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Jacob Szapszewicz

Jacob Szapszewicz
Nationality: Polish
Location: Poland • Starachowise • Szydlowiec
Experience During Holocaust: Family Died During the Holocaust • Family Died in Concentration Camp • Family or Person in Hiding

Mapping Jacob's Life

Click on the location markers to learn more about Jacob. 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.

“I build up some resistance and I said, 'No…I have to survive.' At least I can tell people what I went through. And that’s the big reason that I’m ready to tell my story, because I promised myself that I’ll tell everybody. I thought if I am the only survivor, that’s what I thought, so I will be something!” - Jacob Szapszewicz

Read Jacob's Oral History Transcripts

Read the transcripts by clicking the red plus signs below.

Tape 1 - Side 1

PRINCE:                   Could you tell me where you were born and in what year?
SZAPSZEWICZ:       Okay, I was born, I know for sure it was the first World War started.          Because you know, in Poland, we didn’t have exactly those books like here.  But anyway, I knew it was a Chanukah and it was a very, very cold and it was the first World War started where the Cossaks …and so figure out it was about January 15, 1914.
PRINCE:                      1914?
SZAPSZEWICZ:          Yes.
PRINCE:                       Okay.  And tell me about your family.
SZAPSZEWICZ:          Okay.  As far as I can remember always I got a very nice childhood.  We lived in a big house.  We owned a farm and a mill and usually…I was very little when I start to remember.  You remember when you are one or two, but I think I could be maybe four years when I was sitting on a boat and fell in the water.  And everybody was wondering why I didn’t drown, why I start swimming, and that was my first memory.
PRINCE:                        You started swimming?
SZAPSZEWICZ:           I started swimming.  It was a quick lesson.  Later I rmember we started going to a boy’s school because there was no Jewish boys my age.  We were only one family living in this place.  The nearest town was about 3 miles, loaded with Jewish people.  But in our neighborhood, there was only one Jewish family there…about one mile.  And uh,…
PRINCE:                         I’d like to ask you…you said you owned land?
SZAPSZEWICZ:            Yes.
PRINCE:                         And that’s unususal?
SZAPSZEWICZ:             Oh, it’s a long story about this land.  My parents used to tell me this story.  When my progenitors, my great, great grandfather came…he was supposed to come from Frankurt-am-Main, in Germany.  And he was a blacksmith.  He escaped before the Crusaders and they settled in Poland; and this time, if you remember, the story was King Casimir the Great, they called him…he sort of liked Jews because he met a Jewish girl and he like her too.  Her name was Esther.  Anyway, I don’t know if it’s true that when King Janus Sobieski was going to Vienna to save Vienna from the Turks and his…the shoe fell away from his horse.  So he needed a blacksmith and so was my…somebody else…it was a long story, and he helped him and put on a new shoe and he like it so much that he gave him a piece of land.  And this was supposed to be the land.  I can’t tell you for sure, but that’s what they say.  This was supposed to be the land given us to hold.  It was a long valley, a narrow valley and was about…measured in acres, about 150 acres.  Most of the land was impossible to till it because it was hilly.  But it was pretty…the hills.  So my great grandfather built a dam across this valley.  He dammed it because a stream was flowing and so it became a lake, a very pretty lake which covered the swamp and so on.  And so my grandfather improved it and built a little mill from wood.  But my grandfather and my father finished this…they made it from stones.  It was a big building and we had our own quarries.  It was built from sand stone.  It is stone which is soft when you took it out from the ground, but after a while, it gets very tough.  So that was our mill.
I remember my parents telling me there was a lot of shooting in 1916 because the Germans were attacking.  It was sort of the borderline between Germany and Russia because Poland did not exist in this time.  And our place was under the Russian occupation.  So my parents ran and hide, hid in the mill.  Not only them, but a lot of people because the walls were very thick.  As a matter of fact, they were about a yard thick and the bullets couldn’t do anything around them.  That I still remember.
And I was a boy about 10…I was still attending the school, the grammar school.
PRINCE:                   The what?
SZAPSZEWICZ:       Grammar school.  And my parents hired a sort of a tutor, a Jewish rabbi that taught me the Jewish…taught me to read and write Yiddish.  He taught me to read Hebrew.  He taught me the high books Pentateuch and the Gemara and everything.  And I was supposed to be…they call it…Ilui.  Ilui means a scholar in the Jewish torah and this was going till I was 14.  When I finished my grammar school, I was the only one in the family where 7 children, 4 brothers and 3 sisters.  And I wanted to study further.  There was no highschool near the place.  So my parents decided because I’m so willing, they sent me to a city.  I was very small, actually.  I grew when I was about 17.  I was…still was, not afraid and I remember I walked through a forest every morning in, and by railroads.  I had to travel about 20 miles to school, it was.  The train didn’t go very often.  So I had to get up about 5 in the morning to catch my train and we got only one closk, you know, those Grandma clocks hanging on the wall.
So it happened one time…winter time…the clock broke down.  In the middle of the night I woke up and I said…”I have to probably get up, it’s late” because the roosters were crying (LAUGHTER) and there were no more watches at home.
PRINCE:                    No more what?
SZAPSZEWICZ:       No more, any watch…I didn’t  have a watch.  So finally my parents woke up.  He said, “Maybe you’re right, you better get up.”  And I got up, dressed and walked…oh, it was snow deep and walked to the station.  But I wondered, because normally I would meet some other people and I didn’t meet anybody.  Finally I came to the station and from far away, I saw a train coming in the direction what I needed so I thought that this must be my train.  I was sure, and I started running but I couldn’t make it.  So anyway, when I came to the station, the train was gone.  So I said, “there’s another train.”  I would wait.  When I came to the station, I looked up…it was (LAUGHTER) one in the morning!  There was no way to go home, so I just sat the whole night in the station on that bench.  (LAUGHTER)  That’s my memory.  And I asked my parents and finally they bought me a little watch.
So you see, if we go farther…I graduated from this highschool.  This was rather, I would say, not a highschool.  It was sort of a business school which gave you right away, some bookkeeping and I could type, shorthand…so it was actually preparing people for clerks.
PRINCE:        So…and you were not going to work on the farm?
SZAPSZEWICZ:         No.
PRINCE:                      Okay.  Let me ask you this.  Let’s go to 1939.
SZAPSZEWICZ:          Okay, 1939 as I told you.  In 1938 I came back from my military service which I served in the Polish Army for 2 years…in Cavalry.  I got a horse, a saber, a lance.  I was rather very well built and in good health because you know, two years in the Polish, more than two years even, in the military, gave me a good stamina.
PRINCE:                       Did they draft everybody?
SZAPSZEWICZ:           Yes, draft them.  My brothers, one was a younger brother, was about 10 years younger, so he shouldn’t go.  But my two older brothers, they draft too.  But usually they didn’t pick the Jewish soldiers.  They left them home like they got too many soldiers.  They couldn’t draft all of them.  They put them on the books and let them stay home.  But they picked me up.  I don’t know, for some reason they liked me and so I served those 2 years.
And when I came back it was 1938 and luckily because it was very difficult in this time for a Jewish boy to get a job.  It was before even when I went to the service, I got a job in a Jewish bank.  I worked those bookkeeping, and so.  But the bank went int bankruptcy.  It was recession time.  It was worse even than in America…in Europe.
PRINCE:                          Excuse me Jacob…was it because it was harder for a Jewish boy to get a job because of the economic situation, and they took the non-Jews forst, or…?
SZAPSZEWICZ:              It was first the economic situation: secondly, a very good job usually you could get on the railroad or the government.  But they wouldn’t hire Jews, absolute.  When I graduated from this school, whatever it was, I was the best student, undoubtedly, and all my friends…students, boys and girls, they all mostly get jobs and I didn’t get any.  It was impossible for a Jewish boy to get a job.
PRINCE:                           So what did young Jewish people do?
SZAPSZEWICZ:               Usually they went in trades.  They became cobblers, dressmakers, or tailors, or they went to merchants.  I don’t know.  And oh,sometimes I sat on the bench and did nothing.  It was a very difficult situation for the Jewish youth, very difficult. It was practically impossible to get some employment…even you couldn’t get…we got some industry, tanneries in this little town.
PRINCE:                             Tanneries?
SZAPSZEWICZ:                Tanneries, yeah.  They made leather, but no Jewish man could get a job there.  So you see, luckily I was…my parents were rather wealthy people so I stayed at home.  So did all my brothers…my sisters.  There was no way to get a job.
But I got this job in the bank before I went to the military for half a year and I liked it.  But the bank went into bankruptcy so this was finished.
When I came back from the military, I think it was…I was a good subject to be a good employee because I was very well built, healthy and so it was a brick factory, close to us, which a Jew owned it.  All Polish employees worked in it…Polish.  He hired me because I absolutely didn’t look like a Jew.  My behaviour, my language, was all typical Polish and he hired me.  And I got the job and I was happy with it.  It didn’t pay much but at least I had something to do.  This was from about springtime 1939 till the war started.
About 5 days before the war, I was a mobilization, you know..I don’t know whether you know, there was some announcement and all those soldiers had to go there and there…so it was my name…not my name…my category.  So I had to go.  But before we went there, everything fell apart.  The whole government.  And we didn’t get a chance to do anything.  So I came back to home.
So it’s, it’s not a very well known situation that Germany…Germany overran Poland.  It occupied at least this half of the country where we lived.  They occupied Poland.  One part went to Russia but it was the eastern part.  We were in the middle that was taken by the Germans.
My first encounter with the Germans…we didn’t meet the Germans when they occupied Poland.  They were very busy.  First of all, they had to liquidate the Polish army.  There was some pockets of resistance so they didn’t have time to take care of the Jewish people, especially, for we lived on a farm and so they didn’t think Jewish were there.  So mostly they took care of the city.  But anyway, one time I was outside and I came back home…I saw everybody so excited and scared and my mother said, “Son, go right away and see a German wanted to kill your father.”  So I went to the other room and the German was yelling to my father, and my father didn’t understand what he was talking about, and he hold a gun in a hand.  So I spoke fluent German and asked him what he want.  And he said, “the dumb Jew.”  He probably didn’t know that I’m Jewish, “The dumb Jew doesn’t want to give me a chicken – I needed one.”  I says, “Okay, you’ll get a chicken right away.”  (LAUGHTER)  It’s funny because you know a chicken  and when they lay a lot of eggs, they want to sit on those eggs to have small chickens.  So there was such a chicken sitting there…it was very skinny…with feathers and bones.  So I grabbed those chickens (LAUGHTER) and gave it to him.  And he was satisfied and said, “Thank you” and was gone!  We had a lot of talking and laughs from this.  This was my first encounter with the Germans.  It was rather not so bad, but this was only the beginning.
PRINCE:                 What happened to your family?  They took them to a ghetto?
SZAPSZEWICZ:     And you see we were living in this…still in our house and everything for about 2 years.  So finally the Germans settled down and they found out…they, they, they passed laws…that Jews couldn’t have any real estate in the country.  They couldn’t have anything so they…we had to leave the house.  We had to leave everything and we moved to this little town and that was my parents move, and so did we.
PRINCE:                  To a ghetto?
SZAPSZEWICZ:     To the ghetto.  It wasn’t such a bad ghetto.  It was…we could still get out a little bit and so on.  We were supposed to carry those signs of David on the body, but if I didn’t carry it, who could recognize me?  But anyway…
PRINCE:                  This was 1941?
SZAPSZEWICZ:     This was about 1941.  In 1942, it was the beginning of springtime, they took my father.  They took several prominent Jewish people form this little town and they killed him.  (VOICE FADES)
PRINCE:                For what reason?
SZAPSZEWICZ:   Oh, the reason was because a young boy…a Jewish boy…was fighting another Polish boy and beat him up.  And this Polish boy went and he said, he’s from German ancestry, and the Jews beat him up.  So the Germans came and said…there used to be listed in the town at this time, a Jewish self…like a self-governemnt or something…Judenrat.  So they went to this Judenrat and they said, “Okay, we’re going to kill all of you because a German was beaten by the Jews.”  He find out they had to give him a lot of money, so he decided they will take only 20 Jews.  And how to take the 20 Jews?  There was nobody wanted to give them the names.  So they said, finally they came to the conclusion, that all those Jewish people who got something to do with the Germans, or arrested or something, the first 40 names will go.  And because my father was arrested about the mill, because we, before we moved out somebody stole all those…some parts of the machinery…we didn’t know who.  They thought we did it.  They took my father.  So finally they found who did it  (VOICE FADES AWAY)  and took it back and they got it on the list.  And they took my father and shoot him.  So this was the first, the whole series what they did.
Now in 1942, they start…they called in Aussiedlung…to take out all the Jewish people from the small nearby towns; put them in a larger place.  And later they took them to mostly Trablinka or other places to exterminate.  So my father didn’t live in this time, and…and I felt that we, several young people from…that lived in Szydlowiec…that we decided what are we going to do?  So we went into a German installation, they called in Hermann Goring Werkes and we went there, you know, for money and we became like employees for this…yes, Starachowice.
PRINCE:                   Well, could you just go there?  I thought it was a camp where they took you?  I don’t understand.
SZAPSZEWICZ:       No, they didn’t take me.  We went voluntarily to, just to be able to move.  Because in this time was if you show up on the street, they caught you, right away.  So we had to be in hiding…all the time.  So it was better to go there and for money they gave us (so-called), they called Ausweiss.  An Ausweiss was a document which told the authorities that you are employed by the Germans.  They shouldn’t do anything to you.  So we got this Ausweiss because this enabled us to go in the streets and do something.  We still had some things we saved from home to sell them.  We had to live.  There was no other income, so if you were not able to move at all, so you had to starve!  So this what we did and this helped up for about, oh, 3 – 4 months, but later we find out that they’re going tomake anyway this final solution to this little town, Starachowice.  So in this time we finish in Starachowice.
PRINCE:                      You and a couple…?
SZAPSZEWICZ:          I and my younger, my younger brother.  So when we found out that they already surrounded the town and what’s going to happen to those people?  We went to the Germans.  For money, you could always talk to them and they set a trap and I was able to save my sister which lived still in this town.  My other sester was caught…another, another factory was Skarzysko.  And my sister came.  She had been together with me…my sister, my younger brother.  I didn’t know what happened to my mother.  So at night I traveled to Szydlowiec and walked around.  The city was completely destroyed.
I’ll never forget the first time when I came to this town.  It was some time in September.  So I thought that a snow fel down because everything was white and it showed up that the peasants came to rob the city.  They found a lot of Jewish…you know, those covers.  Oh, from feather beds and pillows.  They couldn’t carry so many, so they just opened them, throw out the feathers and took only the covers because it was more important.  Imagine, it was about 1,000 families and they pulled all those feathers (LAUGHTER)   over the city…with everything colored white!  (LAUGHTER)  Yes, it was completely from feathers.  So I was wondering what happened.  The snow fell in Szydlowiec?  It wasn’t the snow…it was feathers!
PRINCE:                        Did they do that so no one else…so the Germans couldn’t have them?
SZAPSZEWICZ:            No, they just wanted to rob…just for themselves.
PRINCE:                         Oh, other people did it?
SZAPSZEWICZ:            Peasants…Polacks, to rob it.  You see, the Jews left everything…they didn’t…yeah.
PRINCE:                         Oh, I see, I see.
SZAPSZEWICZ:            Yeah.  Because they wanted to rob and he came with a little wagon.  How many pillows could he put on this wagon, let’s see, 15-20?  But this wasn’t enough.  So he rather throw out the feathers because the peasants could always, cout get those feathers.  They got plenty of geese.  But they couldn’t get the linen…that’s what they needed.  So he got covered everything.  With a little wind, and covered everything with those feathers.  It was terrible!  And I went to this place where we lived because we hid something in the walls…what we got, you know, every Jew had those…some silver, those knives, and…
PRINCE:                        Candlesticks?
SZAPSZEWICZ:            Candlesticks.  And all that jewelry which probably wasn’t worth much.  But anyway, they found it, and nothing was left.  And finally somebody else told me that my mother was killed too.  She tried to run away from this town and they caught her and killed her.  But my oldest brother was taken out and probably killed too, someplace.  But my…another brother, he was about 3 years older that I.  They told me that he is somewhere.  He is hiding somewhere.  And I tried to find him and it was very difficult.
PRINCE:                         When you say “they”, who were “they”?  You said “they” told you your mother…
SZAPSZEWICZ:             All the…when I say “they” – I mean the Polish peasants.
PRINCE:                          Some of them helped you?
SZAPSZEWICZ:             Yes, some did.  But you couldn’t trust them, you see.  After all, I wasn’t such a weakling.  They couldn’t do much to me.  I tried, they should never knew where I was.  I was came and asked him a question.  And he answered or he didn’t.  And later I went.  He couldn’t tell where I did go.
PRINCE:                           You must have been devastated by hearing about your mother?
SZAPSZEWICZ:              You can imagine.  You know in this time, we lived a special life.  It’s difficult for a person who didn’t go through this to understand how we felt.
PRINCE:                            How did you feel?
SZAPSZEWICZ:               I felt like (PAUSE) like a…a…completely, like a different person.  I couldn’t recognize myself.  I could never believe that I will be able to live if such things happen to me.  I thought that such things will happen, I’ll simply go and take a stake and hang myself or kill myself.  But I didn’t do that.  I didn’t even think about this because you know there is something in people…something inner-strength which we never know that it exists.  When such a situation comes, it shows up.  You are able to do things what you never even think that you were able to do it.  You can live without food for a week, let’s see, and don’t feel sick…weak…I mean.  You can sleep outside in cold weather and not get a cold.  You are being so strong because I think this is some inner-strength which, in a very difficult situation, shows up in by people.
PRINCE:                           Some people?
SZAPSZEWICZ:              Some people.  Probably everybody gets it more or less, but maybe some got it more.  Anyway, I always was considered a very weak person.  I was always sick at home.  Every winter I was sick and mother always said, “Oh, my Jake, you will never survive.”  Even when I went to the military, and I did survive, and later I was stronger than anybody else.  I never was sick.  I think that something, inner-strength, released my body or something…or my soul.  Whatever it was, released in me, so I could survive.  I could be…still live with all those things what happened to me…and still even looking for mother.  I knew father was killed.  But, tomake a long story short, I found my brother.  He was in a terrible situation.  First he got diarrhea, and in the worst, what you can’t even emagine.  I don’t know shy, anyway he was completely…
PRINCE:                            Dehydrated?
SZAPSZEWICZ:               Dehydrated.  But he was so scared.  He was like…normally he was such a handsome boy and rapidly he changed.  He completely was like a scared animal.  So it didn’t happen this to me.  Anyway, I took him with me to this place where we lived…to Starachowice.  It was not such a big control.  Normally the Germans never knew how many Jews they had.  And we took him and so I could even do this.  So they let him go to a doctor.  There was no Jewish doctor, a Christian doctor, and he gave him some medication and he was cured.  And later he looked very good.  But anyway to a certain time, he worked on in a factory.  He was (VOICE FADES)  unlucky…something happened.  You know there were people on trains and he went to a machine and he was hurt.  And he hurt himself…his hand.  So he had to go to a doctor…should do something to him…he couldn’t work.  So after a while the Germans collected all those peoplee who were injured, to kill them.  I hid him and didn’t let him go, but we couldn’t hide him for long.  So he went with my younger brother to another place.  The Jews could still live and work, but this place was taken care of too after a while, so both of them were taken to Treblinka probably , and killed.
So from all my family, what I know, I still had 2 sisters.  One sister was with me together, and the younger sister was in another camp.  They caught her about a month before.  And so I was living in this camp.  It was a very bad situation.  We were dirty.  We didn’t have a shirt.  There was a lot of vermin, you know.  You can imagine, we didn’t have any soap.  We didn’t have water.  What happened to people?  But still one thing was very important.  We were in a surrounding with people like myself.  Everybody was in the same situation.  So after a while, psychologically, we just adjusted to this situation.  We thought that that’s the way you should live.  I didn’t wonder anymore.  I just took it for a normal situation like it is to work in those rocks, in those wooden shoes…not to have a shirt…to be so dirty.  To be always hungry.  But I didn’t…I stopped wondering for this.  It was for me, normal, completely normal.
And this was till 19…to 1944.  As I told you, we worked still with Polish people too.  And I developed some friendship with Polish people.  And one time a Pollack came to me and said, “Jake,”…he was living about 60 miles east from this place.  He came every day by train.  “You know, Jake, I lived by the Vistula and the right bank of the Vistula, already the Russians came there.  We knew that the Russians were coming and I suppose in a couple of days they will reach here.  And what I heard the Germans are going to kill all the Jewish people before the Russians could liberate you.”  I didn’t believe in this, but anyway, some sort of a …it’s difficult for me to explain it.  It was some nervousness…people were running around like everybody believes they are going to kill us…and sort of a riot happened.  Because I was strong and young still, because a lot of Jewish people in this time were very weakling, and we called them “Musselman.”  Did you ever hear such an expression?
PRINCE:                     Yes.
SZAPSZEWICZ:         I wasn’t a Musselman.  I was very strong.
PRINCE:                      That was someone who gave up.
SZAPSZEWICZ:         Yeah.  I never gave up.  So we just broke through the walls.  It was this barbed wire and a guard came with a machine gun and started shooting.  I remember that we caught and we killed the guard and took away his machine gun even, and we ran away.  But it still was, you see, this whole place was in a forest but what the Germans did…they cleared about 400 or 500 yards around from trees so we had to run in an open place.  And they were sitting on those high places, turrets, and they got machine guns and they killed everybody.  I felt the bullets flying around me like…like hail!  Unbelievable that no bullets hit me.  One bullet…I had some cap on my head so I threw out the cap on my head.  My head hurt me a little bit, but it was only the skin was burned.  And I had a jacket, and the jacket was shoot through, and no bullet caught me.  And anyway, we escaped.  It was after this, my sister which left told me, that other day, they get out.  The Germans let them go and look for their relatives, because she was sure that she’ll find me.  But she didn’t find me.  There was about 400 corpses laying.  I imagine maybe 10 people escaped alive and I was between.  And from those 10, maybe 2 or 3 survived because others were caught and killed anyway.  I was running in this woods and I was so…I couldn’t run forever.  I had to lay down a little and rest and I fell asleep, and it woke me up.  I heard dogs, dogs…hounds…You see those hounds, they got special hounds to train those German Shepherds.  They probably felt the scent of people and there were the Germans after them.  So I knew what’s going to happen when they’ll find me.  But near me was a big tree which a tornado it fell down…a tree fell down.  It pulled out all the roots.  It was a very deep hole and because it was raining a couple of days before, there was a lot of water in this hole.  I read all those books how to escape those, specially American books.  I went into this hole covered with water, and covered myself with leaves…dry leaves, and those hounds couldn’t smell me anymore.  They went close and went away and so I survived.
PRINCE:                          Were you by yourself?
SZAPSZEWICZ:              I was by myself.  Later when I went farther, another boy, a Jewish boy, he came to me.  I don’t know…he ran away too, but he didn’t know the surroundings because after all those…Starachowice was only 40 miles away from the place where I was brought up and this boy was from the city of Lublin in Poland…about 300 miles away.  So he probably would get lost but when he saw me, he was so happy and I was happy too.
Okay, we went together and we walked.  I knew…I looked on the stars, so I figured out what I knew I’d have to go east…east by north, north -east.  And we walked in this direction so I came out from the forest.  We were tired and we just lay down a little by the same edge of the forest and we were watching.  This was about 10 or 11 in the morning.  It was a BEAUTIFUL day (SAID WITH FEELING).  It was such a wonderful day!  It was so quiet and we saw it was a field of rye and a farmer was going with a sythe.  Did you ever see a scythe?  And he was cutting this rye.  He was moving back and forth, and so peaceful.  And we were so hungry, so we went.  And he went away a little bit.  We came and grabbed a little of those rye and we ate it.  Those kernels are still soft.  They dry out later and we couldn’t chew them.  After a while, we saw the farmer’s wife is coming because lunchtime was close.  And she was coming with those dishes of food.  You probably never saw those dishes.  It’s two pots together…made together,,,from clay, burned out.  In Polish they called it “bwajczke.”  So we knew that the one pot, at least I knew, in one pot is potatoes and the other pot, Borscht, and she got it in a cloth, because who got paper?
She came close and she put away this food and the bread and she went farther to the husband to help him a little, or something.  When she was gone we, I, went out slowly…slowly.  I sneaked and caught this food with the bread.  Imagine how we enjoyed it!  It was very good (LAUGHTER).  It’s a long time…I didn’t taste so good and we ate, and finished everything.  We were, we were so hungry.  We didn’t eat maybe for 24 hours and what kind of food you already have.  We always were hungry.  We were starving.  And at least we been so many hours on the fresh air in the forest…and was so clean and nice…so we were even more hungry.  So we ate everything.  Okay.  And when we finished, we lay down and whatch what’s going to happen.  So finally we saw the woman coming back with the man and they probably came back to eat.  And she started looking for the food and couldn’t find it.  You know what happens when a man puts something in and lose it.  She thought maybe she put it in another place.  So she looked in another place.  And the man was starting mad because farmers always mad when he’s hungry.  He kept looking and looking and started quarreling…both of them.  And finally a thought struck him…who knows…I didn’t understand this.  Maybe somebody took it and they started running away, because they DID understand that somebody took the food.  So they were scared.  When they ran away…we were scared.  There was a neighbor village, maybe a half a mile.  So even we were tired and we had to move away.
PRINCE:                    I was wondering shy you, after you ate the food…didn’t run away?
SZAPSZEWICZ:      No…we were not scared from one peasant, how could we be scared of one peasant?  I was afraid he would get the whole village.  So we slowly…I never went back to this place, but it’s still in mind.  I can still see how peaceful it looked.  In the back was a pine forest.  You’d have to know the pine forest in summertimes…it smells so wonderful!
PRINCE:                    Like nothing was going on in the world?
SZAPSZEWICZ:       It was so peaceful, and we had to move away. (VOICE FADES)  Let’s stop for a while.  (Tape stops)  Okay.  It was June 1944…a long time.  If I would knew at this time what situation is going to await me, I don’t know if I would decide to live because, I was still…I still believed that the Russians when they started and they may reach the Bistula.  In Vistula…you have to remember that this place where I been in wasn’t more than about 60 – 70 miles from Vistual.  I was sure they’ll go farther in and in a couple of days we’ll get them.  Now I was thinking, “Where should I go?”  And the only place that I knew where to go is the place where we lived…is our house…our surrounding.  I knew every stone, every patch.  So that was the place where I went at, but where to go?  I was alone.  Even a lot of people were around because there were no Jewish people living.
PRINCE:               The other boy?
SZAPSZEWICZ:  The other boy was still with me, but he didn’t know anybody.  So I decided that the only place that maybe they’ll take us for a while, is (we had…it’s a long story, maybe I won’t tell about this).  But he was thief, this man.  He was only…he was like a “pasorzyp.”  His only income was stealing from us.  So we hired him like a night watchman…he stops stealing so (LAUGHTER).  I knew him quite well.  And I went to him.  He…he was happy.  I promised him a lot and he knew that we were wealthy people…he knew.  So he said, “Okay.”
PRINCE:  What could you promise him?  You didn’t have anything.
SZAPSZEWICZ:   Yes.  But he didn’t know about this.  I didn’t have it, so I could promise him.  And, uh…even if I didn’t have it, I still had chances to have and he didn’t lose any money on me.  If you would listen to the whole story…he got plenty!  So, he let us stay in the barn.  He liked us for a while.  And he said, “So, look, look, my boys, if you stay with me, I cannot go to work because I have to watch you all day to look around.  So the only way, you don’t have any money to pay me…so the only way what you can do is go out at night and I will tell you where to go and you will go and steal and bring it to me.”  Now imagine myself…a boy from a good Jewish family…a boy who had studied Torah too, for 14 years.  I wouldn’t even think to steal a pin or something!  It was a shock.  But that’s the way he was.  If I wanted to live.  I said, “Alright, we’re going to steal.  Where should I go to steal?”  The first thing what came to my mind is that, I didn’t tell him, I’m going to steal my own mill (laughter), not mine…it was ours…my parents.  And I knew every place.  I knew that in our mill was a water wheel and we moved out the water wheel.
PRINCE:        Water wheel?
SZAPSZEWICZ:  Yeah, wheel.  And we put that turbine, so it was a big hole in the wall.
PRINCE:  Put it through what?
SZAPSZEWICZ:  Put that turbine…
PRINCE: Turbine?
SZAPSZEWICZ: Turbine…this is a machine that goes under water.  It gives a lot of more energy with the same amount of water.  So, the water wheel had to have a big wooden pole which carries this.  It was a big hole in the wall.  So I remember that we hired a carpenter and he put some…oh…some of this wooden…he made those wooden, those pieces and covered this hole, but I knew how we can remove it.  And at night they didn’t work at the mill.  I went quietly and I asked him to stay outside…the other boy.  And he has a whistle if something goes wrong…he should whistle, (LAUGHTER) but nothing was wrong.  And I removed those wooden boards and went inside the mill!
PRINCE: Didn’t it seem strange to be home?
SZAPSZEWICZ:  (PAUSE)  It was very strange.  It came to my mind thae happy occasions when we were playing with children…as children…in the mill.  Now later with my parents…but you see, life is life.  I didn’t have time.  I had to do it fast.  So I knew there’s a big door downstairs which was closed from the inside and a key was hidden under a stone.  And can you imagine, the key was still under the stone!  So I took the key and opened the door.  Now there was a lot of sacks of flour and those bran.  We didn’t need bran…I wanted flour, but it was dark.  But you see, I was an old miller’s son…a miller’s son.  I knew by touch so I moved this flour inside.  It was, and I find out which is the best, finest flour with my fingers.  I didn’t need any lights and I carried out 2 sacks of flour and later locked the door from inside; put away the key under the stone; went outside with this hole; covered the hole with the board.  We came back and later we took those two big sacks of flour and carried them.  Boy, it was a heavy job to carry about 2 miles.  And you know, every sack was 80 kilograms which is about 200 pounds.  And it was so cold!  But we were wet completely and we carried it and we brought it.  So I was sure that at least we brought much of that flour, he would let us stay in peace for at least a week.  But this man wanted to get rich fast, and he pushed us.  We were, really we had no choice.  We had to listen to him what he did.  And so we had to go out and look for…it wasn’t every day what I could go steal to the mill.  We went other places.  And so finally, I adjusted myself…I became a very good thief.  (LAUGHTER)  Unbelievable!  But we did…
One time he told us that he needs

Tape 1 - Side 2

As I told you, he always made some pressure on us.  And there was a lot of things what he needed.  Actually he needed everything.  He didn’t have much.  He needed coal and in our wanderings at night, I saw some coal.  You know, those bricks made from coal dust…pressed.  A lot of coal.  In Poland usually people couldn’t buy only those bricks because better coal…and during the war, the Germans wouldn’t sell it         for private market.  So I said, “Okay, we’ll bring those coal bricks and let him have it.”  Boy, we put those two sacks of those bricks and it was so heavy.  And we carried so many miles and finally we brought this and left it.  And in the morning, we were expecting a big breakfast because we always wanted to eat.  We were always hungry.  But he didn’t bring us breakfast!  We were wondering what happened.  And after a while he came and he said, “Oh, what you brought me?” and he threw this and imagine!  This wasn’t…this wasn’t coal at all.  It was bricks from an old chimney because those bricks from an old chimney…from inside…they get black from the dust.  So I thought, “that’s coal.”  It wasn’t coal.  But anyway, after a while he said, “You know, it’s alright anyway because I need bricks.”  And he was satisfied.
PRINCE:               Jacob, did he have a family?
SZAPSZEWICZ:  Yes.  He had a wife and 6 children.
PRINCE:               And did they all know you were there?
SZAPSZEWICZ:  They all knew, they all knew that we are here, but the smaller children.  They were ever so smart.  They wouldn’t tell anybody that we are here.
PRINCE:               So, he…he helped you?
SZAPSZEWICZ:  He helped in some ways.  But you see, he risk our life every day because going out…he could be caught and finally we been caught.
PRINCE:               Okay.
SZAPSZEWICZ:  By going this, we had to cross a highway.
PRINCE:               Excuse me.  I just wanted to ask you.  Did you have enough food?  Did he feed you decently?
SZAPSZEWICZ:  No.  Not enough, but still we could survive…more than we got in the camp, but still not enough.  You can imagine how much we needed to eat at this time.
PRINCE:                 You talked about “lonesomeness” at one…
SZAPSZEWICZ:    We’ll reach this too.  Because in this time, I wasn’t lonesome, because I had another boy.  But in going to several places, we had to cross the highway and I told him…”Look, by crossing the highway you have to be very careful…don’t rush…go slowly because you never knew…the cars are going…in a second they can see you.  Don’t run away…just go slowly…they will move.”  And so I crossed the highway first and hid behind a bush and he was crossing the highway (the other boy).  When he was crossing, a car came and he started running because he stopped and run after him, and he couldn’t escape them.  They took him in the car.  When they took him in the cat, I was afraid.  I didn’t know what to do because I knew they’re going to…going to beat him so he will tell where he’d been.  And by telling, they’ll come and not only kill me, but kill this farmer too with his wife and the children.
PRINCE:                     Could you tell…were they Germans?
SZAPSZEWICZ:        Sure, they’re Germans.  There was no other cars but Germans.  Only Germans could drive a car.
PRINCE:                     Was it Army?
SZAPSZEWICZ:        It wasn’t Army.  I am sure it wasn’t Army.  They wouldn’t do it like this.  But you know what they did?  Later I found out, because this peasant told me that was seeing this.  He said to put him in the car, they didn’t want him to go in the car.  Maybe he smelled.  Maybe he was dirty.  So they put a chain on his neck and they bound him to the car.  The car was driving slowly, but even driving slowly, he couldn’t make it.  He fell and they didn’t see it.  So he hit with the head on a stone and killed himself…instantly.  This was a big, you see, a big shock for me…but on the other side…
PRINCE:                      He was like a brother to you?
SZAPSZEWICZ:         Yes.  But on the other side, it was big luck too that he was killed.  If not, he would tell this story.  No doubt of this because they start…they start beating you.  Nobody can stand it.  Everybody will say anything.  Never believe that you can stand it.  You have to tell what you know.  And when I find out he was killed, believe me, it was anothershock.  It was like, even worse, like my parents…like my brothers and sisters, because he was the only “one” with whom I could talk.  Now, I walked around single at night…big sky with all those stars, and it was cold and I walked by myself and thought about, “Boy, what a situation am I.  Worse than anybody, even a murderer, even worst murderer when he escapes from prison.  He always has some place where he can think of, with his parents, or girlfriend or a cousin or a friend.  There was no place in the world where I could go…where I could tell.”
When I walked around, I saw those old quarries, the stone quarries, with those holes always automatically, and I thought, “maybe here I can hide myself…maybe here.”  Because I never knew how long I can stay with him because he told us, “If the German military came in the village, you have to go.”  So, one time it happened.  They came in this village…they came in this village, so he went to me, “Jake, you have to go.”  So I went out, back of the barn…it was a winter day.  It wasn’t very cold at this time, but there was like a lot of fog.  The snow was melting.  So I thought, mmm, luckily there’s fog.  They won’t see me.  But the sun came out later and the fog settled.  I didn’t know where to go…where to go.  You see, there was no place to go.  I could walk at night.  At night I felt in my surroundings because nobody could see me.  But at daytime, it was the first time in, you couldn’t believe it…my eyes start hurting because I was used to walk at night.  I could see everything at night.  I could read very fine print at night but because I didn’t see any lights.  Later people told me…how few people I could talk to at this time, because they were scared of me because my eyes were lightening, when a wolf, you see, someway developed the whole light on concentrating on my eyes.  If you take a…let’s say a cat at night…I don’t know if you’ve watched a cat at night…when it’s dark.  The cat’s eyes will light like some…some light inside.  Was how few…how little light exist at night, he concentrates on those eyes.  They have a specific way to do it…those animals…some animals.
You know, I was very eager to know what’s happened in the world.  I knew it was D-Day and I knew the Allies landed in Normandy, but what happened?  I couldn’t even ask a peasant…he didn’t know.  So the Russians, they used to throw papers at night, after Stalingrad, when they caught so many Germans…so they…some Germans turned Communist and the cooperated with the Russians and they printed a German paper and they called this “Neuse Frevier Deutschland.”  And in this big paper, they flew in the planes at night and let those papers go and they thought that the German soldiers, by reading those papers, maybe they’ll turn around and kill the Hitler people and become Communists.  But the German soldiers didn’t believe in this.  But like the Russians always do something is wrong.
PRINCE:                   The Russians always did something wrong?
SZAPSZEWICZ:       Always dp something is wrong.  They wanted…it was a good idea to print those papers, but how did they print them?  I was studying German all my grades…in grammar school and highschool, but this German was in normal German…used in Germany.  The letters were normal letters.  The Latin letters like English, like Polish, the the Germans printed this paper in Gothic.  I don’t  know if you ever see Gothic.
PRINCE:                    Gothic?
SZAPSZEWICZ:        Uh huh.  Gothic letters were used in Germany in the middle ages and they are quite different than normal letters and I never knew how to read Gothic.  But you see, I was so eager to know all those news so I learned…I taught myself how to read Gothic.  And you wouldn’t believe it, but I could read it so fluent, like any German.  It didn’t bother me anymore.  I could read Gothic!  And still what I read…it was by the light of the moon.  And when you have to read fine print in Gothic, I can’t believe that I did, but I did.  And I knew all the old politics…all the news…everything!  I could sit down at night on a stone, let’s say, and reading the German paper in Gothic.  Sometimes I was laughing to myself.
PRINCE:                     It was like a dream…
SZAPSZEWICZ:        What I am doing here…reading Gothic (LAUGHTER).   But that’s what it was.  And boy, my loneliness was terrible.  Now you see how lonely I was, because I was longing for friends.  For somebody else with whom I could exchange…have some intercourse…talk to him…that’s all I wanted.  And this wasn’t possible.  I had, at daytime, I usually slept.  At night I wandered around.  Sometimes I came to my…to peasants, to farmers, I knew before then.  I had to go sometimes to ask them for some help…for food…or for some clothes, but this man wouldn’t give me anything.
PRINCE:                     Could you ever bathe?
SZAPSZEWICZ:         Pardon?
PRINCE:                      Could you ever bathe?  Would they let you bathe and keep clean?
SZAPSZEWICZ:         No.  Bathe!  Don’t think about it.  There was no bathe.  They didn’t have any…how could I?  They didn’t do it either.  You know they got…they went to the water in summertime.  Maybe it was hot and that’s all.  There was no bath…No…absolutely not…No.
PRINCE:                      That was the least…
SZAPSZEWICZ:          Yeah.  I didn’t think about it anyway.  I got other problems.  So even if I went to a house, sometimes, they wouldn’t keep me only a minute or two.  They wanted to get rid of me, because they were scared too.  And how many times I walked around and I saw houses and I saw a little light and I thought…”Oh, here’s a house and inside it’s warm and pleasant.  People are sitting and maybe they’re sleeping in a good bed…a clean bed.  And who am I?  What am I doing?  Will it work?”  I really had some doubt that it would work.  But as I told you, I build up some resistance and I said, “No…I have to survive.”  At least I can tell people what I went through.  And that’s the big reason that I’m ready to tell my story, because I promised myself that I’ll tell everybody.  I thought if I am the only survivor, that’s what I thought, so I will be something!  But it wasn’t this case.  After the war, when we survived, nobody cared about us…absolutely…especially in Poland.  You know what they wanted to do with us?  They wanted to send us to the mines, to dig coals…the survivors.  So I said, you see, it was different but still I believed that if I survived…I live through…I’ll be the happiest person.  But later I thought, how could I be happy after the hell I went through.  I got thoughts…someday I thought it would be alright.  Someday I thought…”this won’t be.”  It’s…so many years went through and this would be like everything would be “yesterday.”
And maybe, two months, I was alone.  But finally when I came to one place, they told me, “You know, your friend Moshe is around.”  I didn’t told you about Moshe…did I?  Moshe was a Jewish boy.  His family lived about a half a mile from us.  We were rather wealthy people and they were poor.  So, because wealthy Jews didn’t hink it’s nice to learn their children a trade…for some reason they thought to be a trademan is something not okay.  You see, the social status went down.  But Moshe came from a poor family.  They didn’t think about personal status, so he learned a trade.  When he was in my age…15, 16, he had some money because he worked in this little town.  And I din’t have…
PRINCE:               Interesting.
SZAPSZEWICZ:  Yeah.  And I didn’t have any.  My dad used to give me very little money…not enough.  So I decided, “Moshe, you know what?  I’m going to teach you,” because he didn’t know how to speak Polish…”how to read…to write.”  And believe me, I was a good teacher too.  I taught him so well that at least I taught him to read and to write Polish…very, not bad, even today he does it.  So he paid me a little money.
PRINCE:                Is he here?
SZAPSZEWICZ:   He’s not here, but he’s in Canada.  He survived.  So I heard that Moshe is here.  Oh, I was so happy, at least.  How can I find this Moshe?  I couldn’t go to the police and ask his address (LAUGHTER).  I couldn’t give him a call or something.
PRINCE:                He was hiding somewhere?
SZAPSZEWICZ:   He was hiding too, and how can two people find each other…to hide.  But you see, I knew all the place and as I told you, our mill was built on a long valley and at the bottom of this valley was a stream.  On the banks of the stream were rather swampy.  Swampy.  It wa difficult to cross.  So the only crissubg was…there was a bridge built and our mill was there.  But later the Germans put their guard, a sentry, a soldier was on the bridge, so this was absolutely impossible.  He couldn’t go through the bridge.  But I knew too, that in his wanderings, he has to cross the valley to be one place…on the other side.  So I thought, “He must cross it, but at what place can he cross?”  And I knew such a place, where the banks were a little high and the ground was rather dry.  So the little, little stream in this place people put some wooden planks, and this was considered like a little bridge.  It wasn’t very safe but he could cross it!  So I thought, “If he will cross this valley, he has to do it in this way…at this place.”  Then I came here.  I knew he’s not going to cross in the daytime and he’s not going to cross it late at night.  What for…late at night, everybody locks up their houses and wouldn’t let him in.  It’ll have to be someplace at night…but early night.  So I came all the time about 2 – 3…2 hours after sunset and I hid in this bushes  and was waiting.  And I was coming for maybe a week…no Moshe.  And sometimes it was cold and a fine rain was falling.  It was wet.  I was sitting outside still.  I felt it was about midnight that I dad to go back.  And I almost gave up.  And one time I saw, I didn’t see the man, I saw like a shadow, like something first because he was a night man too.  And he could walk quiet…went through this little bridge, and I said, “That must be Moshe” and I started yelling…what did I yell…I was scared to yell Yiddish or Polish.  I yelled, “Amcho.”  Amcho in Hebrew means “Jew.”  And we used to communicate in this way, and nobody could know what Amcho means.  I yelled, “Amcho, Amcho.”  He didn’t stop.  So I ran after him and he ran too and I felt he was scared of me, sure.  He didn’t know who am I.  And I felt that I’m not going to catch him and I started yelling, “Moshe, Moshe” and he stopped.
PRINCE:               Oh boy, he must have been…(LAUGHTER)
SZAPSZEWICZ:   He stopped so finally I came and boy, you can imagine…and this Moshe was short.  I don’t know if you heard such expressions “Spritzer.”  He always, always, always overdid it a little when he talked with somebody.  If somebody’s rich, he made him “Rothschild.”  If somebody’s fat, he made him 500 pounds.  Always more. (LAUGHTER)  I knew him for a long time.
PRINCE:                Exaggerated.
SZAPSZEWICZ:    Exaggerated, yeah.  So he said, “Jake, you know how happy you are you make me.”  I said, “Why?”  And he says, “From this time we’re going to have food, everything…even we’re going to eat chicken.”  You know, chicken was considered one to the best.  (LAUGHTER)  And I said, “Why, Moshe?”  And he says, “Don’t you know?”  And he puts his hand in the pocket and I was sure he was going to pull out some gold coins because gold coins in this time…you could buy everything.  But you know what he took out?  He took out…he pulled out those pliers what you cut barbed wire with.  And he said, “This.”  And I said (LAUGHTER),  “How come, what, what we going to have?”  (LAUGHTER)  Yeah, I just couldn’t answer him…and said, “What is this, he’s crazy or something,” for those pliers he’s going to have everything.  He said, but finally I understood because he said, “Thanks to these pliers, he could cut the barbed wire.”
PRINCE:                And get into the…
SZAPSZEWICZ:    And escape from the camp which was already planned for extermination.  And he escaped so he considered those pliers are so worthless?  They’re, having these pliers, he’s safe and rich and everything.
PRINCE:                  Wait a minute.  Back up…the pliers saved him?
SZAPSZEWICZ:     Saved his life.
PRINCE:                   He’s already used them to escape from…
SZAPSZEWICZ:      To escape from a camp.  So he just developed up some sort of like a “fetish,” you know, like he believed like some people…something around the throat, here…neck.
PRINCE:                   Lucky charm?
SZAPSZEWICZ:      Yeah, lucky charm.  He going to war.  He not going to be killed.  So he believed in this.  Alright.  So I didn’t s’y anything.  Anyway, it’s very interesting that this Moshe survived the war, together with me and later I lost him.  And after a while I find out being here in America that he, he lives in Toronto.
PRINCE:                   Did you contact him?
SZAPSZEWICZ:      Yes.  And we wrote letters to us…to eachother.  Finally he married and has a pretty daughter, and his daughter got married, and he invited us.  I and Maria, we went to the wedding..You should see what kind, it was a beautiful wedding, and it was a beautiful, pretty girl too…very pretty.
PRINCE:                    Did he still have the pliers?
SZAPSZEWICZ:        Wait a minute.  Just don’t rush…(LAUGHTER), I’ll tell you.
PRINCE:                     (LAUGHTER)…I’m sorry.
SZAPSZEWICZ:         And it was a beautiful…the girl was very pretty and educated.  She’s an anchor in television…anchor girl in Toronto.  Hew groom is a young lawyer.  It was a pretty…it was a beautiful wedding and a big shul because in Toronto, Canada it is always in the shuls…special build for this.  And there was special tables to sit down.  So his wife happened to have a lot of sisters, I think 4 and 5, and 3 brothers.  So they a big family, so those 5 sisters and the brother-in-law were sitting close, but not to this table.  This table was Moshe, his wife, myself and Maria.  So after…during the wedding something like a (LAUGHTER) fight develops…not a fight…they start talking.  I heard those women and they say, “Why you took a stranger to your table and you didn’t put your wife’s sister?”  Then Moshe said, “He’s not a stranger (PAUSES)  he’s more than a brother because we went through.”  “And you know, you don’t know anything, “ he said…”He will know what it is.”  And he said, “I still carry this.”  And he took out from his pocket the pliers and he says, “You see, what I got?”
PRINCE:                      Oh, oh…
SZAPSZEWICZ:      And I just was smiling.
PRINCE:                   Well, maybe he was right.
SZAPSZEWICZ:       And I thought, “Moshe is always Moshe. (LAUGHTER) He never changes.”
PRINCE:                    (LAUGHTER)  He never changes.  That’s really unbelieveable that you were born so close and…
SZAPSZEWICZ:        Yeah, it’s unbelievable.  But this is happened.  And from this time on, we’ve been together…this Moshe.  And, and, oh, it’s a long story.  Anyway, probably the tape’ll go out shortly…no?
PRINCE:                      No.
SZAPSZEWICZ:         As I told you before, we been together and it wasn’t so lonely now anymore.  We talked all the time.  Boy, if I think about what we talked.  We discussed philosophy.  We discussed a lot of things.  And mostly what we talked how lucky we will be when we survive.  We did believe because the Russians start their offensive and we knew they’re not going to stop…at least, I, from reading those Russians papers in Gothic German…I was a whole politician.
PRINCE:                      Run for office…(LAUGHTER)
SZAPSZEWICZ:         Yeah.  So one time I remember we went…I think this was, uh, New Year’s Eve, and we went to this mill of ours and those Russians were burning those bonfires and skating on the ice of this lake that belonged to us and singing.  And I was laying with Moshe on the top of a hill and looking down.  And I thought to myself, “Boy, look those Russians are dancing and skating on the lake what I used to do sometimes, and now I’m laying in this snow.”  How the world changs.  So I believe that the tables will turn around sometimes, and maybe we will be in the top like the wheel history turns around.  We are the bottom.  It’s possible to go up as long as you live, and everything can happen to you.  Because I’ll never believe that I will be in such situation like I was there.  I knew beggars, they are poor people, but such a poor man like I was at this time probably doesn’t exist.  It was aout three years that I didn’t have a shirt.  It was about a year and a half that I washed myself with a little soap.
PRINCE:                      You mean you had no shirt?
SZAPSZEWICZ:         No.
PRINCE:                      Then you were just walking around bare?
SZAPSZEWICZ:         No.  I got some rags…some, some coat because it was cold.  I wouldn’t survive to walk around without nothing!  Oh, some nice woman even…she knew me, and her son went with me to school.  So she was even crying.  She says, “Oh poor Jake, what happened to you?”  She gave me away her son’s coat.  The coat…it was a very good coat.  It was like a padded jacket and it was a Russian padded jacket.  So even when I survived later, I still had this coat.  We went to this little town, Szydlowiec, and I was sleeping there and at night a Russian soldiers came to control it.  And they turned the light on me and said, “What you have?  You have a Russian jacket…give it back to me.”  And I said, “Look, it’s the only thing what I have.  It’s cold.”  And he said, “You’re giving the jacket or not?”  If not, he going to kill you and he took the machine guns and I said, “Okay, get it.”  He got more than he expected, at least, there’s a hundred thousand lice in this jacket.  (LAUGHTER)  He can have it.  He didn’t expect this.
PRINCE:                      Jacob, was it unusual for the peasants not to turn you in?
SZAPSZEWICZ:         The problem is…I could never believe the peasants, if they would turn me in or not.  Because maybe three days before the Russians walked, came, I didn’t know about this…that in one family, there was a Jewish one, Russia, peasant family was a Jew.  A man, a wife and two children hidden.  And somebody turned them in.  In maybe three days befire the Russians came…the Germans came…took them out, and shoots them and took away the Polish people too.  So you could never knew what’s going to happen!  Probably not everybody would turn you in, but I could never believe and I would never try to tell anybody where I was.  So in this time, thanks to this prabably, I survived, because I never told anybody.  They, they didn’t even ask me.  Some did ask me, so I said, “I’m not anyplace…I’m just in a hole…one night in this hole…another night in this hole.”
PRINCE:                 You had to be very strong not to tell because you needed people to talk to.
SZAPSZEWICZ:    Yes.  Yes, you had to be.  After a while you get so, you know, you became like a wild animal.  By instinct you do it.  Because I believe every creature has an instinct which works automatically.  When you are in good situation like we are now, this instinct probably sleeps.  It doesn’t exist completely.  But when you are in such situation as I was, the instinct came to life.  And I did a lot of things, you don’t know why, by instinct, and this saved my life.
For example – I’ll tell you this one time, I and Moshe, we were walking and one place and maybe half a mile, far away, we heard some dogs yelling and so on.  And I didn’t know anything about…nobody told me…I didn’t see anything.  I didn’t hear anything but something inside me told me…there is danger.  And I said, “Moshe, let’s run back.”  And we started running back and when we started running, we heard, “Halt, Halt” in German and they start shooting to us.  You know there were hidden German soldiers in the bushes and we would come closer, they would caught us.  And why did I turn back and start running back?  I don’t know,  I still wouldn’t know, but this is an instinct I believe…
PRINCE:      Back to “trust” for a minute.  I would like to ask you a question.
PRINCE:                   Did you find it difficult to begin to trust people again?
SZAPSZEWICZ:      It was very difficult.  You see, it was a long time…you wouldn’t believe it.  It took a long time before I adjusted myself to a new way of life.  I’ll give you an example.  For example, when the Russians came and it was already safe for me…the first thing what I wanted to get clean.  It was very important to me…very, terrible.  So I went to a lady I knew and we were friendly.  Very nice lady and her husband was in business with us.  And when she saw me…the first time she saw me…and she started crying and she told me her husband had been killed by the Germans too because it was intelligentsia.  Usually the Germans killed the Polish intelligentsia too.  And she said, “Oh, I know you probablyare dirty (she proposed to me) and she called…she got a maid and they started in…they didn’t have a bathroom, you know.  It’s still a Polish village but they warmed a lot of water and brought it in a special little room…a big barrel…and put the water there and took all my clothes with forks, and burned EVERYTHING I got.  It was unusable anymore and I was washing and washed myself and everything with soap and later she gave me all the clothes from her husband…clean and everything.  Boy, I felt…
PRINCE:                   You must have felt…
SZAPSZEWICZ:       I felt wonderful.  But after, maybe, an hour or two, I felt…I realized I’m…I’m full with those…
PRINCE:                   Lice?
SZAPSZEWICZ:      Lice again.  Because, it may be difficult to talk about, but a matter of fact, they were sitting in my skin…in my flesh.  And you couldn’t get rid of them.
PRINCE:                   How did you?
SZAPSZEWICZ:      So I went to a doctor.  A doctor I knew before and he was very happy seeing me and I told him what I wanted is some ointment or something.  And he said, “You know Jake, today I don’t have it, but tomorrow I’m going to have…the Russians soldiers have a special powder which came from America.  And this powder is called DDT.”
PRINCE:                  Oh, my.
SZAPSZEWICZ:     He said, “Come tomorrow and we’ll get rid…you’ll get rid of this.  You’ll never see this anymore.”  And that’s what happened.  Tomorrow I came and I undressed completely and he spread this…this is the first time what I heard about the Russian powder.
PRINCE:                  And it worked in one spray?
SZAPSZEWICZ:     Oh, wonderful.
PRINCE:                  Oh.
SZAPSZEWICZ:     You wouldn’t believe it.  From this time you didn’t see anything.  This kills everything.  It kills the lice, and the eggs.  More important…the eggs, everything!
PRINCE:                  Then you really felt clean?
SZAPSZEWICZ:     And then I felt clean.  I didn’t see more.  That’s one thing, but let me go back to this lady.  She invited me to come and she’ll make for me a big meal.  So, really, I didn’t eat such things for years and when she went out to the kitchen, for, let’s see, to bring more tea or something, I remember this…I did this instinctively, I grabbed a piece of bread and I hid it in my pocket.  You see, and later I thought what did I do?  Why did I do it?
PRINCE:                 That’s very understandable.
SZAPSZEWICZ:    It’s impossible.  Probably it will never be a situation where I won’t have bread.  But this was the situation, you see.  I had to watch myself.  I had to adjust myself.
PRINCE:                 Because you had to adjust yourself before.
SZAPSZEWICZ:    Yeah.  Yeah.  Before I had to adjust myself to become what I became.
PRINCE:                 Which was easier, Jacob?
SZAPSZEWICZ:    I think it was easier to adjust myself to be a thief than later to become back a person.
PRINCE:                Yes.  Yes.
SZAPSZEWICZ:    You see, I always got some, inner, let’s see, force, like to become a shoplifter for example…to go in a store…this was in Poland…to go in a store and to grab something.  Boy, I had to watch myself because my hand automatically went there…even without thinking.  Would you believe this?
PRINCE:                 Yes.  I would believe you.  This could happen to anybody.
SZAPSZEWICZ:     I believe that from a person, but there are some things what a person…not every person who go very low.  I saw people that went so low…so low…that I didn’t see this, but I heard that people ate human flesh.
PRINCE:                 You did what you had to do though.
SZAPSZEWICZ:    But I don’t believe that everybody can do it.  There were things what I did, but not everything.  I always had some…
PRINCE:                Some reserve.
SZAPSZEWICZ:   Some reverve and some…I always remembered that I’m a human being.  Always.  How low I went down.
PRINCE:                But, but when You are forced into…
PRINCE:                inhuman conditions.
SZAPSZEWICZ:   Even.  Because I’ll explain you one thing.  There’s not everything he can do.  After the war when I’ve been in a…in one place…a Russian soldier came.  He wasn’t a soldier.  He was an officer.  And you see I didn’t speak Russian but if you speak Polish, you can always communicate with the Russians.  You speak slowly.  He will understand you and you can understand him.  Anyway, I picked up some Russian words, and we could talk quite…quite easily, comfortable.  So he told me, he said, “Jake,” they called me “Yasha” in Russian…my name is Yasha.  He said, “Yasha, if this happened to you, if they did this to you, you can pay them back.  Come on with me.”  I didn’t know what he meant.  So I went with him and behind the barn there were about twenty German soldiers, bound.  And he gave me the machine gun…they called this a Petasha.  He said, “Go ahead,” you know.
PRINCE:                Called it what?
SZAPSZEWICZ:   The machine guns…they called Petasha.  It’s a Russian word.  They have special machine guns.  You see, in our army those hand machine guns that have this clip, and theirs is like a wheel around.  And I knew how to shoot this.  He said, “You know how to shoot this, go ahead, kill them.”  And would you believe it, I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t do it…I tried.  I couldn’t do it, I wqnted…I was mad and I couldn’t do it.  So he said, “Ah, you’re not a man.”  So he took the machine gun from me and killed them right away…without nothing.
PRINCE:                 You were the man.
SZAPSZEWICZ:    You see, I couldn’t do it.
PRINCE:                 You were the human being.
SZAPSZEWICZ:    I didn’t believe it myself…for this…what they did to me.  I should be happy to do it.  Now I’m happy I didn’t do it.
PRINCE:                 You maintained your dignity.
SZAPSZEWICZ:    Yes. Yes.  I didn’t do it because after all, they were soldiers.  Because what I believe that those who organized those things, those killers, they mostly escaped.  And the soldiers were rather innocent.  There were many people like myself.  They were drafted in the military and they went, and they…they suffered.  And those who organized the whole thing, probably, they still live someplace in South America and have a lot of money.  That always happens.  If you punish, you punish the people who…who probably didn’t do the least.  That’s always the way they do it.  So, I’m happy I didn’t do it.
Let me now tell you.  We’re talking about all the time on this war and how I was hiding.  And so finally, and as you know, and I will never forget the date…it’s January 13, 1945…the Russians came!  It wasn’t that simple too.  It was big fighting about 40 miles east of us.  And the Russians broke through and the Germans started running.  They were running with the Russians after them.  And it was very cold.  It was about 25 or 30 degrees below zero, Centigrade.  I can figure out how much this is Fahrenheit, but you can imagine how much is it.  It’s about, you know, when in lower grades, I remember still from physics, we had questions and one Professor asked us,”What is a degree?”  No, a…yes, “What is it when Fahrenheit and Centigrade are equal?”  And it exists, such things.  You can figure out by algebraic equation.  And we came out as 40 degrees below zero.  When it’s 40 below…Centigrade and Fahrenheit are the same.  Then when it was 30 below zero in Centigrade, it was about 32, 33 Fahrenheit below zero.  You can imagine how cold it was!  And the Germans are not used to such temperatures and the Russians are.  So when they had to run away, they were…they were…they were in bad situation and bad shape.  And the Russians killed them mostly like vermin.  No, I didn’t mind it.  You see, at this time, I was rather…I thought that that’s the way what they have to do it.  Either they have to get it for what they did to us and the Russians told us too that the Germans killed too about 20 million Russians.  So they paid them back.  I think they paid them with the same way they paid other people.  It was a silly situation because a war should, even if a war exists, there should be a war, but not exterminations of private people who never did anything.  But that’s the reason we never believe that such a situation can happen.  Because my parents always told me when the war broke out, “You children, you don’t have to be worrying about, because we remember om 1914, in 1916 when the Germans came, they behaved…they were better than the Cossaks.  So there’s nothing to be afraid.”  If we would know what’s going to happen…probably was a chance to escape to Russia…probably would do it.  But we didn’t know, and later it was too late.  We were surrounded and there was no place to go.
So January 13, I remember being in this barn and looking out and we saw a German tank moving through the fields, and he was pulling something behind and down came a Russian plane with a rocket and so…and anyway, the tank exploded and we saw the soldiers running out and then the plane came again with a machine gun and killed them all.  And it was gone.  And the tank left…like a trailer from behind.  And this peasant says, “Let’s go and see what they have.”  And he ran first and he came back and he’s got a load of shoes…in the trailer…he found shoes…soldier’s shoes.  There were so many, maybe 50 pair, he brought.  So I told him, “Look, I don’t have…I’m pratically barefoot.  I have wooden shoes, I can’t walk, give me one pair.”  And he didn’t want to give me.  I said, “Alright, I’ll go and get myself.”  So I went there and opened this trailer and I saw some flames coming out from the tank, but anyway, I found a pair of shoes.  Okay, as I told you those shoes came very handy to me because at least I could walk and going back I was lucky because I hit a stone and fell and this moment the tank exploded!  If I wouldn’t fall and lay down, probably it would have killed me anyway.  So I survived again (LAUGHTER) and came back and you know, it started another story because this was only the beginning.  We had to go to find some other people…to get free…to adjust ourselves, and so on and so on…until the normal life started.  It was a long story, but probably we’ll talk about that at another time.  Thank you.

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