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…
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?
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…
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….
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.
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…
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…
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?
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.
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?
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.”
PRINCE: Oh, right. (LAUGHTER)
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.
LENGA: No, not a sergeant.
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.