PERRY: This is a record of the history of Mr. Henry Changar, which was done on Wednesday, May the 5th, 1984. The interviewer is Eli Perry.
CHANGAR: This is Henry Changar. What happened? I start our interview around 1930. The reason for this is that my father died, I was eight years old. He was 36. He died very sad, brain hemorrhage. I was in second class; I was in grammar school. And I was not lucky, to say, I might have been the fattest of the fattest boys in school, introverted, and because of my physical looks I did not have too many friends. I was very serious in school. After a while – now all schools were paid by the Polish government; it was in Warsaw. So, some schools in the Jewish neighborhood, these schools were predominantly, I’m talking about Jewish pupils; the Christian neighborhoods they were attended by Christians. Very few of them, very few Protestants, mostly Catholics. Being more serious, after a couple of years, I was sent out of my neighborhood to a school attended by Christian kids.
The language we talked at home was Polish. The only time I hear Yiddish is when there were people who talk Yiddish and I talked with mother who spoke Yiddish if she wanted to. And my grandparents spoke Yiddish among themselves. And so I naturally had some Christian friends, and some Jewish friends. My neighborhood where I lived then, it was, I would say, 75 percent Yiddish, or Jewish, and about 25 percent Christian. We lived on the edge of the Warsaw ghetto at that time, on the edge of the Jewish neighborhood. To go to school, to a Christian school, you’re going to have to take a streetcar or walk about 15 or 20 minutes, because that’s how far we were from Christian neighborhood, even though there was entirely approximately five percent Jewish over there. And Mr. –
CHANGAR: Mr. Perry asked me about antisemitism. Well, in the school I went to, we had about five Jewish boys, maybe. The rest were Christians. I was the good Jew. The only time I was asked to go to a public park to go beat up on the Jews, to beat up on the Jewish, of course, I refused. (LAUGHTER) And we did have a Jewish teacher who came once, sometimes twice a week to learn the Jewish history, not Hebrew. The same as the priest come and taught the Christian kids catechism. The Polish language that I spoke at home and at school was perfect, with no Yiddish accent, which helped me to survive the war.
Now, let’s jump to 1937, ’38, depression time, which was bad over here and worse in Warsaw. The rate of suicide was very, very great. My grandfather on my father’s side, who I didn’t know, his name was Goldfeier. He was the president of the Jewish congregation. There was, before that time, at the time that I am speaking now, he had a private high school. Incidentally, I never met him and I don’t know what he was like at that time, but I know that my brother went to his high school. And then there was no, he died I guess, and the high school was closed. And my brother had a hard time getting into a state, a city high school, of course being Jewish. He attended couple of years and then he had to quit. Depression, I guess, hurt everybody. I had quit my school, quit, I mean, and I wanted to work. I was about 10 and a half; that could have been in 1932, ’33. And I, what you would call, run away from home. I stayed at my grandparents’ a few days, a few weeks. My parents probably knew about it.
When I came back home, I got a job in a small factory – I don’t know how to express it – but they made sweaters and socks, very, very high-priced merchandise. And I was more or less a boy to sweep the floors. Every dime helped. Later I worked in a store that was, the street was Nalewki, which was pretty known by the Jewish people who had come from around Warsaw, because this was the business district of Warsaw, mostly owned by Jewish business people. And I worked in a store that was selling buttons. And because I was so eager to wait on customers, I was fired from that store. There around I got a job on a street called Karnelicka (?) which was just a few blocks where the uprising started. And down the corner on Nalewki there was a textile store, union store.
I had to belong to the union and I had to go to, because of the government orders, everybody had to go to school ’til he was 18 and so the union required. So I went, I worked ’til about three o’clock, ’til four o’clock – the store was open ’til seven – and then I went to business high school at night time which they open ’til nine o’clock to learn bookkeeping, lettering, window display, things like that. Meantime, back at home, oh, I was sweeping the floor, waiting on the customers sometime, when everybody was busy in a textile store. The owner’s name was Zauberman, big man. Very proud, a self-made man, fairly wealthy. That doesn’t mean that he drove a car. Most people walked. You could hardly find a garage over there.
Most people in Warsaw lived in apartment buildings. There were no garages. I remember the owner of my apartment building; there were 36 tenants. He had a car. Once in a while he came. We had to mail our rent. And I, of course, I was a delivery boy at the same time. My boss, normally when I had some delivery to make to a customer, he gave me streetcar money. And by this time, we are getting to 1938 and ’39. I was over there for a couple of years, I guess, and I always walked and brought the dime home.
The reason the family needed the extra few dimes was because we were in embroidery business. What you would call “sweatshop” over here. It was at home. We lived on the third floor and, actually it was the fourth floor as you start counting over here. No elevators. The apartment had four rooms, which was pretty nice. We had three girls doing the embroidery. And when my father was still alive – so this was before 1930. Once a week, he used to take raw material to small towns around Warsaw, the embroidery material. Most of our embroidery, we were working for the armed forces, insignia, army insignia and so on. Under contract, and, of course, the depression hit the government as hard as it hit everybody else. Somebody came up with an idea to make the stamp of the insignia out of metal.
Imagine four rooms, stuck with boxes of finished insignia, epaulets, things like this, up to the ceiling sometimes – hallways, it was all over the place, getting ready for delivery. Because of the metal insignia that the government was able to buy at a fraction of the price, they cancelled the contract, which we worked on for about a year or more. Putting every penny into raw materials to get the embroidery done and then we were stuck with it, with no compensation, and pretty soon the war broke out. It was 1939. (TAPE STOPS)
I’ll drop now to about 1932. It was two years after my father died. My mother remarried. She married an unemployed musician who came back from Paris. I had placards showing him with his orchestra. He was a violinist. He had a son who was a convert to Christianity, living in France, in Paris, and they had a Polish tourist bureau. His sister, or his sister-in-law, lived near quite a few family members living in Paris, lived over there, and there was a younger brother who went to school over there.
PERRY: Your younger brother?
CHANGAR: No, younger stepbrother, let’s call him stepbrother.
PERRY: Okay, stepbrother. Do you have any other natural brothers?
CHANGAR: Yes, I had one natural brother who I mentioned.
PERRY: How about sisters?
CHANGAR: No sisters. There were only two. This younger brother, stepbrother, came back to Warsaw with my stepfather and lived with his aunt who was my stepfather’s sister. And they had – they were very wealthy people. They had, they had an apartment building which had three courtyards. I would say, about, at least 100 apartments, and, in turn, they had a iron or steel works. It was in Warsaw – no, it wasn’t in Warsaw, it was around Warsaw. So they were very well fixed. A few days after our mother remarried, she sent the boy home to us. Now there was depression already which should I say was a lot harder because we had very little reserve.
And then – but this was the story. My stepfather was very well educated. So was my mother. She went to finishing school. She went to college. Most of my uncles went to college. The one that’s in St. Louis went to college. His name is Morris Changar. He was the youngest of seven brothers.
After a while, my father played some theaters and then he got a job with the Warsaw Philharmonic as a third violinist. Then he played an alto violin, after he started with the alto violin, he became third violinist. And after the Germans started sending money for propoganda, anti-Jewish propaganda, all Jews were fired. There was a depression there, too, from the Philharmonic, and so most of state and city offices, this was city-run and paid by the city.
And then, since then, he had a few odd jobs here and there. One time he played in the circus. He played the violin with gloves on. Except the tips of his fingers were exposed. There weren’t even – he played ______ theater, it’s called _____ theater, on Nalewki (?) small theater, pretty little theater, which was the music concerts, plays and things, similar to the size to the one that we have at Westport. That was round. And we had, we didn’t have to have, me and my brother, and my mother, we didn’t have to have free tickets. We just came backstage and watched the orchestra. Sometime we see one of my other uncles. Perhaps, he wasn’t an uncle because he was my mother’s female cousin’s second husband. He made handmade or handmade costumes for the actresses, so he was over there, too, many times.
Anyway, going back home. It was hard to get a job, wintertime. My stepfather felt that administration of the business was at home and helped in any that he can. We always had a live-in, live-in maid which wasn’t too much of a luxury because the depression was there and for a very small few dollars, a few zloty a month or a week, and clothes and food and lodging – she slept in the kitchen. That freed my mother for growing to learn the business. Even when the war started, we had one that was of German ancestry – it was a German maid.
CHANGAR: And (PAUSE) goin’ back to the…we had the contract cancelled and the boxes stacked up and no money in reserve. There was some few stocks and bonds and things, and some were pretty hard to cash unless they are Americans, little coupon things. So we burned them. We had a ceramic or clay tile furnace which was in the corner of the four rooms all the way from the first floor all the way up through the attic, to the chimney. The door to the furnace, or oven you might say, or heater, whatever, the door was open to the living room. From then, it was mostly coal fired. And whoever, you fired it with whatever you can. So we burned most of the things. Coal was hard to get.
PERRY: You used it for fuel.
CHANGAR: For fuel, yes, coal was hard to get. And then, can I start with the war?
PERRY: Yes, if you’d like to now, sure.
CHANGAR: And, one day we woke up and we see big yellow…
CHANGAR: Placards, stretched from one side of the street to the other. It said, “Seuchengefahr. Typhus – typhoid fever. Enter at your own risk.”
PERRY: You evidently knew German then, too? You said you spoke Polish at home.
CHANGAR: Yes, let’s, let me back up again, to the bombing. Let me back up over here. As I said, I’ve been here since ’47, so memory…
PERRY: Sure, no, it’s hard to remember but…
CHANGAR: You want to know, day by day, or by one week…?
PERRY: Well, whichever is easiest for you.
CHANGAR: The Germans bombed Warsaw for about three weeks.
PERRY: After the war broke out?
CHANGAR: That’s right. 1939, it was August or September. And the Polish army and the civilians barricaded the streets. And the German tanks and so on – the German tanks tried to cross it. They just threw gasoline on the far edge of, they would throw it out of the windows and get it on fire. The Germans couldn’t get through. This was very hard bombing; they bombed – most of the tops of the tall buildings were bombed off. (PAUSE)
My mother was a very wise woman. Her father was a very wise man. He was a cabinet maker across the street. He had a cabinet shop on the same street, a street called Karnelicka. When I was a kid, I used to make a nickel or dime helping over there to make cut out. Monograms, the flowers, the veneer that people ordered for the doors, as a dowry or as a present. I was very good at it. Look around you, and there’s a lot of things you’ll see around you. They are made by me. The table you see over here was made by me.
PERRY: Oh, this is gorgeous.
CHANGAR: This chest over there was made by me. That’s one of the first things I made for the home, in the other home. There’s a lot of things downstairs. And this house that you’re sitting in right now, it was a frame, was a prefab, it arrived and I put the floors down and the plasterboard, and the bricks on the outside, they were laid by me. So I was pretty handy. Some of the things were made by my wife, embroidered. I could also embroider. Because many times there was a rush order and many times, “Henry, sit down.”
CHANGAR: Embroider. You’re going to hear the name “Henry” in Polish it’s Henryk, for short it’s “Heniek.” As I mentioned before, on my birth certificate there was no name Hirsch. They didn’t write my Yiddish name or my Jewish name…my Hebrew name was Hirsch, or Hirschel. “Havash” we called it in Warsaw. Sound of the “e.” Jewish from the other parts of Poland say it as an “e;” we say it as an “a.” We say, “Fleisch.” You probably heard the expression “fleisch,” which is meat, they say “fleisch.” Bagels, I say “beigels.” Of course I say bagels now. But that’s – you had different dialects of Yiddish throughout Poland.
PERRY: Well, did you speak Yiddish too?
CHANGAR: No, but I understood a few words that my mother didn’t want me to understand. She spoke Yiddish to my father, to her mother. And so, I do know how to say it. And we going back to, well actually, my mother was a very, very smart woman. She used to be, when she was young, a saleslady herself in a haberdashery. My stepfather, from father’s side, whom I didn’t know, he died of heart attack. He was a religious man. His wife wasn’t. She didn’t wear a scheitel, a schaitel. Okay, I catch myself once in a while. And every summer she would go to Baden-Baden which is German resorts and things like that, to France or someplace else. I knew, I never knew them. They died before, died before I was born.
My mother’s parents, to the contrary, my grandmother was very religious. My grandfather was not. She would not serve him breakfast until he prayed. Of course, he didn’t wear a yarmulke. She wore a sheitel. And she wore black or white socks. She wore nothing but black or white. When he died, she didn’t say Kaddish. She always read the bible.
PERRY: When your natural father died, she didn’t say Kaddish?
CHANGAR: No, when her husband died. He died heart attack.
PERRY: Yeah, that was your father, wasn’t it?
CHANGAR: No, his stepfather.
PERRY: Was he religious?
CHANGAR: No, he was not, he wasn’t very religious, but he was, my parents, my mother was not, my mother was not religious. But when my stepmother, her mother, came to visit…As I said, I never knew my stepparents from my father’s side. I had pictures; my uncle has some. She would eat nothing, drink water or tea. As I told you on the telephone, she would stir the tea with the wrong side of the spoon. So, God forbid, the spoon might have been used for something that wasn’t kosher.
A lot of Jews in Warsaw and all over, all over Eastern Poland, on Saturdays, we ate cholent. My grandmother found out about it and she went to the bakery shop. Most Jews know that they have to bring it to the bakery shop, it bakes overnight; you pick it up Saturday morning. A big cast iron pot covered with brown paper and the name on top of that. And she went there to the bakery shop to tell that our cholent wasn’t kosher.
PERRY: Why not?
CHANGAR: Because it wasn’t made with kosher meat. And, possibly, when the war started we were with pork. That’s all you could get, so you couldn’t get. Poland grows a lot of pork. The pork was too high a price. Then they _____ because that was big demand, of pork, hams, and so forth. Let’s say, you put a big piece of pork on the bottom so that the cholent didn’t burn up. Because you always put the meat with the fat down, next to the gristle, you put the fat down to the bottom. It was hot on the bottom. The heat came from the bottom. And this saves the meat from being burned up, just the fat. Not the meat touched the pot, but the onions and whatever they put other things over it too, not only for the taste, but to insulate the food from the bottom of the pot.
Now this is about my grandmother. She died of a heart attack…it was during the war. Just before the war, when they started making handmade – machine made furniture and so on, he sold out his shop, whatever he could of the machinery. And they went to the city of Ostrok (?), which was a resort city for people who had, who had, what is the lung disease that you get?
CHANGAR: Tuberculosis. They had baths over there and all kind of things. It was before. I had an uncle with a sweatshop, old factory, manufacturing children’s clothes. He sold all the way out just before the war and went to Paris. I have no knowledge where he is and what. The war was coming up and my grandparents came back to Warsaw. They closed the restaurant, or sold the restaurant. A lot of relatives came back to Warsaw, and lived with us, lived with another sister. My uncle left for Paris. And it was before the war. But he, grandfather, died just before the war. Died of a heart attack, I remember him laying down; they pushed me away, but I just looked through the door and…
In fact, when my father died, they, I was on my way from school. There were businesses on the street, the stores, near the apartment building I lived. They grabbed me and would not let me up. Everybody cried. I couldn’t cry at that time, eight years old. Shocked me. But I make a mention of it, I started crying. My voice broke down. It probably is now. (PAUSE) And, let’s go back…
PERRY: You started to tell me…and I asked you to go back – before you got started on the war. Remember when you started to tell me that they put the placards up?
CHANGAR: You want me to go again back?
PERRY: To the war, yes.
CHANGAR: My mother, as I was saying, she was very smart woman. She seen what was happening. But the Germans were marching on Warsaw. I had another friend in Warsaw. She called the farmer and she sold all the furniture, not, not all the upholstery furniture, but the tables, chairs, chifferobes used as our closets, breakfronts, things like this, which were all made by my stepfather, by my grandfather, for several wagons of potatoes.
CHANGAR: Each tenant had his own little cellar under the finished floor which was padlocked. Our cellars were not paved, they were dirt bottom. And they had a small window, like the basements over here, each one had a small little window, glass and iron or whatever it was. And when you opened the door there were so many potatoes. When you opened the door you…you had to, you had to be careful to open the door because some of the potatoes spilled out. We had so many potatoes, you know, loaded through the window. There was, when we knew that war was starting or already started, that gave us about 12 days or something like that. I was 16 years old.
The janitor was Christian, like all janitors in the Jewish neighborhood, Christian, and I went to school with his kids. One of his boys, the older boy was about my age; the younger one was two years younger. I was 16; he would have been 14. We decided early, going into the bombing, Warsaw is already under siege, German tanks, howitzers all the way around, German planes bombing Warsaw. They didn’t bomb like they bombed, like the Americans bombed or the Russians bombed. It wasn’t saturated bombing. They were the prettiest things what they bombed. They had the bomber-divers. He dived on the building when he wanted to, threw out bombs and up again to avoid the anti-aircraft fire. We decided, me and my friend, Olek was his name, we decided to get to the edge of Warsaw, the suburb of Warsaw, and see what we can find in the way of food. Some of the potatoes my mother traded for other food, for meat, for meat, for vegetables, for other vegetables, for other things that she cooked because these potatoes wouldn’t last that long, they started going rotten. Looked like a jungle, all growing toward the window where the light came in. Like vines. So we had to get rid of it fast for whatever we can. And some probably she sold for money. And some we traded for other things, other foods, whatever we could. You traded for rings, or diamonds, for anything of value that we could hold on to.
Me and my friend went to a suburb of Warsaw and, to dig up, the farmers run away from there, had junk gardens mostly, like around here too. They ran away because that’s where the German bombs fell and that’s where they bombed mostly. And we found a couple of cabbages; we didn’t find any potatoes. We kept them in a sack. We found a horse that was still alive. It was dying. It was hit by a shell. We cut some meat off the horse. The war was getting bad, the bombing, the bombs were worsening and the shells were worsening and we decided time to go on back. We already had a sack, he carried one side and I the other; we tied it. Carried it. And all of a sudden we seen about 15 artillery soldiers on horses; that’s Polish artillery. They went to fight the Germans.
They went to find the Czechs before the time because they got propaganda from Germans, “Germans were fighting Czechs because they took your territory, you have the white eagle on some of the Czech buildings, so you go fight them.” So, they pulled a couple of howitzers, a couple of squadrons what you would call it, the cannons weren’t too large but they pulled them. And then we heard the spotter plane, plane high up there.
And then the shells started coming, so I assume there was a spotter plane who gave orders to the battery and they started shelling, closer and closer ’til they started hitting those horses that were going in all different ways. A big shell hit one soldier in the leg on a horse and hit the horse, who died, then his leg was torn off. So we started running and a shell fell right next to me. It was so close that it threw me, I would say, about 30 feet, 40 feet, 50 feet, I don’t know how far (BREATHING DEEPLY) and I got up with Olek. I don’t remember whether we recovered, but he was running, matter of fact was running towards a building, was a big modern building, was on Zoliboc street of Warsaw, in a suburb of Warsaw where they building new buildings. Just like over here now, they start to convert farms into subdivisions and so on, and they did the same thing over there. And towards the building, and then the glass started falling down, so we ran away from the building. We seen signs “Red Cross Here, Red Cross Over There” with arrows. We went over there, in a basement, first-aid station.
But before we got there, I felt my hand was wet. I looked at my hand. My index finger was hanging loose, so as you can see, the index finger was hit by a shrapnel. Very small piece. And, you see, I was holding it this way, here. (DEMONSTRATES HOW HE HELD HIS FINGER AND SHOWING SCAR) See the scar? Started here. There was a little nurse over there, and she said, “When you go to the hospital, they’re going to take you to the hospital…” She bandaged my hand. The Polish government, the city government, requisitioned all taxi cabs, all trucks, everything. They (OVERTALK)
PERRY: May I change this? Let me stop this a second.
(End of Tape 1, Side 1)
CHANGAR: The nurse advised me to go to a certain hospital, came an ambulance and said they are going to a certain place, drop off the people wherever they can. And they loaded up, and I said, “No, I can take the next one.” Well, it was a half-hour or so, an hour, taxi cab came. And I said I want to go to this hospital, in a taxi cab, it took about 10 people. He said, “Okay, I’ll try to, but it’s pretty hard.” We started going this way and the street was barricaded, and the other way the street was barricaded. It was war so streets were closed. Craters, shell craters were all over the place and went to another, finally, went to the hospital, and I’m on Chlodna Ulitza and they said this is just for, for pregnant women, hospital, you know. And so we can’t. There is a hospital about 10 blocks west of here. And see if you can get over there. So we got to that hospital. Of course, we forgot about the hospital we were supposed to get to because we couldn’t get to it.
Well, they unloaded us over there. Us, me and another fellow, which they wouldn’t take him. They had the hospital full because the wounded people were laying on stretchers, in hallways, on floors, and blankets, and so on. And the driver says, “That’s as far as I’m going. I’m not going any place. Now you get out.” And we got over there.
I was several days over there. By that time the war ended in Warsaw. I could hear the Germans, police cars with the sirens and so on. And with the loudspeakers to urge the Polish people to get the barricades off because they’re gonna shut the water off, shut the electricity off, and shut everything off that hasn’t already been broken. And otherwise, we, so – There was, I don’t know how many doctors there were in the hospital. I only seen one. My nurse used to come every day and bandage my hand. That doesn’t mean she took the old bandage off. She just put the other bandage on. My hand was getting’ bigger, bigger until it started smelling – gangrene set in.
And she said one day, “Now, you’re gonna get operated on your hand. On your finger.” They got me on the operating table, and the doctor said, “We’re gonna sew it up for you.” I said, “Doctor, the finger is hangin’ loose.” I said, “There is no use.” He said, “We will operate and might save your hand, see if we can save your finger, and if we can save – the gangrene, and so on.” I said, “Cut it, just cut it down because it’s no use. I don’t want to have something that’s stiff and I won’t be able to use it.” “Well,” he said, “well, it’s going to look better than this.” And I got some, whatever they used at that time, morphine I guess, or something, put me to sleep. And sewed up the finger. It was the same story again. Bandage and bandage everyday, and bandage everyday.
Let me back up a few days. I couldn’t eat. Of course, there were some soldiers over there – one had, one had – his jaw shot off. Took his lower jaws out. All he had was just the flesh hanging over here. They were supposed to fit a mechanical jaw. And, all we had was cucumbers, lot of spaghetti and oil. Of course, I could eat it. He just (MAKES SUCKING NOISE) sucked the spaghetti.
One night, heavy shelling. I was by the window. They shell on the upper floors. The shell hit the floor under me. They shot up the whole floor from under me, and I fell with my bed, down the floor below. Luckily, soldiers sleeping, laying over there wasn’t hurt. I just got some small fragments of glass on my face. I think one leg had a tiny fragment. Took it out quite easily with tweezers. And then the war ended. To go back to the Germans – and one day we saw a German guard outside. That was an army hospital, which I didn’t know. German guard outside, nobody leaves, nobody comes. I was able to get a message to my parents, and this was summertime, to bring me clothes. I wanna get out of here because they, everybody is going to be workers. They are going to get everybody out. He said, “They will come in an hour. They will be there in an hour, an hour and a half.” This was pretty far from where I lived. This is not a convenience, or a taxi, or what have you, fine, or not, walk – anyway, they were there.
After a while, I don’t know how long it took, I was on the first floor, and they handed me clothes from outside the window. They gave me clothes which I put over the hospital pajamas, and I went home from over there. My mother said, “What happened?” And I said nothing. “You told me on the telephone that you got your knee shot off or something like that, which wasn’t true. It wasn’t shot off.” And she said, “Let’s get you to a doctor.” At the end of that long block, there was a doctor. His name was Rappaport. I remember he was four feet high. Very able. Had a dog. He said, “The visits cost you five zloty, operation or whatever you have. And a bucket of water. Two buckets of water, it’s free.” And it was on a second floor. And people were sitting, laying all over the staircase in the apartment building, too.
And during the war, everything was, because of the war, you walk around with a bucket of water, somebody went to the river to get a bucket of water, because Warsaw is on a river. And cover it up with a rag or something, big leaves, and people used to stay with cups, tin cups, some were attached to the bucket of water. They sell the water on the street, and coal. We jumped on a wagon and threw the coal around so, and if you picked up the coal…
PERRY: Had the Germans destroyed the water system, or just cut it off?
CHANGAR: No, they…it was just destroyed by shells. And of course when they said for Warsaw to surrender. They were still shelling, the war was on, and the water was still there. Well, I was in hospital, some pregnant women, from about 10 blocks, running from the other hospital with _______. On the way home with my parents in the taxi, I told the story of how I got to this hospital. “How come you got so far?” We passed by some of the other hospitals that the taxi driver wanted to drop me off, but I was stubborn. I want to go to my hospital, the hospital I was recommended to, which I wasn’t in the end but there was no other way we could go. There was no barricades yet taken away and then the falling shells and this taxi cab took the same way.
We passed by several hospitals. They were not there anymore. They weren’t there anymore. There was ruins because the Germans were bombing hospitals. They don’t care or give a damn whether it was a Red Cross sign on the roof or anything. Besides, the big buildings were shelled because everybody could hit the big building; they could see where they were. The small buildings, the small buildings got protected by the big buildings, and the hospitals were big buildings. So, there was my lucky…
When I got to this hospital, we say that the upper floor and the roof were shot off, too; but there was a big building close to the barracks. I guess that is where they shot some shells. Maybe because it was an army hospital, too, I guess they knew that.
And I went to this doctor, and I was ready, entered with a bucket of water, or two buckets of vodka and five zloty which was worth a dollar at that time because five zloty was a dollar. And before the war, that time the dollar was way up. It was war money. Polish money was nothing. Couldn’t buy a loaf of bread with it, two loaves of bread. A lady was over there with a big growth on her neck. She couldn’t straighten her neck, her head up. Her chin was touching her chest. The growth was of the size of a grapefruit on her neck. And, of course, she had very little of, what you call it, anesthetics – medicine so, mostly morphine, I guess that’s what he used. So he said, “It’s won’t hurt you. All I got to do is touch it with my scalpel, and a little pus is just going to come up, ’cause it’s so sharp.” Before he touched her, she screamed. Finally, he slapped her twice over her face…he just, and he cut across the growth, and pus just…and he said, “Nurse, go clean it up. Next.”
I was stretched on an operating table, lights and all. The nurse covered my face. I said, “Doctor, cut the finger off. I don’t want the finger.” “Maybe we can save it.” I said, “Doctor, I don’t want the finger. It’s stiff. It’s no use. The war is on, I don’t know how long it’s going to last. The Germans gonna keep goin’, they won’t stop, they’re gonna keep goin’.” “So, I see what I can do. If I think I can save it, I’ll save it. If not, I won’t.” The nurse put mask over my face. And a drop of morphine – was not morphine because it was sweet smelling. Then she says, “Start counting from 100 back. 100, 99,98,97.” I think I got to 93. I said, “93, 93,” and I heard the instruments. I said, “Doctor, I’m not asleep yet.” And I said, “Nurse.” And she says, “Go back on counting. 93, 93, this is where you stopped.” “93, 93,” I couldn’t function anymore.
CHANGAR: You know, before I knew it, I was up, and my hand was bandaged. I had to go a few more times. And started getting…he cut the finger off, sewed this one up. When I came to get the stitches out, it was scarred; flesh started growing, wild flesh. It was cancerous. Possibly, whatever, wild cells of flesh, he burned them with sulfuric acid. Growing and finally they quit. And I went over both to pay for a visit and pay him with what you have. The money had no value.
Anyway, when the Germans started surrounding the Jews and taking them into concentration camps, and so on…
PERRY: Had they established the ghetto yet?
CHANGAR: Not as yet. Not as yet. Let me finish with Dr. Rappaport. He was so able that the German army requisitioned him to be in the German army hospital – he was a Jew.
PERRY: That’s unbelievable.
CHANGAR: Unbelievable, yes. There was another unbelievable. My mother had glaucoma. My father, my uncle over here in St. Louis had glaucoma and still probably has it. I’ve got glaucoma on both sides of the family. It runs in the family. I’ve got it from both sides. Well, I had my eyes tested here in St. Louis by one of the finest doctors because my cousin is a optometrist and he recommended me to go to his doctor. They tested my eyes in a dark room and they said that the shape of my eyes are such, if I get glaucoma, it might be acute. Very, very bad, so if I get the glaucoma, starting seeing this way or that way, the way I may, on the far right, it looks like that. “You run fast and run to the doctor because when you get it, you get it very fast, it’ll blind you. You going to get it acute, just like your uncle has, but you’re going to have it acute.” He keeps putting drops in.
Going back to the doctor, the doctor who was treating my mother. I remember; the name is familiar to you. The name was Zemenhof. The street that he lived on was named after him. His father, who was still an eye doctor, discovered the language, or invented the language, Esperanto.
PERRY: Oh yes, now I remember.
CHANGAR: An international language, Esperanto. He was requisitioned by the German army. He was one of the finest doctors in Europe. His father spoke and wrote 27 languages. That’s why he invented Esperanto. Well, this is the episode.
Then I went home and, uh, in a few days, it was a few days, few weeks. It was a few days, few weeks, few months; I don’t remember. We had the placards hanging over, big banners from one side of the street to the other, yellow color. “There is a Seuchengefahr, danger of typhoid fever.” The infection, see the infection, the danger of infection, of course the Jewish half, houses, the Jewish place – and the Christians are advised, advised not to enter because of this Seuchengefahr. Before you know it, you started hearing the German trucks. The German soldiers started grabbing the Jews, and they would close out the block and everybody has got to work. And what was the work? The work was cleaning up the debris. The bricks and so on and dig away the ruins, clean up the bricks, clean up the streets, and cover up the craters and the tanks could come over, of course.
After a while you have streetcars pulled by horses, because they couldn’t afford enough electricity. And, the buses got pulled by horses because the Germans wouldn’t spare the gasoline. There was, gasoline was available on the black market that you could buy for a high price. But some trucks were still going and some bakery shops had trucks that would still be going for wheat and return to Warsaw, and other supplies and trucks and so on. Gasoline was available. They went through Warsaw – they just kept going east, the Germans. They didn’t stop at Warsaw. They had a treaty with Russia, a non-aggression treaty. So, Russia took part of Poland and Germany took part of Poland. That’s where they met. The borders were fairly open. A lot of Jews run to the Russian side. The Russians just turned their back and the Germans didn’t care. The army was still not as antisemitically inclined as were the SS and Nazi party, but eventually everyone was, almost let’s say 90 percent, were indoctrinated that Jews, Juden verrecken, the Jews gotta go, everything else doesn’t matter for the Jews, Christians, and all people. They started dividing the nation.
By the east Poland, there was the Ukrainians mostly taken over by the Russians. The south Poland were the mountain people, but in Polish they call them Gorale. They lived in the Tatra Mountains. They had white clothes made out of white – all handwoven, and handwoven hats and scarfs and what have you, and things like this. And they were better. Because they were suffering poverty, you know, before the war.
Other parts of Poland, those with German names or German ancestry, of course, they were suffering. They were German, “We came, we came to rescue you,” that was the idea; that the Polish government didn’t treat the German people, who have German ancestors right since during the centuries the borders changed so often over there in all the wars. Poland had a lot of umber. You know what this is, don’t you?
PERRY: A what?
CHANGAR: Umber, umber, the big yellow stone…
PERRY: Oh yeah, amber we call it, yes.
CHANGAR: Yes. In Polish we call it rubin. That’s where you get the name of Rubin.
PERRY: I’ll be darned, I didn’t know that.
CHANGAR: I guess that’s where you get your name, Rubin – R U B I N. They had caravans going through Poland from the Black Sea, from the Mediterranean Sea going through Poland to the Baltic Sea because that’s where the rubin was. That’s where the amber was. That’s fortified, or whatever they call it whenever it lays, and water falls for centuries and centuries and becomes a stone.
PERRY: I don’t know the name, but I know what you mean. I know what you mean. There’s one other place in the world – I’ll tell you later. There’s only one other place.
CHANGAR: And so the borders were changing so often. Those who lived on the German borders, they speak Polish and German. And on the Lithuanian border, and what is now the capital was Polish. The Polish king married the Lithuanian queen and they became one country. At one time, it used to be from the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea. It became one country and they had no wars. Anyway, they were grabbing the Jews. There were brigades and they cleaned them up. Later on, they came up and would advertise placards on the corners, the street corners. And they organized a Jewish police.
PERRY: This was in –
PERRY: In Warsaw, you were still in Warsaw?
CHANGAR: Warsaw. The Jewish police and they would get extra rations. They will not get a uniform. They will get a police cap and an armband proclaming that they are the police. Of course, they didn’t want any Christians over there. So, Jewish police were received. The Jewish police were received. Some people were against them; some people were with them because some, some of the Jewish police did a lot of good, had influence. They did a lot of good for the Jews in Warsaw, and some of them took advantage of their position. So they would do harm. They got the Germans together, and said this baker has a lot of flour and so on. They didn’t confiscate the flour and, hence, they could get money from them. It was a bribe.
PERRY: That apparently was the start of the Germans making the ghetto, is that it?
CHANGAR: That’s right. The start was when we had the ghetto placards.
PERRY: Had they built the walls in there yet?
CHANGAR: No, they hadn’t built the walls. Later on, they started building walls. Now, they started building walls, but they didn’t build the walls in the middle of the street, going parallel with the streets. They built the walls on the corners, from one side of the street to the other. That means, if you could go on a roof, you can go on the other roof. So, now, one street was a thoroughfare, a big thoroughfare, going from big Sussky Park, which was a park we used. The King Suss, a Polish king, used to live there. He had his palace over there.
And there was a big bazaar and outdoor shopping center, you might say, that we had, on the southern street over here. It was a lot bigger than, for example, Union Station. And, there was a street called Chlodna West, close to my hospital where I was. And then going east went past the park, almost to the old Warsaw, on the other side of the park which starts old Warsaw, which was by the River Vistula, Visla in Polish. There was the Polish president lived, was the palace, right by the river over there. And it was a big palace. I believe it was one of the biggest palaces.
They decided they needed a thoroughfare. They built a walk across so you could go from one side of the ghetto to the other side of the ghetto. This was the big ghetto; the other side was called the small ghetto because it was a smaller part of Warsaw, a smaller area. Later on they started congesting the Jews and getting the Jews out because they said the Jews were dying.
PERRY: How did you get through it then? Your business was not – you couldn’t run a business…
CHANGAR: I was – no, there was no business, and I was – one of my uncles had a resort about 35 miles from Warsaw. Our name, his name, was Cubra, Jacob. Our name was very well known out there. We used to go, mother and I, as you see, you see my hair is curly. Of course, at one time, the hair was straight as could be. When the nurse came in the hospital and asked me if I can comb my hair. At that time, with the youths, it was the style to wear long hair. The Christian youths had straight hair, a lot of Jewish youths had curly hair; some had straight hair. Well long, down to the neck almost. You wet your hair, you combed it all the way back, that was the style and in the school they didn’t allow it. We had all kinds of gimmicks not to make it look so long and what have you.
Anyway, I was out of school. I was going to night school. That school wasn’t so strict, and this nurse, she asked me if she can comb my hair. I said, “Not with a cripple.” I said, “I’ve still got my left hand. This one is bandaged up, but I can still comb my hair.” She said, “You can’t comb your hair; let me comb it for you. What you, just relax.” And, she started combing my hair. She started pulling and pulling and pulling. I said, “You are having a hard time. What’s the matter?” She comes up with a mirror. My hair was all curly.
PERRY: It changed from straight to curly?
CHANGAR: So curly. So I let her finish. I say, “Use a little water or something.” She combed my hair. Where are we, I jumped back a few places…
We went to the town, the little village, a town, a resort town, was called Urlanka. There was a little river going through there, too. It was Urla, Urla was the name of the town, Urlanka was the name of this resort that my uncle owned. They were always, when the season started, they were always broke. Whatever they made during the summer, they would spend it in the winter. And they came to us to borrow money to get the resort started. They cleaned and dusted and got the supplies and what have you and every summer when my father was still alive, we used to go over there. And we didn’t live in it, in the resort. We normally rented a little farmhouse. Sometime the farmer rented you half the farmhouse. He lived in half and rented half out.
The farmers in Poland, the small Polish farmers were pretty poor. If they had an egg, they ate half an egg and half an egg they threw to the little chicks so they grew up faster. So we went over there. We took merchandise, nightgowns, socks, whatever we had, uh, cotton to sew on spools, sewing machines, all kinds of things, whatever we could get a hold of. A lot of industry was in the ghetto, no food, just industry, and a lot of supplies were there too.
PERRY: But you were allowed to go in and out.
PERRY: How did you get – that’s what…
CHANGAR: No, well just my mother and I. I cut my hair short.
PERRY: They thought you were Polish?
CHANGAR: I had, we had because our language, my mother’s and I, spoke very good Polish. And, besides, we had gone to a Christian school in a fairly rough neighborhood. I, I talk with a lot of Polish slang. On top of that, Christian slang, Polish slang. So, we had – and my mother had a straight nose like I have and now it’s getting a little bulbous, over here. You see my uncle; I show you a picture of my other uncles. They grow up and get to be my age and they get a bulbous nose. I had a pug nose. See, I have some pictures. If you had a camera, I could show you some documents. So I had one document with a picture on it. The document was the Polish Social Medicine. There was a social medicine, socialized medicine in Poland, like it is in England. Every time you went to the doctor, he stamped it, and he had a stamp and the name Henryk Changar which was a Polish, Polish name. Changar, the way you spelled it was retained. When my uncle came over here, during the war, First World War, he became a citizen. He retained the pronounciation but changed the spelling
PERRY: I see.
CHANGAR: So my name was a Christian fellow’s name. Those names which end with S K I, that’s “ski.” You have those names with “ski,” they were predominantly known as being Jewish names, so we had no problem that way.
PERRY: So you could go in and out.
CHANGAR: And those people knew us, which was a danger. But that’s who we went to, some of the Jewish shops, the Jewish places, and, and they had ready for us meat, fish and butter. We came back to the ghetto and sold it for a good price and we could buy new merchandise and as the streets were already, afterwards, the streets were locked. We still had some potatoes so she sold, keeps selling and buying other vegetables which were smuggled in. She opened a little store, vegetable store, so, and so for a few months, they – we couldn’t get anything – the potatoes were gone.
And then when we started smuggling – and I brought candy over there on the other side, a lot of candy. I stood outside the apartment buildings and sold the candy. We bought candy by the pound, sell it piece-by-piece. By the way, I wasn’t, I wasn’t fat anymore. I started losing my weight when I was 11 because I was – a pretty hard world, some world, and I see, seemed like I couldn’t get any place in school or any place else and nobody wanted to play with me when we had games. I started losing weight. I just, I just sold my, either gave away or sold my lunches. The lunch was worth a quarter; I sold it for a nickel, and so on. So I, I was controlling my weight, but the candy (LAUGHTER) still was some I couldn’t resist. So, if I sold three pieces, I ate one piece. I ate up part of the profits. Well, I’ll go on after.
My mother was very nervous, very shaky. After they built the walls, we went, we went through some of the bombed out buildings and went back over there. There was a train and we went to get something there, came back. There came to a time, when it was dangerous going out and my mother couldn’t do it anymore and I started walking. Twice a week, 35 miles one way, but a tough 35 miles, back over there. It was 57 kilometers, I assume, it was 35 miles. With baggage, I started going with one of my cousins whose father had the resort.
He was a very good poker player, very good poker player. His wife wouldn’t let him play poker with, with the patrons who lived in the resort. He had to go to the other resort to play for cash. She was worried because he was winning money from them, and she didn’t like the idea. My uncle over here is a very good poker player. He plays in Nusach Hari over there. After the game is over he gives back what he wins. He can afford it.
PERRY: What’s your uncle’s name?
CHANGAR: Changar. He doesn’t belong to Nusach Hari. He plays over there.
PERRY: I see, because I belong to Nusach Hari.
CHANGAR: No, he plays over there. He goes at 11 o’clock or what have you. He plays poker or pinochle or whatever they play over there. He is very good. And he was still the smallest, so small, the youngest and the smallest and he worked. He was very ambitious when he was young, very good at sports. But he used to play handball over at Forest Park, used to be champion, at JCCA too. Then he had heart trouble – three heart operations, bypasses. Several heart attacks – he had a pacemaker implanted and what have you. He is 82. Plays cards and so he gives back all the money because they won’t play with him. They keep losing all the time, and so he gives them back the money.
There was one place that I found out by accident. I started going to school on the edge of the ghetto.
PERRY: What kind of school would this be? You were about 22 now.
CHANGAR: No, it was still, 19…maybe 1940. I was born in ’22, so I was 18. So, maybe it was ’41.
PERRY: And you were going to school?
CHANGAR: It was a little school that the Jewish, Jewish, I guess, Jewish congregation established. There was schools. Some of the youngsters…
PERRY: In the ghetto, then?
CHANGAR: Yeah, and I looked out the windows and I see some people coming out from a building, from a bombed-out building, and they – they went on the other side and from the other side of the building – they were going on outside of the ghetto. I could see it through the window. The window was, was over here, and the wall was just about 20 feet over the window. So, I went through that. First time with my mother. I went once or twice with mother and she couldn’t take it so she stayed at home. And I was by myself. I forget the school, and I went by myself.
I went a couple of times, I took my Jacob’s, Uncle Jacob’s son with me, who cheated me of some of the things that we got with us. He says he lost it, sold it, forget it, they took it away from him, what have you. So, I said I’m going to go by myself. I said you do what you want to, I already knew the people, but he knew them better. He knew everybody over there. And I went back by myself. One of his cousins became a policeman so he brought food along, too. That’s on his mother’s side, and I think that, if I’m not mistaken, that Ida Kaminska, the Jewish actress from England, was a cousin of my aunt’s. She was with the Jewish theatre. She went to England. But I am bad at remembering names. So, I skip her. She got nothing to do with it. Her brothers were here. One of her brothers was a Jewish policeman so he was bringing food and so on.
And, I was smuggling in and out of the ghetto, and it came to a time where I was afraid that I would be sold out, sold out over there because I was doing business with the Christians, and the Jews. And they knew my name – they knew who I was – that I would be sold out to the Germans. I carried the lard, lard was very expensive then, on my back, and some in a sack, and, of course, I was working because you can’t carry on that thing…The Germans stopped the train no matter at some place and they confiscate everything. But they issued ration cards. What wasn’t rationed you had no business selling it. Everything had to be turned over to the Germans, and they, at the German Administration, they were rationing out to the stores. And that’s the way the system worked.
And after a while I quit going back and forth. I was just going from one side of the ghetto to the other side. After a while, my uncle that’s over here, his brother lived on the other side in the small ghetto. They all came to this ghetto. The German Jews came on the trains, with big smiles and big packages, big valises, and big trunks. They were going to be…they were going to go to a different country and they would get land in cities, and they would be relocated by the Germans. They believed; they believed that. We told them, “You fools.” They, a lot of them came…