebrew and in English. Oh, we were so touched by that, you know. First time in my life I saw a Jew and a soldier and from Palestine.
PRINCE: With some power…
LENGA: Power and a machine gun he had on him and everything. Anyway, they told us what they…they are stationed in Italy – that’s what they told us. And their job is…they found out about that camp in Ebensee here what they came over from Italy and they wanted to take us…organize us…to go with illegally to Palestine.
PRINCE: It gave you something to think about, didn’t it?
LENGA: Well, yeah. I didn’t have to think much. Right away, we…we, hanged up to it, you know.
PRINCE: You what?
LENGA: We got, you know…
PRINCE: Warmed up to it.
LENGA: Warmed up to it. We felt like something had…a miracle happened to us because they’re going to take us out from here and they’re going to take us to Palestine. So we talked it over… “How do you do that?” He said, “We have an illegal Aliyah” – they took in and smuggled those people, you know, through the…the…So he says, “Well, I’ll tell you the only thing that we want from you now is, in the morning you’ll show us where the camp is – you come with us – we’ll try to organize all the Jews…the refugees what lived there in the camp, and we’ll talk to them and we’ll register.” And he made me, right away, me and another guy, you know, he spoke Hebrew good too, and he made us for helpers, you know, that he should work…
PRINCE: Assistants.
LENGA: Assistants.
PRINCE: Hebrew or Yiddish?
PRINCE: Hebrew or Yiddish?
LENGA: In Yiddish – we talked Yiddish, most of us talked Yiddish – some Hebrew too. And they took another two…they had the, the…in the truck what they came – there were five of them – three came into us from the truck – so they called them in and we made something to eat for them. So they said, “Don’t worry about us…we have plenty to eat.” They went out, they brought in things from the truck. I’m telling you…
PRINCE: How did they know where to find you?
LENGA: Well they didn’t know – that’s what I…didn’t I mention that? We were singing the Hebrew songs…
PRINCE: Oh and they just heard it…?
LENGA: And they passed by and they saw light. They didn’t know the directions so they stopped and soon while they stopped, they heard the Hebrew songs singing. So they knew that this must be Jews. That’s why they came to the barrack – they knocked at it.
PRINCE: That must have been a good shot in the arm for you all.
LENGA: Sure, absolutely. So they brought in all kind of different things, you know, cans…and they opened – they wanted us to eat…we wanted them to eat (LAUGHTER). So we told them to stay overnight because there was a curfew at that time still you couldn’t go. They said, “Well don’t worry about it – we can go there.” But I explained to them it’s not good, you know, because you know they’ll have to come the camp and tell them what it is, but in the daytime, it’ll be complete. So they listened to us and they stayed overnight with us. In the morning we got up early and we took them to the camp and I’m telling you – I never saw such guys in my life – they were so determined and everything what they wanted…they accomplished. They went in right away – they talked to the Captain – whoever it was there – and he told them to go in and they took the loud speaker right away and they called all over the camp that all the Jewish inhabitant what lived…what stayed there, we have a meeting…we want to give you some greetings and your brothers what you have…family, they couldn’t tell officially that they want to take them to…the Americans supported it, you know – they didn’t object. But they didn’t want officially because of Britain. Britain was, you know, very much…very much…not only the persecuted – but they were constantly looking for the ones what wanted, you know, to…it was an underground…
PRINCE: Right.
LENGA: But the Americans, they didn’t object but officially, they couldn’t, so to the Americans they said they’re bringing greetings. They want to have a meeting with them. That’s how it was. And everybody came running and they came from outside and they talked to us – to all of them and right away, they register whoever wants to go and it’s no “monkey business.” We are leaving tonight. Just like that. Of course, we, all of us, we decided we go…the eight. We were all, you know, Zionists, way before when we’re living still as kids.
PRINCE: As kids.
LENGA: That’s right – we still were dreaming about coming to Israel and while in Germany after the liberation to Palestine. There was no Israel then at that time. It was 1945. Anyway, we were very glad and about 90 percent registered and I don’t know how they did it – but they had trucks right away, came over and they picked them up in the camp and then they came over to our place and they picked us up and they took us and all-in-all, it’s a funny thing, but at points where they had guards, you know, where certain guards for the Americans which they were controlling the highways, who’s coming in and who’s going out…whenever they came, I don’t know if they talked to them somehow, you know, they went through and they took us…that was in Austria…they took us to…
PRINCE: I’ve got to stop you for one minute, Harry, the condition of some people must have still been so fragile…
LENGA: Well the ones what couldn’t go, you know…
PRINCE: Did they have limits? Did they…?
LENGA: Oh well, yes…sure. They said the ones what are strong, healthy people, you know, they should register. And they took everybody…women and children and whoever – it was children…we didn’t have any children. But we had young, you know, young boys…young girls…some of them were 15, 16 years old.
PRINCE: So these young boys – these girls – did they have girls at Ebensee?
LENGA: Sure they had…they had women too there, sure. Not in our camp, but they…sure.
PRINCE: Oh, I didn’t know they had women in Ebensee. Okay, okay.
LENGA: And they organized, you know, while we were going…small trucks came. They had a whole column and they took us to a train in Augsberg. Augsberg that’s a town in Germany.
PRINCE: In Germany?
LENGA: Wait a minute – not Augsberg. Innsbruck…Innsbruck…Innsbruck, Austria. Innsbruck…Innsbruck and there was coming – trains – from Russia with Italian prisoners. Now listen to that. And somehow they made arrangements, you know, with the Americans and we went in…in those trains. You see, Innsbruck was still occupied by the Americans, but right soon you cross the border into Italy, that was Breman.
PRINCE: Breman?
LENGA: Breman – there the British were. And they had to be very careful. That’s why they had to take us to that train because they wouldn’t have been passed – they would have seen this. When they put us in those trains and officially it was some of them they came in as civilians – they took off their uniforms, you know, and they sit with us as Italians, and they told us whoever knows a few words of Italian, should say something, if it comes up, and whoever doesn’t…
PRINCE: Like “Paison.” (LAUGHTER)
LENGA: Yeah, just anything, you know. And we went through the border because they thought it’s all Italians. You see, they arranged very good and we passed through.
PRINCE: Weren’t you just amazed?
LENGA: Listen, it was a dream came true for us. Suddenly we were liberated and we were already starting to get discouraged…sitting constantly in those camps. We didn’t know what’s going to happen – are they going to take us back to Poland – are they going to leave us here in Germany – what are they going to do with us?
PRINCE: I wanted to ask you about the depression and…
LENGA: Oh yeah, we were already, you know, worried about. Of course, I wasn’t worried but still – for the time being, I was well situated. I have to eat…I have cigarettes…and everything, you know – plenty. But we still was thinking what will be the future…what’s going to happen later with us? What they’re going to do? We didn’t want to go back to Poland. We hated it – we didn’t want to go back to Poland. And suddenly this came up like this…that was the biggest, you know, uh…
PRINCE: Dream.
LENGA: Not a dream – it’s something what you could never believe that…that can happen. So we were very happy about it. We were very happy. I mean, everybody clinged to it like it came…a salvation for us. So we went into…they came over to us and we loaded, you know, we didn’t have much to take which the only thing I had a lot of things to take…all the cigarettes with me. I had about, who knows, about 50 or 60 cartons of cigarettes so I was the richest – we were the richest (LAUGHTER) people at that time. And we went into Italy. And I don’t know how it happened – suddenly the train stopped and a guy came up to us and said, “Sit quiet on the train, we have trouble now, but everything will be alright.” He says, “Soon those trucks – we’re going to bring trucks.” He said, “Soon those trucks will come to the train – jump off from trains into the trucks and you don’t have much time. Be ready. Soon as those trucks come.” And that was already in Italy. Now listen what happened…we found out later. Somehow those Israelis…those …those Jewish Brigade…when they came, they only came over the border with about, you know, three or four trucks because they left the trucks in Germa…in Austria…to go to the other camps to organize…to take…And suddenly (SPEAKS VERY QUIETLY) it didn’t take an hour. Now what happened – they found out that the British found out that they brought over a transport and they wanted to stop them and that was right in Modena – no it wasn’t – before Modena…it was somewhere before Modena…it was in “No Wheresland” it was not in…just in the open space from one town to another – I can’t remember the place. And they brought up the trucks. Now how they did it, we found out later, they called up – they got in touch with the Jews…British soldiers that they, a company, which their division was, you know, they were in charge of the mechanization…motorization in trucks. And they organized – I don’t know how many they had – about 25 or 30 trucks and they brought over the trucks and they were the drivers and they dragged us off from the trains – loaded us in the trucks and took off. The Italians…they left it…only the Jewish refugees what they had put in…in our camp and they picked up some more too on the way too, still while they were in Austria. I never saw an organization like that! It was unbelievable how everything clicked perfectly. They dragged us into the trucks and they took off with us. They said, “Don’t worry, everything will be alright.” But in Modena was a camp – a refugee camp put up already by the UNRRA.
PRINCE: D.P. Camp?
LENGA: D.P. Camp.
PRINCE: Displaced Persons.
LENGA: Displaced Person camp. And if soon, they said…if we get to that camp – they can’t take you out from there anymore. They can’t take you out from there and send you back. And we’ll keep you meanwhile there and see what we can do later. Now their idea was if everything would have been all right, the train would have gone all the way to Palermo and from there, they used to take those ships into Palestine. But it didn’t work that way so they had to grab us out and put us into Modena in that D.P. Camp. There were all kind of nationalities again but we were treated…we could go out but we had to be registered. You couldn’t go out with your luggage – you couldn’t go out, but without anything, you could walk out and come in but you still had to wait in line in the morning for breakfast…it was still like a camp life.
PRINCE: If you decided that you wanted to leave there and just go on your own way…
LENGA: No you couldn’t.
PRINCE: Why couldn’t you?
LENGA: Because it was a D.P. camp – a temporarily isolated camp. You see, you couldn’t go out and settle in the city with the other Italian population. You had to be always in that – in that camp. You could walk out – let’s say, shop and do and you were not arrested but you couldn’t leave the camp. But anyway, we stayed there about three weeks…
PRINCE: Was that a little depressing for you?
LENGA: Well it – sure it was depressing, because everything was like…
PRINCE: Was like getting a present and having it taken away from you.
LENGA: That’s…that’s right. We…first of all, we thought we are being taken over to Isr…to, to Palestine – we’ll come in there – if it’s legal or illegal – we didn’t worry about that…we wanted to be there. But they spoiled that and we are staying in that camp and we had contact with the Israel…the Palestinians…Chayalim…they used to come in and tell us all the time, “We’re working at it, you know, it won’t be long – it’s still going on – they’re watching us.” They couldn’t take us out but they knew what they did already, so they were watching the camp very, very well so they shouldn’t take us out…again…
PRINCE: “They…they?”
LENGA: The British.
PRINCE: The British.
LENGA: The British, oh yeah.
PRINCE: The British were in charge of this camp?
LENGA: Sure the British were in charge of the whole, uh…
PRINCE: Sector there?
LENGA: Sector there in Modena. They were taking over there at that time. Now the Chayalim had also a part but they were more south – if they would have made it south – they would have been alright…farther to Palermo or closer – there were the Chayalim already – they had their charge of the population, of the…You see it was divided someplace. Some were Americans – some were British – some were Canadians – all kind different. Some were Indians. India, you know, they’re military personnels and all of them were used to being in Italy.
PRINCE: What was that camp like?
LENGA: Well it was a nice – it wasn’t so bad like the living quarters was – we didn’t have any beds. We just had to be in bunk beds too and it was a big, big building, a nice building, but it was still – you had to wait in line, you know, in the morning for…
PRINCE: Harry, what did people talk about?
LENGA: In the camps?
PRINCE: Yeah. In other words, everybody had had some kind of terrible experience and everybody was waiting for…
LENGA: Well we heard stories what’s going on that the United Nations…
PRINCE: Not what was going on…
LENGA: …tries, you know, to make us different laws. The United States is talking about to take in maybe some if we wanted to go to Palestine. We thought maybe, you know, the Jewish agency tried to vote that they should take all the refugees – the survivors out from Germany and from Austria and take them to Palestine, but the British were against that, you know, it was going on all different – we knew all the things. We read the papers and everything what we knew about it.
PRINCE: All right. You’d been in a camp and you had a sense of what Americans were like. What kind of sense did you have of the British?
LENGA: Well we didn’t – we didn’t feel friendly to them. We didn’t feel friendly to them at all because…because of that what they – after all of that what we went through even before they didn’t let us, you know, escape from Hitler’s mouth.
PRINCE: Right.
LENGA: And after that finally the ones what survived, they still have to go through…we still persecuted, you know.
PRINCE: How did they – how did they treat you?
LENGA: Oh they treated us as…as individuals. They treated us with the same rights like everybody else. But as a…a…a Jew, you know, in us a part you want to go to Palestine – they didn’t like that. They said we belong…to go back to Poland. They didn’t want to take us into their country either.
PRINCE: No – right.
LENGA: They only wanted us to where they’re Polish to go back to Poland. Whoever is German should stay in Germany. The Hungarians should stay in Hungary and the French should go to France. But we didn’t like it. We knew that they’re our enemies too because they kept us almost the same…not quite…identical the same like the Germans – I wouldn’t say, but uh, they were against us. We felt it…we felt at first especially from that later party, you know the Bevin.
PRINCE: Bevin?
LENGA: Yeah.
PRINCE: Atlee.
LENGA: Right. So we stayed there in Modena and that was going on for awhile. It was again the same thing. We already organized tools – we had tools already and we start to work in the camp and people came by and brought us watches and we traded – we had cigarettes and we traded cigarettes for this and for that. We used to go out and we used to go in a store and say, “Listen I’ll give you a carton of American cigarettes but what you offer me – money or other things what we needed.” I’m telling you, financially, we were very good off.
PRINCE: Let’s talk about the camp life for a minute. Was there any organized, uh, activity? Were there any…
LENGA: No, no nothing. It was nothing…
PRINCE: …prayers – did they, did they…
LENGA: No, they let you live free. You can go whenever you wanted to go, you could come in whenever you…
PRINCE: I know, but I mean as far as any camp life…
LENGA: Life. No, no, it was women and men together.
PRINCE: What I’m saying – when people get together, they…they often, as in the ghettos or in some D.P. camps later on – they have services on Friday night. Did you…?
LENGA: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh yeah, they…that was allowed, you know, each group who wanted religious. I – many times used to go in and have services. Saturday or Friday night, yeah.
PRINCE: Was there a rabbi?
LENGA: Oh yeah – not a…a rabbi, you know, anybody who could – many times I was performing services too. I knew how to do it. Now Morris, you know, did it many times, you know, like to be the hazzan for the congregation. We did that, it wasn’t a camp like in Germany. You could whatever you…you didn’t have the tallit. You didn’t have all the equipment what you should, but just for walk in and if you remember by…they didn’t furnish you prayer books, you know, they didn’t have it. But you remembered by heart whatever one remembered – he did it. So anyway, it mostly was in the camp Jews, you know.
PRINCE: Oh, it wasn’t…
LENGA: It was…it was other nationalities. But most of them was Jews. Why? Because the Chayalim used to bring in from all the places to that camp. That became the main point which they have put them in there and try later, when they’ll have the chance to take them out and smuggle them over to the ship…
PRINCE: Did you feel any…?
LENGA: …to take them to Palestine.
PRINCE: Did you feel any, uh, unpleasant, uh, feelings from…?
LENGA: The Italian population?
PRINCE: Italian population or other people in the camps?
LENGA: No, they were…no, no. With us, we lived very…in a very nice harmony with each other. We felt, you know, with each other, we are in the same boat. So we didn’t have no, no problems with the Italian people. They treated us very – they were very friendly to us and treated us very nicely. They were polite. They told us where to…to go…how to go…where to buy. It was very nice – very nice. They treated us like, uh…
PRINCE: Human beings.
LENGA: Human beings, right.
PRINCE: Harry, uh, how did it feel to be a human being, or treated like one? Was that difficult to get used to?
LENGA: No, we always felt – even in the camps, we felt that we are the humans – that they are the…the beasts. We always felt that way. We never lost our feeling that they are…we…that we are worth it to be treated like they treated us. We knew that all the time. In fact, many times we felt sorry for them how they treated us – that they are the beasts – they are the barbarians. I really…we really felt that way. So it was no problem, that we could, right away, change our way or life to a normal…to be again a human being…to be human. Do you understand what I’m trying to tell you?
PRINCE: I understand. I understand. I’m just listening.
LENGA: Sure in the clothing what they kept us before and the way they kept us, you know physically tormented – without food – but still no matter what…how we looked…inside our brains…we were the human beings still.
PRINCE: How were you dressed now?
LENGA: Then? Well we already organized. I…I had an American uniform, you know, for example because they gave us to wear that – those pants and the jackets. But those…all the other ones they always try to organize, you know, most of the people they try to get out of there.
PRINCE: Excuse me – we’re using the word “organize” in the sense to mean…
LENGA: Organize – I’ll tell you how it happened. Most of the time, right when we were liberated, even in Germany, we used to go out – we felt it’s coming to us and we went into a German family and we asked them, “I want you to give me a shirt – I want you to give me – we didn’t have any money – the Americans didn’t give us anything.” But we went in…we told them…
PRINCE: You knocked on the door of their house…?
LENGA: Knocked on the door of the house and walked in. Now if somebody was not nice…didn’t want it, it depends on the person – we walked out. Like for example, my brothers and I and my friends, we were not ruffnickers. But some of them were ruffnickers too, you know. Some of them they were (SNAPS FINGERS) threatening them, you know…if you don’t do that, I’ll do this to you…and this to you. It depends on the person. Most of them they were very cooperative because they were afraid in the beginning – they were afraid.
PRINCE: Of the Americans?
LENGA: Of the Americans and of the prisoners too…of the concentration camp inmates…
PRINCE: Would turn on them…
LENGA: Right. They were afraid and they used, some of them tried to go out of their way to invite to their homes, yeah. And they used to give you because most…most families they had men which they were dead or they were in the camps and they didn’t know if they’ll come back, or not. So if you came into a family, you know, if there was a woman – the man wasn’t there – even if the man was there, they always had some shirts or pants so to give you something to wear. So the ones what organized…were organizing themselves, they knew how to do things like that…they went. I…we didn’t have any need for it. I never took anything from them because I didn’t have any need for it. Now some of them they grabbed revolvers too, you know, and they tried to go in and kill those Germans too…some of them. But they stopped that later, you know, they took away the arms, and that. I was going to…nice straight way. I said right from the…we were liberated…my brother said, Marcel what’s in, you know, France – my older one – he said, “Let’s go out and see what’s going on.” A shooting was going on. We didn’t know. And I said, “Let’s…listen we went through so much and we finally made it – we are alive – let’s not put our selves in danger so that we should get killed now.”
PRINCE: That’s right – we have that…
LENGA: Oh yeah, right…right. Okay. So we tried always to stay away from all those things and be nice.
PRINCE: Now let’s move on. So you’re in this camp…
LENGA: So we’re in this camp, and we used to go out in the evening…we used to go to shows. We used to go to theatre – to the opera – you could go to…everywhere if you had money to pay the tickets and we had money. And everybody tried to find a way how to make a lira in Italy.
PRINCE: A living…?
LENGA: A lira…lira.
PRINCE: Oh, a lira.
LENGA: Like a dollar, you know, right. It was in different ways…a shoemaker, he was a shoemaker – he tried to get a job to fix shoes. If somebody was a tailor – he went into…everybody – we had a little – we had a little profession…some even the ones that didn’t have professions – there was ways how to organize a living. You traded this for that and that’s how it started…that’s how it goes…it went.
PRINCE: Just like it started in this country…peddling.
LENGA: That’s exactly how it was – that’s exactly how it was. And in Italy, we were respected very much. They felt with us – what we went through. And the only thing you had to show them a number, you know, and of course, they…we…our hair was not grown yet to the point that they could, you know, you could tell that you come out from a concentration camp because your hair was still short. So they treated us nice. They were helpful and the Italian population itself…they tried to help…to help us.
Well those – all of those eight boys what we were together, we still stayed together in the camp and they finally decided – I don’t know if I told you this story yet – that they are going to escape from the camp. They want to go…leave the camp out…it’s enough. They don’t want to stay in the camp anymore and Mietech, Marcel, my older brother and I was against – but Morris liked very much the idea. And he became an advocate for that plan. Now the only thing you could get away from there is, either you leave everything or you go out and somebody remains in the camp and goes to the window and throws out, at night, a few bundles through the window. You pick up the bundles, then you go out. So finally came the moment that they…when they are going to leave and Morris says, “If you’re not going to leave, I’m going – I’m sorry.” I don’t know, he was, we wouldn’t have done it if it wouldn’t have been for him. So I says to my brother, to Marcel, I say, “Listen we can’t let him go alone”…for him…for us, he was still a baby, you know. We still…I still now, I feel responsible for him, no kidding. Even now, some things comes up – I always feel, you know, I have to help him. So I says to my brother Marcel, I says, “Listen, you see, he’s serious and he’s going to go and we can’t let him go all by himself.” So we had the only thing what we can do is go with him too – whatever will be…will be. Now we didn’t like it. I was very much against it. Now he, I’ll tell you, I’ll have to explain to you the situation between the three of us. Morris didn’t do yet the watchmaking.
PRINCE: He wasn’t a watchmaker?
LENGA: He knew something, but we always kept him as still, treated him as a baby. He wasn’t a good watchmaker yet, you know, he couldn’t do good yet. So we were always working – he was always the…and he didn’t like that, you see. That was a lot to do with it, too. And here he saw an opportunity to go to Rome, you know, and try to live individually in a home like anybody else and a living, he’ll find to make a living. And that has a lot to do because he wanted to…
PRINCE: It’s like a child who wants to leave his parents.
LENGA: Right…right…right. That’s exactly what it was.
PRINCE: Like when you went to Warsaw.
LENGA: Right, that’s exactly what it was. So we decided we’re going. So I told him, I said, “Alright – we’re going to go.” So…
PRINCE: It’s interesting that he would have those…it’s admirable because he had been taken care of – he had been through so much…
LENGA: Sure, we lived together with, you know, what was mine…was his…what was his…what was ours, you know…
PRINCE: So it was very brave of him to want to go…
LENGA: Yeah, he wanted to go. Well we figured he don’t understand. We figured, you know, he’s staying in a place – he had to eat – we made money – we were working and we made a table ourselves…a watch bench and we were sitting in the daytime and people used to come – people already had watches, even the…the D.P.’s…the displaced people – the refugees – had watches. They used to bring them. They used to give us money. We had money and we had a place where to stay too. And we could go out and have a good time too. We used to go to a show at night. We used to go take out girls, you know.
PRINCE: Oh you were you taking out girls…?
LENGA: Oh yeah. We used go have the girls from the camp. We used to go out with them and treat them for a show…to go to a show, you know.
PRINCE: This was new for you.
LENGA: Yeah, that was, for sure. But of course I was older at that time already too, you know. It was a different time. So we used to have to…to, we used to go together to a show. We used to go…they used to have shows outside under the sky in the nighttime. We used to go to plays. We had the money, we could pay – so why not.
PRINCE: Okay, now let’s get back to Morris and…
LENGA: Yeah, so we threw down the packages. I remained upstairs and they went out and it was at nighttime already. It was real dark and I…we, packed everything together and I threw them down…all our belongings…the cigarettes, the chocolates and everything what we had, you know. We didn’t have much, but we had something. And we got it – they got it. They walked away then I left out, too. We didn’t have a curfew. You didn’t have to come at home at late or early – anytime when you came – we just had to show the I.D. cards so they’ll let you in…even 12 o’clock, midnight, one o’clock, that was freedom. And we went to the station. Now we didn’t have any money. We didn’t have no tickets and we saw a freight train. We jumped in it…a freight train. We found out if it’s going, you know, towards Rome. Rome was, let’s see, south – it was south from Modena. “Are you going south?” That’s enough. So we jumped into the train and we stayed there in the train. The train was going and going and going. Then when they stopped, one guy jumped out and tried to find out what’s happening and they didn’t know. They knew about it, but they didn’t bother us, you know, it was all right. So we heard that the train is going to go somewhere else, so we went down and we waited. Another train came and we found out it’s going farther…closer to Rome. We went on that train until finally, we made it to Rome. Now we didn’t speak Italian yet good. We came into Rome – it was about six o’clock. It was in the summer…
PRINCE: In the morning?
LENGA: In the afternoon…in the evening. So we go out – it’s a big city, you know, that’s the first time we saw Rome. We saw a lot of people and we didn’t know where to go, what to do, and we stayed all eight of us together. I used to…(Are you still having plenty of tape?)…and we look around, we saw a lot of Catholic priests. We saw a lot of them. We knew that priests usually are educated, they must…some of them know German too, because some of them must be from Germany too. So we saw the first priest and we decided let’s go up to him and we asked him if he speaks…Sprechen Sie Deutsch? “Do you speak German?” And he says, “Yes.” Oh, and we tell him we came just to Rome. And he knew right away. He says, “You are D.P.’s from the camps…refugees.” Yeah and we told him we want to find out where there’s a hotel where we can go…find a place where to go in and sleep.
PRINCE: There were still about 11 of you, or eight?
LENGA: There was eight of us…eight of us together.
PRINCE: Oh, all together…
LENGA: All together eight of us, there was. The same group like we stayed before.
PRINCE: I thought there was eight, plus the three of you.
LENGA: No, no…we were eight – there were five and we’re three.
PRINCE: Okay, okay.
LENGA: So – and he start to tell us – go here and there. Suddenly he took a liking to us and he start to go with us to the hotels. We went…wherever hotel we came – everything was taken – there was no place. And that was from six o’clock – he walked around with us till 12 o’clock. So finally he took us to a…we start to go to rooming houses – not hotels.
PRINCE: If you’d been Catholic, would he have taken you to a church?
LENGA: I don’t know that. We told him that we are Jews, you know. On the way, we’re talking to us – we’re very good. He offered us to…he took us into a restaurant and he ordered food that he wanted to pay – he didn’t let us, but we didn’t want it, you know. So we paid for him (LAUGHTER). So he, anyway, he start to feel already, you know, uh, friendly to us too. Right in the beginning, he was friendly. And he says, “I won’t leave you alone – I guarantee that I’ll find you a place where to stay.” Anyway it was around…close to 12 o’clock, he says, “You stay here.” Whenever he went up, he let us stay downstairs…on the street…and went up and he comes down and he says, “We are lucky…God helped us.” He says, “You have a room where to stay. I don’t know for how long…maybe one night…maybe for several nights, but the lady said,” she kept, you know, it’s a rooming house – it was a rooming house… “she don’t know how long she can hold us, but for tonight – maybe another night, yes.” We said, “That’s all we wanted. Next day, we’ll take care of ourselves again. Why not?” So he came up and we asked her how much it is and she told us. We took out money and paid her. And we thanked him and he said, good luck to us. He was so happy, very happy and he gave us his phone number, you know, should call him and that’s it.
Well we stayed there about…she told us in the beginning we’ll stay three days, and we were all good people, you know, nice…we behaved ourselves nicely. We act decent. She had a family, her husband, later found out – her husband was a Fascist…one from the authorities…the Italian Mussolini government and he was in prison and she had a beautiful home. She had a son and a daughter with her living, and she made a living having…
PRINCE: Boarders…
LENGA: Boarders. So after then – the three days was over – we asked her, we says (I’ll tell you the truth – she spoke beautifully German, too. She was intelligent, a very intelligent woman) and we told her we would like to stay here but if you want us out, we’ll…we are going to leave. She said, “Let’s try another week.” Now she was a…careful too. So I said, “All right. We appreciate it very much.” And we told her, I says, “Listen if that’s – the money’s not enough, we’ll be glad to pay you more.” She gave us two rooms and each room had three beds, you see. So we managed to locate ourselves in those rooms and we made it straightened up in the morning, you know, we were really behaving ourselves like menschen, and (LONG PAUSE) three weeks was over – she says, “I decided if you want to stay, you can stay. I like it how you behave yourself and I need somebody anyway and I like you to stay here.” And we stayed there.
PRINCE: In the daytime, you were looking for work…you were looking…
LENGA: Yeah, in the daytime we went out in the morning, right away.
PRINCE: Did you split up, did you go…?
LENGA: We split up, yeah, we split up and we start to…there was a market place and we went out to that market place. I had the cigarettes and I start to trade cigarettes and I found out that for a pack of cigarettes, you know, I can get about 10 or 15 Italian….

Tape 5 - Side 2 (Prince)

So we – that woman we lived there, you know, I didn’t ever told you about who we…you know, we had a rabbi with us, too – from our town…
LENGA: Between the boys. He was one and then we have another guy…
PRINCE: Boys, boys…
LENGA: One of the boys, yeah.
PRINCE: How old?
LENGA: Oh he was older than – he was about my…Marcel’s age that time.
PRINCE: So that was about 31, 32?
LENGA: Oh he was about, yeah, about that age.
PRINCE: Harry, what…what year are we now in to.
LENGA: It was still 1945.
PRINCE: We’re still, okay, we’re still in ’45.
LENGA: Yeah, it was in the fall of ’45. It was the fall. And we registered there, in the Rome, we found the Jewish agency – the Jewish community center and we came there to them and we registered there by them and they told us that the Polish Council wanted, not the Communists, only the ones what lived in exile…the government there, the Polish Council…they were just a Polish, Polish refugees too – and they gave help to them so we went there too. And we registered of course and we told them, you know, we are Polacks. We figured if we can take something from there – why shouldn’t we?
PRINCE: How did they treat you?
LENGA: They treated us all right. We told them, you know, we were registered and we told them that we were born in Poland. We had a card also, you know, what said that where we were born. We didn’t want to say that we were Polish in the card, but we said Kozienice, Poland, you know, that’s all. So they gave us several hundred liras, you know, to be able to start a life. And that lady where we lived, she looked in the papers and Marcel got, right away, a job in a jewelry store as a watchmaker. And I was looking too, but I saw I can make more money trading for business than doing for a watch repair. So I said, “Well anytime I’ll be ready for it – I’ll do it.” So we made a living and it was nice…
PRINCE: What was Morris doing?
LENGA: And Morris was helping me, you know, trading. And then we met people what came from Germany to Rome and from Rome they went back to Germany…
PRINCE: Harry was this – was any of this done on the black market?
PRINCE: Was any of this trading done on the black market?
LENGA: Well, not yet, no – not yet. But of course we didn’t go in and establish ourselves with a…like any other merchant has to do for a license, you know. They didn’t request it from us. We didn’t have to do it. We didn’t have a place of business but we just did it, on the…
PRINCE: On the street.
LENGA: Right, right, right. That’s how it was. Then we found out when people came from Germany and they said, you know, they brought some things and they sold it, you know, they made good money – like cigarette papers…you could buy in Germany…in Austria…for nothing. You brought it over to Italy – if you brought it over to Italy, you made money on it, it was good. So when they came in, I used to buy up from them right away, take everything, and then I used to sell it to the merchants in Italy and I start to learn Italian. I was the first one, you wouldn’t believe it, who became an Italian speaking guy. (LAUGHTER)
PRINCE: A linguist…An Italian speaking “what?”
LENGA: An Italian speaking guy.
PRINCE: Oh –“guy” (LAUGHTER). Now you…
LENGA: I used to go to the merchants and making business…do business with them. I used to sell them and they already knew me.
PRINCE: You established yourself.
LENGA: Yeah. And it…we did very good. And we stayed there till (let’s see, about – I would say – it was September we came…till October, November – about December, yeah, January). January we decided it’s no use. We still were waiting, you know, to hear when we’d be able to get in contact…when we heard that it’s already, you know, the British are really patrolling the seas and it’s very hard to do it, and they take them and put them into Cyprus, you know, the ones with the ships what they think. And we said for the time being, let’s wait. Let’s see what will happen. And we heard that a lot of people are in Germany and there’s ways – other camps, you know, we found out that a lot of people find each other…family, brothers and sisters we thought we didn’t know about them. So we decided they’d wanted to go and we decided, too – let’s go back to Germany.
PRINCE: That was some decision.
LENGA: Yeah. And the reason why we decided that because we – that was to be…was rumors going around…if you stay in Italy, you’re not considered, eventually we won’t be considered anymore as D.P.’s. Sooner or later they’ll stop giving the relief to us and they won’t settle us. Either you’ll be able to remain in Italy, or if they’ll pass a law and force you to go back to Poland. But the ones what stay in Germany, they have a better chance to go to Palestine.
PRINCE: So the eight of you sat and really discussed this?
LENGA: Yeah, oh yeah. We discussed it all…all the things.
PRINCE: Were you – didn’t you have sort of mixed feelings about going back to Germany?
LENGA: We did. You see we were not in Germany, but the…the…
PRINCE: Were you frightened?
LENGA: The rumors what we received from the people what came…from the boys what came from Germany back, and they traveled back and forth and back and forth, they told us that Germany’s terrific, you know. They made good money there doing trading and a little bit this and a little bit that, you know. And the most possibility you’ll find, you know, from your own town people – maybe some relatives or maybe, you know, we didn’t know – I was still hoping that I might find maybe, my sister and maybe might find, you know, maybe somebody’s alive or not. We didn’t know for sure. Especially we figured my sister and my brother what was in Russia…if they’ll come, they’ll come to Germany. So we finally decided, and unanimously, to go back to Germany. So we went back to Germany and in Germany everything was cheap.
PRINCE: Did you catch a train?
LENGA: Yeah. We went…we took a train. We went all the way to the border, passed, they let us go back and forth in the beginning. You just had to show them that you are from the concentration camp and you were looking for your family…so even in Italy they let us ride the trains free, and even in Germany, too – where you could go in a train and if they came for tickets, you didn’t have to buy a ticket either. They let us…let you go…soon that you show them, you know, some kind of a piece of paper that you are…you were concentration camp prisoner.
PRINCE: Where did you go in Germany?
LENGA: So we heard some thing – Stuttgart. So we went to Stuttgart.
PRINCE: What did Stuttgart look like at that time?
LENGA: Stuttgart was a big city…
PRINCE: No, I know, but I mean was it…had it been – destroyed at all?
LENGA: No, it was not damaged at all. Stuttgart was not much – not much anyway. And then they…Eisenhower…President Roosevelt gave the order to Eisenhower to dismantle the D.P. camps and send…settle all those refugees in homes – take the Germans out.
PRINCE: Oh – in Stuttgart.
LENGA: Yeah. Not only Stuttgart, in other camps, too…they did that. Not in all of them, you know, but Stuttgart especially. And they gave a beautiful section for the refugees to settle in their homes…nice…with bath and showers, you know, and central heating. It was already beautiful – nice kitchens with the furniture – everything. They told them to get out…that’s what Eisenhower did, and we moved in.
PRINCE: I know that order was given. I didn’t know how well it was carried out.
LENGA: It was carried out. It was carried out, especially. And we knew about it. Stuttgart has a very big Jewish community already…all of the D.P.’s and the displaced people and a lot of people met. We actually met a lot of relatives too, even my own relatives.
PRINCE: You did?
LENGA: I met…I met two of them…two cousins.
PRINCE: From Kozienice?
LENGA: From Kozienice, yeah. One is…now lives in New York. We went to his daughter’s wedding and the other one, I don’t know what happened to him. I heard later…latest, he went to Israel.
PRINCE: Did you just bump into them?
LENGA: Yeah. They didn’t know about us and we didn’t know about them. We met on the…on the street in Stuttgart.
PRINCE: Okay, tell me the network of how people put signs upon the walls, I understand…
LENGA: Yeah – we had names, if you look for somebody, you know.
PRINCE: How did you…how…explain that to me as best you can.
LENGA: Well, let’s say “me.” We came into Stuttgart and the first thing what we did before we even settled, we went…it was a board, an information board…we went to the information board and we saw…
PRINCE: Like in a station, you mean?
LENGA: No it was, there was a community center. They used to meet together. There used to be a kitchen there. They used to give out meals and everything, you know, something like that. We used to make meetings, news find out, you know. It was a library. You could sit down there. Oh, it was – the Jewish community right away start organize themselves – like it used to be before. We used to have a daily…a weekly journal already published now in the D.P. camp. So first thing, I went and I start to look to see if somebody’s looking for me and then I put our names on…in the…on the board. Now Chil Lenga, Mylech Lenga, Moshe Lenga is…lives and exists and lives here and here and is looking for anybody from the family – whoever knows us, to come. And people who knew us from before…they looked us up, too. Even if they’re not family – they’re friends. And I met a friend what we used to be in the camps together and he found out about us three.
PRINCE: Wasn’t it such an emotional thing?
LENGA: Oh you can imagine when we met each other the first time, and we saw each other – we fall on each other’s, you know, arms…and we embraced each other and we cried that he has survived and they saw that we survived. Now Mordchi Kaufman what I’m going to tell you about it. Mordchi, his name was Kaufman…his name is Kaufman. He lives in Chicago. Now I was with him…I be…we knew each other from the…the camp in Starahovice – we were together. And we were good friends, very close friends. And he and his brother survived and he found out that we survived too. Now Salzberg – we met in Stuttgart too.
PRINCE: He is mentioned earlier.
LENGA: Yeah. He lives in Canada now, you know, the picture what I showed with me…with my arm around…
PRINCE: Right.
LENGA: Yeah. During the war I met him there. He thought that we are dead already.
PRINCE: He thought you were dead?
LENGA: Yeah, because he heard rumors. And he escaped, he escaped from the camp into the partisans to the woods in Starahovice and he heard rumors somebody, that the Germans caught a group of Jews and they had watches with them and jewelry and he figured – oh, it must be the Lengas, because he knew that we had watches with us, you know, from home. So for sure he thought we are them. And when he saw us, you can imagine! He couldn’t believe…he was torn with tears coming down, and…
PRINCE: Did everybody exchange stories or did you…
LENGA: Oh yeah, we constantly were talking about it. He told me his story – we told him our story what…how we went through and what happens and we stayed together. I met other people from Kozienice, you know.
PRINCE: How were people emotionally? I mean…did they, I mean, you…
LENGA: Oh we were glad, oh we were glad. We got adjusted to it right away. In the beginning it was emotionally, because you found out that a person is alive, made it, or something, new born – a new born person if you made it. And we were fortunate – we were – so far I didn’t – I think another family had three brothers what survived. Now we were four brothers because the one – I’ll tell you the story later about – we were looking for our older brother what went to Russia.
PRINCE: And you found him?
LENGA: Yeah. I didn’t found him but he found out about us that we are…he was in Poland and I’ll tell you the story how that happened. So, we used to keep together, you know, it was family. If you met one from the same town it was like it would be sisters and brothers. They all kept together even if strangers from other towns because we went through the same, you know, misery – through life. But especially from the same town. It felt, even now, when I meet someone from my town, I feel like it’s my family, you know, belongs to me. And they feel the same way even now. And that guy, that doctor, you know what I argued – he told me, he from Kozienice…I thought, I’ll know him. (LAUGHTER)
PRINCE: He’s much younger isn’t he?
LENGA: Yeah, he’s younger. (PAUSE) His mother’s probably my age. I imagine, the way he said it, you know. I don’t know – I don’t know – they immigrated. You see his mother and me, as a girl, a young girl – in Kozienice – I probably wasn’t born yet, he told me.
PRINCE: Now you’re still in Stuttgart?
LENGA: Yeah – no – I’m in Stuttgart now.
PRINCE: Right.
LENGA: So we stayed there and we…we had friends and one friend of ours he decided to go back to Poland. And he knew us very well, so, and I gave him something too to take care of for me when he’ll be in Poland to…to exchange something, you know, a document. So he works in Lodz. Lodz was the city where most the Jews what lived or came back from Russia or remained…still lived in Poland. Lodz was a concentration point where a lot of Jews used to live. They concentrate themselves in the big cities – Warsaw and Lodz. So he went to Lodz and he walks on the street and he sees my older brother. And he recognizes him and he says, “Hi, how are you Shabason?” And they embraced each other, you know, and my brother starts to cry. He says, “Look I’m the only one left. I went to Kozienice and nothing is there. I didn’t find a single Jew.” He said, “What’re you talking about, you have three brothers living.”…
PRINCE: Oh my God.
LENGA: He almost – he almost collapsed, you know, from joy. And he start to cry. He start to grab him again. He says, “Is it true?” He says, “Yeah I talked to them the minute before I left. They are well and everything.” Oh, it was a relief for him. And when he came back he gave him a letter right away and he went back and he told…came to us right away and he told us, “Yeah, I found your brother. He’s in Lodz – in Poland.” So you can imagine how we felt and he gave us an address too – he brought us where he stays in Poland and we right away wrote up a letter and told him, “Pack whatever you have.” He told me he’s married. He has two children. One child was born on the train coming from Russia to Poland and he has a little girl. She was about two years old. And he has a wife. I wrote him a letter, “Don’t wait a minute”…it’s ways how they smuggle out – they used to smuggle out the Jews from Poland already at that time. That was the Joint used to do that already, you know. They made expeditions…
PRINCE: Joint Distribution.
LENGA: Joint Distribution, yeah. So we told him, “Don’t wait a day. Right away get in touch with the, you know, with the authorities there what with the Jewish authorities and say… “Tell them that you have three brothers and you want to see them and they’ll tell you you’ll be the one…the first…because they want to unite families.” He didn’t – they didn’t want us to back, you see, everybody wanted we should go to Germany and from Germany we should be able to go to Palestine. That was the whole idea. So, he wrote us back the letter that he’s listening to us…
PRINCE: Excuse me. Why couldn’t he just come? Why did he have to tell somebody? Was he…
LENGA: They – the Poles – it wasn’t easy to get out from Poland too.
PRINCE: I didn’t know that.
LENGA: Oh yeah. You had to smuggle yourself out through the border. Oh…
PRINCE: Because of the Russians?
LENGA: The Russians, that’s right. They didn’t let out either. It wasn’t easy to do it, believe me. But the…through the, you know, they made different things. They went to Czechoslovakia, you know, first they had to go to Czechoslovakia, not to say nothing, they want to leave. But Czechoslovakia you could go. And then you came close to the Czech border – it’s Austrian or Pol…or Germany, then you cross the border. It was fixed up already, you know, smuggle through. So they made it anyway and they came to Stuttgart. And they gave me a telegram that they came in to Germany…they sent a telegram that said…
PRINCE: So you knew that they’re on their way?
LENGA: They’re in Germany and they’ll be tomorrow, probably, on the train.
PRINCE: Oh my heavens…
LENGA: We waited for them and they came.
PRINCE: Didn’t you all – just weren’t you besides yourselves…
LENGA: Oh sure. You can imagine – we knew he’ll be alive. One thing we knew that he…90 percent we figured he’ll still…he’ll survive. In the German camps that was no chance. You figured about 95 percent or 98 percent you’re not alive anymore. But if you were in Russia, you know, they didn’t kill…
PRINCE: But then the chances of finding them…
LENGA: Finding that’s right. It’s hard to unite.
PRINCE: Think of how many people, I guess, were just walking around…
LENGA: Oh it happens. Sometimes it happens. Some people didn’t even know each other and they recognized accidentally on the street. They went up to say, “Aren’t you so and so?” They didn’t even…
PRINCE: I mean to this day – relatives could be alive and not know it.
LENGA: Right, right. So we took him in right away where we lived and later we find him a place where to live – an apartment – and we were united. We had already a sister-in-law and a niece (LAUGHTER) and a nephew.
PRINCE: And your sister?
LENGA: My sister, no. We looked (SPEAKS QUIETLY) we found out later, you know, that she was taken to Treblinka too in a different town. She was married with her husband. They didn’t survive. That was later, much later, before we still had hope, you know. But later we met with a lot of different people from here and there and we always were constantly, our conversation was always to find out about each other. “Do you know about that person – do you know about that person?”…all conversation mostly was about like that. And we lived in Stuttgart for…1956…1946 and ’47 and ’48. And then in ’48, the State of Israel was…
PRINCE: Established.
LENGA: Established. We went through plenty. You know, they constantly came from the U.N. and asked us our opinion – do we really want to Israel? And everybody with one voice, even the ones didn’t want to go, you know, but they…
PRINCE: It was like a vote for it.
LENGA: That’s right. That the UN should see that most of us there wanted to go – settle in Palestine. So, the State of Israel was established. You can imagine it was the biggest thrill in our life again.
PRINCE: I would imagine…yeah, yeah.
LENGA: That we lived through that moment to hear that we have our own home.
PRINCE: Uh, what did you – what kind of life did you lead in Stuttgart? Did you, did you…were you part of – you say they started a cultural thing…cultural things. Did you go back to going…observing your religion as much as you did?
LENGA: Yeah…well not as much as I did, but we…when it came a holiday, a Shabbos, you know, and they had a congregation we used to go to the service. Not always, but most of the time we did, especially the high holidays, you know. Everybody went – even the ones that didn’t believe…
PRINCE: I mean there were so many things that were going on. First of all, you’d never had a…you’d never had a…you hadn’t been with girls much. You had that freedom. You had the freedom of being free, uh, there were so many…
LENGA: Well everything is changed completely. It wasn’t the same thing. We didn’t expect it should, God forbid, we should always in our life, stay like that. You see, even if…while we were there in the concentration camps, we always thought of the minute that we’ll get free. We believed in it really, even if we didn’t believe it, but we believed, we didn’t want not to believe it. Like I said many times already, the ones what gave up – they didn’t be…they didn’t make it. But we believed that we’ll have to wait for that moment when they’ll be defeated and we’ll be free again.
PRINCE: How did you find other people? Not find them physically, but how did you find them emotionally?
LENGA: The same way like…like they found us. Some of them were disturbed. We had many of them were disturbed. They were not anymore the same what they used to…that’s true. And some of them, they were like…
PRINCE: That’s what I’m trying to ask you about because so many…
LENGA: Yeah. Some of them, oh yeah, a lot of them were in the hospital.
PRINCE: Emotional changes that it’s impossible for…
LENGA: Oh yeah. We had plenty of them believe me – a lot of them…that couldn’t…they were not strong enough. And sick – mentally and physically. We had physical sicknesses, too. They had TB, they had, you know, lung problems, heart problems right then, you know. Some of them skin problems – all kind of different things…sicknesses.
PRINCE: You were not at a D.P. camp now. You were living…
LENGA: In Stuttgart, I was already in a private home. I always tried to stay, but we came to the D.P. camp. We had our business. I opened a watchmaking repair shop, all three of us, right there in Stuttgart.
PRINCE: And what did your older brother do when he came?
LENGA: The older brother? He was trading – he was doing some trading.
PRINCE: Okay. Now, so we’ve got Israel established, and…
LENGA: And then my brother, with a sister – with my sister-in-law and we already had a home, like, because every holiday or most of the day…
PRINCE: You had a what?
LENGA: A home – like a family home. She used to cook for us all the meals you know, in the beginning…
PRINCE: Was she Russian?
LENGA: She was, uh, Romanian…from Romania, yeah…she was Romanian. You saw, I showed you the picture, their home, and she sits in the big picture with the baby. That’s my sister-in-law what he married in Russia.
PRINCE: Right.
LENGA: And she accepted us very well and we accepted her beautifully. She was a beautiful…was a beautiful – she’s dead…she died. And we were happy with each other and it was a normal life. We felt, you know, Yom Tov, a holiday came, we came there together…to dine together.
PRINCE: It sounds as though you had more normalcy than…than most and yet I would imagine, tell me, if people didn’t have what you had naturally with brothers and sisters – they made a family…
LENGA: They made a family within themselves, yeah. Like I say, each one was a family. Many times we used to get together, you know, like a wedding, a wedding it is – you invited everybody who you knew and that was considered the best, like here, they…they…
PRINCE: Habonim.
LENGA: Habonim, that’s right. We, you know, we always tried if somebody invites us and we usually invite most of the people what from the Habonim. We stayed with each other, you know, real close contact. Even now in the United States, so many years back away…like I made a Bar Mitzvah, well I – with me – it wasn’t so because my wife is an American and she had a lot of family but still, 80 percent of my guests – you saw it, there from the other picture and they are Habonim, too. And they did invite me all the time to…to most of them – most of the weddings.
PRINCE: And let’s just establish that the Habonim is a society of European and East European survivors, living in St. Louis.
LENGA: Right, right. Well we came here in the 50s and 40s, you know…that’s right.
PRINCE: Okay. So now your aim back in Stuttgart is to really get to Israel?
LENGA: Well in the beginning, yeah, it was to get to Israel. Well in the begin…later when the (PAUSES) when the State of Israel was established, and we still stayed there and then they start, you know, whoever wanted to register, you could register right away and go. Well I start to hear different ideas, you know, what happens when letters what came back, so they’re having a hard time to live there. In the beginning when they came there and so on and so on, you cooled off a little bit, you know…in the beginning. But we decided that’s the only way for us. We didn’t have any family and ones what had families start to get to the United States. So we registered to go to Israel and they…what they did is at first they tried to take out the older people – the sicker people, you know, the ones what can’t help themselves. With us, we were considered young and able and capable of surviving the way…
PRINCE: Of life…
LENGA: Right. So we were still, you know, left behind. And that was going on for a while and then the United States Congress passed a law for the displaced people that…the ones what…where…in 1945 in the American territories what America was occupying – they can come to the United States.
PRINCE: Did you have to be in a camp?
LENGA: You have to be in a camp on the American side – American or British side – or Canadian. But if you went back to Poland or you were liberated in the Russian territory, they didn’t want you.
PRINCE: That law didn’t apply?
LENGA: Right, right. Only to us, so we started thinking about it, you know. Now we had already a brother with us which was…came from Russia. You see, 1945 he was a Russian…they didn’t want those. They was afraid they’ll be Communist and be spies or something like that. You know – you remember how it was here right after the war. So anyway, we start to think about it…listen we went through everything and he can’t go so we’ll forget about it. We’ll go together all to Israel. But he said, “No.” He said, “It would be foolish. You go to the United States if you can. And then you’ll take me. We’ll go meanwhile to Israel. And if you’ll be in the United States somehow we’ll be able to communicate. You’ll be able to help me. We’ll become rich and if not, you’ll bring me over here.” So we still…we didn’t you know, wanted to think about it. But it was going on a day…we felt this way…a day we felt the other way, you know.
PRINCE: Scared to make the wrong move…
LENGA: Decision – right, right. And finally we were registered. We registered for the…to go to the United States too. It took time and everything. And we said, which one will come first – they will go. So we came to Germany. It was in ’46 but we were in Italy in 1945. So when I registered, so they told us – that the American, the Joint Distribution, if we can furnish to them a paper which will show that we were in Italy in 1945, we have a big chance to go to America. So I got the idea…I wrote a letter to that lady where we used to live and the only thing what she had to do is to go to the UNRRA where we were registered…we had their card…
PRINCE: Judenrat?
LENGA: That was the United Nations, uh, Relief Agency which they, you know, supported up the…the refugees…that we were, yeah. So I said, “Look what can I do?” I know she liked us to the last minute even when we left, you know, she was crying. She was taken with us…really we were nice people always. I never had a problem…none of us. We were raised in a different way. You could tell that you are a nice person and we behaved ourselves…always nice too. And she really liked us. She says, “You are my best boarders.” So I said, “Let me take a chance.” So I write him a letter…I write her a letter and the only thing that she want to do is we’ll see what happens. And what do you think about it? About a week I receive a letter stamped in the UNRRA with a certificate that Lenga, Chil; Lenga, Moshe; Lenga, Mylech, you know…and everything written down that they were in 1945 registered there. So I took that letter to them and they registered us right away. And she told me right away, Mrs. Levitt, that was her name – she was an American – she said, “You know, Lengas, I think (LAUGHTER) it won’t be long – you’ll get ready – you’ll be the first ones to go.” I don’t know why. You know, we were young. We had professions…watchmaking professions and we were healthy, you know. If you were not healthy, you couldn’t – they didn’t want to let you in too. You had to go through an…an exam. And they asked us to form…to fill out – everything is alright with us. So she said, I think you’ll be, you know, so…and my brother couldn’t go so we decided…(PAUSES)…Oh, wait a minute – wait a minute – I forgot. I missed something. While we were in Stuttgart…Marcel, Marcel, – that’s what I’m coming to – I missed that…the story about him.
PRINCE: Marcel was the…
LENGA: The second oldest.
PRINCE: Second oldest.
LENGA: Right – what lived in Paris. How did he get to Paris?
LENGA: We knew when we were…we came to Germany, already knew after we were liberated…we had an uncle, my father’s brother…living in Paris. He had a family. He had a wife – two daughters and a son. We had cousins in Israel…a lot of them, a big family. We had a lot of cousins, also my…
PRINCE: You knew all this?
LENGA: We knew them and they knew about us. But we knew that they are alive because they were living in Israel. We knew she must been alive or maybe not because she was living in France, but in France – they also destroyed it.
PRINCE: Right.
LENGA: But in Israel, we knew for sure that they had to be alive. But I didn’t know an address, you know, to remember from my mind because everything was taken away and I didn’t even have in mind to take the addresses because who was thinking about that. So…but they had an agency what you could find out about it, you know. So I went – I wrote up a letter and I sent it to Jerusalem to the City Hall and I figured there, they don’t mind, they’ll probably know. And I wrote down that I’m alive – I’m from Kozienice and my father’s name was Mylech Lenga and I’m alive and my brothers alive and all four brothers are alive. And we didn’t ask for nothing. We like to know they should send us…we heard…we know we have family – Lengas too – they are cousins – they live in Jerusalem. And sure enough, they send us their address. And they notified them right away too about it. So a cousin – my father’s brother’s son…his name is also Mylech Lenga. He lived in Jerusalem and they notified them, so he wrote us a letter and he told us that we have an aunt in Paris living too and had two daughters. We already heard about them and he didn’t know about us, so he was very glad to hear and he told us about the aunt and while he was writing to us – he wrote to her that we are alive too. Now listen to that. They used to have a jewelry store in Paris. Now her husband, my uncle and his son with the same name like me…Chil.
PRINCE: Spell it Harry.
LENGA: C H I L. He was a doctor already and they took him to Auschwitz and they got killed, exterminated in Auschwitz, but his wife, my aunt, with the two daughters they live in Paris, and she has still her jewelry store in Paris. So then came up a dilemna again. When she found out about us – she wrote us a letter and she asked us to come over to Paris. Now she knew that we are watchmakers too, you know, my father was a watchmaker and she knew at least one of us must be a watchmaker. She needed a watchmaker so she wrote in her letter that at least one should come – the watchmaker – unless we are all watchmakers, we can all come. So we started to think about it and think about it and Marcel said, “I wanted to go,” just like that. I say, “Why do you want to go?” He said, “Let me go and find out what it is.” He says, “I’ll see what’s there and if it’s something positive – I’ll bring you over.” So he went to her and he worked for her about two months and then he found out that it’s not everything, you know, what they told. She tried to take advantage of him, you know. She thought that being he’s survived in the concentration camp, he’ll be glad just to keep working and be fat – and that’s it.
PRINCE: Be what?
LENGA: To be fat.
PRINCE: Oh, just to eat – just work and eat.
LENGA: To eat, that’s right. So he said, “Wait a minute.” …He wrote me a letter, he wrote us a letter back – he said, “Don’t come yet…I might come yet back.” But he says, “Paris is heaven…(LAUGHTER) I heard about it before but especially now that I’m here, I like it very much.” He says, “It’s a nice life – you can live there beautifully – the only thing is you have to be able to make a living.” And so far, he says, “I’m not. So let’s wait, you don’t come here.” So I wrote him right away a letter and I say, “Forget about it. Come back to Stuttgart and that’s it, and we’ll stay together again, and we’ll plan from there.” He says, “No I still…” If I would have been there, I would do it. But being I been there yet, I can’t tell you to come too yet, but I can take care of myself, I know that.” And they came to some kind of a misunderstanding, you know, between each other and he quit. And he went out and got himself another job, somewhere else as a watchmaker, and he made good money. He could already live in a…in his own apartment and everything. So he writes me a letter and he says, “Chil, you know, and Morris come over. You can live there – it’s beautiful…”
PRINCE: You mean all three of you, or…?
LENGA: All three of us, yes. But I was already, at that time, already registered, you know, for board either for Israel, and for…
PRINCE: America.
LENGA: America. And it didn’t take long – maybe several weeks – I received a letter from the Joint that they’re sending me a number…sent us a number for me and Morris – to go to America. And it was something like you won a lottery – you know, (LAUGHTER)
PRINCE: Oh my gosh…
LENGA: So we start – talk over – my brother at that time, was still living in Germany too, and I told him I says, “Listen if you want to stay a little while here…if I’ll establish myself, they told me at the Joint – if I get my citizenship, those first papers out, and it takes yet to be two years to get the citizenship papers…the first papers. If you had the first papers, you can already – if it’s a family, a brother – you can take them over to the United States. So I told him that, I said, “Listen let’s do that way.” We’ll see, but she was against it. She didn’t want it. She wanted to go to Israel. Her mother and her family was already there at that time in Israel…(Oh, I’m sorry) And we decided we’ll go to America and he’ll go to Israel. And he left before because they took him because he had a little baby like I told you, remember? So they took them by plane…out of Stuttgart to Israel.
PRINCE: Well that must have been a…sort of difficult because…
LENGA: Sure it was going on…
PRINCE: I mean you found each other and then…
LENGA: And then we had to separate.
PRINCE: Separate.
LENGA: Separate, right…right.
PRINCE: It was hard.
LENGA: Well I tried to talk to him, you know, and she said that we should go with them, you know. But they didn’t want to take us yet. We were not on the list. But him they took because like I told you, she had a little baby so they wanted to take those families – right? So they went to Israel and we went to the United States.
PRINCE: And what date? What year…
LENGA: It was in 1949, April 1949.
PRINCE: So that was four years after the liberation.
LENGA: Right…not quite…one month…less.
PRINCE: One month – May.
LENGA: Right and we went to the United States and he went to Israel before we left even from Germany, they took him, like I said, took him with a plane straight to Israel.

Tape 6 - Side 1 (Prince)

PRINCE: Harry, tell me how you began your education.
LENGA: Usually, in Poland – that’s what I know because I was living there and was growing up – when you became three years old, your father took you into a Hebrew school which we used to call “cheder.” It was not called “school,” it was not called “Hebrew School,” but “cheder.” The translation from cheder literally in Hebrew means “room.” That’s exactly what it means. And it was actually a room, a part, of the living quarters of the – we used to call the teacher “rabbi.” My father didn’t call him rabbi, he called him melamed, and melamed means a teacher actually – he teaches. But we children used to call “rabbi.” He usual was a real religious Orthodox Jew. He had to live according to the real Orthodox laws and habits – let’s put it that way. The way of life was like a – I want to describe you what a cheder was, what it looked like when my father took me there. I came in and it was a large room – a little larger than a regular room where you stay. They usually used that what I imagine was their dining room, it was a larger room, it was a part of the apartment that the family used to live. Now, you could see the kitchen right there sometimes in some cheders, that was part of the same room too. Stuff was in the same room too. You could see his wife and the children. If there were children my age, they was sitting with us together, learning. If they had younger children, they were playing around on the floor like little kids. If there were infants, they were laying in the crib, in the cradles. That’s exactly was like that. There was a long table. The first impression what I got when I walked in is to see how big his whip is.
PRINCE: His whip?
LENGA: Yes. The rabbi used to always own a whip made out of a piece of wood, a handle. With the handle was pieces of leather, little small strips of leather – connected to that thing. It was reaching almost to the end, if he want to hit a child that was sitting at the other end of the table. He had enough strip so that he could hit them. (LAUGHTER) Most of the time, he’d usually miss, or maybe he especially tried to miss.
PRINCE: So you knew about the whip before you got there.
LENGA: Sure, after I had my two brothers and a sister too. In fact, my sister went with me the first time to cheder. She was older. In the first grade they used to put the three year old ones together – it was girls and boys learning together. Only, when you became five, you already knew the Alef-Beit (the Hebrew alphabet), you already knew about that, and you already knew the Nekdot, how to pronounce each word. And after that, you were ready to start to study the Chumash, the Five Books of Moses. Now then, it got separated, the girls got separated from the boys by that time you were five.
PRINCE: Is this Hasidic?
LENGA: Now it was in general. It has nothing to do with Hasidic. Everybody was there – mostly and the parents of those children they’re mostly Hasidim, but not all of them. Some of them were not Hasidim at all. They all were Orthodox and even the non-Orthodox Jews in my time. Later they used to have different schools, already you know, special kinds of schools. But in our town, which was not a real metropolis like Warsaw, like Radom, like Krakow…in a town like that you didn’t have any other facilities even for the families that they were not real religious.
PRINCE: But the town of Kozienice was not a shtetl either.
LENGA: No, it was not a small shtetl either. But they didn’t have the facilities yet, you know. And the idea was that no matter what the upbringing from their parents, how they lived as religious Jews or not, religious Jews had the idea they had to put the children through the beginning of the cheder.
PRINCE: And this was the year…
LENGA: In the lower 20’s, 1922 or ’23 or ’24 or ’25, something like that.
And so, that was the cheder for everybody except families what they used…completely agnostic, for example. They didn’t believe at all, so they didn’t send their children to cheder at all. They just sent them later – when they became seven years old they put them in the public schools. That was about it. But I would say the biggest percentage of the Jewish population used to use the cheder as a way to start to get the prime education to their children.
So, like I said, when I walked in, when my father took me into that room, I observed everything. I was scared to death because I used to hear all the time the conflicts with my brothers, how the rabbis are, you know, “beating you up if you don’t behave yourself.” They discipline you and you have to mind, you have constantly to study and to behave yourself. So I really was scared. It was a problem.
Well…the beginning was when you came in the first day – they pacified you, you know. My father brought about a pound of candy, what you call it, in the candy store so he came in, he gave every child a candy and he gave me a few candies, you know, (LAUGHING) and it was a festive day and we were happy. And of course, the next day another father brought in his child, and we all looked forward to those days when a new student came in. (LAUGHTER)
PRINCE: And it was a very proud day for your father.
LENGA: Yes, for him it was. Sure, it is already – you’re already starting to be a mensch!
PRINCE: Did he know you were afraid?
LENGA: No, oh no, you couldn’t – you couldn’t tell him. He never asked me, that’s the first place, and the second, I was afraid to tell him I was afraid. (LAUGHTER)
PRINCE: Was your mother living?
LENGA: No, my mother was dead – no, no – she was still alive. I was four years old. She was alive still.
PRINCE: Did she know you were afraid?
LENGA: I can’t remember that. It was no problem. I mean, it was not something you talked about to the adults.
PRINCE: You just went.
LENGA: You knew, even as little as you were, you knew that you can not try to escape something like that, no matter what you said. And whenever you said something like that, they would think you were no good because you didn’t want to go to cheder. That was a terrible thing. So – that’s how I can remember. And another thing what I was very, very happy – pleased with – we always used to have some women what had babies, and when they had a child – and if, there was many rabbis like that, it wasn’t just the one where I was taken – there were several, and if that particular husband liked that particular rabbi, or maybe his child, his previous children, were going to that cheder – he invited that rabbi to bring all the children together and come into the house where the mother what just had delivered a baby and we used to come in and we used to say by heart, the Shema which the rabbi was leading us. We were repeating after each word what he said. That was supposed to be an omen for good luck for the baby, for the mother, you know. And after that they gave out a lot of candies to each child, you know, a reward. Everybody looked forward to that. (LAUGHTER) We came to cheder and the rabbi, first thing, “Children, if you behave yourselves, today we are going to a Mazel Tov or a Bris.” You know, a Mazel Tov was when a girl was born. A Bris was when a boy was born.
PRINCE: What did you wear?
LENGA: Regular clothes. Well, I was dressed, at that age I was still wearing…I remember one time when I must have been three – my mother was still alive. This I remember. It was before Passover and everybody had to be dressed in new clothes, you know, and I remember my mother bought me a sailor’s uniform, you know, and I can remember till today. I’ll never forget that – how proud I was, you know. And I had a hat with those ribbons and my tie with that big, large collar. Oh that was beautiful! I was really very happy, I remember that still, and that was when my real mother was still alive. I can’t remember exactly what I wore. We didn’t wear yet, you know, in that age you didn’t wear yet the Hasidic, the caftan – not yet. That was later, when you start to learn the Chumash, when you became five. Chumash. That’s a different day. You were already dressed and your sideburns that you let grow, your sideburns long already too, you know. It was already different, completely. That started usually at five, at six, you know. And, well he was sitting in front of the one side of the table and the children were sitting across two sides, and all the children were sitting and each one had a Hebrew Siddur which you pray out of. And it was everything…
PRINCE: A book?
LENGA: A book. You know, it’s a Hebrew manual book to teach the alphabet, the Hebrew alphabet. And it was going. I don’t know if he finished a special school for teaching (LAUGHTER), but they did a good job, I’ll tell you. Some of them were very nice and I went through quite a few. In the morning we used to come to cheder at about 10 o’clock. It wasn’t a special time you had to be at that time. It depended a lot on the family. If the mother, you know, was there and the child was very spoiled, I used to call them spoiled children. If it was raining, they didn’t let the child go. If it was cold, they didn’t send the child to cheder. If it was something special, if it was an aunt or a guest was coming to the house, they let them stay home that day. Sometimes they used to bring them in a little later too.
PRINCE: So it wasn’t…
LENGA: Whoever came was taught.
PRINCE: Sounds like a day care center.
LENGA: That’s exactly how it was. After all, we were only three years old and we were sitting through the day. I started maybe about 10 o’clock or maybe 11 o’clock in the morning at that age. We were sitting there until about sunset and then we were dismissed to go home. And sometimes if a child brought a note from the mother – usually mostly from the mother because fathers – (LAUGHTER) That’s why I didn’t have my – that – privilege, you know, when my mother died, I couldn’t come up to my father to ask for a note to be a real good reason. You had to have fever or be real sick. (LAUGHTER) But the mothers always, you know, soft and lovable and she likes to accommodate a child. So, that’s how actually it was going on. And you were witnessing everything what’s going on in the family, besides you and the rabbi – between the rabbi and his wife, between the children…
PRINCE: How much could you learn at three with all this going on around you?
LENGA: You’ll be surprised. I wouldn’t say I became right away a scholar. (LAUGHTER) It takes time, but you’d constantly repeat the same thing everyday, everyday, and finally you suddenly start to realize you recognize the letters and after you knew the Alef Beit, Kumitz Alef U…and you’d sing them in a folk song, “On Dem Pripiczyk Brent A Fierul.”
PRINCE: Can you sing it?
LENGA: Oh, I can’t, I don’t remember the whole song.
PRINCE: What does it mean?
LENGA: That means, “On the top of the oven is burning a fire to heat up the house. And there sits the rabbi and teaches the children the Alef Beit. Kumitz Alef means U and Kumitz Beit is boo and so on and so on. And that’s exactly how it used to be to go on. That’s how you learned.
PRINCE: That was a whole chanting kind of a…
LENGA: That’s right.
PRINCE: Did he ever use his whip?
LENGA: Not really when we were that young. It depends, of course, on the person. If he had some problem with his wife (LAUGHTER), he would probably let it out on us too. Or he had some misunderstanding with his grown up children already.
PRINCE: But you don’t remember anything really…
LENGA: No, not at that age. I only know, I remember one thing, we didn’t like too much to go to cheder, in the summer time, especially in the summer time.
PRINCE: It was year round? This continued year round?
LENGA: Oh, it was the whole year round. So you started when you were three, you were going all the way till…who knows how far. Some went all the way ‘till they were about 18 years old. They went to the yeshivah that was going on and on and higher and higher. You see, he was only the prime cheder. They had a few teachers with those chedurim which they only were qualified to teach young children.
PRINCE: Chedurim?
LENGA: Chedurim is in plural, cheder is one.
That was the beginning. All the young children, especially from three to five, they were sent to that…When you became five, no matter what, you graduated. You didn’t belong any more to that group, to that rabbi.
PRINCE: Whether they knew it or not.
LENGA: Mostly they knew it. If you didn’t learn too good, you had to catch up later. Otherwise you had problems – you had tsoris, (LAUGHTER) – because they knew you were already supposed to know already how to read and you already knew, supposed to understand some things too, because when you started to learn Chumash – this means the Five Books of Moses and that’s why we used to call it Chumash. So when you came to that stage and you were five years old and you came in to a higher grade already in another cheder, with another rabbi, then eventually you had to be able to – if not, the rabbi just weeded them out. He said, “He’s not ready yet for it.”
PRINCE: Then what would happen to the child?
LENGA: Well, that depends also. That depends who, how much the father was concerned or the parents were concerned that the child should be educated. Some of them didn’t give a damn and they just grew up uneducated. It happened like that too. But some parents they were themselves educated people, there was no excuse.
PRINCE: So they could get a tutor.
LENGA: That’s right, they got him a tutor or they helped him themselves if there was no tutor. The father himself or the bigger brothers used to help. My brothers helped me many times. The rabbi would tell me, “You’d better go home and read those chapters over and over and over again and tomorrow when you come you’d better know it all.” I didn’t tell my father, but I told my brother and he helped me out. Saturday was the time for the father. It was the time already, my father, after the meal, after we came home from the service from shul, and after the meal was over, then he took each child, started with the older one and went all over to the youngest and he examined them – what we learned, how we learned, to see how we are progressing.
PRINCE: Was that something you enjoyed or something you…
LENGA: Oh, I didn’t, you know, I mean…I enjoyed it most with the rabbi. He was more lenient than my father. (LAUGHTER) But that was a way of life. It wasn’t something what you could dictate or choose or say, “I don’t want it.” There was no such a thing. So, we used to go. I hope you have a picture already approximately of what it was going on. And it was going on every single day – you had to go. And of course if we had to…like I told you before, we had to go to somebody’s house, if a baby was born, then we started earlier. We closed the cheder earlier and we went there. And after that, everybody went home, no matter what.
PRINCE: Harry, did you take your lunch?
LENGA: Well, most children – it depends how it was – used to take lunch with us all the time, mostly, but some mothers used to bring the children to eat to cheder. I used to bring my lunch most of the time. In the beginning I don’t remember – I tell you I can’t remember that detail – probably my mother brought me food, like lunch, a little soup or something, you know, like that. But I used to bring bread and butter, an apple or a pear.
PRINCE: Harry, my grandson will be three January 27, 1986. I can’t imagine him…
LENGA: To go to cheder at three. Yeah, that’s how – that’s how – that was. That was the tradition.
PRINCE: …Sitting for that amount of time.
LENGA: Well, we were not constantly sitting.
PRINCE: The training, the discipline…
LENGA: Well, it was like that you see, that – he had about three grades, I would say that the beginning. He had one beginners which just came into cheder and that learned just the alphabet. Then he had the second one which already had to put letters together and produce a syllable. You know, how to produce a syllable. And then the third one was already, some what already know how to read. So what happened – the youngest ones he left for little later, the ones what supposed to be re – already ready to read, they came a little earlier and with them he started first. And while he started with them, we were sitting on the floor there in the corner, and playing with each other and with other things. You know, we had games like not to make too much – not like with a ball – we used to have different games which were created specially that you can have a good time and sitting be quiet…
PRINCE: And learn…
LENGA: No, not learn, just have a little recreation, and it was simple things, you know that were created, such games which children could play. We used to count, we learned, you know, how to count…
PRINCE: And your name was?
LENGA: Jechiel, that’s my Hebrew name.
PRINCE: What did you start to say?
LENGA: Chiltczu, that’s what was mine, what they used to call me, in our home, in most homes like that. The children are called so delicate that the name was put in a miniature expression, you know. For example, my brother’s name is Moishe. We didn’t call him Moishe, we called him Moishale. The “L E” meant lovingly, warm, affectionate…
PRINCE: It was special.
LENGA: Right, right. We didn’t say “Tata.” Mostly in Jewish when you call your father you say “Tata.” We never said that word “Tata.” Even my oldest brother, when we were already grown, we never called my father “Tata.” We called him Tatashi. See that word, “S, I” made it also special – Mamashi, Tatashi…Everything with a delicate, softer meaning, a lovely expression. Do you know what I mean?
LENGA: My sister was Chana and we called her Chanala, all of us. So that’s how, you know, the names were like that. Even the great rabbis were called with a soft name.
PRINCE: What were some of your friends’ names?
LENGA: There were all different Jewish names. Mostly Bible names – Chaim, Meir, Jitzchak…there was Schloima – after Solomon. The names were mostly pronounced in Hebrew or Yiddish.
PRINCE: What was your name?
LENGA: My name – Jechiel – it’s a Jewish name. I have two names, one after my father’s father, Benzion.
PRINCE: What did it mean?
LENGA: Well, Jechiel means “God lives” and Benzion is “Son of Zion.” My brother’s name, which lives here, is Moishe, after Moses, and they called him Moishala. And his name – he has two names too. All of us had two names. His name is Schmuel Moisha – Samuel and Moses. So my sister was named Channah Yehudis – also two names, except my father. My father had only one name, Michula – Michael.
So, when those children were learning, the other group, children, was playing. We used to have a play, for example, what is that game you play too – you make one line like this and then another, and…
PRINCE: Tic-tac-toe?
LENGA: Yes. That was a quiet game we used to do it on the floor with a piece of chalk. There was another game. We didn’t have any ball pens. We had those pens where you used to take off it got blown out.
PRINCE: Yes – unravel it.
LENGA: No, no, just a pen. You know, you had to dip it in ink and write with it.
PRINCE: An ink pen.
LENGA: When this end wore out, you took it out and replaced it with a new one. What did you call that here, in English?
PRINCE: Well, the point.
LENGA: The points. But it was more than the point, it was the whole thing that fitted on the pen. Do you remember that? We had those before we had ball pens. When they came to ball pens, everything changed. So we used to play with that. Everybody had a few and there was a game. You would give a knock with the other one over this, and if you turned it over and if you turned it back down, you won it and it was yours. So sometimes you lost and sometimes you won.
PRINCE: So it was fun.
LENGA: Yes, we used to have fun. We used to create games, you know, just to be quiet enough not to disturb the rabbi.
PRINCE: But, like any class, it depended on the man who was in charge.
LENGA: Right, right, and how much he could stand it. If we started to make any noise, then he disciplined us, he corrected us.
PRINCE: This article I read, “The Cheder to the Grave” or “Life is With People,” made it sound as though it was more frightening. You had a better experience. They said that there was a helfer who would come and get the child and carry him screaming to the school. It didn’t happen to you?
LENGA: They didn’t have to do that. My father didn’t do that…

Tape 6 - Side 2 (Prince)

LENGA: He knew where we stood, where we were better off to be. (LAUGHTER) We were better off to mind than not to mind because if you didn’t mind, you couldn’t gain anything and you were beaten up. (LAUGHTER)
PRINCE: O.K., it didn’t take you long to learn.
LENGA: Right. Of course, now a days it’s a completely different story. Not every child is able. You know, has handicaps and all kinds of different ways. You don’t know if it’s a completely healthy child. Now they’ve found out a lot of things they didn’t know in those years. In those days, they took a child without knowing if it was a mentally healthy child or autistic one or retarded child. They actually didn’t know and those children were suffering the most because they expect from them to perform normally the same way as the normal child. Just later that they suddenly found out that nobody could help him. And the rabbi dismissed him out and didn’t want to hold him in his class. They they start to find out that something must be wrong with him, but before that, they didn’t know. They didn’t take a child to the doctor and to examine to see how he was growing. Even when you were sick, sometimes they didn’t take you to a doctor. If you had a cold or when you had fever, they knew right away that there must be something wrong with you. But if you didn’t have fever, you were healthy child, there was nothing wrong with you.
PRINCE: And how did they find if you had fever?
LENGA: They used to put a hand to your forehead and if your forehead was hot, then everything was alright – you had fever – and then you weren’t supposed to go to cheder. (LAUGHTER)
PRINCE: Then you got to stay home.
LENGA: Right. But you couldn’t stay home and run around, you had to lay in bed if you had fever.
PRINCE: Was it worse staying home for what you had to make up?
LENGA: No, it was okay to stay home. It was alright because it depended on how you felt. If you felt well, you wanted to be in cheder because when you were sick, you couldn’t have the privilege of going outside to play. You had to stay home and lay in bed and that’s it. If you weren’t that sick, sick enough not to go to cheder, then you have to be in. And if you’re not sick and don’t want to lay all day in bed, then you had to go to cheder where you at least had a little bit of recreation.
PRINCE: Tell me about when you got to be five and began to wear the caftan.
LENGA: Well, when you become five years old, then you felt already advanced, that you were a mensch. You felt this even as a child. You were proud of it.
PRINCE: What was the word you used before “Mensch”?
LENGA: Advanced, an advanced mensch. Then they took you out of that cheder. They hardly changed a child in the middle of a season. A season used to begin after Passover till Sukkot and from Sukkot to Passover. That was two seasons what you could enroll new students to a melamed or take them out from here and put them in another. They hardly ever did this in the middle of the year – that was only when somebody came new into town, or something like that, and then it was all right. But almost nobody wanted to do it, you know, in the middle of the season. It had a lot of reasons for this also. You used to pay for the season and it was like a contract for a certain amount. If you had already paid for the season, then you wanted to keep the students there until the season ended.
PRINCE: It was just like our school year, really.
LENGA: Right. But here public school is free.
PRINCE: But I was thinking in terms of age. So you could almost be four by the time you…
LENGA: It happened, when somebody was advanced, you know, he start to read already good and was ready, so…the rabbi went to your father and told him, “Mr. Lenga, your son is already too much advanced for my class, and I advise that you take him where he is able to learn higher with more advanced children.” Otherwise, when a child was five or six or advanced enough, then he was dressed already like a little Jew. You already had, wore a long caftan.
PRINCE: Which is a long coat?
LENGA: A long coat all the time with it and you had already from child ‘till about 13 years old. He would wear a round little hat like they wore in England, you see those horse riders…
PRINCE: Derbies?
LENGA: You know, those little black hats with the little small button on the top? That’s what we used to wear.
PRINCE: Oh, a peaked cap is what you’re talking about.
LENGA: Right, right, right. And then you let grow your sideburns already if your father wanted it that way and you were already a Jew. Everybody looked at you, you let everybody know you Jewish.
PRINCE: That was the way of life.
LENGA: That’s right. Not everybody, not all of them…There was a lot of people in our city not Hasidic and they dressed their children the way they would dress with their short coats…different pants with a different hat…
PRINCE: This was not Hasidic? This was…
LENGA: This was regularly someone who was not religious, not Orthodox.
PRINCE: How did the Orthodox dress?
LENGA: That’s what I told you.
PRINCE: But Hasidic dressed like…
LENGA: Mostly Hasidim were Orthodox, 90 percent of the Orthodox were Hasidic.
PRINCE: So, to look at somebody in a Polish town or a Jewish place in 1925, you could tell who was Orthodox and who was Hasidic.
LENGA: It depends. You see, Hasidic and Orthodox were almost close. Mostly all Hasidim were Orthodox and all Orthodox were mostly Hasidim – maybe five percent were not Hasidic. The Orthodox lived according to the law and observed every little thing but they didn’t have a rabbi which they believed in that he is their delegate to God, through him they come to God closer. Do you understand?
LENGA: They didn’t believe, but that was a small percentage. They didn’t, let’s say, go to him (the rabbi) came a holiday like Rosh Hashanah. They didn’t travel to him. Those kind were mostly very observant Jews but they were not raised that way before.
PRINCE: Hasidic was more like a sect?
LENGA: That’s right, was a sect, that’s exactly what it was. They were more intensively involved…
PRINCE: With each other?
LENGA: …with the laws, with Judaism, with everything. It was higher. They did more than only an Orthodox Jew.
PRINCE: Let me ask you this. Hasidim wore that uniform?
LENGA: And the Orthodox Jews wore that uniform too.
PRINCE: And sometimes they didn’t though – right?
LENGA: No, they always did. All the Orthodox Jews wore those uniforms.
PRINCE: O.K., you could not be Orthodox unless…
LENGA: No, no, no. Yes, you could be. Don’t forget, we had different factions. There were the Haskala, who were the generation whose parents were Hasidim but they were already a little bit not. They didn’t believe quite as strongly as their parents. They didn’t force their children to do that anymore. Do you understand? Do you follow me?
LENGA: It’s a different – so we had a lot of different types. We went to shul too on the Shabbat, you see, but there weren’t so much of them who were like my father was. That was a different story. So each child didn’t have to wear the long payas.
PRINCE: Whose child?
LENGA: That guy what was not Orthodox, real Orthodox. In other words, he came from an Orthodox home, he was himself raised Orthodox, but his children became maskela – the more progressed, the more reformed.
PRINCE: Assimilated?
LENGA: No, no, they were not assimilated. They wore the beards too, but they didn’t have any more the sideburns, the long ones. Some of them even shaved their beards, but they were still observant Jews. But they believed already – that was when the Political Zionism came into being and that took in not only the Orthodox Jews, but all the Jews. There was then a Haskala movement what they used to call themselves the Reformists. They had already started to learn literature, not Jewish literature, but all. They started to read books and other teachings. They liked to hear music, to read books from Spinoza, Goethe, Zola…
Like we had Sholem Aleichem, the big writer. Now, he was a scholar who knew exactly what Orthodox is. He was maybe still observant everyday, putting on his tallis and tefillin but he wasn’t anymore like – he could already have a little beard and shave his sideburns and he already a more modern Jew.
PRINCE: Because you, though were skipping all this but it’s on the subject…as you grew older, when you went to Warsaw, you were more of a modern Jew then?
LENGA: Yes, that’s right, I was already starting to go the other way.
PRINCE: Were you the first of the boys to do that?
LENGA: Oh no, no, no – that’s because my brothers were like that too.
PRINCE: How did that affect your father?
LENGA: He didn’t like it, he was very unhappy with it in the beginning. My oldest brother had the hardest time, actually. There was a real fight going on.
PRINCE: But he paved the way for the rest of you.
LENGA: That’s right. For us, for me, when my time was already to become – it didn’t matter much anymore. He already knew the lifestyle had already changed.
PRINCE: But wasn’t that another reason to hang tight to what you had?
LENGA: No, no. In fact, when the Germans came in, even the Orthodox Jews, they changed their thing not to throw themselves in the eyes of the Germans that we are the real Orthodox Jews. In fact, my father actually had what he used to wear until the war broke out, but when the Germans came, he had to change it.
PRINCE: He had to or he did it on purpose?
LENGA: They didn’t put a law, but if you walked in the street, they beat the hell out of you and sometimes beat you to death. So, how much you could avoid not to show yourself up. They tried to cut off sideburns too.
PRINCE: Did your father cut off his sideburns?
LENGA: He didn’t have sideburns much because he was already a little bald. He had a jewelry store and came in all kinds of people.
PRINCE: He was more cosmopolitan?
LENGA: Yes, that’s right. That would be right. But he was still wearing his beard, you know, but sideburns didn’t show.
PRINCE: He wore a cap?
LENGA: He wore a cap, that’s right.
PRINCE: Harry, the hats you were talking about…
LENGA: They were round. But you saw the pictures.
PRINCE: That was called a – how do you pronounce it? With the fur?
LENGA: No, no, that was for Shabbos especially, and the rabbis used to wear them.
PRINCE: How do you pronounce it?
LENGA: Schtramul.
PRINCE: So this is just the round…
LENGA: With the fur. The rabbis used to wear them.
PRINCE: But the other hat?
LENGA: It was a hitel. They called it a hitel. It used to be made of a soft material – what do you call it?
PRINCE: Broadcloth?
LENGA: No, it was a real shiny material – velvet, black velvet.
PRINCE: It had a brim.
LENGA: No, it did not have a brim. It was flat on the top and it was stood up like – you see sometimes the Russians – you know, that musician, what’s his name? He wears one but it’s flat. The other one stood out like this, you know. I’ll show you a picture sometime when you come to my house. I’ll show you my father’s picture.
PRINCE: I left you at five years old, dressed in your new cap. Were you proud?
LENGA: It didn’t affect me until later when I started to go into higher grades. Then I started to suffer from it.
PRINCE: When was “later”?
LENGA: In the higher grades, already. The higher you went, the less Jews there were. You see, a lot of them dropped out.
PRINCE: So as long as you were with Jews, you were comfortable with whatever you were doing.
LENGA: In the beginning, yes, that’s right. So, when you advanced to that point, there was made already a big celebration at the house for that child. They had one selected which he had made a speech and they spoke about it and blessed him. I was one time selected to make that speech.
PRINCE: Was that an honor?
LENGA: Oh, it was a big honor, sure. And usually they selected the guys, ones the Rabbi felt he is able to do it. When I did it, everybody liked it. I remember, I made profit from it. People used to love it so much they used to ask me in their stores and give me a nickel or a dime to say the speech for them. (LAUGHTER) That’s the truth.
PRINCE: You had a happy childhood.
LENGA: I think so. I used to go and buy me candies. (LAUGHTER)
PRINCE: You’d get the money and buy candies.
LENGA: I think my son, Scott, resembles me very much.
PRINCE: So much had to do with candy in your life.
LENGA: Well, that’s the only thing, I’ll tell you…When my mother died, I remember that my father brought us candy when they came, you know, to say the prayers. You know, they used to sit Shiva. My mother died in my grandmother’s house, and we used to sit Shiva at my grandmother’s house, the whole family. He used to bring us candy – me and Morris and my sister. She was very little and I was only four years old. My sister was about five and one half and Morris was about two and one half. So he brought us candies to pacify us so we’d be good. I remember that.
PRINCE: I’m sitting here thinking about the candy that you carried when it was so easy to get in the Warsaw ghetto. You said it was the…
LENGA: It was the main staple food. There were factories of candies, you know, a lot of them there, so they used to sell it.
PRINCE: So when you eat candy now, does it ever remind you of anything?
LENGA: I don’t like much candy now, I don’t like it so much. I used to like chocolates.
PRINCE: Okay. So we’re back, and now you’re five and in a big school.
LENGA: No, not the big school. That’s the school where you start to learn Chumash.
PRINCE: And that’s to read?
LENGA: To read and also to understand. They teach you constantly and it’s not the same because the Chumash is every week you read a different chapter. That’s like in the shul when you go to pray on Shabbos day, the Torah. That chapter is for that day only. Each week we used to read the chapter what belonged to that week. And when you’re through with that, then you start to read Rashi – not so much a translation – it gives more a brighter understanding of the meaning what is not written.
PRINCE: It’s an interpretation, Rashi.
LENGA: Right. That’s already from the portion, you know, the one the scholars, great rabbis interpreted – the law. And then you go to the Talmud after that. You start to learn the Talmud. And you go to cheder until you are about 13 or 14 years old. Then you are ready to go to a Yeshivah, to a higher institution of learning.
PRINCE: Now, where did the public school come in?
LENGA: You start to learn in public school when you are seven years old.
PRINCE: So is that the first time you enter into being with non-Jews?
LENGA: With non-Jews, yes.
PRINCE: Tell me about that.
LENGA: Well, it’s a much worse adjustment to go into the public school than to cheder, even though you are older already. You hear stories about the Gentile boys and how they always fight you. You hear the stories about the teachers, how they dislike you because you Jewish. They don’t treat you the same way like they treat the Gentile children. It’s a dilemna, but you just had to face it. That’s why a lot of Jews dropped out. Like I told you before, in the first grade we had more, a lot of them. But in the second grade and the third grade and the fourth grade, already almost 50 percent are gone of the ones who started out with you – the Jewish children.
PRINCE: Could you walk to this public school?
LENGA: Yes, we walked.
PRINCE: With your friends?
LENGA: No, sometimes alone. I usually, you know…It wasn’t so far. I was lucky. But later, when I was older, they built a school farther out so I had to walk about ten blocks to school.
PRINCE: And what would happen on the way?
LENGA: Well, on the way, they didn’t bother you. It was only in the schoolyard – that was the worst thing. And we usually always managed not to sit with the Goyim, together, you know – the Gentile kids. We always used to sit together on one side.
PRINCE: If you wanted to sit with them, could you have?
LENGA: I’ll tell you, I never tried and we never wanted to because even if we didn’t sit with them, they were bothering us. You can imagine if you sat close.
PRINCE: How did they bother you when you weren’t sitting with them?
LENGA: There used, like I said, to come out on intermission – every hour there was a recess. It was not like here. We used to start at eight o’clock in the morning. You had to get up about seven o’clock to get dressed and by the time you got to school it was about 10 minutes to eight and the bell rang at eight o’clock. Then everybody had to be in his room. Then there was made a roll call. Now, for example, it was the first hour you had literature – that’s for Polish language.
PRINCE: You had Polish teachers.
LENGA: No, all of them had Polish teachers. All the teachers were Polish in the school. It was a Polish school. They had one Jew I remember. They had one woman, his wife. He was the religious teacher. You see, everything was Catholic, Catholic, Catholic. They had dominance over the state. The church dominated the state. So when you walked into a public school, it was like you walked into a church, they had a big cross hanging on the wall.
PRINCE: It was like a parochial school.
LENGA: That’s right, that’s exactly what it was for us. We had to stand up. We had to take off our hats. They didn’t let you sit with your hat which a lot of them didn’t want to do. But I have to give my father credit. He said, “I want my children to be educated secularly too, so they can get along in life.”
PRINCE: Right. He might have saved you.
LENGA: Probably…Of course. So then everybody had to stand up and they made a prayer to Jesus in Polish. There used to be a fight. They wanted us to say it too, but finally we could be silent.
PRINCE: When you say “they,” do you mean the teachers or the students?
LENGA: Oh no, the administration, the whole government wanted that. So, finally they gave in so we can say, “Blessed be God” in place of “Blessed be Jesus Christ.” But you couldn’t have a kappell or a yarmulka. You had to sit without any head covering. They made the roll call and then they started to teach. Every hour there was a different subject to teach – geography, they used to teach physics, they used to teach singing – they used to teach about five or six subjects.
LENGA: That’s right.
PRINCE: English – I mean Polish – like literature.
LENGA: Literature, that’s right. We were taught Polish, to read and to write.
PRINCE: History?
LENGA: That’s right. And what you progressed, each grade presented more subjects like physics, chemistry – you know.
PRINCE: Was there a different language besides Polish?
LENGA: No, only Polish. In fact, I’ll tell you, when I started school, I didn’t speak good Polish at all yet because we spoke only Jewish in our house. For most children it was like that. We always used to speak Jewish.
PRINCE: So you were very, very, very different from the Polish children.
LENGA: Sure, we were different.
PRINCE: The way you looked, the way you talked…
LENGA: That’s right. In fact, we used to speak with an accent too in Polish because we didn’t use the language. I started to speak good Polish when I was already in the fifth or sixth grade. And then, when I went to Warsaw, then I really started because I worked…

Tape 7 - Side 1 (Prince)

PRINCE: Okay, so I visualize a classroom where you have Gentiles on one side and Jewish children on the other side.
LENGA: That’s exactly what it was. We usually occupied the last rows, not because we had to but we just aways wanted to be away and not too close to the teacher too. So we usually used to take the last 10 or 15 rows – we used to sit Jewish boys all together. They used to have girls separate and boys separate – not in the same school. They used to have a school for girls and a school for boys. The Polish children were separated and there was two schools all the time.
PRINCE: So if you did have anything to do with them, how did it usually start? On the playground?
LENGA: The Polish children, they used to pick on us in the playground all the time and also when we used to have gymnastic hour. We used to go out on the field to play soccer or handball or something like that and then we had to play with the whole class. So they usually picked on us too all the time, hitting us especially with the ball and the teachers didn’t react at all sometimes. They looked for all kinds of different ways to attack us, to beat us up, even while the teacher was watching.
PRINCE: At first you must have wondered.
LENGA: Well, we were used to it. We knew that’s going to happen and we tried but we couldn’t actually defend ourselves. If we defended ourselves, then they came over together and they blamed us for it. The only thing what we had to do is protect us however we could in order to not get hurt. And when he saw we were getting too much plays, then he would stop.
PRINCE: Did they ever just pick on one person?
LENGA: No, no, no – just because he’s no good. They just picked whoever was close to them. That’s what it was.
PRINCE: Did you even in high school or public school have a – maybe not a friend, but someone who looked as though they might want to do more than hit you?
LENGA: Well, we usually kept together in the recess. We used to group ourselves in a corner by ourselves.
PRINCE: But sometimes you can tell when there is one person who might not quite feel that way.
LENGA: If it came to that, they didn’t just pick a face, they picked a Jew.
PRINCE: No, I didn’t mean that. Did you ever notice them – maybe one person?
LENGA: Oh yes, some of them mean and some of them nice…
PRINCE: Did you ever have a chance to be involved with a nice one?
LENGA: Yes. In fact, I used to have a guy who used to be a neighbor of mine and lived very close. Sometimes he used to come to my house and we used to do homework together.
PRINCE: Did you ever have a chance to go in his house?
LENGA: Yes, I went in his house too – but not so often, only in unusual circumstances because I didn’t want to.
PRINCE: What were “unusual circumstances”?
LENGA: Well, sometimes, you know, my house was not ready to take in somebody or something like that. You know, maybe somebody was sick or something. That was the case.
PRINCE: What was his name?
LENGA: Sikolowsky was his last name – Kashie Sikolowsky…They owned a tavern.
PRINCE: So there were some times when it did happen. There were some – maybe not friendships…
LENGA: He always used to give me the lessons on Saturdays.
PRINCE: He did?
LENGA: Yes. And always I used to give him candies (LAUGHTER) to pay for it.
PRINCE: Did you feel like you had to?
LENGA: Well, I wanted to know what was going on Saturday because on Saturday we observed Shabbos, we didn’t go to school.
PRINCE: Would he have done it without the candy?
LENGA: I don’t know. I would say maybe yes, but he wouldn’t have done it constantly. My father suggested that I should give him something for what was going on on Saturday because the teacher would never repeat the lesson. They would say, “You haven’t been there,” and that was it, you know. They couldn’t give an absent because we didn’t come, you know, but they didn’t want to repeat the lessons for us.
PRINCE: And it cost money to go there, right?
LENGA: No, it was a public school. It didn’t cost money.
PRINCE: What am I not asking you that you think you’d like to say?
LENGA: Well, the teachers were antisemitic too in the school. They showed it many times.
PRINCE: In what way?
LENGA: Oh, they used to pick on the Jews. They would tell a story and compare it to the Jew, if something was a bad character. They did that to aggravate us. And whenever a Jew had a conflict with a Christian child, they always took the side of the Christian child. The Jew was never right. They never acknowledged that the other one was guilty.
PRINCE: Did you go home and ask your father?
LENGA: No, I never wanted to bother him.
PRINCE: You never wanted to bother him?
LENGA: Well, you see, my father’s psychology we already knew was…No matter what, you have to be good and if you have a problem, then you’re no good. And if you’re no good, you deserve another punishment. (LAUGHTER)
PRINCE: So, “Don’t bother me.”
LENGA: (STILL LAUGHING) I came home one day and told my father I had a problem – it was minor – but if it was like you came home bleeding or something like that which you couldn’t hide, then you had to tell him because they were asking you. But if it was just an incident in which we were not too badly affected or hurt, then things were good.
PRINCE: So many questions I’m asking you are because of the different ways of being raised. If we had a problem at school, we went home and told our parents.
LENGA: No, we didn’t have that. Parents were an authority. Most parents were like that then. They always figured that you must be bad if something bad happened, it was your fault. So in order to correct you, they gave you another licking. (LAUGHTER)
PRINCE: Harry, you’ve told me about the crosses and that they wanted you to say prayers in school. How do you feel now about having prayers in schools.
LENGA: I’m against to have prayers in school or mix religion in public schools. If somebody wants to observe religion or have their prayers, he should go to a parochial school or they should have their prayers in their own home. School is not a place for prayers or to practice religious beliefs.
In the fifth grade they passed a law that the students had to come not in the long caftans. They were against that. It wasn’t yet a formal law which was enforced yet, but they were constantly talking about it. And then I had to come to my father and I told him about it, and I said that they want it. My father said, “Definitely not. I won’t do that.” First of all, he didn’t believe the law would pass, but he said, “Even if it passes, I won’t allow you to dress differently. I’ll just take you out of school.” There were two boys like me, with the long caftans. The rest already told their parents, they changed their dress.
PRINCE: There were just two others?
LENGA: Yes, just two others left. And I decided that I can’t, you know, explain to my father how important it is now to me that I wanted to continue and finish school because I knew that once he gets in a dispute with something he would want his way and he would have to give in, so then he would have to take me out of school. He won’t compromise to let me to go to school in regular dress. It’s a funny thing but this continued for the whole year. Then, when I got into the sixth grade, the teacher called me one time and said I was left, the only one. The others had already dropped out.
PRINCE: O.K. Some of these people dropped out and some of them changed their dress?
LENGA: Right. But that boy was also from a real Hasidic house and he just dropped out, and that’s it. And it looked like my father won’t go either way. He won’t tell me to go out of school, which I was not favoring.
PRINCE: You didn’t mind being the only one?
LENGA: No, it wasn’t that. So long as I could go on, I going on. But the teacher called me aside and told me, “Listen Lenga, I’m telling you, you’d better not come to school because I won’t be responsible for the consequences which you’ll get. You’re the only here in school with your long caftan.”
PRINCE: Had the law passed?
LENGA: Not yet. It kept going on. It was appealed and appealed and appealed, but it was not law yet.
PRINCE: So this was just the teacher’s personal opinion?
LENGA: Right. So, I just didn’t tell my father, but I had a very close friend I’d known since we started school, and I asked him to give me a jacket of his and in the morning I went out dressed in my long caftan and went to his house and take off my caftan and put on that jacket, and I went to school like that.
PRINCE: Did his parents see you?
LENGA: I don’t know if they did or not, but they didn’t mind. But my father didn’t know. I was very careful that my father shouldn’t find out. I figured eventually he would have to find out and I’ll just tell him what had happened. But I just didn’t tell him nothing. And I continued like that.
PRINCE: That was very brave.
LENGA: I continued like that. I came every morning to my friend’s house. He was waiting for me already. He lived closer to school and I had to pass him by. Then, in the afternoon, when we got home, I went in his house and I took off and he put it away and I put back mine regular clothes in which I had left in his house. This continued for two years. It worked. I don’t know – somebody must have told my father.
PRINCE: And then what happened?
LENGA: I only know one thing and I’ll tell you this – maybe I shouldn’t tell you, but I’ll tell you. My oldest brother – he passed away long ago – he was an artist. He made himself a regular jacket to wear and he was already about 18 years old at that time, maybe even older. Somebody told my father that they saw him, and my father threw him out of the house. For seven weeks, he wasn’t in the house, and I knew that. Seven weeks…he threw him out…
PRINCE: And there you were in a public school…
LENGA: That’s right, so I knew that he would take me out of school, which I didn’t want.
PRINCE: So what was the end of it?
LENGA: It was all right. He never found out, or maybe he did because people saw, his friends saw me too. So he probably knew, but he didn’t say nothing and I didn’t say nothing…a gentlemen’s agreement…
PRINCE: You found your way and both your honors were upheld.
LENGA: Right.
PRINCE: Smart man.
LENGA: He knew it, because a lot of men saw me, you know. It was impossible for me not to be seen. I had to walk at least two miles and people walked by in the city. In the winter it was no problem, but in the summer, it was a problem. In the winter, I had a long coat anyway and nobody can see what you have underneath. Right?
PRINCE: So, being a Jew was very difficult.
LENGA: It was not easy. It was not easy at all. You were reminded minute by minute that are a Jew, all the way through your life – that’s right, absolutely.
PRINCE: Harry, did you feel…inferior?
LENGA: No, never. I felt sorry for them, I pitied them.
PRINCE: Now you do.
LENGA: At that time I felt the same way. We were used to it, we were used to that kind of persecution – offending us constantly and we knew they don’t have the right and we don’t deserve that treatment. We were good citizens. There were no delinquents in us. Not a single Jew in our town was convicted for crimes, but the Poles were, you know. I’m just giving you an example, something like that. We were abiding citizens, we obeyed the law and lived accordingly. What we had to do, we did. We just wanted to be left alone, but they didn’t.
PRINCE: Did you wonder?
LENGA: Well, I knew they hated us.
PRINCE: But did you know why they hated you?
LENGA: Well, sure I knew. Didn’t I tell you the story. I think I told you the story one time, I think I did, but I’ll tell you anyway one more time again. They used to attack us all the time. A gang of Polish boys met us out of town. In the city they were afraid to attack us because they were afraid the boys would get together and beat them up, the Jewish kids. But if we were just a little out the Jewish area – where the Jews didn’t live so much, in a different part of the town – when they saw a Jew walking by or even a group, they attacked them. I’ll tell you one time what happened to me. Usually we walked in groups. It was in the summer time and I wanted to go swimming. We had to go out of town a little while to a river where we used to swim. I went to my friend and he was busy, he couldn’t go.
PRINCE: Was this the one who gave you the jacket?
LENGA: Right. And I asked another two boys to go swimming but they couldn’t, so I decided I’d just go by myself. And I went alone and as soon as I walked beyond the border from the city where the Jewish people used to live a lot, I saw a guy walking towards me. I was about at that time 12 years old and it wasn’t hard for him to recognize that I was Jewish because of what I was wearing. So he walks towards me and I could not anymore escape him and of course I didn’t know if he was going to attack me or not, but I felt…And he came towards me and starts to raise his arms to hit me. He was older, about in his 20’s. I said, “Wait a minute,” to him. I said, “Why do you do this to me?” He said, “I don’t know.” I said, “You must have a reason. Did I hurt you? Did anybody what belongs to me hurt you? Tell me, why do you do this to me?” He says, “You killed Christ.” I said, “I killed Christ? How long ago did this happen?” He said, “I don’t know.” I said, “But tell me, is this a month ago, a year ago.” He said, “Oh no, no, it’s a long, long time.” I said, “How long? Was it 100 years ago?” He was a peasant and he didn’t know nothing. He said, “It must have been 100 years.” You know, I wanted just to get him to that point and I said, “All right, how old do you think am I?” He said, “Look, I don’t know.” (LAUGHTER) I said, “Take a guess.” He said, “Oh, maybe you are 10 or 12 or 15 years old or 20 years old.” I said, “Now how could I have killed Christ. You say it’s 100 years since Christ was killed, and let’s say I’m 15 years old.” And he said, “You know, you’re right.” Then I start to see that he was thinking, so I took off and ran away. (LAUGHING HEARTILY) That’s a real story what happened to me.
They used to attack us all the time. Now my brother, one time – I’ll tell you a story about him exactly in Kozienice. Shabbos, Friday night, after the meal, the whole Jewish population or most of them, especially the young, used to go out and walk around on the sidewalk and from one street to the next. It was a walking street where people used to walk after the meal to digest their meal and it was like entertainment, you know. You just did it for the sake of walking, have discussions and talk with one another.
PRINCE: It was to visit.
LENGA: Yes, and we just walked on the street, maybe two or three miles and back again, and that’s how it was. It was crowded on the sidewalks. The mayor, he was a Pole. A Jew could never become a mayor in a Polish city. The mayor and two friends of his decided to take a walk on that Friday night too, and it was in the night. There were only electric lights every few yards. And they walked and they didn’t like that the sidewalk was so crowded with Jews. My oldest brother, Itzak, with three friends of his, was walking in one line, and when they walked through them, the mayor jumped in front of them and started hitting them with a stick over the head. He said, “You dirty Jews, what are you doing? Why are you blocking our sidewalks? I am the mayor and I have a right to walk on the sidewalks. You don’t have right to walk on the sidewalks.” I’ll tell you, my brother, he was a real fighter, and he ran in his house to get a cane my father had. It was a sturdy little cane, made out of that real top wood and it was real polished too. He went and took it and put that cane under his coat and he walked behind the mayor and his two friends. When he came to a dark, a real dark spot, he took out that cane and started to hit over their heads. Before they realized, they fell down.
PRINCE: That’s amazing.
LENGA: I’ll tell you another story about my brother. He ran away, it was a little side street, right away and all three of them ran away. And I’m telling you, five minutes later, he organized the whole police and they were looking. They disbursed everybody from the street, and my brother didn’t run in our house. He ran in a forsaken place there where there was a shack, with those other two guys and they were hiding especially. So, in case somebody would recognize and will say who it was, they wouldn’t find them. They looked for several hours. They turned over the city all over. It’s a good thing they didn’t know who it was. Nobody from the Jews wouldn’t tell them anyway. But they learned their lesson.
PRINCE: It’s surprising that the mayor would come into that area.
LENGA: It was the main street, the…downtown area. Everybody came there because it was a beautiful area.
PRINCE: Okay, let’s get back to school.
LENGA: I’ll tell you another story. My brother was working in Warsaw in 1936, ’37, ’38. The students (Endecks) at the universities used to attack the Jews on the streets with knives. My brother was walking when that happened one time. He grabbed a guy with a knife who want to stab him. My brother grabbed that knife with his bare hands. He cut his whole palm and blood was running. And he beat him so much after taking the knife away. He took him by his collar like choking him and knocked him against a wall until he finally fell unconscious. And later they round up all of them – the Jews they would arrest, and that was the government already, the police. And they let the students (Endecks) go free, without punishment. That was in Poland before Hitler.
PRINCE: The Poles did that.
LENGA: And my father and my brother just said that they had attacked him and he showed them his cut on the palm. What they did was to take him to the hospital. They later read about it and said, “Somebody almost killed a guy.” He laid several weeks in the hospital with a brain concussion.
PRINCE: What did you call the students?
LENGA: The Endeck – it was an antisemitic organization, a rightwing organization. That’s what they did even before the war. That’s how we lived in Poland which was a free republic.
PRINCE: All right, Harry, I think you’re still back in public school.
LENGA: (LAUGHTER) That’s about it. That’s what it was. I think I gave you a pretty good picture of it.
PRINCE: You did. But public school went to what year?
LENGA: To seventh grade.
PRINCE: And then you went…
LENGA: In seventh grade then I was already 14 years old.
PRINCE: Okay, and then what did you do?
LENGA: Then I start to learn in the Yeshivah.
PRINCE: And that was where?
LENGA: In Kozienice.
PRINCE: And you were there…for how many years?
LENGA: About three years, I think…until I was about 17 years old. Then I was out for one year and I finally went to Warsaw.
PRINCE: When did you take your caftan off?
LENGA: When I was in Warsaw.
PRINCE: But you went to Warsaw with your caftan.
LENGA: Absolutely.
PRINCE: I see…your father?
LENGA: In Warsaw, when I came and got my job, I didn’t want to work on Shabbos, you know I worked in a place that was open on Shabbos, because I was Jewish. But the owner, he was Jewish, he took advantage of me. He wanted me to work and if I took off on Saturday, I should work on Sunday, and I didn’t mind that. But in the winter time, he asked me when Shabbos was ending, he wanted me to work like a servant from four o’clock until seven, those few hours.

Tape 7 - Side 2 (Prince)

PRINCE: Well, Harry, I want to thank you. I think you gave a very excellent background and feeling for what it was like to grow up in that type of atmosphere…the Hasidic background and the school experience.
LENGA: My life used to be in the cheder, what do they call it.
PRINCE: Thank you so much.
LENGA: You’re welcome.
PRINCE: Harry, how much do you feel that the Hasidic life or the shtetl life or the very strict Orthodox life helped or didn’t help.
LENGA: It absolutely helped. You growing up as a disciplined human being.
PRINCE: But for the sake of the tape, let me finish the question. …Helped or didn’t help the Jews as they were persecuted by Hitler?
LENGA: It helped in the way of knowing how much you can protect yourself because you were always used to the environment to protect yourself, that somebody is after you. You had the idea already since you were surrounded by enemies, I can say that. It’s different when you completely trust, like an American child who’s born and is free and doesn’t understand all those pitfalls. Then they fall into it later because they don’t know how to protect themselves. In a way we knew how much to protect ourselves and how to endure it. To be able to endure it. It’s a reality we were prepared for. But, of course, we couldn’t endure the gas chambers. If we hadn’t had to go into the gas chambers and be murdered by the millions, a lot of us would have survived, I’m sure of it.
PRINCE: How about the teachings that you learned? How did that affect – didn’t that keep a lot of people from fighting back because of the laws. You weren’t people who fought.
LENGA: Yes, that has a lot to do with it. We were always raised to be humane and not to fight back with, answer with fists, only to try to forgive and forget.
PRINCE: And yet I imagine there are really no answers because no matter who was taught what, Europe was overrun, whether it was France…
LENGA: That’s right, that’s right. In the beginning we thought it was an era which would pass and we would come out of it alive, but we never imagine, we didn’t know what would be, that they would push us into gas chambers. This was something we did not anticipate.
PRINCE: Thank you.
LENGA: We never felt, most of us – although you can always find a handful which were humane people, let’s say. But I – if you give a general picture, if you take it all together, I don’t think that you’d expect too much to have compassion. They didn’t even try to help. Maybe a few cases happened that they were ready to sacrifice their own life, but that’s all you can count them on your fingers. It was not the general idea for the Poles to save a Jewish life.
PRINCE: And now they are oppressed by the Russians.
LENGA: Yes. It was happening many cases when a mother with a little infant came over to a Polish house and told them, “Just take her infant. Raise him as a Catholic or do whatever they wanted, just let him live.” They didn’t even want to do that. And the ones what did that had it in mind, like the clergy. They raised them like in a convent and the idea was to raise them as Catholics – not to save the Jew, only to save the soul.
PRINCE: Sometimes that was protection. We’re talking about…
LENGA: Children. If a child was a male, they had ways right away to see if he was Jewish or not. Only it happened with females. They couldn’t tell about the girls and would have no way to find out exactly and they tried to teach them the prayers, to recite, the Catholic prayers, in case they (the Germans) tried to ask them. They did try. I have a cousin, she lives in New York, she survived being as a Catholic working in Germany. She was taken to Germany as a Polish slave labor, and she lived in a German family for about three years until one time a son came home for furlough and he made passes to her, and she rejected him. Then suddenly, he looked in her eyes – he must have been an SS man – and he said, “You must be Jewish. Only a Jew would act like you do.” That same night he told her that, she ran away. She was lucky, it was close to the end, she got into another family – they took her in. She stayed there and worked in the fields, and she survived. If she had waited until the next day, they probably would have arrested her.

Tape 1 - Side 1 (Sternberg)

Sternberg: I’m going to ask Harry Lenga to tell us about Passover in Auschwitz.
Lenga: It was not in Auschwitz, it was in a slave labor camp in Wolanov. We happened to have a separate room, being we were watchmakers, two brothers and myself, we were three brothers. We used to fix watches. So the Lager Kommandant did us a favor and they kept us in a separate room. That room was also in a big barracks, a lot of prisoners were there, only Jews too.
It happened to be, it came Passover and we decided just recite the Haggadah. All three of us, Morris, Milach, and myself were sitting down and we start to recite the Haggadah. Of course, we didn’t have the matzah with the wine, but we were just saying the Haggadah. And also we didn’t have a Haggadah, but whatever we remembered by heart, we recited it. And why we did it in the beginning always they used to have the other, the neighboring rooms and the other inmates, they used always to have made noise, talking, yelling, fighting with each other. But soon they heard us doing that, suddenly it got completely quiet, and they were sitting on their bunk beds and listening the way we recited this the Haggadah. And even the songs we were singing, like hadayvou and alakacommawacomma, yeahendo and it was a terrific experience.
The next day they said that they stood up until 12:00 with us and they were listening to the seder. That is how we made a Seder in our slave labor camp under this kind of circumstances.
Sternberg: Now what I wanted to do was ask you to tell me something about some of the other religious experiences that you had, about 35 hostages of Radom for example.
Lenga: All, right. We didn’t go outdoors, we were sitting in our room and fixing watches. And one day it was around 12:00 noon, suddenly two trucks drive in and we see the black SS men, the Gestapo. They came in with two cars and they jumped out and they opened the trunks and they told them to come down. We saw people, we didn’t know who they are, they were nice dressed and they looked still good. They gave them shovels and they told them to dig graves. We were sitting by the window and watching what is going on. Then when they had ready the graves, they told them to undress. They undressed completely naked. They told them to bend down their heads into the grave and that moment, they realized what they going to do to them. They were aiming the machine guns on them. And they start, all of them just like would have been given a command, and of course, it wasn’t given that, but instinctively it happened. They start to yell out, all together, Sh’ma Yisrael, Adoshem Elohenu Adoshem Echad. And repeat it constantly! Constantly. And they start to shoot them then until they fell in, in those graves.
Later when they left, I went into the commander to the police because he was standing there too. I asked him what was this going on here? So he told us, they were from Radom and they brought them, they took them as hostages, and they were the intelligentsia from Radom. Doctors, lawyers, and some from banks, and they took them as hostages. They asked them for ransom and silver each day, they couldn’t come up with it … that was already in the ghetto, they were already taken to Treblinka, but they left some Jews still in Radom. So they took them and brought them over and killed them. Those Jews they are not even observing Jews. None of them! But yet the moment when they saw they are going to die, they yelled out, Sh’ma Yisrael.
Sternberg: Tell me now about the way you used to keep holiday dates.
Lenga: Holiday dates was really complicated because first we had to find out all the time what the regular Gregorian calendar is. But we kept this up real good. And always when it came a month, like say for example Shavout usually comes out either in late May or the beginning of June, so we always used to figure out, by counting from Passover. We knew from Passover to Shavout is 50 days. So we figured out approximately the day for special … lets say in April, so we figured out right in the middle it come to June. We knew, of course, we were talking to each, we didn’t decide it by ourselves, after talking with other ones and everybody, did some calculations and we came to this, and that was the day of Passover, because of Shavout or Rosh haShanah, even Tu B’Shvat we knew the day when it was. That is how we figured out.
Sternberg: So you didn’t really have a way of knowing that this …
Lenga: No, not exactly.
Sternberg: You had to work hard on what you…
Lenga: No, no sir, It used to come in new transfers all the time, which they were still informed later than we. Then we found out too. The Italian Jews always gave us, course they came in later, they brought. They brought them to Auschwitz and later.
Sternberg: Did you find that you were right, more often than not?
Lenga: Most, yeah most of them we were right, most of them we were right. But of course, we didn’t do nothing, but at least we knew that day, today is, you know, Rosh haShanah, today is Yom Kipper. In fact one day, one time we had a kind of service, a shochet in the group, and we came home, he said, “Who would like to just commemorate Yom Kipper?” He said, “I remember by heart a few prayers and I’ll recite them, you stay with me.” So we agreed and we did. While we are laying in the bunk bed that happened. He recited the sonatorkid and he recited some other putin, you know. And we were laying, he had to do real, real quiet. Nobody should hear from somebody. All the bunk beds, because they were in Auschwitz. We didn’t know if we could trust them. That they wouldn’t give us out on that.
Sternberg: Did most of the people participate in this?
Lenga: No, that was only certain ones, maybe about 15 or 18 men, which we got together with the shochet and he remembered the, by heart, all those prayers. That is what we did.
Sternberg: Did you do that so you wouldn’t get reported, or found out?
Lenga: Oh, yeah, that was … we were very careful, absolutely. If they would have found out, they probably would have given a penalty or who knows what they would have done to us. And a little, much less things like that they used to take you out and stay outside in a bunker for several days.
But another thing what happened is a trick what they played with us, suddenly they let out rumors that they are going to register people that wanted to go to Palestine. And I heard that people are trying to pay money to be registered. And like I told you, remember that I was working as watch maker and I had the opportunity to go all the time to his office and he used to come in and (inaudible) pick up the watches. So one time I figured the best thing is when I deliver the watches I’ll be able to talk to him. And I was really serious about it. And I walk in, in his office and bring him the watches and he was all pleased, he smiled and he even thanked me. He usually was so mean he didn’t say nothing. You know, used to call me mean names. But this time he even thanked me because he had two watches, which was his wife’s, and I polished them up so beautifully and it looked like brand new. So I said, well maybe this is the moment, I’ll ask him. I said, I would like to ask you a favor. He said, “What is it?” I said, “I would like to, that you should register my two brothers and me to be able to go to Palestine. I hear rumors that whoever wants to go can register.” And when I told him that he got so angry, he stood up and he said, “What is the matter with you, don’t you like it here? You mean to tell me you are not comfortable here, you want to go to Palestine? Is that right?” I knew in his voice he gives me a hint not to want to go. I sensed it. And I said, “No, I’m very comfortable here, but I just thought maybe it is an idea. But I’m glad that I’m here and I can fix the watches for you.” He said, “Well just think about it.” And that’s all, I came home and I told my brothers about it, the whole incident, and they said, well, I wish that he would have registered us. Six weeks later they came with trucks and they picked up about 150 men that registered. They had money, they paid money, they put down whatever they had, belongings. It was in the camp already, not in the Auschwitz, in this slave labor camp. They took them in the trucks and they took them away to the woods and they machine gunned them all. Later they took .. how did we know, later they came back and they took about 20 workers to dig ditches and they saw what they did to them. That’s what’s the registration to Palestine. And he actually saved our lives.
Sternberg: So tell me Harry, after the war I know that during all of these experiences you thought a lot about your belief in God and you questioned a lot, your belief in God. Tell me your feelings about this during the time and after the war.
Lenga: During the time, it was many times, you know, I … each, all of us that asked that question. If God is there why does he let this happen to us? Why did he kill our parents? Why did he kill our families? And we couldn’t answer it, yes, and not many times there were people who had been there probably he could do it, he probably wouldn’t, if he exists, he wouldn’t let it happen. And it did happen. He probably doesn’t exist. Or if he does, he did just forsaked us. But later it happened, times when we saw really miracles. Individual miracles that happened to each of us. That we got out the mess. You know, we got saved, when there was certain death. Then we said this is a sign of God, that he exists because otherwise how else can you explain that … we got protected, you know. We survived. And that was one God in and out, in and out all the time. Of course, when we were liberated then we saw that, that was a sign that God exists, that some of us survived. Because we really didn’t believe that anybody will survive in the camps. And we didn’t know that any other Jews still exists. The others thought we were the only ones, you know. We didn’t know what’s going on somewhere else. That especially when we were liberated and we found out that other camps survived and they are still alive. Then we saw that this a sign of God that he helped us to survive. We were believers. I remember the first time we got together Rosh haShanah when we were all liberated in the camps, in the DP camps (displaced persons camp). We organized a service and nobody was missing. That time we were in Landsberg, and they saw how many people came all together, so we had to take more room outside to make the service.
Sternberg: That is all I wanted to do today. I think we have covered all of the ….
Lenga: Yeah.
Sternberg: We did. Thank you very much, Harry. I appreciate your sharing this with us.

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