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Jerry Koenig

Jerry Koenig
Nationality: Polish
Location: Kosów Lacki • Missouri • Poland • Pruskow • St. Louis • United States of America • Wrocław
Experience During Holocaust: Family or Person in Hiding • Family Survived • Liberated • Sent to Ghetto • Was a Child During the Holocaust

Mapping Jerry's Life

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

“You would think [the distant sounds of battle] normally would be a scary feeling. Well, to us, that was music to our ears because that was one thing that we knew that we had to live through in order to gain our freedom. Without it there was no freedom; without it was death.” - Jerry Koenig

Read Jerry's Oral History Transcripts

Read the transcripts by clicking the red plus signs below.

Tape 1 - Side 1

PRINCE: My name is “Sister” Prince and I’m interviewing Jerry Koenig on Tuesday, November 5, 1985 for the Oral History Project of the St. Louis Center for Holocaust Studies.  Jerry, we talked about your name and you said that it wasn’t really Jerry, and tell me about that please.
KOENIG: Well, my name in Poland was spelled J E R Z Y, and pronounced Yezy, which, uh, you probably heard not too long ago because Jerzy ______ was the Polish priest that got into trouble with the Polish government not too long ago.  And that’s the way to spell it, and that’s the way it’s pronounced.  But, when we came to the United States, one of the clerks decided that my name was misspelled and somebody stuck a “z” in place of an “r” and changed it.  So when I landed I became Jerry.  And then friends of ours in Davenport, Iowa, which was the community in Davenport, Iowa sponsored us, and that’s how we came to the United States.  One of the families, they took us in, advised me to leave it alone, changing it, because we felt that that way it would be easier to prounounce it and easier to spell it for people.  And we just left it that way.
PRINCE: And it was okay with you?
KOENIG: It was fine with me.
PRINCE: All right.  (TAPE STOPS) Jerry, let’s go back to Poland.  You were born in…
KOENIG: I was born in Pruszkow, which is a small town, a suburb of Warsaw.  I was born January 1, 1930, and (PAUSE) the first nine years were fine.  I had a very normal childhood.  My parents were very well-off, for Polish standards, and we didn’t lack for anything.  Dad was a businessman and we were doing very well; life was good. And of course, in 1939, September 1, 1939, things changed very quickly, very rapidly.  And –
PRINCE: By that you mean Germany invaded Poland.
KOENIG: That is right.  This is when the war broke out, and things took a turn for the worse.
PRINCE: When you say the war broke out, how did that – how did that at first affect you?  What did you – your life was the same up until then?
KOENIG: Uh, yes.  Life was the same until then; however, I remember as a youngster – I was just nine years old – I recall that there was an awful lot of talk about the possibility of war.  Everybody was preparing; the population of Poland was very busy digging ditches to protect themselves from air raids.  And one of the things that many people were doing was pasting up the windows.  You would mix flour and water and make a paste and cut newspapers into strips and paste it across the windows in the shape of an “x” to prevent the glass from breaking in the case of an air raid.  And I remember very distinctly that a neighbor girl and myself were very busy doing just that.  And this is when the first bombs fell on our small town of Pruszkow, which was a suburb of Warsaw.  At that time I couldn’t quite understand why they wanted to bomb our little town because after all it was probably a mistake, they meant to drop the bombs on Warsaw, but it wasn’t so because Pruszkow had a – a considerable amount of industry.  And there was a plant that produced parts, I believe, for airplanes or something – had something to do with…the war effort.  So apparently they were pretty well advised as to what their targets should be.
PRINCE: Did you notice any of your work, uh, any work did it…
KOENIG: It worked.
PRINCE: It did work. (LAUGHTER)
KOENIG: It worked.  That’s right. (LAUGHTER BY BOTH)
PRINCE: …I’m surprised.  What business was your father in?
KOENIG: (PAUSE) Well, dad managed a lot of property that his dad, at one time owned, and then as grandpa got older, he said, let’s turn it over to my dad to manage for him.  And there were apartment buildings, and one of the major sources of income was a slaughterhouse which I guess here you would call a packinghouse.  And, in Poland that was a very profitable type of business to be in because it was government controlled and it was illegal for anybody, for anybody to slaughter cattle on their own.  They had to bring it to a packinghouse, which of course dad had to provide the facilities for these people and in turn, of course, they paid a fee for the use of these facilities. So, dad kept pretty busy just managing those few pieces of property.  And of course I shouldn’t –
PRINCE: What, was, go ahead.
KOENIG: I shouldn’t forget to mention that one of the, probably most important pieces of property that he had, which really wasn’t very profitable, but in the long run became very important because it saved our lives, was I guess, about a 60 or 70 acre farm that dad had in eastern Poland, which we primarily used as a summer vacation.  During the year he had a manager for it that was responsible for…managing the farm.  And for us it was just a place to go in the summertime, to spend a nice vacation.  But later on it turned out to be a very valuable piece of property.
PRINCE: Shall we hold it for a minute, and stay where we are?
KOENIG: Right.
PRINCE: Okay, the packinghouse, was it kosher?
KOENIG: There was a kosher section.  In other words, yes, there were facilities provided for kosher slaughter, absolutely, which were not used by anybody else.  In other words, they were strictly for the, for the rabbi to perform his job.
PRINCE: Tell me about your family.
KOENIG: Okay, my immediate family was my dad, my mother –
PRINCE: What were their names?
KOENIG: His name was Isadore, her name was Mary.  I had a brother, or I have a brother –
PRINCE: Excuse me.    Excuse me, did they – was it called – was she called Mary, just like Mary, in Poland?
KOENIG: Yes.  As a matter of fact they had called her Marysia –
PRINCE: Marysia –
KOENIG: – which is, which is Mary – Marya is the Polish name, Marysia is – how would you say it… a… a gentle way.
PRINCE: Gentle, touching.
KOENIG: Touching way of saying Marya.
PRINCE: A loving way.
KOENIG: Yeah, right, touching…
PRINCE: Right, then you have –
KOENIG: Then I had a brother.
PRINCE: – had a brother.  May I ask why you said had?
KOENIG: Why I said I had a brother?  I don’t know, (LAUGHTER) it was a mistake. (OVERTALK)
PRINCE: You had one then, and you have one now. (LAUGHTER)  Okay, so just two boys.
KOENIG: Two boys, right.  Then of course, uh…
PRINCE: And his name?
KOENIG: His name is Michael.
PRINCE: Michael.
KOENIG: In Poland his name was Michael, which is spelled the same, for example, as it is in English.  It’s just pronounced different.
KOENIG: But, uh, Michael at the present time lives in Israel.  He’s lived there for the past 13 years.
PRINCE: And he’s older?
KOENIG: Michael is younger.
PRINCE: Michael is younger.
KOENIG: Almost three years younger.
PRINCE: Okay, all right, what kind of schooling did you have?
KOENIG: Well, actually – (OVERTALK) up to the war, I mean ’til the war started, or in general…
PRINCE: Tell them –
KOENIG: –  ’til the war started?
PRINCE: Tell, just give me, just describe your life in any way you’d like.
KOENIG: Well, it was a public school, a normal grade school in Poland.  In addition to –
PRINCE: This was with Gentiles, with non-Jews?
KOENIG: Right, right.  Of course, that wasn’t the easiest thing to do, to go to school with non-Jewish kids because in Poland there was an awful lot of, what is, anti-Semitism was just rampant.  It’s almost unbelievable how ingrained anti-Semitism is, or at least was at that time, I can’t say how it is now.  From what I hear, and from what I read, I believe that really the situation today isn’t any better than it was then.  But, at that time at least, it was very rampant, and very much felt by the Jewish kids who went to the public schools.  So, anyway, I attended the public school, and in addition to it we had a, I guess you could call it cheder, or a rabbi tried to teach us a little bit of Hebrew…
PRINCE: Tried?
KOENIG: …Jewish history, and…everything was fine and we went along with it because grandpa, who lived with us, his father, seemed like the older he got, the more religious he got and insisted that certain things be done a certain way.  And I guess in order to pacify grandpa, they had felt it was a good thing for me to be going to this cheder.
PRINCE: What did you call grandpa then, in Poland?  What did you call your own grandpa in Poland?
KOENIG: Dziadek.
PRINCE: (PAUSE) And your grandmother was no longer living?
KOENIG: No.  Grandmother died when I was, like, three years old, she died.
PRINCE: Back to the non-Jewish school, the public school.  How did you – what did they do?  How did you feel uncomfortable?
KOENIG: Well, first of all, and… (TAPE STOPS)
PRINCE: Did you feel the anti-Semitism from the teachers as well as from the children?
KOENIG: Basically yes.
PRINCE: Okay, so your friends were, your childhood friends that you played with were Jewish.
KOENIG: Not only, no.  We had some – we had some very good friends.  Dad had a few Gentile friends who I was very friendly with their children.  And, a matter of fact, there was a traditional thing for us to be invited to their homes during Christmas season.  It was always one evening we always looked forward to because the Christmas tree and all the celebrities that went on – celebrations, pardon me, that went on were very intriguing to us.  We enjoyed it.
PRINCE: Did they have an equivalent of a Santa Claus or something?
KOENIG: Oh yes.
PRINCE: What – did it have a name?
KOENIG: Swiety Mikolaj.
KOENIG: This is translated to Santa Claus.
PRINCE: Um, what kind of games did you play when you were young?  You know, we play baseball, we play football…
KOENIG: No, no.  We don’t play baseball in Poland –
PRINCE: I know, I know.
KOENIG: We don’t play baseball in Poland.  Well, soccer was very, very popular.  And…
PRINCE: Did you play soccer?
KOENIG: A little bit, not very much.  At that time I was not very athletically inclined.
PRINCE: Well what – what did you do in your free time?  Did you have free time?
KOENIG: Sure, we had free time.  We played with the other kids, we went hiking, and, hide-and-seek.  And of course, a lot of our time was spent helping around the house because even though our family was very well off, still when you compare the living standard that we enjoyed with the living standard here in the United States, things were rather primitive.  I remember very distinctly when…we wanted to wash our hair which was done once a week.  Friday night you took a bath and you washed your hair and it was very important that you had nice, soft water.  And my job was to go to a little stream and get this nice, soft water, because the water that you got out of the faucet, if you washed your hair with that water and the regular hand soap that we had, you wouldn’t be able to comb it for two weeks. (LAUGHTER BY BOTH)  So we had to get the soft water from the creek. (OVERTALK) It was nice, yeah.  The other thing was, I helped my mom a lot with cooking and with cleaning the house.  It was a large apartment in this apartment house that they had owned, and it had quite a few rooms and beautiful wooden floors, hardwood floors, which had to be waxed, which had to be buffed.  And it was my job.  And I remember we had a great big cast-iron buffer, the heavier the better.  In fact mom used to put my brother on top of it to make it a little heavier.
KOENIG: So we buffed the floors with it.  So anyway, a lot of our time was spent simply –
PRINCE: Spent at home.
KOENIG: Right.  And things that people don’t do here, was, for example, in fall we got some cabbage and we made sauerkraut, and uh, pickles, we made sour pickles.  We got cucumbers and mom had a wonderful recipe for making sour pickles.  Anyway, those were the things that you ate through the winter.  We had to obtain a supply of potatoes, and coal to keep the place warm.  So really, even as a youngster, we really didn’t have that much free time.  Plus the fact that the schools were quite strict and there was a lot of homework to be done.  So between the homework and between the chores that had to be done, there really wasn’t that much free time.
PRINCE: So your existence was well-taken up with being a part – more a part of what was going on and helping out.
KOENIG: Very much so.
PRINCE: Umhmm.  Okay, did your parents…when the weekend would come, or when they would enjoy their friends, did they have people over, do you remember?  Did they go out?  Did you – did someone stay with you or did you go with them?  How was that handled, as a social…
KOENIG: Well, mom had a girl that stayed at our house that was helping her with the daily chores, you know, call her a maid, or whatever.
PRINCE: Did she live there?
KOENIG: She lived with us, right, right.  So there was no problem when mom and dad wanted to go away.  We liked her very much and she treated us very nicely and we enjoyed being with her.  We could get away with a lot more than when mom was around, so we enjoyed it.  And we were so very close to Warsaw that mom and dad frequently made trips to Warsaw.  And really, in Pruszkow there was not much opportunity for going out in the evening and for entertainment.  And I really think that if they wanted, let’s say go to theatre, anything other than a movie, then they had to go to Warsaw.
PRINCE: Would you classify, if we can use that word, yourself as a Conservative, Orthodox, Reformed…
KOENIG: Myself?  Reformed.
KOENIG: Reformed.
PRINCE: Then also.
KOENIG: Right, which really, the word Reform –
PRINCE: You were assimilated.
KOENIG: – really, no, no, we were not assimilated, no.  There was no –
PRINCE: No assimilation.
KOENIG: No assimilation, on our part at least.  There were Jews that did assimilate, that did…change their religion, became Catholic.  That was not too uncommon.
PRINCE: I meant assimilate as far as not a conversion, but just to…not be an observant Jew.
KOENIG: Okay, uh (PAUSE) the force behind our observance was grandpa –
PRINCE: …was grandpa.
KOENIG: – who lived with us, okay, so we really couldn’t get away with too much.  We did keep a kosher house because of him.  It wasn’t because mom or dad really wanted a kosher house.  We – grandpa went religiously to synagogue.  It was my job to carry his little tallis for him so whenever he went to the synagogue I went with him.
PRINCE: Is that because…
KOENIG: That was very common.  It was one of the traditions that the youngsters carried grandpa’s tallis when he went to synagogue.
PRINCE: Okay, thank you.
KOENIG: They didn’t really have to stay there with him, but it was just – that was the thing to do, to have your grandson go with you to the synagogue.  He goes Friday night and then Saturday morning.
PRINCE: So you observed Shabbat.
KOENIG: Uh, grandpa did.  In other words, he didn’t really force me to go with him to the synagogue.  But there were – there were times when I – I wasn’t a complete stranger there…
PRINCE: But I mean, did your family observe?
KOENIG: I really don’t recall.  Well (OVERTALK) I’d have to say that occasionally dad would go with grandpa to the synagogue, but not very often.
PRINCE: But was Saturday a day of…
KOENIG: A day of rest?  Yes.
PRINCE: Where nobody rode in a car or whatever…
KOENIG: That is right.
PRINCE: So you did observe…
KOENIG: You didn’t buy anything and you didn’t carry any money and you didn’t write, and you were on Saturday and this – it was just absolutely necessary.
PRINCE: So living that way you would still call yourself Reformed, in those days.
KOENIG: In those days, yes.  In other words, if you asked my grandpa what he felt about my dad, or my mom, or about me or my brother, we were goy.
KOENIG: …no doubt about it.  Okay, so, eating what I, covering on your head, and eating things that, he knew that outside the house we were eating things that were not kosher…and so…he wasn’t happy about it, but we compromised.
PRINCE: Where did he think you went when you used to go celebrate your friend’s Christmas? (LAUGHTER)
KOENIG: That’s right, so, uh…
PRINCE: Did he know?
KOENIG: Oh sure.
KOENIG: But, well, he was  – like I said before, as he was getting older, he, and especially when he retired from the business and turned it over to dad, he just – what else was left for him?   So he would spend more time at the synagogue, he would spend more time debating religious subjects with his friends, paid much closer attention as to how my mom was running the household, it was kosher and all…
PRINCE: He had to have some stature.
PRINCE: Before we move on, are there things that, in jogging your memory, that you’d like to talk about?
KOENIG: (LONG PAUSE) Well, about the only thing I can say is that really, my memories of my childhood, and pre-war years, are good.  It was a good life.  And even though it was quite different than kids my age would be experiencing here in the United States, and now that you look back on it and we say, “Well, you had it rough, and things weren’t as easy as they are here.”  Of course the United States went through a depression too and not everybody had it very easy here either.  But in general I would have to say that the nine years between my birth and 1939 were very good years.
PRINCE: Well, we are not, what’s important, is that we are right now back in those days and projecting ourselves back there as best we can in trying to recreate what that was.  Nothing can quite compare with what goes on today –
KOENIG: No, that’s true.
PRINCE: – in an American home…What was your first memory?
KOENIG: (LONG PAUSE) Hmm, well there are things that I remember very vividly.  I remember – I remember our apartment, I remember some of the furniture, I remember the arrangement.  One of the things that sticks in my mind is the fact that you couldn’t get from one room to another room without walking through all the other rooms.  In other words, if you wanted to get from the kitchen to the bedroom, you walked through all the other rooms.  There was no such thing as a hallway where the rooms were on each side of the hallway.  And the rooms were very large with very high ceilings.  Each room had its own, I guess you would call it a furnace, white tile and you probably know that winters in Poland were very severe, and we slept under the – help me out.  What are those…
PRINCE: Downs, comforters, quilts…
KOENIG: Comforters, quilts, great big ones.
PRINCE: Was there a name for them?
KOENIG: Pierzyna, the Polish name was koldra actually. (PAUSE)  And it sure was nice if somebody got up earlier and made a fire in one of these big furnaces to keep the room warmed up.
PRINCE: Ummhmm.
KOENIG: And there was no such thing as storm windows.  We had some glass windows.  And starting somewhere around October or November, there was frost on them all the way through April or May.
PRINCE: How did you make the fire, wood?
KOENIG: It was started with wood and coal.
PRINCE: And who was that somebody?
KOENIG: Well, it all depended.  Most of the time it was the maid who would get up earlier and start the fire.
PRINCE: Did you share a room with your brother?
KOENIG: (PAUSE) You know, that’s something I can’t remember.  That is something that’s completely wiped out of my memory.  I really can’t remember.
PRINCE: In other words it could be so good or so bad… (LAUGHTER)
KOENIG: I can remember parents’ bedroom.  Oh no, it wasn’t bad at all.  It wasn’t bad at all.  It was – okay.  There was one, I remember my brother’s bed, and it was in parents’ bedroom, and I know that I never wanted to sleep with him because being three years younger and he would have accidents and wet his bed and he was – he was pretty sloppy in general and all…
KOENIG: Mom said I never wanted to have much to do with him because he would mess his pants, and they always reminded me that, “You were clean, and Michael was always dirty.” (LAUGHTER) But, so I never wanted to sleep with him, but his bed was there, and I can’t remember where I slept.
PRINCE: Okay, let’s do move on to the fact that you remember that people were talking about, this is 1939 now, and they were talking about something happening, I suppose, getting ready.  In other words, you remember conversations.  Was it a dinner –
KOENIG: Yes, yes, dinnertime, and, there was an awful lot of talk about the possibility of war.  People were making preparations by digging ditches and pasting up the windows, and an awful lot of talk about the possibility of gas warfare, about masks, and we expected – the threats were being made by Germany at that time.  The pretext was the Danzig corridor that they wanted, and supposedly Poland was not willing to provide it for them.  And also, prior to September of 1939, we had a little experience with some German Jews who were expelled from Germany, I think in 1938, just about a year before the war broke out.  Germany simply planted them on the border.
PRINCE: Zbaszyn.
KOENIG: …said, “We don’t want you in our country,” and Poland wasn’t too willing to let them in either, and eventually they did
PRINCE: It was Zbaszyn, or I can’t pronounce it, but that’s where it was.  It starts with a “z.”
KOENIG: Uh, I’m not following.  What was it?
PRINCE: It was the name of a town.
KOENIG: (PAUSE) Oh, where they were – sat on the border.
PRINCE: Umhmm.
KOENIG: Yeah, I can’t remember that either.  I think you’re right.  I think you’re right, but I can’t remember that…Of course there were many of them.  I don’t know if they were all in one town, or several border towns, but, anyway, yeah, a few families, German Jews, ended up in our small town of Pruszkow and, as a matter of fact, I became very friendly with one of them…

Tape 1 - Side 2

PRINCE: Okay, you were talking about –
KOENIG: Yeah, we were talking about the, German Jews that came to our town, and I became very friendly with one of them and I really don’t remember how we were communicating because I know I couldn’t speak German at that time and he couldn’t speak Polish.  But I remember his name was Wolfgang, that I remember.  He wore glasses, and (PAUSE) well, he must have been, maybe it was Jewish or maybe it was Polish.  I really don’t remember how he talked.  It was because they were describing some of the problems that they were experiencing in Germany and of course being just kicked out.  And the sad thing about it was that many really felt very patriotic.  They were Germans first and they were Jews second, and I guess many of them probably even forgot that they were even Jewish until they were rudely reminded.  So, we knew that if war broke out, and really, even though there was an awful lot of bragging going on by the Polish regime that they could fight off any German attack, really most people had doubts about it, because this was already after Austria, and this was already after Czechoslovakia, so really people didn’t believe this kind of nonsense.  Except that everybody did say that – was saying – that if anything happened, if Germany really attacked Poland, we have very strong allies.  We have France and we have England and it would be only matter of a few days, and they would step into the conflict and would take care of Mr. Hitler.
PRINCE: How did you feel as a child hearing all of this?  Were you frightened?  Did you pay attention?
KOENIG: Yes, yes, kids at that time were very much involved.  For some reason or another it was – it was an awful lot of – there was a lot of closeness.  You listened very closely to what was going on, to what your parents were saying.  Any kind of concern on their part would concern the kids as well.  And this kind of talk, and after having talked to the German Jews and hearing about what Mr. Hitler had to say in his book, Mein Kampf, we had – our Polish neighbors were very uncomfortable, very afraid what would happen if Germany attacked.  And for us, as Jews, knowing he had a, a special goal for us, that really made us very uncomfortable.  And we worried.
PRINCE: Did you – did you talk to your Polish friends…about the war?
KOENIG: “Sister”, I really can’t remember.  Don’t forget, I was nine years old and I don’t know what….
PRINCE: Yeah, I know.  I’m – I ask questions and –
KOENIG: Yeah, I really can’t remember.
PRINCE: That’s understandable.
KOENIG: There’s a lot of detail that I do remember.
PRINCE: Uh huh.
KOENIG: But certain things are kind of wiped out. (TAPE STOPS)
PRINCE: What – let’s proceed to – what would be next in your mind?  The beginning of the war?
KOENIG: Well, the next thing in my mind is the flight from Pruszkow.  We knew after the war broke out and the news from the front that the German armies were advancing.  And if you look at the map of Poland, Warsaw and its suburbs are pretty much centrally located.  So the idea was, that anybody who could get out of Warsaw and that area, and really and move farther east, and gain a few days on the Germans, that that would be sufficient time really for the Allies to step in and get them off our backs.  That just goes to show you how, really how ignorant everyone was about the strength of the German army, of what they were capable to do, well doing, and about the weakness of the Allies.  We didn’t know about Dunkirk, that was pretty – that was yet to come.  So, really, many, many people, anybody who had some means of transportation – we were lucky (REPEATS WORD LUCKY UNDER BREATH) because probably the best thing for us would have been to stay put because we really didn’t gain anything by, by fleeing Pruszkow and going east.  Gained absolutely nothing.  But it was an experience because one of my uncles, my mother’s brother, owned a – like a supply house of building materials, lumber and coal and…various things of that sort, a lot of different building materials.  And he had means of delivery.  And the means of delivery was horse and wagon.  And he had several horses and several wagons.  And of course when the chips were down, you give a wagon and a horse to your family and they were fleeing – we were fleeing – and we’re going east, trying to escape the advancing German armies.  Of course, those were some pretty horrible experiences because, especially at night.  And here again, don’t forget that I was nine years old and my brother was six, and the mass – the mass of humanity on those roads – it was unbelievable.  People were walking, people were in wagons, and everybody had the same – same idea, it was just to escape the German armies. And of course there was no escape.  You couldn’t outrun them.  You couldn’t outrun the air force.  And –
PRINCE: Was there any strafing?
KOENIG: Oh yes, especially, well in many cases we had Polish army units who were kind of intermingled with the civilian population.  They were going toward the front; we were running away from the front.  And here you can just imagine what was happening when the German bombers would come over or the fighters, and start strafing.  One of the experiences that we had was, we were in the middle of the woods, stayed there overnight, and we didn’t know that there was a Polish army unit also in the woods. (PAUSE) And I don’t really think that the German air force flying overhead knew that there was a military unit hidden there, but, see there were a lot of traitors.  Poland had a lot of…a pretty good segment of the Polish population was of German background.  You’ve probably heard the term of Volksdeutsche.
PRINCE: Uh huh, right.
KOENIG: Okay, those were people that were of German descent and lived in Poland probably for years, for generations.  But yet when the Fuhrer was on the march, all of a sudden they forgot very quickly about their Polish citizenship and became very much pro-German, pro-Nazis.  So somebody, I don’t really know who it was, but it was a Polish soldier or a civilian or whatever, whipped out a rifle, and as the German planes were flying overhead, started shooting at them with his rifle, which of course was ridiculous.  He couldn’t inflict any harm on the planes, but he certainly gave away the position of that Polish army unit.  And we really caught hell.  It was really unbelievable.  They were strafing the woods with machine guns, and we were just laying under a tree and this is one of those things that kind of stays with you.  And keep in mind, you know, you hug the dirt and you lay under a tree and my brother was just digging his way under my dad’s chest.  And here the bullets were flying and cutting down the twigs and leaves of trees and kids asking things, “Are they going to miss us?  Are they going to miss us?”  And dad said, “Of course they’re going to miss us.  They can’t possibly hit us.” (LIGHT LAUGHTER)
KOENIG: You know and…
PRINCE: What an interesting way to ask the question.  Instead of, “Are they going to hit us,” “Are they going to miss us.”
KOENIG: (LAUGHTER) So, well, we were lucky.  We got out of there, but it was just a…
PRINCE: Was your grandfather with you?
KOENIG: Yes, yes, grandpa went with us.  It was just mom and dad, and my brother and I, and my grandpa.  And the rest of the family, they were in other wagons.  They – we were separated.  We didn’t know where they were.  Dad was the only child, but mom had, let’s see, three brothers.  And the youngest of the brothers was a doctor.  And here’s the, just to give you an idea how – in addition to being very efficient on the front, of being able to wipe out the Polish forces, they were also very well-informed about the population of even a small town like ours.  Once they came in, they knew just exactly who they wanted, who they were after, and the – my uncle, the doctor, was arrested the very first night when they came in to – marched into Pruszkow.  And there was – we never heard from him, or seen him, there was never a letter, there was never a word, he just disappeared, just vanished.
PRINCE: Would you like to tell me why you – how did they know?  How do you think they knew?
KOENIG: I suppose that they had lists of people, lawyers, doctors, anybody who could, in their mind, provide some kind of leadership to lead the people against them.  They wanted to eliminate them.  They were very efficient with it.  And they knew just exactly what they wanted, and who they were looking for.  And they arrested him the very first day that they marched in and that was – that was the end of it.  Never heard from him.  The other uncle most likely died in the Warsaw ghetto with his parents.  The parents were there, and he was there with his family – his wife and daughter, and the other one, the third one survived in the Soviet Union.  It was – he was arrested by the Soviets, somehow or another, I don’t how he ended up in the part of Poland that Russians took over because you recall that in 1939, once Germany started advancing on Poland, from the east, the Russians advanced as well.  And he ended up in Russia, actually in Asia, and that’s where he survived the war.
PRINCE: And he did survive?
KOENIG: Oh yes, oh yes.  He came back.  After the war we were reunited in Poland.  And he went – he immigrated to South America and later on to Israel and finally passed away in Israel.  So…
PRINCE: All right, so you’re on the road.  And you’re…
KOENIG: We’re on the road, trying to outrun the German army.  And –
PRINCE: Where did that take you to?
KOENIG: Oh, not very far.  I guess we probably, if we got a hundred miles east of Warsaw, that probably was a lot.  I can’t remember just exactly where or when they passed us up.  (CHUCKLES) But they most certainly did.  And at that point, there was nothing else to do other than go back to our hometown.
PRINCE: So you had to turn around and go all the way back.
KOENIG: So we just turned around and we went back, right.  When we came back, that was interesting too that we found a German army unit camped in our apartment.  They took it over.  So, however they didn’t stay there very long.  And once they moved out, we were able to move back in.  And I really don’t know if they knew that they were in a Jewish home or whether they didn’t, but the amazing thing was that there were only two things missing after they moved out.  And one of the things that was missing was a camera that my dad was very proud of.  That was his pride and joy.  He had just gotten interested in photography and he bought a very nice – for those days – a camera, and it was his pride and joy.  And that was gone.  And the other thing that was gone was my stamp collection.
PRINCE: Hmmm.  Must have been a good one.
KOENIG: That was (LAUGHTER) – I don’t know how good it was.  But there again, a couple years before the war dad thought that this would be a nice hobby for me to get in to.  And it really was.  And I – and he enjoyed it too.  So, he and I were collecting stamps.  When we were fleeing, of course, we took only the most important belongings.  We took the pierzyny, that’s what we took because that’s how you stayed warm.
PRINCE: The quilt.
KOENIG: The quilt, right, and pillows and so on.  And coats, but you know, we wouldn’t take a camera or a stamp collection…but anyway, those were the two items that were missing.  Everything else was there.  That didn’t last long.  Once, once we came back it wasn’t very long before they decided that Jews had to live in a certain section of town, of course that was called a ghetto.  So, even in the small town of Pruszkow, they selected the most run-down section of town and said this is going to be the part that the Jews are going to live in.  And of course, the apartment house that we lived in was not in that section of town, so, again, we had to pick up and move. (QUIETLY)
PRINCE: And take…whatever you could?
KOENIG: Well, very few things because number one, you are moving from a large apartment into a one room.  That’s what you got.
PRINCE: How were you feeling?
KOENIG: (PAUSE) Well, of course we were – morale was down, there was no doubt about it.
PRINCE: Did you ask a lot of questions?  Do you remember?
KOENIG: I don’t recall really asking a lot of questions.  But I know one thing, that there was an awful lot of talking going on among the adults.  There were rumors.  Everybody was looking for some good news.  We knew that things were rotten.  And everybody was so anxious to – for something good to happen.  And the ridiculous rumors that you heard, again, relying on friends and neighbors and everybody thinking that they’re in the battle, and they’re going to do this and they’re going to do that, and it’s only a matter of days before we gain our freedom.  And there was talk about the Polish army going into hiding and attacking the Germans, and some of the great victories that were occuring.  And of course it was all a bunch of malarkey.  Nothing was really happening. (QUIETLY)
PRINCE: Did you have to wear a star?
KOENIG: Well this came later.  You see, in Poland – Poland was divided.  And you know, let me just backtrack a little bit.  What I – what I really forgot to mention before is that way back, before we reached our town we ended up in Warsaw.  And you may recall that in 1939 Poland really made a great stand, a very heroic stand in Warsaw.  They pulled all of their forces into the city of Warsaw and even though most of Poland was already in German hands, they decided to make this last stand in Warsaw and give the Allies a chance to really come in and help.  Little did they know that nothing was going to happen.  And I can’t recall now whether it took – I think it was something like four weeks for the German army actually to – Warsaw was surrounded.  And it was being attacked.  In the daytime it was the German air force, bombing just the hell out of the city and this is where our first acquaintance with the Stuka which was –
PRINCE: Ummhmm.  German airplane?
KOENIG: German airplane – the dive bomber.  And it was really – it was a psychological thing in addition to the destruction that the thing was causing.  It was this horrible noise that it was making and don’t kid yourself, it had some kind of a fan, that was really, as it was diving, it was making this horrible –
PRINCE: Screeching?
KOENIG: – screeching sound.  And it just petrified people.  So during the day we had the German air force attacks on Warsaw, and then during the night was artillery.  And it just went on and on for weeks.  And people were living without water, without food, and people were being wounded, and the city was falling apart.  It was on fire – wherever you looked, it was – everything was ablaze.  And that lasted something like four weeks.  So really it wasn’t until fall of Warsaw (PAUSE) before we were able to get back to this little town.
PRINCE: So you had already seen a great deal of horror.
KOENIG: Of warfare, yes, right, right.  In Warsaw there was about four weeks of being surrounded by the German army.
PRINCE: A lot for a child of nine.
KOENIG: Uh, hey listen.  At least we made it.  There were a lot of people that didn’t and it was just – it was real slaughter.  And Warsaw was at one time, was really a beautiful city.  I can’t really remember it as a beautiful city because the way I remember it, whatever little I remember of it, was already – it was ruins.  But, see Warsaw caught hell in 1939 for the first time, and then of course it really caught hell again in 1945.  That was when the Germans were leaving.  The Germans were leaving and the Russians were coming in, and –
PRINCE: Much like Berlin.
KOENIG: Well, what you had a situation there which is pretty well described here in this little pamphlet that I’m bringing here for you… (GOES AWAY FROM MICROPHONE FOR A MOMENT)…I don’t know if you recall ever seeing this.
PRINCE: “The Face and Faith of Poland.”  No, no.
KOENIG: A friend of mine gave it to me.  It was, I think, part of a National Geographic.  And just looking at this map, you see here’s Warsaw and let’s see (PAUSE) now Pruszkow is just about right here. Okay?
PRINCE: And so when you were leaving…
KOENIG: When we were fleeing, we went this way, to the east, okay?  Now don’t forget that what you’re looking at now is the present map of Poland which is quite different than the map of Poland in 1939 because what is marked here U.S.S.R., that was still Poland, you see?  And what is here marked as Poland, at that time, that was part of Germany.
PRINCE: Germany.
KOENIG: Okay, so things got shifted around a little bit.  But anyway, we were moving in this direction.  The German army was moving from the west toward the east. And we were escaping east.  And then when it became obvious that it was all futile, we moved back, and back into Warsaw.  And this is when we were trapped for four weeks, when Warsaw was surrounded.  And then finally when the Polish army capitulated, in Poland, in Warsaw, and then we were able to move back to our little town.
PRINCE: And they made a ghetto.
KOENIG: Uh, then they made the ghetto, right.  You can…I was looking for, for a map that would show our town, and here is – can you see where it says Pruszkow?
PRINCE: Oh, yeah, yeah.  Thank you, a magnifying glass, absolutely.
KOENIG: Right, okay, so you see that the distance that we were talking about there is probably like Kirkwood is to St. Louis, or let’s say, just a little suburb.
PRINCE: Well, thank you for looking, for finding this map.  Is this like a dream, a nightmare?
KOENIG: Well, pretty much so.
PRINCE: I mean, here you are, we’re out in Ballwin, Missouri.
KOENIG: (LAUGHTER) Looking at a map that shows Pruszkow, huh?
KOENIG: Most maps you really, you won’t find it because it’s just a little speck, you know, but (PAUSE) we’re okay here.
PRINCE: It’s sort of interesting that it is on here, isn’t it?
KOENIG: Yes, but, for example, I don’t think you’d find a place by the name of  Treblinka on here, but you’ll find this one here, and I’m sure that Treblinka means something to you.  And I’m sure that later on during our conversation we’ll be talking about it –
PRINCE: For the sake of those listening, it’s a death camp.
KOENIG: Right.  But you see on this one here, this first map, there it is, you see?  So, and this of course is your railroad.  And you can see that it was right on the (PAUSE) (OVERTALK) yeah, there was a pretty good connection between Warsaw and Treblinka, and not a very great distance.  So really the trains, they were able to make several trips per day when they were transporting people from Warsaw to Treblinka.
PRINCE: Tell me about the ghetto and what it meant to you and your family.
KOENIG: Well, when we speak of the ghetto, first of all, there were two ghettos.  The first one was – our first experience with the ghetto was in the town of Pruszkow, somewhere around 1939 – 1940, the beginning of 1940.  And this was repeated in all towns.  In other words, whenever there was any Jewish population, it was immediately separated from the Polish population, and made to live in the worst, run-down part of any town.  And of course the idea there was to concentrate the Jewish population in a small area and that way you can control them, you can do whatever you want to do.  I’m really not sure whether the Final Solution was pretty well crystallized in their minds at that time, that early in the game, I really don’t think so.  But they definitely had some idea as to where they wanted the Jews, and how well they wanted to control them.  So, now you asked me the question before, if we were made to wear a star.  The star was the identification of Jews in the western part of Poland, which then became part of Germany.  The part of Poland that we were in, Warsaw and the surrounding area, there the identifying symbol was a white band with a blue Mogen David on it.
PRINCE: Was it called the General Government, or…
KOENIG: Generalegouvernement, that’s right, that’s right.  Let’s see, I’m trying to remember, for example, if a town like Wodz, which was in western part of Poland, or they called it Litzmannstadt.
PRINCE: Oh, Lodz?
KOENIG: Lodz, okay, Lodz was the Jewish name for Wodz.  Wodz is the Polish word for it and Lodz was the Jewish pronounciation of it.  That was another very large ghetto – was in Wodz.  That part became part of Germany.  That was part of DeutschesReich.  We were Generalegouvernement – I think that’s the right pronounciation.  I don’t remember how just exactly how to pronounce it.
PRINCE: I’m sure that’s fine.
KOENIG: But there in, for example in Wodz, there they were wearing a yellow star, I think on the left side on the chest.  We were wearing a white armband with a blue Mogen David on it.  So…but as a child, I didn’t have to wear it.  And I don’t remember what the age limit was.  Any young adult had to wear one, I think you had to be like 15 or 16 to start wearing it.  Children did not.
PRINCE: Did you feel lucky, or did you want one…
KOENIG: No, it really didn’t – didn’t make any difference.  It was a way to identify you.  It was a way that everybody knew who you were.  One of the things that you had to remember was that if you were wearing one and you encountered any German soldier on the sidewalk, you had to step down on the pavement.  You were not allowed to meet the German soldier face on.  If you were wearing a white armband, you had to step on to the pavement.  You were exposed to being captured for – here again, when I say you, I don’t mean –

Tape 2 - Side 1

What I was saying is that as a child I really was not catched for any kind of work detail, but as an adult, as a young adult, people were constantly captured for various work details that the Germans had.  (LONG PAUSE IN TAPE) So really, uh, this very same thing that happened in Pruszkow with the formation of a ghetto, was happening all over Poland.  And all the towns where Jews lived, they were put into a small part of town which, in our case, you could come and go as long as you had your white armband on.  You were not confined to staying there all day.  You could come and go, but you had to live there.  And the same thing was true in all the other small Polish towns…
PRINCE: But you didn’t have to stay in there.
KOENIG: You had to live there, you didn’t have to stay there during the day.  In other words, you could come and go –
PRINCE: So it was like the medieval ghettos –
KOENIG: – you were not confined, right, right.  In other words, you could still mingle with the Polish population.  You were identified by your armband that you were wearing, but as far as living, you lived in the ghetto.  And then, of course, the same thing was being done in the larger towns, just like Warsaw and Wodz and Lublin and all the others…
PRINCE: But they were confined to those –
KOENIG: Yeah, okay, I’m saying in the beginning things were different.  You see, this was the start of this whole thing.  Then later on, the decision was made that we cannot have all these little ghettos in all these little towns, this multitude of these little Jewish settlements.  What we want to do now is have big centers of Jewish population.  So what do you do?  You pick out towns, large towns such as Warsaw was, such as Wodz was, and such as Lublin was and many other large cities, Krakow and all the other large towns in Poland.  Again, you selected the rotten part of town and you called it the Jewish ghetto and this is where you moved in the Jewish population.  And then you started shipping in from all the adjoining little towns from the entire area.  You started liquidating.  And when I say liquidating I don’t mean killing anybody yet at that time, but simply shipping people, saying, “Okay you can no longer stay in this town.  Pruszkow is not going to have any more Jews or any other little town.  From now on, you’re going to be living in Warsaw, in the Warsaw ghetto.”  So this is where the whole family, again, got shipped.  So, the first time in Warsaw was in 1939 during the German, when Warsaw was surrounded by the German army.  And now this was the second time in Warsaw, living in the Warsaw ghetto.  So, there the situation was different.  In other words, by the time they got us into the Warsaw ghetto, Warsaw ghetto was already pretty well walled off.  There was no free movement between the Jewish population inside the ghetto and the Polish population on the outside of the ghetto.  You did have, since you picture, you know, somebody took a chunk of town and declared it, well this is going to be the Jewish ghetto.  You still had sewers, you still had streetcars, you still had, various needs of movement between the outside and the inside of the ghetto.  So streetcars were still traveling through these streets of the ghetto.  And of course, the rules were that as long as the streetcar was inside the ghetto, the Jews could use it.  But once it reached the wall, all the Jews had to get off before the streetcar left the ghetto and got on the outside.
PRINCE: And the wall was made of…
KOENIG: It was bricks.  I guess I had never seen the Berlin Wall, but it was a very, very substantial, tall wall.  It was not easy to climb.  It was a brick wall with either barbed wire on the top or broken glass on the top.  It was not easy to scale.  So, theoretically what you had, the only way of in and out of the ghetto was through the checkpoints that they were guarding.
PRINCE: How did your family life change?
KOENIG: Well, there again, some of the things are pretty well, awfully fuzzy.  I remember there was a period of time where dad was in a labor camp.  Mom, my brother, and I were in a one-room apartment.  We were also – we were sharing it with my uncle’s family, the one that owned the building materials store.  They were there too.   So my cousin – the young girl – my brother, and I, and her mother and my mother and my grandpa were still – we were all together.  And my dad and my uncle were somewhere in a labor camp.  I don’t remember where, that I cannot recall. (PAUSE) Basically the way we lived was by selling off various things that we had, some of the valuables that we managed to bring with us into the ghetto.  You were just simply selling it off – clothing, whatever you had.  People, in any situation you’ll find people that somehow or another, they manage to smuggle things in.  I’m sure you’ve seen enough of those German filmstrips where the German soldiers catch the little kids smuggling potatoes across the ghetto wall, and things of that sort.  Somehow or another, there was always more food in the ghetto than what the Germans allowed.  In other words, everything was rationed.  You were, you were assigned a certain amount of bread and a certain amount of potatoes per week or per month or whatever that was; I can’t recall anymore.  But, if you had means of paying for more, you could always obtain it somehow or another.  It was there.  It was extremely high and needless to say, it was extremely dangerous to bring it in so whoever was risking his neck of bringing it in was expected to be paid for it.  So, anyway, I remember…As a matter of fact, my brother was in for a visit from Israel, just last June, and I gave him a little postcard that I found in mom’s house that – when we escaped the Warsaw ghetto and mom’s parents, my grandpa and grandma on mother’s side were still there and they wrote a postcard to us – to her.  And it was written in Polish.  And it’s really a tearjerker when you read it.  In other words, it described very vividly the things that they were selling off to survive.
PRINCE: You had already gone on –
KOENIG: That’s right.  In other words, dad came back.  And there again, I don’t remember all the details – how he got back from the labor camp, whether the labor camp was closed down or whatever he was, and anyway, all these people were released back into the Warsaw ghetto.  And then we – I say we – I mean mom and dad made the decision that, hey if we say here the only – what’s going to happen to us is what’s happening to all the other people.  We’re going to starve to death.  And –
PRINCE: Excuse me.  I have a question.
KOENIG: Go ahead, shoot.
PRINCE: Wait, oh gosh (PAUSE) I just want to make a comment.  That was very lovely of you to give your brother the postcard.
KOENIG: Well, the reason I gave him the postcard was because you know in Israel they have a museum.  And I really thought that maybe it would be something they would want to display.
PRINCE: For Yad Vashem.
KOENIG: Right.
PRINCE: All right.  Now, you said, (TAPE STOPS) Is that all you knew at the time, that that was what could be happening, was that you could starve to death?
KOENIG: Well, basically this is the method that they originally thought that they could use for eliminating the Jewish population of Poland, just simply starving it to death. Move it into a large center, such as ghettos in large cities, and isolate it from the outside, and just let the Jews starve.
PRINCE: What year are we in now, approximately?
KOENIG: Okay, I would say that would have to be 1941.
PRINCE: So now you’re 11.
KOENIG: (PAUSE) Right…either, let’s see 19…1940, or beginning of 1941, somewhere – it would almost have to be 1941, I would say, when I’m talking about being in the Warsaw ghetto.
PRINCE: Did you – how long – can you remember how long you were in the Warsaw ghetto approximately?  Months?
KOENIG: Oh yes, I would say probably somewhere between six months and a year.
PRINCE: Did you go to school?
KOENIG: No.  No, no, there was no…
PRINCE: Well –
KOENIG: There was – for me there was no school.
KOENIG: For me there was no school.  I don’t know, maybe other kids, somehow or another…Don’t forget that we were in a strange town.  See, in other words, we were not (PAUSE) citizens of Warsaw, okay.  Other people who lived there, who lived in Warsaw, who were familiar with everything and everybody and were moved into the Warsaw ghetto were in a somewhat more advantageous position than were people who were moved in from the provinces and the small towns surrounding Warsaw.  In other words, we’re – we didn’t know anybody, and especially in our case where my dad was not with us, that really presented a problem, so the time that we spent there, no, there was no school, there was no education, there was nothing…
PRINCE: What did you do?
KOENIG: I remember walking the streets a little bit.  And that was, now that I think about it, I think to myself, how in the world could a youngster of the age of 10 or 11 walk the streets of the Warsaw ghetto with the sights that I can recall now.  Really, it’s scary how callous can a person get.  And yet, it just – you accept it as a fact of life that you were going to go out and see people laying on the sidewalk, dead, some of them were covered with a newspaper, some of them were not.  People were in rags.  The smell, the odor was unbelievable, not just because of the dead bodies because those were regularly picked up.  There were crews with the little carts; you’ve seen the pictures, I’m sure.  And picking up those who died overnight.  But there were just people that had no place to live.  In other words, the street was their home.  And they were just wearing rags and they were starving to death, and they were dying.  And, you just simply, when you walked down the sidewalk and if there was a body laying there, you just stepped over it or went around it, and went about your business.  It just became so matter of fact.  You expected it; you knew it was going to be there, and I’d almost say that it didn’t bother you.  You just – it was a way of life…
PRINCE: You must have put up a wall, a shield…
KOENIG: I guess.  I don’t know what happens to the human mind or the human body, but somehow or another you develop an immunity toward this sort of thing.  And right now I’m sure that if somebody would ask me to take a walk down a street and there were several dead bodies laying on that street, I’m sure it would have a horrible effect on me.  I don’t think I could do it.  But at that time, as an 11 year old kid, you had seen so much of it.  Don’t forget that this was already after the German invasion.  You had seen people dead alongside of the road – people and horses and dogs, and everything, and mass graves, and death just became like a constant companion.  And you expected it.
PRINCE: Did you cry?
KOENIG: No, I don’t really recall…
PRINCE: At the beginning?
KOENIG: No, no, I really – the thing that I remember very vividly was whenever we had some food – you know everybody was so…My brother and I were so concerned that mom would not eat so that he and I could have a little more.  And we were very – we watched her, you know, that she didn’t cheat that way, make sure that she was eating at least as much as we were.  So, you know that’s the kind of life there was.  But, and it was obvious, you know, you asked me a question if at that time that was the only thing that we were thinking about, that could possibly, that that would be the worst thing that would happen to us is starve to death, and I would say yes –
PRINCE: I mean, that’s all you knew.  You knew nothing else –
KOENIG: At that time we – the only thing that we knew is – right.  We knew that the Nazis certainly were not our friends and they don’t mean well.  They put us in here for a certain reason and it became very obvious that they were starving us to death.  So the only way to beat the rap was to get out.
PRINCE: Under what circumstances was your father picked up and taken to slave labor?
KOENIG: I don’t know.  I don’t know, and I don’t think it was because of – not for the same reasons that my uncle the doctor was picked up the first – the first day that they marched in.  No, that wasn’t it.  It was just simply they had – they relied on, their war effort and their administration of a conquered country, they relied on slave labor.  Whatever had to be done was done by forced labor.
PRINCE: So he was picked at random?
KOENIG: So either he was picked at random or – I really can’t recall.  I don’t remember just how all of that happened….go ahead.
PRINCE: When he was gone did you feel more responsible, for Michael or for your mother?  Did you take Michael with you on the streets?
KOENIG: Yes, he walked with me.  But really, you know, and sometimes when I think back, I have guilt feelings and I think that maybe I really didn’t do my share…When I compare – you see these pictures and you see those young kids smuggling food from the other side into the ghetto, and I didn’t do it.
PRINCE: And I’m sitting here listening to you tell how you thought about your mother – you and your brother – and I’m thinking how beautiful that is because you didn’t even…
KOENIG: Well, that may be so, but you see, I – the reason why I said I have guilt feelings is because I feel that why didn’t I do the same things that other kids did?  Why cross the wall, went into farmers’ fields and picked potatoes and picked carrots or whatever they could haul back and help that way their families.  Somehow or another, my mom never asked me to do it and I guess maybe I didn’t have enough sense to try it.  Or maybe I was too scared to do it, because everybody knew – it was a known fact that those who got caught smuggling food or anything else into the Warsaw ghetto were shot.
PRINCE: Well, you remarked earlier that you still had things to sell.  So maybe you might have had you been more desperate.
KOENIG: Well, we never really let the situation degenerate to that point because (PAUSE) I’m trying to think now, and you know what, I – no, dad did not come back to the ghetto.  Dad did not come back from the labor camp.  He joined us after we got out, but, somehow or another he made arrangements, again through a friend, and by paying to get us out of the ghetto.  And the way we got out was on a streetcar.  You know, we were supposed to – the Jews were supposed to get off.  And the way it was done is that the armbands were taken off at the right time and then when the Polish police and the German soldiers were checking the streetcar, everybody was Polish, okay, so that’s how we got out of town. And…
PRINCE: Now that’s you and your brother and your mother and…
KOENIG: And grandpa.  But we did it in two shifts.  In other words – and I’m trying to think.  I think that, okay, my brother and my grandfather went together, and then my mother and I.  Okay, so we did it separately.  We wasn’t on – the same guide –
PRINCE: The same guide?
KOENIG: The same guide took mom and myself out and then I don’t remember who went first, whether grandpa and brother went first or whether mom and I…
PRINCE: Was he Polish?
KOENIG: No, he was a Jew.  He was a Jew.  He was a Jew.  He didn’t have any Semitic features whatsoever and he could pass for a Pole very easily.  And, you see, the only problem in Poland was – there were many people.  Let’s face it, we had many people who were blond and many people who didn’t look very Jewish and could have passed for Gentile, for Poles.  But the problem in Poland was, basically, you were dealing with a population that was very, I guess monolithic would be the right word to use.  They were tall; they looked so very different than the Jewish population.  The Poles were so very different.  Or you could say that the Jews who lived in Poland were so very different from the main segment of the Polish population.  We didn’t have the mixture of people that you have in the United States.  You didn’t have the Greeks, you didn’t have the Italians, you didn’t have the Spaniards, you didn’t have those who – in other words, if you were dark complected, if you had black hair and maybe a little hook nose, you weren’t a Pole, you were a Jew.  Most likely you were not a Turk.  Most likely you were not an Arab.  You were not a Greek or Italian, you were a Jew.
PRINCE: Like being black.
KOENIG: Basically.  And the other thing was that being circumcised for a male.  See, a circumcision in the United States is pretty common.  It’s done – just because a person is circumcised doesn’t mean that he is Jewish in any way at all.  There, and this was a very common way of identifying if there was any doubt in anybody’s mind.  If they saw you on the street and they had – somebody said, “I think that there goes a Jew,” the first thing they ask you, drop your pants.  And if you were circumcised, you were a Jew!  So you see, that was the problem of really trying to hide your identity.  That was one of the big problems that we were – most of us looked so very different from the mainstream of the Polish population.  And the fact that the males were circumcised.
PRINCE: Did you know that your dad had arranged all this?
KOENIG: (PAUSE) Well, somehow or another – I really can’t remember all the details.
PRINCE: Yeah, you don’t remember, okay.  But you had a destination – I mean your family had a destination in mind?
KOENIG: Oh, we knew just exactly where we were going, right.
KOENIG: Right, and I mentioned to you earlier during our conversation that a little, small 60 or 70 acre farm that we had, that’s where we were heading.
PRINCE: Okay, now, the map that we were looking at before, which direction would we be going from Warsaw?
KOENIG: Okay, but don’t forget now, we were in the Warsaw ghetto.  Okay, we were no longer in Pruszkow.  Pruszkow was on the southwest side of Warsaw.  Okay, we were heading for northeast.  And we were heading for this little farm that dad owned, and really not for the farm as much as for a small town close to the farm.  Dad had some friends who lived there.  And this is really something that is very unbelievable –
PRINCE: (OVERTALK) That’s because your finger is pointing to Treblinka.
KOENIG: The irony of this whole thing is – that’s right.  That that small town, which was called Kosow, and dad’s little farm were just about, I guess maybe 10 miles from a place that later on became very famous, or infamous, whichever way you want to call it, and that was Treblinka.  So, at that time of course, nobody really knew what kind of plans were for Treblinka.  Nobody really knew what was going to happen, what the Germans really had in mind.  But, foremost in our minds was, let’s get out of Warsaw which is certain starvation.  We have to get out of Warsaw ghetto and go to a place where we’re corresponding with these people and this was a small town, probably maybe 35 percent of the town was Jewish.  And it was a small farm town, and dad’s friends were there.
PRINCE: Were they Jewish?
KOENIG: Yes, yes, this was a Jewish family, absolutely.
PRINCE: May I ask you why they were left?
KOENIG: Why they were left in this small town, okay.  There was really no large town very close to which they could have shipped.  So this was a town – this was a concentration even though it was a small town, for that particular area they left it there, okay.  Do you recall when the – when Germany attacked Russia?  It was 1942.
PRINCE: ’41.
KOENIG: ’41, or ’42?  Because this was pretty well tied down because I can tell you this, that we got out of the Warsaw ghetto just a few weeks or a few months at the most before the outbreak, before the attack of Germany on the Soviet Union.
PRINCE: June of…
KOENIG: Either ’41 or ’42.  I’m not sure.
PRINCE: ’41…
KOENIG: ’41?
PRINCE: I thought so, but I could be mistaken.  I’ll look it up.
KOENIG: Either ’41 or ’42, I’m not sure either.  You might be right.  ’41?  You might be right.  No, I think it was ’42.  But regardless, whichever it was, because this is what I remember very vividly.  We got out of Warsaw and we lived in this little town and really there was no ghetto, but basically it was a natural ghetto because as I told you, it was a largely Jewish town – about 30, 35 percent of the population was Jewish.  And they just simply lived in a Jewish section of town.  Okay, so there was really no – there was a natural ghetto, if you want to call it that.  And, but what happened was this.  Do you see this river here?  What’s it’s called?  This is pronounced Bug, River Bug.  Well, in 1939, when the Germans came from the west and the Russians came from the east and they made a pact of non-aggression, and Bug, the River Bug right there where you see it here, became the border between the two countries.  The Germans were on the west side of Bug and the Russians were on the east side of Bug.  Now, you see where Bug and this area of Treblinka and our little town of Kosow and all this was right there, okay, just a few miles from the river.  And that morning, when they – it was a Sunday, because the Russians were really, they were, they celebrated, and they were drunk and they were not dressed and when the attack took place, it was amazing.  It was – within hours after the attack the streets of that little town were just a mass of humanity, prisoners, P.O.W.’s that they took just within a few hours of crossing the river.  They just – it was unbelievable, just unbelievable, and of course it was obvious that the soldiers were totally unprepared of what happened to them.  They were not dressed, they didn’t have any shoes on, they didn’t – it was nothing.  They were just caught with their pants down; that’s what happened.  And it just took – seemed like hours.  And we thought, my God, where do you get that many people.  And if this is what Germany took prisoner, what the hell is going to be left?  There can’t be anything left.  Okay, so this was the beginning of the German invasion into Russia and moving east.
PRINCE: What do you mean there can’t be anything left?
KOENIG: There can’t be any soldiers –

Tape 2 - Side 2

KOENIG: Now this was the impression of a 13 year old kid.
PRINCE: That’s what I want.
KOENIG: You see streets, just full of humanity, just P.O.W.’s, prisoners of war…
PRINCE: So you thought that was all the soldiers in the world.
KOENIG: Who can have that many soldiers?  But anyway, that was really the beginning of the end.
PRINCE: I’m glad I asked. (LAUGHTER BY BOTH) No, I’m glad I re-asked because I want it from a 13 year old perspective.
KOENIG: Yeah, that’s right, that’s right.  So that pretty well ties it down.  If you – if we know exactly, and that should be easy to find out, when Germany invaded Russia, whether it was in 1941 or 1942, and I think you said it was June, wasn’t it?  All right, okay, well (PAUSE), and you see by this time, really, our morale was down, and it was obvious that the whole thing started in 1939.  Our allies didn’t come across.  This was already after Dunkirk.  We found out that they really took a shelacking and they were taking a beating everywhere and Europe was really pretty well down on its knees.  And this was already after Norway and after France and after, really probably Poland was the – one of the countries in Europe that really put up any kind of a fight against the Germans.  The rest of it really – France, it didn’t take them as long to take France as it did to take Poland.  So, anyway, by this time you figured, well, where is this help going to come from?  France is gone.  England is taking a shelacking.  And for us, the only hope was from the east, not from the west. If we ever hoped to gain our freedom again, it had to come from the east.  And here is an invasion taking place, and instead of the thing moving west, it’s moving east.  And you know very well, history tells you that, how far they went.  It was a long distance from the River Bug all the way to the outskirts of Moscow, Stalingrad, Leningrad.  They came pretty close to defeating the Soviet Union if it hadn’t been for the tremendous amount of help that they got from the United States –
PRINCE: And the winter. (PAUSE) The winter.
KOENIG: Oh yes, oh yes.  Those were rough.
PRINCE: So you – when you saw – when everyone saw the Russian soldiers, and they really felt even worse.
KOENIG: Sure, sure, because –
PRINCE: You hoped to be saved…
KOENIG: Let’s face it, at this time you have to be somewhat familiar with the history of Poland to understand that there was very little love lost between the Poles and the Germans and the Poles and the Russians.  Because Poland as a country had the misfortune of being situated between two great powers.  And there was this constant – really, if you look at history, at one time Poland was a – was a great power in Europe and there was a union formed between Poland and Lithuania, see.  And those two countries, matter of fact, the territory that they governed was all the way up to Moscow.
PRINCE: The name of it, do you remember?
KOENIG: Uh, the Duchy of…I can’t remember what it was.  As a matter of fact, I think it’s described right here in this little pamphlet.  It looks like there are these little maps that show you what has been happening to Poland over the years.  (RUSTLING MAP) See, right here.  And how the map of Poland has changed and who governed Poland.
PRINCE: Yeah, the word that I’m looking for I don’t see.
KOENIG: Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
KOENIG: Poland – Grand Duchy of Lithuania.  But they had a very short period where they gained independence after World War II.  I’m sorry, after World War I, right, and became a free country.  Until then it was always divided between Russia and Germany.  Germany had part of it and Russia had part of it.  So, really, there was never a great deal of love between the Poles and the Russians.  And the Russians had it in for the Poles because the Poles governed a part of Russia pretty rough when they had it.  And then in turn, when the Russians, the Russians always looked at Poles as – how we always used to call them Polski Pan, “Polish Lord.”  And they were very disliked.  But here was, we were suffering from the Germans.  This was our immediate enemy, so anybody who was against the Nazis was our friend.  So…(TAPE STOPS)
PRINCE: This is “Sister” Prince and I am interviewing Jerry Koenig at his home on February 8, 1986 and this is our second interview.  Jerry, when I called you, you told me that you’d like to put this interview off because a friend of yours had passed away and she had also been a survivor.  I’d like to –
KOENIG: Well, that’s right.  When you called me, I wasn’t really sure that I wanted to get together because I didn’t know if I would really be in the right frame of mind to continue our interview because of Marlene’s passing.  Marlene was a good friend of mine.  I had known her since 1952.  She was a young girl then.  Marlene was five years younger than I am and at that time I was in the service and my parents came to St. Louis to visit my mom’s cousin.  And at that time I was taking my basic training at Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky and I was able to obtain a – I believe it was a weekend pass.  Then I came to St. Louis to meet my parents and my cousins – well mom’s cousin’s brother.  And at that time I was introduced to a young girl who lived upstairs in a four family flat which mom’s cousin owned with another newcomer family.  So actually, Marlene was living upstairs with her father, Mr. Herbert Schweik, and at that time we were introduced.  As a matter of fact, we even had a couple of dates.  So I was 22 years old and I guess Marlene was probably 17 or 18.  So, I had known her for a long time, and of course we had a chance to talk a little bit about it.
PRINCE: About –
KOENIG: And I felt very close to her because her background was somewhat similar to mine.  She was also a survivor of the Holocaust.  They – her family lived in France and part of their family also lived in Germany.  Her father was fluent in both languages, French and German.  As a matter of fact, for a long time he taught languages at the Berlitz School of Languages.  And I really didn’t know all the details about her, but I knew that she survived by living in a convent, in assuming a false name, and this was her way of surviving the war.  And I’m really not quite sure how her dad survived, but I know that he had a – played a part in the French resistance, the underground organization which fought the Germans.  But, anyway, after all these years, and I just felt that her passing, it was much too premature.  And it upset me very much to see a young person who was so very vivacious, spoke with a slight French accent.  It was very lovable, very pretty, and we got to be very good friends with her husband and it just – it saddened me very much to see her go.
PRINCE: Was it different than someone who might not have been a survivor?  Did you think about that?
KOENIG: Well it’s very possible.  I think that that was kind of – somewhat of a bond, but…
PRINCE: Or that there was one less?
KOENIG: That’s right, that’s right.  It just seems that it’s a shame that after having survived the war and having gone through such hell that Marlene did not get a chance to really fully enjoy the fruits of her labor and life in the United States.  They have a couple of kids, a beautiful girl and a fine young man who is now in college.  But, when you die at the age of 51 you just really – you miss out an awful lot of…
PRINCE: The good things that come…
KOENIG: The good things in life, that’s right…
PRINCE: From what you’ve planted…
KOENIG: That’s right.
PRINCE: I’m sure that it was helpful to have good friends around.  She was sick a long time?
KOENIG: No, I think that the whole thing started just about two years ago with a cancer of the colon and for a while they thought they had it pretty well arrested.  And our first indication that things did not go well was when her daughter was getting married and we were invited to the wedding.  And just about two or three weeks before the wedding we received a note from her sister-in-law saying that because of serious illness in the family, wedding plans as originally planned had to be changed and only the immediate family and so on would be present.  And it was kind of nicely done because she sent us a little champagne glass and asked us to have a drink to the couple.  So we were very reluctant to call, but we talked to Marlene’s father-in-law and of course he told us that it was Marlene who was ill and that the cancer had spread and she didn’t feel up to going through the rigors of the wedding.  So that was it.
PRINCE: I can see that you’re very touched and that makes us aware of how…
KOENIG: That’s right.
PRINCE: All right. (PAUSE)  Should we try and pick up where we were?
PRINCE: We left – I believe you were on your way.  You and your mother and your brother and your grandfather were on a streetcar coming out of the Warsaw ghetto.  Your father had made arrangements, okay.
KOENIG: Right, that was the escape from the ghetto. (TAPE STOPS)  And of course we were on our way to the small town, Kosow, where dad had some friends and also this was the town very close to this small farm that dad owned in that area.  It was in the eastern part of Poland and it was close to River Bug and I think we talked about the fact that Buge was the border between the Germans and the Russians in 1939.  And –
PRINCE: Did you know where you were going?  Did you know what was going on, the plans?  Were you made aware of them by your mother?
KOENIG: As to where we were going?  Oh, sure, absolutely yes, we knew that.  And I think we talked about the conditions in Kosow quite a bit.  I think I mentioned that it was sort of a natural type of ghetto because there were a number of Jews that lived there and a number of them were involved in farming.  And the friends of my dad’s who got away to Kosow and shared their house with us were also involved somewhat with farming and the sale and purchase of grain.
PRINCE: And you said they were Jews.
KOENIG: Yes, the family was Jewish, absolutely.
PRINCE: That confuses me that the people were Jews and that they were allowed to hide other…
KOENIG: No, we were not hiding at all.  We were living fairly – if you want to call it a normal life.  You see, that town –
PRINCE: Oh, I’m jumping ahead –
KOENIG: – was very close to Treblinka.  We talked about it.  It was just about 10 miles from Treblinka.  And of course we all know what was going on in Treblinka later on.  However, that particular town was not really – the Jewish population of that town was left sort of untouched until the very,very last.  In other words, it was already – it was still in existence long after the Warsaw ghetto and the uprising took place and the ghetto was completely eliminated.  In other words, most of the population of the Warsaw ghetto was sent to Treblinka for extermination.  And this is probably the way my grandparents on my mother’s side died and this is probably the way my uncle and aunt and their daughter died, either in Treblinka or during the Warsaw ghetto uprising; I don’t know.  But (PAUSE) the town was so close to Treblinka that there was no problem for the Germans.  They felt that really we can eliminate that little group at any time we want to.  And in fact, the Jewish population of that town served sort of as a labor pool for them.  Whenever they needed anything done anywhere they would just simply come into town and grab a few Jews and take them out to the labor site and have it done, and then release them.  So it was a fairly convenient way for them to handle things.
PRINCE: I’m astounded about what I’m hearing.  Go ahead.
KOENIG: So really, while we were starving in the Warsaw ghetto, the letters we were getting from the people that lived in Kosow.  It was really almost unbelievable that they still had food to eat and they were walking the streets and they were really not too restricted other than being subject to forced labor.  So this is where we went.  But needless to say, the time came when Kosow was also eliminated as far as the Jewish population goes.  So we knew that we had to make some other arrangements, that this was only a temporary thing as far as staying with the family, and by the way their name was Zilberman.  And I want to make sure that you remind me to get back to that family because later on when we went into hiding I want to mention a couple things about what happened to the Zilbermans and their two young children.  So, I suppose that because of the fact that dad had the 60 or 70 acre farm in the vicinity of Kosow, it gave him an advantage over many other people because he decided that the only way that we can find somebody, that we can find somebody who would help us, who would really hide us out until the war was over, would be to promise them the ownership of the land; within condition that the only way they would become owners of the land was if we actually survived the war.  Because in so many cases you heard stories about people who would take Jewish families in and as the war dragged on, and whatever money the families had was being used up to feed them, the host decided that all the crop is being eaten up and we would be better off just taking whatever is left and getting rid of the Jews.  So, possibly this would have happened to us too.  I really don’t know.  But there was this carrot hanging there that the only way the farmer could get the land was if actually the Jewish people that they were hiding out survived the war.  And by the way, I don’t recall that I mentioned to you or not, that there was just more than our immediate family.  There was actually a total of 11 people in this bunker.
PRINCE: But the people that were running this farm were Polish?
KOENIG: They were Polish peasants, right.
PRINCE: Okay.  Finally I…
KOENIG: Now we’re talking about Polish peasants who – right. This is – now these were actually Christian Polish peasants who saved us by allowing us to dig out a portion of their farm and make sort of an underground bunker which you couldn’t see from the top.  It was pretty well camouflaged and covered up with straw and all the other things that you would normally keep in the barn.  And it was a small, relatively small hole underground.
PRINCE: Okay, all right.  Up to this point I had been trying to ascertain that, and I kept feeling that these people were Jewish and I couldn’t figure it out.  Okay, it was just people in the town, were Jewish, but the people that were taking care of the farm –
KOENIG: The Zilberman family was Jewish; that is right –
PRINCE: They were just friends.
KOENIG: They were friends of my father’s and they were simply sharing their house with us, letting us stay there.
PRINCE: For a certain amount of time.
KOENIG: For a certain amount of time until it was obvious that we had to make other arrangements because it was only a matter of time before they would get around to the Jewish population of Kosow as well.
PRINCE: All right, was that a matter of months, or weeks do you think?
KOENIG: Well, I think it was – no.  It was more a matter of months because I think we established the fact that we came to Kosow sometime in June of 1941.  Because we said that was the time when we were already in Kosow having escaped from the Warsaw ghetto, when Germany attacked Russia on a Sunday morning, which was a completely surprise attack.  And I told you about the P.O.W.s being driven through the streets of Kosow.  And I would say probably from that time until we actually went into hiding probably had to be almost a year.  Okay, so I think it was just about a year.
PRINCE: So how did you spend that year?
KOENIG: Spent the year existing, I guess.  I did not go to school.  There was no such thing as a school for the Jewish kids.  We were not allowed to go to the public schools with the Polish children.  I really don’t recall anymore what dad was doing.  I think he was helping this Mr. Silberman – Zilberman as it was pronounced in Poland to – with his little business of buying and selling grain.
PRINCE: Now, you’re 10 miles from Treblinka and nobody’s bothering you.
KOENIG: That is right.  That is right.  Other than those little actions to get a few Jews to be taken on a little labor detail and then releasing them again.  But we –
PRINCE: Did you know what was going on at Treblinka?
KOENIG: Well, there were rumors circulating.  And what was happening, the rumors very quickly became no longer rumors, but it was obvious that what was happening was because the train transports from Warsaw to Treblinka were moving very closely to this town, Kosow.  And occasionally, a few people would escape, actually jump off the train.  I remember one person that came to town and I vividly remember seeing a black streak across his forehead.  And he jumped off the train; he actually, out of a moving train, managed to cut or do something to that little window that was there for the air and jumped.  And of course, on each car, they had, most of them were Ukrainian guards with rifles.  So whenever somebody did jump the train, they would shoot.  And he was lucky.  Of course I’m sure – I doubt very much that he survived the war but at least at that time he was lucky because the bullet just grazed his forehead without even harming him in any way at all.  And of course, eventually, he made his way to town and told us about what was happening, that he was on this transport and how they were treating the people, and how many people were…
PRINCE: Did you hear him tell it?
KOENIG: Oh, yeah, oh yes, definitely.  That they were stuffing people into those cattle cars, and even though in the beginning they were telling them they were being sent to the east because they were starving in the Warsaw ghetto.  And in the east in Ukraine, eastern part of Poland where the soil was very rich, that this is where they needed farm help to grow food and it was called a resettlement program.  In other words, it wasn’t really extermination.  It was resettlement, resettling the Jewish population of the Warsaw ghetto in the eastern territories.  But of course it was a lie.  They did not use the people for any kind of farming, any kind of labor in those areas, but they were being sent to Treblinka.  And as far as I know, Treblinka was the extermination camp for the Warsaw ghetto.  Now, there were other ones, for example, I’m sure that people from the ghetto in Wodz were not sent to Treblinka.  There were other camps much closer.  I think Oswiecim was one of them, Auschwitz.
PRINCE: You’re right.  But you’re correct, Treblinka was mainly for…
KOENIG: Was the one for the Warsaw ghetto, right.  So anyway, it became very obvious and also –
PRINCE: Excuse me.  In the Warsaw ghetto, of course, many people were brought in from the surrounding areas.
KOENIG: Oh yes.
PRINCE: Brought into the Warsaw ghetto, then to Treblinka.
KOENIG: Right, right.  I think I mentioned it to you in our last interview that our town was just a small suburb close to Warsaw and all of the surrounding towns, the Jewish population was shipped into the Warsaw ghetto.  That became the large concentration.
PRINCE: Okay, so in listening to this, what did that do to you, listening to this man?  You’re how, you –
KOENIG: Well, what really could you do?
PRINCE: Well –
KOENIG: At that time – let’s see, this was 1941 or ’42, either 11 or 12, that’s right.  Well (PAUSE) really, what can you do?  We were looking at our dad, who we regarded as the leader of the family and we always had great – dad was always very optimistic.  I never knew how he really felt inside, but he always was a great optimist and felt that somehow or another that we were going to make it.  Mom was just the opposite.  Mom was very pessimistic.  She just felt that there was really no way that we can survive this whole thing.  And she felt that really the time had come to possibly commit suicide rather than struggling along.  But dad would not hear of it.  So, at that time we pretty well knew what was going on in Treblinka and other camps like it and also you were hearing stories from the Poles who traveled to Warsaw and saw what was going on.  And witnesses like I just mentioned to you, people who jumped the trains.  But – so you know that your people are being exterminated, and what do you do?  Really, there is not really much hope from anywhere at that time.  What was so disheartening to us (BREAK IN TAPE) So, we did not have much hope for any kind of help from the Allies, from the United States or France, or United States, or England.  We knew that if we were going to be – going to survive –

Tape 3 - Side 1

“SISTER”: Were you able, with the information you had, about what was going on to the people around you, were you able to play?  Were you able to, in any way, be a child?
KOENIG: Yes, we – we played with the children – a boy and a girl of the Zilbermans, and they were – there were Jewish kids around there.  And a matter of fact, at times when you played with non-Jewish kids who’d come over.  And there was a lot of farmland.  And many times we would go out and help with the chores on the farm.  And – oh, one of the things that I really enjoyed doing was…being out in the field where they were – where the cows were grazing, and helping the shepherd to be out and watch the cattle and watch the sheep and so on.  So, that was one of the past times or…helping out, really, that’s what we were doing.  That was one of the things that had to be done and we were helping along…
“SISTER”: Were you ever afraid that when you got home, maybe your mother or father wouldn’t be there?  Maybe they would have been taken away?
KOENIG: Well, really at that time – this was still early in the game.  As I told you, we were in that town from the time we arrived to the time that we actually went into hiding, probably a year, and – maybe even a little longer.  I can’t remember these things.  But in the beginning, really it was not – the danger wasn’t there.  We knew what basically, what the Germans had in mind for the Jewish population.  We knew how things were in the Warsaw ghetto, what they were doing to us there.  And we knew that we were dealing with the same Nazis in Kosow as we were in Warsaw except that there, there was a method to their operation and there, the time came to liquidate the Warsaw ghetto and the time had not come to liquidate the population of Kosow.  So, they just simply let it – let it exist.
PRINCE: All right.  You mentioned Poles coming and telling you all what was going on and you mentioned Polish children playing with you.  So, my question is, what was the relationship between Polish people in that town and the Jews?
KOENIG: (PAUSE) Well, I would have to say that in general – in just about any town, whether it was in Warsaw or whether it was a provincial town such as Kosow, the – in general the Polish population was anti-Semitic, with exceptions, with very few exceptions.  And, I would say in small towns such as Kosow, it probably was less pronounced and I think since both segments of the population – the Polish and the Jewish population – basically were both involved in farming there really wasn’t that much anti-Semitism, as possibly in many larger towns.  So – there was some degree of co-existence.
PRINCE: Were German soldiers evident?
KOENIG: Yes, they were.  They were evident whenever they would come into town to look for a work force.  As a matter of fact, there was a time when we almost lost our grandfather.  My grandfather was – this is my grandfather on my father’s side – he somehow or another just could not accept the new order.  To him it was if you are an older man, the younger man, no matter who he is, is going to show you respect and he’s going to treat you accordingly.  And to him, there was just an impossibility for somebody to grab him by the sleeve and tell him to grab a shovel and go to work.  And this is exactly what happened was a German soldier on the street and he said, “Hey, you there, time to go to work.”  And, grandpa just wouldn’t accept this and started swinging at the German soldier.  And needless to say, had it not been for the dog that came along and, really not just came along, but it belonged to the family Zilbermans, where we were staying.  The dog’s name was Zuch, and attacked the German soldier.  So, the soldier sort of started paying more attention to the attacking dog than worrying about the Jew who didn’t want to go on a labor detail.  He could have killed him –
PRINCE: – He could have shot them both.
KOENIG: Well, he threw the bayonet at the dog and missed.  So, the dog survived and grandpa survived.  And he didn’t go on the work detail.
PRINCE: And you saw that?
KOENIG: Oh yes.  My brother and I, as a matter of fact, I think I mentioned to you that my brother who lives in Israel got very interested in writing poetry.  And, a matter of fact, had a few of his poems published in Israeli journals or publications or whatever they are.  And one of the poems that he wrote was about the dog, Zuch.
PRINCE: So you really had very positive people to look up to.  You had your father, who was very optimistic, and seemed to have a long range plan for your family.  In other words, he was in control of the – he was taking action on his own.  And you had your grandfather who stood up to a German soldier, and…
KOENIG: Right, right, but let’s put it this way.  It was the wrong thing to do.  It was not – we were not too happy about his actions because – we felt that he would have been much better off following the order and going with him, and rather than…He really could have been shot, right then and there on the street.
PRINCE: “We” meaning your father –
KOENIG: The family, right.
PRINCE: The family, okay.  And did they get after grandpa?
KOENIG: Well, we told him that next time the best thing to do would be to stay off the street. And next time, when he is caught, and they ask him to do a certain thing, maybe it would be better if he did.  But really it didn’t – he was not convinced…
PRINCE: Okay.  So what would you say the next step – the next change in your life was?
KOENIG: Well, you probably heard that for a long time – that I guess the Germans did not really comprehend or had an understanding of what would be involved in disposing of that many bodies.
PRINCE: Right.
KOENIG: They went into mass production and originally what they were doing –
PRINCE: – You mean after gassing.
KOENIG: They were digging mass graves – after gassing the bodies were buried.  And they decided that this was just an overwhelming task, just the fact that – maybe – I’m really not sure whether they were, at that time whether they were concerned about leaving any kind of  –
PRINCE: – evidence  –
KOENIG: – evidence of their crimes, whether that even entered their minds.  I don’t know.  But I think that really, they – it was taking up too much space and too much time and it was too involved to bury that many people.  And they decided to simply cremate the bodies, not only of those – they were, of the new arrivals, but also the ones that were already buried.  So one of the other things that sort of – if anybody had any illusions as to what was going on at Treblinka – was very often if the wind blew in the right direction the odor in town was almost unbearable.
PRINCE: And you knew what it was?
KOENIG: It was – well sure.  I mean, the Poles were saying, “They’re burning the Jews.” And that was the odor that was coming from the smokestacks from Treblinka.  And I told you, I was so close that really anything that kept the wind blowing from the right direction, that’s what you were getting.  And, you say, “Well how did everybody react?”  How do you react, that you’re next, that eventually they’ll get around to getting you.  And unless you make some arrangements to go into hiding, whether you go into the woods and try to join up with some partisans, which in many cases the Polish partisans weren’t so hotsy-totsy either because they would do the same thing to you that the Germans did.  Many of them were just as very – just as anti-Semitic and the only thing that they agreed on with the Germans was that Poland had to be free of the Jews.  And I understand that even now – I read in the Jewish Light where we’re going to have this film called, “Shoah?”
PRINCE: “Shoah.”
KOENIG: “Shoah.”  And there were a lot of interviews of Polish citizens and from what I read is that many of those – they are very frank about it, that they are very happy that there are no Jews in Poland.
PRINCE: Are you planning to see the film?
KOENIG: Yes, yes I would like to.  I don’t know if I’ll be able to talk Arlene into seeing it, but I definitely want to see it.
PRINCE: I would like to hear from you afterwards, about how…
KOENIG: Well, I’m sure it will be very upsetting to me, especially – what I cannot understand is that you are interviewing people that were directly involved in the actions, you’re interviewing people that were in charge of certain activities, the camps like Treblinka and others.  And they, understand – I have not seen the film.  I don’t know about – but just from what I’ve read in the paper that they’re very proud about how it was carried out and how well they did the job.  And my only question is, what is the son of a bitch doing talking about it?  He should be rotting in jail.
KOENIG: Why is he around?
KOENIG: So anyway (PAUSE) basically that’s the way the Polish population felt about their Jewish neighbors, and I don’t think it’s a – that it’s an accident that probably 95 percent of the German extermination camps were constructed on Polish soil, not anywhere else. It was Poland that was chosen, possibly because it did have the largest Jewish population of all the countries but – it was not in Romania, it was not in Hungary, and it was not in Czechoslovakia.  There were some, but majority of the extermination camps were in Poland, that’s where the Greek Jews were brought, that’s where Romanian Jews were brought…
KOENIG: That’s true.
PRINCE: Okay, we’re talking about changes.
KOENIG: Okay, you’re referring to the fact that –
PRINCE: – The next step –
KOENIG: – The next step –
PRINCE: – In your life that was different.
KOENIG: Dad felt that the only way that we’re going to survive, with the conditions that existed in Kosow were strictly temporary, that eventually the Nazis were going to get around to eliminating the Jewish population of Kosow as well as anywhere else.  And the fact that we were that close to Treblinka – it was obvious that they felt pretty secure in letting us exist until the right time came.  So – and here, at this point I’m not really sure being a youngster, and possibly because mom and dad felt, and others who were involved, that if you are not aware of something, if you don’t know of something, there’s no way that you can talk about it and give it away.  Or if you were forced to speak, if you don’t know it you simply don’t know it.  And it really wasn’t, we were not too familiar or involved – when I say “we,” I mean my brother and I…
PRINCE: Maybe grandpa too…(LAUGHTER)
KOENIG: Possibly, because he was getting a little bit senile at that time.  And, we really didn’t – now, grandpa passed away.  Grandpa did not end up with us in the – in hiding.  Grandpa actually died a natural death.  He got sick and died in a little, very primitive Jewish hospital in the town of Kosow sometime before the Final Solution took place in Kosow.  So grandpa was gone…But, dad was doing something, I don’t know how, through what channels, of finding somebody who would be willing to take us in and accept the promise of land if he helped us survive.  And he found that person through the help of other people who lived in town and made contact with him.  And the man and his family was – a farmer and his wife, and his son and his son’s wife, and I believe three daughters all lived in this farmhouse.  And they were all involved in the project of saving the Jews so that they could get the land.
Now, I know that the question always comes up, “Well, do you think that there was some degree of (PAUSE) – I’m searching for the right word – of sympathy for the situation that we were in or was it strictly a business proposition?”  Don’t ask me; I don’t know.  I really don’t know.  All I know is that a decision like this has to be pretty – it’s awfully hard to make, because they knew what the punishment was for hiding Jews.  I mean, it was obvious.  The Jews were killed and so was the family, and everything that they owned was destroyed if the Germans found a Jewish family on a Polish farm.  This was happening all the time.  (TAPE STOPS)
PRINCE: Your father owned a farm, he owned land in this vicinity, but this was not the farm that you went to?
KOENIG: Where we survived?  No, no, it was a small farm owned by a Polish peasant who had a few acres.  And I think I mentioned to you that Poland was primarily an agrarian society.  Land was at a premium.  And what was happening in Poland with the exception of a few large landowners, Poland’s population lived on the farm.  And what was happening is that a few acres what a man had, and let’s say he had two sons, and after he died, the farm that he had was divided between the two sons.  And now we have two smaller farms, and it just kept on being divided, and divided, and divided…and finally it had people that were living on a few acres where it was not enough land to even be able to feed themselves.
PRINCE: Right, so your father’s farm was smaller.
KOENIG: Dad’s farm, for Polish standards, was a fairly large farm.
PRINCE: Was that the 60 or 70 acre –
KOENIG: – Right.
PRINCE: Okay.  Now, is that what he was promising this farmer?
KOENIG: That’s what he was promising this farmer.  And he said, “If you help us survive, those 60 or 70 acres that I own will become yours.”
PRINCE: So he put the feelers out and this is the man that came back to him.
KOENIG: Well, I really don’t know…
PRINCE: I guess you have to be very careful how the feelers were put out…
KOENIG: Well, that’s right.
PRINCE: Okay, so here we are.
KOENIG: But it – and like I said, I really don’t know if it was strictly a business proposition with this man, the temptation of getting land, because that was such a premium in Poland –
PRINCE: – There could be a lot of combinations…
KOENIG: Right, but I’ll say this, that once we got in, the people were very – very friendly to us.  It was not a matter of well, we’re keeping you here only because you have the money and we have the land.  That was not the case.  They were very sympathetic.  They tried to help us out the best way they could.
PRINCE: Start at the beginning of it, though.  Who told you that this was going to happen?
KOENIG: That what was going to happen?
PRINCE: Who informed you that they had – that this is where you all were going, and this is what your life would be like…
KOENIG: Well here again, “Sister”, I don’t remember anymore.  It’s so many years ago, but one day we were told.  My brother and I were told that we had to leave the Zilberman house and go somewhere else if we had any hopes of surviving.
And, here’s a little story for you that probably will stay with me and my brother for the rest of our lives. (PAUSE)  I remember it was a very, very cold winter day.  When it got dark, and we had to make sure there was a moonless light, we left the town of Kosow and walked through woods to the little farm where we were going to be staying.  When we got there the men – my dad, and two brothers, and the farmer’s son and the farmer went to the barn and were digging this hole.  They needed something, and I don’t know what it was, and they had to make another trip into town.  My mom, my brother and myself stayed behind in the farm – on the farm, in the farmhouse.  We didn’t have a shelter yet, we didn’t have a bunker – it was being made.  And my dad and the two brothers had to go back into town.
All of a sudden, we started hearing shots – rifle shots – and at times they were far away, and at times they were very close.  Anyway, we didn’t know what was happening.  And the farmer panicked.  And he said, “It sounds to me like the Germans are coming, maybe that your dad and the other men got caught and maybe they found out where you are and therefore you’re going to have to get out.”  So, he pointed at some woods that were very close to the farm, and he says, “Why don’t you go in there, and if they find you, that’s too bad, and if they don’t find you, we’ll try to get you back.”
It was extremely cold, and my brother, and I, and my mom, went into the woods.  And there we stayed.  And hours were just going by and this is in the middle of the night, extremely cold, and one thing we knew that we cannot go to sleep, because if you go to sleep, you’ll freeze to death.  And my brother and I had no trouble staying awake, but for some reason or another, mom just kept dozing off, and dozing off and we tried our hardest to keep her awake and keep her moving.  And, and we were just kids. We were – at that point I was 12 and he was nine and it was just a – just a horrible experience.  And all the time while we were there we heard this firing – single shots, and then machine guns, and you really don’t know what’s going on, whether they’re really looking for you or – just why all this firing.
And after awhile the shooting subsided and we heard some voices in the woods and they whistled.  We sort of made up this little, crazy whistle that that would be a sign that if we ever had to, if we were ever separated, to let us know who we are, that was this whistle.  And Mike said to me, my brother, “Do you hear a whistle?”  And I said, “Yes I do.”  He says, “Should we answer?”  I said, “I don’t know, maybe it’s a trick.”  And for a long time we just sat there without answering.  And finally we said, “Well if we don’t they’ll just pass us up and they’ll never find us, and we’ll freeze to death, or the Germans will find us at daybreak.”
So we finally answered, and it was dad and the other men who came looking for us and told us that all this shooting that was going on, what happened was a German airplane had engine trouble and landed somewhere in a farm field, an emergency landing.  And part of the crew went into town to make phone calls or get help or whatever.  And, well they had a few drinks also.  And now they were trying to find their way back to the downed airplane, and they couldn’t find it.  So what they were doing is shooting in the air –
PRINCE: …and the other one was shooting back…
KOENIG: – and the other ones were responding to them simply to help them locate the plane and find their way back to the plane.  And in the meantime, we almost froze to death and almost had a heart attack.  They were looking for us.
PRINCE: You were children…
KOENIG: But anyway, we finally got back to the farmhouse and, uh, I don’t remember how long it took to dig the bunker in the barn.  And of course what was complicating things too was the fact that you had to dispose of this soil.  You had to get rid of it, and get rid of it in such a way that it wouldn’t be conspicuous, that nobody would notice that – what the heck is a farmer doing with a great big pile of dirt.  So,  somehow or another they managed to dig this tremendous hole in the barn.  And of course it had to be reinforced, and it had to be – a false ceiling had to be put in.  And it had to be made strong enough to be able to pile the normal things that you put into a barn, the hay, and the hay straw, and whatever else was going in there.  And…right now I don’t remember just exactly what the dimensions of the bunker were.  But – and I’ll get to it in a minute – we had 11 people that actually survived the war in that bunker.  And we all laid side by side, 11 people, took up all the available room.  So – let me just say, a person takes up two feet, so maybe, with 11 people, maybe it was 25 feet long.  And one of the fellows was pretty tall, and when he stretched out he covered the width of the bunker.  So let’s say it was maybe 22, 25 feet long by somewhere around six and a half feet, seven feet wide.  And…
PRINCE: How high?  Could everybody stand up?
KOENIG: No, no you couldn’t.  The kids could.  My brother and I, we were able to stand up.  Everybody else, the grownups had to walk around hunched over because there was not enough, uh, head room to stand up.  And the tall fellow, certainly he never could straighten up at all.  So…it was small, and it was subject to flooding because when we had a rainy season water would seep in.  So what you had to do is – there was a lot of branches piled on top, on the floor, the bottom –
PRINCE: – The floor being the dirt –
KOENIG: – The floor being the dirt –
PRINCE: – The walls being the dirt?
KOENIG: – The walls being the dirt.  So actually, what you did was put in some branches on the bottom of the bunker and line the walls and stuff straw.  So actually, it was very warm.  You might even say it was very cozy because it was underground and the straw acted as an insulator.  You had 11 people with the body heat, so as far as cold, we never experienced any cold whatsoever.  No matter how cold it got outside, it was always very comfortable down below.  But, the big problem was sanitary conditions because we could not take a bath.  We just did not bathe, that’s all.  And, the only time that you could use – if I use the word “bathroom,” well, I don’t know what else to use – but, adjacent to the barn was a – a chicken coop.  And that was our place to go as well.
PRINCE: So you had to come out of the bunker –
KOENIG: You came out of the bunker, you walked through the barn and you got into the chicken coop.  Of course you had to be extremely careful and –

Tape 3 - Side 2

PRINCE: I’ll repeat the question.  Was there a pail –
KOENIG: I really don’t remember.  I really don’t remember if there was a pail.  I think so.  I think there was.  I think there was a pail.
PRINCE: Were there chickens in the chicken pen?
KOENIG: Oh yes, oh yes, so you had to be careful that you didn’t disturb the chickens too much so that they become suspicious, and the farmer’s daughters were at the age where they were dating.  There were a lot of suitors coming out to date the girls.  That was a real pain.  In other words, if somebody would come around – and on a farm like this, where do you have a little privacy with a girl?  In the barn…
PRINCE: In the barn, oh…
KOENIG: So, when that would happen, of course we had to almost stop living.  You couldn’t – you couldn’t sneeze, you couldn’t cough, you couldn’t breathe, you couldn’t do anything.  You had to be down there –
PRINCE: And she knew that you were there.
KOENIG: Right.
PRINCE: I’m surprised (LIGHT LAUGHTER) that they didn’t find another place.
KOENIG: Well, they tried very hard to avoid any strangers coming into the barn.
PRINCE: But it happened.
KOENIG: Well, you can’t make it too conspicuous either because if a boy wants to go into the barn –
PRINCE: What reason do you have –
KOENIG: It’s a normally accepted way, right.  It’s an accepted way of life.  You keep denying him that pretty soon somebody will become suspicious and say, “What are – what are you hiding in that damn barn?”
PRINCE: Also you didn’t want to deny the girls what they would normally do because then the family would resent, you know…
KOENIG: They might resented, that’s right.  I can’t remember now.  I think the girls ranged like – maybe from the youngest one I believe was somewhere around 18 or 19, and the oldest one I think was maybe 23 or 24.
PRINCE: I’d like to know everything I possibly could about this.  I think it – could we begin with telling me who was in the bunker?
KOENIG: Originally we started off with my immediate family, mom and dad, my brother and I, a mother and a daughter – at that time the daughter probably was somewhere around 23, 24 years old.  And the mother was probably somewhere in her middle 40s.  And two brothers – the younger one probably was somewhere around 19 or 20, and the older one maybe 22 or 23.  And their last names were Rzepka, brothers Rzepka, those names I remember.  The names of the woman and her daughter I don’t remember.
And I often thought about what was the connection.  How did we – how did they get in on this thing?  I really don’t know.  I think the two brothers were involved because they knew the farmer.  So part of the deal was that since we provided you with the name of the farmer who’s going to take you in, we are in on the deal.  So that’s how many people?  That’s eight, correct?  And then, the – there were two other people and the girl’s husband.  Somehow or another, they made an escape from Treblinka, the three of them were supposed to escape Treblinka.  They had some money hidden somewhere.  And they got in on the deal because they were to bring in some cash, some gold, which could have been used to pay for our needs.  After all, it costs a lot of money to feed 11 people and the land he was going to get was not going to feed us.  So, and dad did not have too much in cash, and I think this was the part where he had to have somebody else involved in this thing to help pay for.  So, what happened was that during the escape from Treblinka these three men, the two made it, and the girl’s husband got killed.  He was shot; he didn’t get out.  In the meantime, we found out that she was pregnant and was going to have a baby.  Needless to say, she took it very hard and then two fellows showed up and her husband wasn’t with them.  But (PAUSE) when we found out that she was pregnant, then the question which was frequently asked was, “What do we do?  How do we survive with a newborn baby?”  And oddly enough, I told you that the farmer had a son who lived with him, and he was married.  And his wife was pregnant as well.  And they were just about due at the same time.  So, there was some hope that maybe what could be done.  No, I’m sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself here a little bit.  The conditions in the bunker were terrible, especially when – I told you when it rained that water would come in and because the sanitary conditions were so bad, we were overrun with bugs – bed bugs and lice and fleas.  As a matter of fact, one of the favorite past times, we caught – one of the necessities of life was to spend considerable amount of time going through whatever few things that we had to wear and look for the – for the insects.
PRINCE: Uh huh.  And even if you took them off, they would come right back.
KOENIG: Well you didn’t let them get away, you –
KOENIG: You killed them.
PRINCE: But I mean others would…
KOENIG: Well, there were so many of them, really, that it was an impossible task.  You just – you’re constantly killing bed bugs and lice to survive.  Otherwise there would be – it would be completely overrun.  And there was just no washing.  There was no bath, there was no showers, no washing in any way at all.  So that doesn’t come as a surprise when you have those kinds of conditions to have bugs.
But we as kids were not involved in those conversations too much, but we had also always – I recall being in a – in a huddle and trying to figure out what we were going to do once the baby was born.  Because she was getting bigger, and she was getting bigger…
PRINCE: Was she part of the discussions, do you remember?
PRINCE: It’s kind of hard not to be –
KOENIG: I can’t remember whether she was or wasn’t.  But we knew one thing, that there was no way, absolutely no way that the baby could be allowed to live in the bunker because how do you control a baby?  It’s hard enough to control an adult from sneezing or coughing or breathing at the wrong time, what do you do with an infant, a newborn baby? (PAUSE)  The baby was born, and the other baby was born to the…
PRINCE: Polish –
KOENIG: Polish family.  And would you believe that the infant that was born to the Polish woman was a boy and had no chance to live.  It was born with a defect, how – I never did see the baby.  It was sad.  It was only a matter of time before the baby would die.  It had no chance – was some kind, something somewhere malformed and it was going to die, and it was a boy.  And the baby who was born in the bunker was a beautiful little girl, just beautiful, nothing wrong with her.  So there were some thoughts that possibly since the other baby was going to die, that maybe they could substitute and take the baby from the bunker and let it be raised by the other woman.  Except that you had a midwife who knew what the baby looked like and the sex of the baby, and how do you make a girl out of a boy?  So anyway, that wasn’t going to fly in any way at all, and the old peasant woman was consulted and she came up with the – with the remedy.  And it was new to us, but, you see, one of the very common crops in Poland were poppies.  There was grown, just like you hear where it’s grown very common in Turkey, it was grown in Poland too.  The climate was such that poppies were a very profitable, very good crop, not for –
PRINCE: I didn’t know that –
KOENIG: Not for the value as opium, which opium is made out of poppies.  But it was simply – it was for oil and once you squeezed the oil out, you were able to use the (PAUSE) the seeds that were all squeezed now for cattle feed.  It was very nourishing and very, very good for cattle.  But, the old woman knew that there was something about the poppies that if you took the pod itself – I think that’s the part that you get the narcotic out of, and you boil it in water, and you drink it, it has a very funny effect on a person.  And, anyway this is what she prepared – this kind of a potion made out of poppies and it was given to the baby.  And the baby just simply went to sleep, and never woke up.  And then the question I remember – the discussion was, who was going to do it?  And nobody really wanted to take the responsibility.  And everybody felt that, look here are 11 lives that are at stake, and we have a newborn baby, so what do you do?  Do you let the baby live and jeopardize the lives of 11 grown people, or do you dispose of the baby?  And if you do dispose of it, how?  And who?  So the method was devised by the old peasant woman but who – it was decided that it had to be the mother.  And she was the one that gave the baby the poppy potion and the baby went to sleep.  And there was – there was no bloodshed or anything violent about it.  The baby simply went to sleep.  But the thing that I – that sticks in my mind was that really, the baby lived only a few hours.  But in that very short time it was almost eaten up by the bugs.  It was – oh, I really don’t know if the baby would have had a chance of surviving because it couldn’t defend itself.  You know, it’s not like a grown person.  And you were constantly invaded by fleas and lice and bed bugs and they were just constantly biting.  And the baby, within just that short time, it was completely – the skin was just completely covered by the bugs and the insects.  And that just kind of sticks in my mind.  And then of course the baby died, and was at night taken out by the farmer and buried somewhere out there.
PRINCE: How did the atmosphere in the bunker change?
PRINCE: For you, for you.  We’re still talking about your impressions…
KOENIG: It was – yes, it was…”Sister”, I really have to tell you this, that at that time death was so prevalent.  It was all around us…that it really didn’t – the death of that baby probably meant more to us after the war when you reflect, when you’ve thought about what was going on there, than it did at that time.  At that time there was – it was a matter of survival.  You knew that if it was not done, the chances of us surviving were nil.  And it was just something that had to be done.
PRINCE: I – I didn’t want to interrupt you when you were talking about your grandfather and when he died, but since we are on death, individual death at the moment, I was wondering the effect that – with death all around you .  And I know you talked about it in the ghetto and how you could walk and see all the people and – but did the grandfather’s death effect you in a different way? (PAUSE) At that time?
KOENIG: Yes, it affected me – I (PAUSE) I was devastated.  Even though I knew that at times that grandpa was getting senile, and at times he was making life, especially for my mom, pretty rough.  Somehow or another he was becoming more and more religious as he was getting older.
PRINCE: He was getting to be a burden.
KOENIG: Right.  And he would not accept the fact that – look, food is extremely hard to obtain.  Be grateful that that you can eat whatever we can find, without worrying whether it’s kosher or that it’s not kosher, or whether you’re mixing things that you shouldn’t be mixing, and whether it’s prepared right.  And somehow or another, grandpa’s mind was getting clouded sufficiently where he –
PRINCE: Priorities were –
KOENIG: Yeah, yeah.  So, but nevertheless I was very close to him.  And I guess the atmosphere – the hospital was so barren.  My mother always said it wouldn’t even resemble what you and I understand under the word hospital now.  It just had a different – well the word “hospital” is mentioned, you visualize a certain type of a structure with a certain type of equipment and a certain type of personality.  And there was nothing like it.  It was a – that shack out there is probably more of a – resembles that hospital more than anything else.  So it was very primitive and seeing grandpa laying there dead (PAUSE) and thinking that maybe the same thing was awaiting us, and maybe…Well, anyway, it was – it was pretty rough on me.  But I’m sure that as far as my mom and my dad were concerned, they looked on it as, at least he died naturally.  It was a natural death rather than being put to death by somebody else.  So…
PRINCE: Okay.  I just wanted to…
KOENIG: They were – they were, I’m sure, grateful that he died naturally.  But to me it was a great loss.
PRINCE: Talk to me a little bit about the morale in the bunker.  How did people get along; anything that comes to mind – relationships, what did you do with – these are a lot of questions but they all have to do with each other.  Being so close physically, if you got mad…
PRINCE: …This, what your daily life was like or maybe describe a day – how do you want to…
KOENIG: The day was spent by, as I told you, a great part of it was spent by searching for lice and disposing of the bugs.  It was spent by reading a newspaper which the farmer was able to bring it for us daily.  He would make his little hike into town and get his couple shots of vodka and pick up the newspaper and bring it back to us.  And, the morale was really very low (PAUSE) when the Nazis were still making great progress on the eastern front.  At that time when we went into hiding, they were still moving in.  And we knew that the only hope for survival was from the east, not from the west, and as long as they were still victorious, that day was farther and farther away.  And really, it wasn’t until the beating that they took at Stalingrad which was the turning point of the Russian campaign for the Germans when really the front line started moving back west.  Until that time, our morale was extremely low and what we were very concerned was more about the morale, what concerned us more was the morale, the farmer who was keeping us, than our own morale, because, after all, what if he got tired of it?  What if he would say, “Hey, there is no way, maybe these Nazis really are going to win this war.  Maybe they really will take Moscow.  And maybe the Soviets really will collapse.  And if that happens, then what am I doing here with these 11 Jews in my barn?”  Well, once things started turning around on the Russian front, then of course our morale was boosted tremendously.  And, we felt a little bit more secure in – about his feelings, than we were before because we knew that at least any clear-thinking individual would see too really that there was really no way that they were going to recover from that blow at Stalingrad and later on at Moscow.  And, let’s face it, it was a long, long process.  It took the Russians a long time to recover their own lost territory before they even moved into Poland.  And we were certainly not  (TAPE STOPS)
PRINCE: All right, sorry, a little trouble on the tape.  Jerry, um, I had asked you before – I – what other relationships besides your immediate family did you find?  Was there someone that you felt closer to in the bunker than anyone else?
KOENIG: One of the men that escaped from Treblinka was a very nice, very well-educated man and I enjoyed being with him.  And I think he was somewhat of an artist because he was very good at carving and he and I work on a wooden rifle and made a wooden rifle, and his directions, and he showed me how and what to do.  And we carved out a pretty nice looking rifle, thinking that maybe someday when we need it as a weapon, maybe it would look real enough that it would pass as a real rifle and maybe we could use it in our own defense.
PRINCE: Was he in his 20s?
KOENIG: Oh no, I would say that man hardly was in his middle 40s or maybe early 50s.
KOENIG: He lost his family.  And he was from Warsaw.  And he was just a – a very interesting individual to listen to.  He could speak on many different subjects and when it came to passing time away, because really, the days were dragging.  We were there almost two years, and one day was the same as the next and he certainly contributed an awful lot to the conditions in the bunker because he was a good talker.  We always enjoyed listening to his stories and we also spent considerable amount of time exercising.  We tried to stay in shape as much as we could because we were always afraid that this type of physical inactivity, not being able to walk around, not being able to do anything – we would really suffer healthwise if we didn’t do something.  So we tried to do various calisthenics and certain things…
PRINCE: You had to stay in shape if you needed to escape too.
KOENIG: To stay in shape, right.  We were able to walk around a little bit in the barn –
PRINCE: At night?
KOENIG: At night.  When the barn doors were closed and we wouldn’t expect anybody to come into the barn, but there again, you had to be very careful because you never knew.  Somebody could sit down next to the barn, somebody who didn’t really belong to the family.  It just – not meaning anything, just, and actually later on it happened where – we were so petrified because this was already when the Russian front was moving and the Germans were retreating, and…they were getting beaten and they were tired.  And here we were, in the barn, and all of a sudden, here’s a German soldier just with a thin board between us and he’s sitting down and wiping his brow and rolling up his sleeves and putting his rifle down on the ground –
PRINCE: How did you know that from…
KOENIG: Looking through a little knothole.
PRINCE: Umhmm.
KOENIG: There he was on the other side, and there we were…you can’t move.  You freeze because you’re afraid that he will hear you if you move.  And when you stay there, what if I have to sneeze?  What if I have to cough?  And what would his reaction be?  Is he just a good German frontline soldier who could care less about Jews, or is he a son of a bitch who will shoot you just because you are a Jew?
PRINCE: Um, before something happened with the tape, you had said to me before you came out here, “I was thinking about something I thought I’d never forget.”  What was that?  You forgot? (LAUGHTER)
KOENIG: The date of liberation.
KOENIG: It was something that I thought was imprinted indelibly in my mind is when you were liberated.  And really, right now if you ask me well, when was the day that you actually walked out of the bunker, I really couldn’t tell you.  I know it was summertime.  It was warm, or hot, and I remember seeing the columns of the Soviet soldiers marching toward the front, and I remember the dust.  And I remember the remarks that they were making looking at us because you can just imagine what we looked like after not being in the sunlight for two years – extremely pale and extremely thin.  And one of the things that my – didn’t affect me too much, but my brother suffered tremendously and later on my mom developed problems too, were arthritic problems.  He had – for a long time he had problems walking.  He had swelling of the knees, and I guess it was from the moisture –
PRINCE: The dampness –
KOENIG: The dampness in the hole, and – and probably not the right kind of diet.  Basically it was potatoes and sauerkraut and that was the daily meal – one meal a day.  And you got the meal whenever they could bring it to you.
PRINCE: So you never knew…
KOENIG: There were many times where I’d say the food was done and you look at the clock and you say, “Well, pretty soon we’ll get something to eat.”  And if some neighbor farmer decided to pay him a neighborly visit, you were out of luck.  You didn’t eat.
PRINCE: Or you could eat late in the night one night and the next morning eat again…
KOENIG: Whenever it was possible, whenever it was possible.
PRINCE: Who usually brought you the food?
KOENIG: It varied.  Sometimes it was one of the girls and sometimes it was the wife of the farmer – by the way, the farmer’s name was Jan Goral.  That I probably will never forget for the rest of my life, but the dates have kind of escaped me.
PRINCE: When they brought the food, did they knock on the door or – of the top of it – or did they let you know that they were coming – that it was them?  (INAUDIBLE COMMENT BY MR. KOENIG) Was there a roof?  How did it close?  Was there steps?
KOENIG: It was like a little trap door, you know?  There were no steps; you actually lowered yourself through the opening, and the opening was just large enough for a person to get through.  It’s something like an access to an attic, okay?  Maybe two and a half by two and a half feet square.
PRINCE: Was it as big as this room?
KOENIG: The opening?
KOENIG: Oh, the…
PRINCE: The bunker…

Tape 4 - Side 1

PRINCE: I’ll repeat the question.  Was the bunker as big as this room, and we’re in a den in your home.
KOENIG: The length was about the same as this room, but not the width.  The width was only…six and a half, seven feet.  So, it was a pretty small, a pretty small room.
PRINCE: So they could lower themselves down.
KOENIG: So you could lower yourself down and – but really, if you knew where the opening was, there was no problem finding it.  All you had to to was just reach down and lift it.  I mean, that’s basically what it was, was…boards that were covered with straw that was nailed to it.  So actually when you lifted it, you were lifting part of the camouflage that was fastened to the boards.
PRINCE: And you could get out by yourselves…
KOENIG: Oh yeah, just by pushing up against it, no problem, that’s right.
PRINCE: Okay, did I ask, did they visit with you sometimes?  Come down and stay with you for awhile?
KOENIG: Yeah, especially the farmer, the older man.  I guess at that time he probably was, hmmm, I would say maybe in his 60s.  And occasionally he would come down and sit around and talk.  And I remember just thinking as a youngster, watching him because he usually had these couple shots of vodka before he came down and sat around and talked about things and talked about the war situation and how the Russians and the Germans were doing on the front lines and then pretty soon he – I guess the warmth and the vodka would sort of start taking their effect on him and he would sit there and just doze off and we just let him stay there and maybe an hour or two, and in time he decided to go.  But, yeah, he would – he would visit.  And his son would visit with us occasionally.  As a matter of fact, one of the things that I want to bring up is, we were able to get out of the bunker.  And actually there was a narrow passageway between the outside wall of the barn – the boards formed a wall of the barn, and where the hay was piled up –
PRINCE: The hay?
KOENIG: The hay, so that you could get by.  And if there was not too much activity outside, we were able to lay there in that little passageway and kind of look out through the knotholes in the boards and see the outside, see what the world looked like.  And I remember the feeling that I had, how much it would have meant to me to be able just to go outside and see the farm animals out there, walking and grazing and the chickens and…I thought everybody can be out there, but I can’t.  And, even the thought was brought forth that maybe, somehow or another they all felt that my features were not especially Jewish and that I could get by as a Polish youngster and maybe they could say that I was a distant relative who came –
PRINCE: “They” being your parents?
KOENIG: The farmer.
PRINCE: Oh, the farmer.
KOENIG: The farmer could state that I was a distant relative who came –
PRINCE: But your parents were feeling this, is that right? (PAUSE) That – it was their idea that you’re relating to me?
KOENIG: Right.
KOENIG: But maybe, but maybe what could be done is that I could…stay with them and help them with their farm chores and be as one of their relatives.  But here again, there was always the problem – number one, in Poland we had the farm population spoke another dialect which is not too uncommon here in the United States too.  Usually the people in the city and the people on the farm speak a little bit differently.  And the same was true in Poland.  And so there was one element of fear right there that my Polish was so very different from the Polish that was spoken on the farm.
PRINCE: And you were circumcised.
KOENIG: And the other thing was the circumcision.  So there was the two things that knocked that idea right from my head.  So, there was no way that I could be on the outside without jeopardizing the other people.
PRINCE: Did you cry?
KOENIG: (SIGHS) I cried one time.  And really at that time we all thought that the end was very near.  And this was the incident that I wanted to – I wanted you to remind me, and now that it just naturally came to my mind.  One day the farmer came down and told my father that Mr. Zilberman, a friend of his who shared his house with us, was out there in the woods and wanted to talk to my dad.  And what happened was this, that that man did identically the same thing with his family that my dad did with his family.  He found a farmer who was willing to keep them, except that he got scared.  And one day, he turned them out.  He said, “I’m not going to – I can’t take this anymore.  I can’t take the – jeopardize the lives of my family.  I’ve kept you here for awhile, but you have to leave.”  So, somehow or another, whether dad told Mr. Zilberman where we were going, or how he ever found out; he had some suspicion that maybe that’s where we were…He was hoping that the same farmer who was keeping us would also take him in.  So, first of all, when we heard that there was a Jewish family in the woods wanting to talk to my dad, we thought we’re done.  Because surely somebody spotted them, somebody saw that he was contacting the farmer who was keeping us…and the whole thing is down the drain.  Well, as it turned out, it wasn’t so.  And, the Zilberman family was not spotted by anybody until later on, until after the contact was made once.  And our farmer just simply refused.  He said, “I have 11 people and there is no way that I can take additional people.”  So now we thought, after the Zilbermans leave and if they get caught, will they give us away?  Well what’s going to happen?  And, “Sister”, you know, it’s just – it’s a horrible thing, because it breaks…(LONG SILENCE)
KOENIG: Can you run it…
PRINCE: We’re running the tape now.
KOENIG: Well, what I want to tell you is that these people were of course turned down by the farmer.  And really, there was – it was impossible to take on four more people.  And, they never made it out of the woods…
PRINCE: The Germans found them?
KOENIG: I don’t think it was the Germans, I think it was the Poles who got them and the whole family was slaughtered in the woods.  And the farmer came back to us – I think, I don’t remember if it was the following day or two days later – and he says they found the Zilbermans dead in the woods. (PAUSE)  And, she was a small woman and apparently in her younger days she had some kind of a problem with her teeth, and practically every tooth in her mouth was a gold tooth…
PRINCE: Was gold…
KOENIG: And not only that they killed them, they took her head.  They didn’t have enough time to pull the teeth so they took the head to – to get the teeth.
PRINCE: (SIGHS) Oh, good heavens…
KOENIG: And now the other thing I would like to point out is that there were these…things that the Germans would pull, when everybody would pull into a town and gather up as many Jews as possible and put them on a train and ship them to Treblinka.  Those were called aktions.  There was an aktion.  The Polish word for it was akcja.  When you said akcja you knew what you – what that meant, that meant that the town was surrounded or the ghetto was surrounded, and as many people as they could get…If there was any resistance or any problems, they were shot right then and there, and the majority was put on a train and taken to Treblinka.  Anyway, there was a – an aktion in Kosow; there were a few people there that were well-known.  They were participating in this sort of thing.  Whenever the Germans would come in –
PRINCE: Oh, Polish –
KOENIG: They had their axes and they would point out where the Jews were and they would be rewarded for it.  And at the same time, get their little fun too of killing a few Jews.  So, my memories of that town and of our neighbors – here again, I don’t want to sound prejudiced because we did have a lot of good friends.  Dad had a lot of good friends and I had a lot of good friends in school.  After the war…But, I still have to say that majority of the Polish people that anti-Semitism was so deeply ingrained that it was, I guess you could almost compare it to the anti-Negro sentiment in the South.  It was just –
PRINCE: …Part of life.
KOENIG: Part culture.
PRINCE: Let me ask some questions about back – living back in the bunker.  You got newspapers so you were aware of the dates.  You – so, was there anything – did you keep track of your birthdays and holidays?  Jewish holidays?  Was there anything that –
KOENIG: – I don’t have any recollection –
PRINCE: – made one day any different than the other?
KOENIG: Not really, not really.  I, some of the things that pretty well stick in my mind was – I can tell you how I kept myself occupied.  I always liked to draw.  And the Polish newspapers, which really – let’s put it this way.  They were German newspapers printed in the Polish language.  That’s about the…So, and they had very apropos cartoons.  Somehow or another the paper – now that I think back, some of the cartoons were just terrific representing their point of view, the German point of view.  And some of them were really classic – I would give anything to have that collection of those cartoons, because what I was doing – I cut out all the cartoons.  Keep in mind I’m a young boy and I would cut out these cartoons and I had a tremendous collection of them.  And to pass my time away I would copy those things.  I would have it sitting in front of me and either make a miniature of it or make an enlargement of it, or whatever.  And the farmer would supply me with pencil and paper, and it was a good time – a good way for me to pass the time away.
PRINCE: Did you – with your pencil and paper – pass the time away, with either your father or this older friend that you had, with any studies?
KOENIG: Okay.  From my dad, I learned Russian and I really – at this point I can’t remember if my dad really knew Russian well but he knew enough to give me a pretty good background.  If nothing else, it was the alphabet, which is different than the alphabet that we use.  So actually when the Russians came, I had a pretty fair background in the vocabulary, Russian vocabulary, and the alphabet.  So that was one thing.  Let’s see what else.  Okay, we learned to play chess.  We played an awful lot of chess.  And where did we get the chess?  Well, as valuable as food was, and as scarce as it was, we had the bread that we had was home baked.  In other words, the farmer and his wife baked their own bread.  And I don’t know if you have ever seen this kind of bread, but basically it looked like pumpernickle.  It was really – it was rye and it was – everything went into it.  Any kind of filler that you could find, and put in, even the sweepings off the floor.  Everything went into it.  Now we’re finding out that that’s probably the best thing that you can eat.
PRINCE: Well you look very healthy and hardy.
KOENIG: (LAUGHTER) But at that time, you know this was the kind of bread that you could have.  It was heavy, it was wet, it was full of all kinds of fillers, very little flour.  But…and it was gooey.  So it was very easy to make little figures out of it.  So I made a chess set out of it.
PRINCE: Chess set, wow, very creative.
KOENIG: And, well, it really helped us pass the time away because number one, we learned to play chess…and then.  And you could just spend hours sitting there playing chess without – being oblivious to the world around you.
PRINCE: How did – how did you maintain order and dignity with that many people?  In other words, you, did you have candles down there?  Well, I’m sort of asking – I’m thinking in terms of day and night.  You wouldn’t have ______.  What was light?  Let’s start with light – okay, there’s so many questions.
KOENIG: The lighting –
PRINCE: Okay, start with the lighting.
KOENIG: The lighting was – we had a kerosene lamp and we had a carbide lamp.  I don’t know if you know what a carbide lamp is, but during the war in Poland it was very commonly used.  It was a little – I’ll tell you what I’ll call it; I’ll call it a bomb, because if you weren’t extremely careful, that’s what you had.  You actually had a bomb on your hands.  It was…cylinder consisting of two halves and you would unscrew the top and you would put carbide into the bottom part and fill the top part with water, and we all know what happens when water gets onto carbide; it forms a gas.  And…which burns very brightly, bright light and extremely hot.  And that’s – you would light the gas, and you had light.  If you weren’t careful enough, instead of a lamp, you had a bomb.  It would explode.  Also you had to be very careful with the kerosene lamps because now you’re familiar with those.  You have a little, a glass container and you put the kerosene in it and a wick, and a globe on top, and keeping in mind if – that basically the bunker was lined with straw.  And it was like a – a very short period of time became extremely dry on the walls.  On the floor it was very damp.  But we did have a fire one time.  Somehow or another the lamp, I can’t recall whether it fell or whether it was turned up too high, and it caught a straw on one of the walls and fire.  And of course that would have been curtains for us…
PRINCE: So you just all…
KOENIG: Well, we put it out.
PRINCE: Put it out, right.
KOENIG: We were able to put it out.  But, that was the light –
PRINCE: Excuse me, who was in charge of lighting it?  I mean, was there someone, as there always seems to be in situations like – lifeboats or…
KOENIG: Not really, not really.  I think (SIGHS) about the only assigned duty that anybody could have was the distribution of food.  The food came to us in a big pot, and a loaf of bread that had to be cut.  And what was being done is actually, I remember that all of us were taking turns, distributing the food, cutting the bread.  And I think the way it was done was it was divided and it sat there, and the man who was doing it, or the woman who was doing it, tried their best to divide it as equally as possible, and then you had your choice in that you didn’t have to take the one that you thought was smaller than the other one.  Everybody just walked up and took his –
PRINCE: Do you remember any arguments?
KOENIG: – share. (SIGHS) I remember one between my dad and one of the two brothers and I really don’t remember just exactly what it was all about.  Yes, there was a little friction there, but it was forgotten very quickly and uh…
PRINCE: It sounds as though that’s not very much for the closeness and the amount of time that everybody must have lent themselves to the situation.
KOENIG: I agree with you, but you know, you had to keep in mind that really everybody realized that if we didn’t get along, if we had problems, downstairs that that would immediately reflect itself upstairs.  And the farmer –
PRINCE: You put up with it.
KOENIG: The farmer was – felt that he was in a dangerous enough position if everything was going smoothly.  If we had any problems down there, then I’m sure he would have said, “You get out.  I don’t need this kind of problem.”  So, it was in everybody’s interest really in order to survive we just thought that’s all you could do was to get along and wait for – for liberation.
PRINCE: And the dignity part of it…
KOENIG: Well, I – I really don’t know how it was all handled because it was an unusual situation.  Okay, you had one couple, my mom and dad, who at that time…Let’s see, my dad was in 1942 was 40 years old.  My mom was 30 years old, 31 years old.  So we’re speaking about a relatively young couple.  Then you had a young man – an unmarried young man – and a woman basically his age, the one that – who gave birth.
KOENIG: Okay.  Then you had her mother and another man who were basically somewhere in the same age group.  Now, I really don’t think that there was anything ever –
PRINCE: Accomplished.
KOENIG: Accomplished, there at all.  And I really don’t think that the – the conditions sometimes weren’t really even conducive to anything.  I don’t think that any feelings really developed between any of these people that maybe under other conditions maybe could have, I really don’t know.
PRINCE: Actually, my question about dignity really – I wasn’t even thinking in those terms, but I’m glad you brought that up because it’s  _____ of what could have happened.  It was worse, though, just – you were living underground.  You were dependent on someone else.  Everybody in your age group was called upon to be almost larger than life.  And it was constantly giving, you know, of yourself, maybe going to bed and having lights turned off, when you would prefer not.  Living with bugs like you said, and I was just generally talking about the dignity of one person spiritually or physically or emotionally, just being able to keep yourself together.
PRINCE: And I, I will keep on talking for a second to say that I am sitting here in this room with you and I’m astounded and amazed and awed that you’re together and…You must have had a wonderful mother and father.  You must have felt loved and – I don’t mean to put words in your mouth but –
KOENIG: No, I understand what you’re saying.
PRINCE: I’ve just spent most of the day here with you and your wife and it’s a pleasure.
KOENIG: Thank you. (PAUSE) I think that my brother and I were fortunate that this thing occurred, probably if you want to call it that, at the right time.  If you can call it that, at the right time, because really I don’t think it has left the kind of imprint on us, speaking of my brother and myself, as it did on my parents.  You see, this was one of the things that I never could tolerate or – they would get me extremely upset that no matter with what group of people we were with, that my parents would eventually during the course of the conversation, steer onto the Holocaust.  If they were around I knew, and everybody else knew, that sooner or later we would be talking about the Holocaust, about what happened, and the problems that it created and about the feelings and most of that. And many times I would get to the point where I would say, “You have to get on with your life.  You cannot be living in the past.  You cannot be always thinking about what happened.”  I don’t.  I know that my brother doesn’t.  But here again, I think that the difference is that we were children at that time and the basic responsibility for survival was on their shoulders and not on ours.  And I often put myself in my dad’s place and I think to myself, okay so yes, I raised a family and I have two girls.  And I knew it was my job to be a provider for this family.  I had to go to work and I had to make sure that I was able to feed them and clothe them and send them to school, and whatever else that I wanted for them.  But one thing that I did not have to worry about was to make sure that the family survived and that I did not have that responsibility on my shoulders.  Unless, sure accidents happen, anything like this, but at least I knew that there was nobody out there gunning for them, intentionally.
PRINCE: So it was almost easy in comparison…
KOENIG: Oh I think so.  There’s no comparison.  And I – whenever I –
PRINCE: But did you think – is it possible that you thought ever, that thought ever came to you?
PRINCE: When you were raising your family.
KOENIG: Oh, often.  No really, the thought would come to me whenever I was critical of my parents, whenever I would tell them that, “Look, sometimes when people get together and they get together to have a good time.  And they would like to sit down and chit chat and talk about playing golf and playing tennis and playing cards or having a good time or being on vacation.  And then the conversation sooner or later ends up on a very painful era, some people – I don’t know if they never really said so, never really objected to it vocally, but (TAPE STOPS)
PRINCE: What have I not asked you about living in the bunker that I might have missed that you’d like to bring up?
KOENIG: (PAUSE) Well…I think probably what you – well I don’t know if you really would have asked the question, or if it really came through in what I had said before.  But, uh, I guess this is probably the closest thing that you can come to being, you know, imprisoned, and knowing that there is a different kind of life on the outside and you are confined to a very small space – that you are living there under daily threat of losing that miserable life, which would be…and then you ask yourself, why?  And sure, you know that there’s a war going on, that a lot of people are suffering, that you’re not the only one.  But then, that’s all very true.  People are dying on the battlefield and – but what makes your situation different from everybody else that in addition to suffering the same way as they are, you are hunted, which you know that they are not.  The other people are not.

Tape 4 - Side 2

KOENIG: …Somebody hurting you for no other reason other than –
PRINCE: That you’re Jewish.
KOENIG: That you are a Jew.  No other reason, whatsoever.  The Germans fought the Poles on the battlefield and once this battle was over, yes, they treated them as second class people and they considered themselves as herrenvolk.  That’s all true.  But, you know, the Pole was able to walk the street.  The Pole did not have to step off the sidewalk when he confronted a German soldier on the street.  The Pole didn’t have to wear an armband identifying him as to who he was.  A Pole did not have to hide in a rathole like I did, just because of Polish –
PRINCE: You must have felt very angry.
KOENIG: Well, I guess – yes.  Angry is probably putting it very mild and from what I recall, my feelings at that time, as a youngster really revenge was probably the most preoccupying thought in my mind at that time.  In other words, how nice it would be to be able to take revenge for what was going on.  And later on when I talked – you see, and really, the thing that bothers me most right now is probably the fact that the only people that made the guilty ones pay to some extent were the Russians.  The Russians took revenge, in a big way.
PRINCE: You mean the raping and the plundering?
KOENIG: …You call it whatever you want.  You call it raping; I don’t call it raping.  I call it –
PRINCE: Revenge.
KOENIG: That’s right, doing exactly the same thing as the Nazis were doing in their country, to their country, the same darn thing.
PRINCE: An eye for an eye.
KOENIG: And – that’s right.  And I’m a firm believer in an eye for an eye.  And unfortunately the Allies, the French, the Americans, the English, did not permit this sort of thing to go on.  And as we said before, when you read the paper and you read about the interviews of people that were actively involved in extermination camps, you ask yourself the question, “What business does this person have being alive?  Why didn’t he – why wasn’t he put to death the minute it was found out his identity was German?”
PRINCE: Did you dream up your own ideas of revenge?
KOENIG: I don’t know that I can really say that.  But, yeah, I guess you do as a youngster –
PRINCE: As a kid –
KOENIG: Yes, yes.  And…
PRINCE: Did you feel inferior?
KOENIG: (PAUSE) During that time?
PRINCE: Umhmm.
KOENIG: No I really can’t say that I felt inferior.  You know, I – I’ll say this, that I felt many times that Jewish people in Europe for whatever reason were making themselves inferior to other people.  Maybe inferior is the wrong word.
PRINCE: Subject…
KOENIG: They were making themselves different from the other people, very different.  If you compare the United States, you are different from the other person on the street because you go to a temple and he goes to a church.  Or, you, say you’re Jewish and he is Greek background or Italian background or whatever.  But, you speak English just as well as he does, and you dress basically the same way as the other person does, and you see, we didn’t have this in Poland.  In Poland you could spot a Jew a mile away.  There was no emphasis placed on learning the language of the country.  In most cases, well maybe – I don’t know if I’m exagerating or saying it right, in most cases.  In many cases, if there was any suspicion that the person was a Jew all you had to do was walk up to him and ask him a few questions and wait for the answers.  And usually if the person was Jewish, the language was all botched up.  So, the emphasis was not placed on becoming part of the surroundings, part of the culture.  They spoke differently.  They dressed differently.  They were very obviously different from the rest of the group, and this is what made them so – in many cases they were disliked because they were so different.
PRINCE: We’ve talked a lot about the negative aspects of your experiences, for instance, what you just brought up which is good, I’m glad you did, about feeling like you were a prisoner, being close to prison, being dependent on other people, just living in that kind of situation.  What positive things could you draw from it?
KOENIG: From the experience in the bunker?  (PAUSE) I would have to think an awful long time to be able to answer that. (LAUGHTER) I don’t know if there – well, I suppose there were.  If nothing else, I guess for lack of – you caught me by surprise.  I really don’t know the answer to this one.  But like anything else, I suppose it’s a school of life.  Life is basically composed of a whole series of events and experiences and this was one experience.  And it’s nice to be able to look back and say, “ Okay, I made it.  I could have been one of the thousands that did not make it.”  For them it was a very, very horrible experience.  For me it was a horrible experience, and with a happy ending.  So if you want to call it, it’s a school of life, yes, I would say that probably the war years in general made me an entirely different person than I probably would have been had I not gone through those years.  I know that it – my background has caused problems in my immediate family, with my wife and my children.  And many times it’s very hard for them to understand why I would feel a certain way about certain things.  And I know why I feel that.
PRINCE: Do you explain it to them?
KOENIG: Yes I did, but on the other hand, I’m enough of a realist to understand that a person who has no personal experience, no personal involvement in this type of thing cannot possibly really put themselves in that situation.  It’s just impossible.  I know one thing, that I can read and I can hear and I can talk about the experiences of…
KOENIG: Not only that, but let’s say the war in Vietnam, that some of the things that went on during that war.  A war that probably lasted longer than the six years of war that I had gone through.  And I’m sure that there’s many of little kids that were the same age as I was that went through basically just as horrible experiences as I did.  I would be a liar if I said, “You know I told you that I can feel, that I can understand just exactly what their feelings are.”  No, I can’t, I can’t.  I just can’t do it.
PRINCE: Back to the positive thing when you say it’s a school of life, did you draw any strengths from it?
KOENIG: (PAUSE) Well, I think, yes.  I think that from the Holocaust in general, I think that one thing that has emerged that I don’t think would have otherwise – maybe it would have, I don’t know.  But…the existence of the State of Israel, the fact that Jews have the State of Israel.  I think that the lives that were lost during the Holocaust basically were the price that we paid for the existence of Israel.
PRINCE: I’m talking about you personally.
KOENIG: (PAUSE) I think that I’m probably a lot more resilient to setbacks.  I can tolerate hardships, inconveniences, or whatever the case may be a lot easier than I probably would have been able had I not gone through it.  And many times when things are bad – and everybody goes through this sort of thing – you think that the end of the world is coming to an end.  And really, all I have to do is think back and say to myself, “In comparing to 40, 45 years ago, are you really bad off?  Do you really think that things are tough?”  Then all of a sudden, when you really weigh the two, when you put them side by side and look at both, the situation that you are in now and the situation that you were in then, everything pales and everything becomes very insignificant.  And you say one damn thing that isn’t at stake is your life, you know.  It’s…
PRINCE: So, all right.  What – this question sort of follows even though we need to go back to the bunker.  What frightens you now, anything?
KOENIG: (PAUSE) What – yes.  I would say – here again, probably the thing that I’m preoccupied with most is the survival of the State of Israel.  It concerns me very much. (PAUSE) There are not too many people I don’t think that listen as carefully to, and read about it and follow it as closely as I do as to what is happening in the Middle East.  And___ they say, well you’re very personally involved.  One of your relatives – not one, I have several relatives over there.  And they live there, and their families are there, and what happens to the State of Israel of course is of extreme importance to them and to me.  But it goes beyond that.  I really think that it’s really beyond that.
PRINCE: It’s in your heart…
KOENIG: Right.  It’s just something that you feel very strongly about, and there are many things that are happening.  And probably (SIGHS) actions by people that you would want to consider friends, involved in the war, and actions by people that you know are your enemies.  In other words, the things that your enemies do you expect.  Some of the actions that your so-called friends do are totally uncalled for and you often wonder about sincerity and the…the financial conditions that can drain on a country you have because it’s surrounded by so many unfriendly neighbors who are bent on its destruction. And I’m sure the conditions wouldn’t be as difficult in the State of Israel today if it hadn’t been for the fact that they have to defend their lives.  And maybe – maybe the reason I feel about the situation in Israel the way I do is because maybe subconsciously I compare it to the same situation that I was in years ago.  But there again, there is a group of people that somebody is after and is denying them the right to live.  So it is basically the same situation.  They’re buried in a damn hole and surrounded by enemies who are after their lives.  For what reason?  I guess the same reason that I was hunted.
PRINCE: Well, then you are really identifying it with your own life.
KOENIG: Right, probably so.  Plus the fact that really, you see many people that were survivors of the Holocaust – I was part of that group.  And kids my age, especially a girl that I was very friendly with, was on the ship Exodus and ended up in a British –
PRINCE: Cyprus.
KOENIG: – concentration camp in Cyprus.  Call it a concentration camp, call it whatever other camp it was; it was a camp behind barbed wire on Cyprus.  Okay, those were people that just barely made it through one Holocaust and were on their way to a new life, and nobody hesitated to put them behind barbed wire very quickly.  So that was supposedly a country that really hurt you as an ally, it’s somebody with a – a democratic country, right?
PRINCE: Okay, Jerry, I left you in the bunker.
KOENIG: I’m not there anymore.
PRINCE: How did we get you out, though? (LAUGHTER) We have to go back.  I think we’re on the last questions from there.  Was there anything that I hadn’t asked you, and I know you talked about the feeling of being imprisoned.  If there isn’t anything else, that we have not touched on…
KOENIG: Okay, let me tell you one little sad story that happened just a few days after liberation.
PRINCE: Were you still in the bunker?
KOENIG: We were in the bunker.
KOENIG: Well maybe in the bunker, out of the bunker.  But one of the men – and I don’t know if I gave you the right number.  Did I say that we had 11 people?
PRINCE: Uh huh.
KOENIG: Okay, so we counted four – four –
PRINCE: – four of you –
KOENIG: – in my family, two of the brothers, the mother and the daughter, that made eight, right?  And there were three other men that came from Treblinka.  Okay, one of those men was a resident of the city of Kosow.  He lived there.  He was a resident and then he was taken to Treblinka and then he escaped and came to our bunker.  We were liberated and I don’t recall whether it was a week later or two weeks later, he was walking down the street in the city of, the town of Kosow, and he was gunned down by the Poles.  Okay, so he made it through two years of hell in a bunker in order to have just about two weeks of freedom, and was gunned down by them.  And when you ask why, I think one answer is because he was a Jew.  And a second answer is that some of the belongings, some of his property that he had in the town of Kosow, was taken away, and there was a threat that he was always going to get it back.
PRINCE: I need to know how you got out of the bunker.  How you found out that the war was over and how you felt.  How did you learn?
KOENIG: Okay, the way you learned that the war was over, okay, is you listened to the gun fire.  And you heard the cannons, and you heard the guns, and they were getting closer and closer, and they were coming from one direction.  And then you heard the gunfire coming from the other direction.  And you knew that something happened.
PRINCE: Could you feel the ground moving?
KOENIG: Oh sure.
PRINCE: Trembling?
KOENIG: Sure.  The battle didn’t take place right there where we were.  I don’t know where the major battle was fought for that particular parcel of land.  I don’t think that the area that we were in presented any kind of – had any kind of strategic value.  It would have been heavily defended.  But you – you could hear the front lines.  In other words, when we heard the guns for the first time, the – the shaking of the earth and the distant sounds of the battle – you would think that normally would be a scary feeling.  Well, to us, that was music to our ears because that was one thing that we knew that we had to live through in order to gain our freedom.  Without it there was no freedom; without it was death.  So here, sure there was always the possibility that maybe you could be killed by the military action that was taking place.  It was always a possibility.  But like you said before, the Allies never bombed Auschwitz, and don’t tell me that the inmates of Auschwitz would not have welcomed the bombing even though there was the possibility of losing their lives during that kind of a bombing.
PRINCE: So who told you?
KOENIG: Well, anyway, we listened to the sounds of battle and to the sounds of the guns.  And, shortly before that was the incident with the German soldier sitting by the barn, catching his breath, and then pretty soon you could see groups of German soldiers moving in the right direction, and then it was quiet.  And then we heard the guns on the other side.  So, the – if I remember correctly, Mr. Goral opened the – the trapdoor and shouted, “They’re gone…”
PRINCE: Oh my goodness…
KOENIG: And this was when we came out.  Then of course, well there was – I can just imagine what we must have looked like even to those front line soldiers, the Russian soldiers, because they weren’t exactly the picture of beauty.  No, they were front line soldiers.  But we must have really looked very – we must have been a pitiful bunch.
PRINCE: What did you think when you first – how – did the daylight – what was it like being outside?
KOENIG: Well, I really can’t describe it.  It was just a wonderful, wonderful feeling being outside.  And…
PRINCE: Did it take a little bit of time to adjust to being free?
KOENIG: (SIGHS) We’re going back many years and I really don’t, I can’t recapture my feelings just exactly at that time, and I know one thing – I remember that my brother had some difficulties.  He’s perfectly healthy now…Why, yes, he does have problems.  He did tell me that now that he has passed the age of 50 and he tried to do a lot of walking and sight-seeing in Israel that he decided very quickly that running he could not do, walking he could, but his legs were still giving him problems.  And mom always complained about her legs.
PRINCE: Tell me about your first bath.
KOENIG: I can’t remember…
KOENIG: But…keep in mind that – well, we ended up – where do we go?  In other words, you lost your home that you had for the last two years which was the bunker.  Where do you go now?  Of course in our case it was we were heading for the farm that dad – dad’s farmhouse, which by the way, was not just a plain farm, it was very nice.  For the local conditions it was a very nice house which I told you we used many times for summer vacations, and this is where we went.
PRINCE: Did the farmer, did he get the house and the land that he was supposed to get?
KOENIG: (PAUSE) He did get to farm some of the land while we were still in Poland.  Keep in mind, we were liberated in 1945, but we left Poland in 1946, okay?  So, really about a year and a half went by.  We did not stay in that area of Kosow, we went back to our hometown of Pruszkow after it was taken, you see because when we were liberated, Pruszkow was still under German occupation because it was farther west, you see.  But –
PRINCE: But you made the deal with the farmer that if he kept you –
KOENIG: We made the deal with the farmer.
PRINCE: Was that deal…
KOENIG: Well, we honored the deal, but whether the Polish government honored the deal later on, I don’t know.  I knew that while we were still in the area of Kosow he started farming some of it.
PRINCE: Because then the Russians came and that was it.
KOENIG: I imagine that later on what happened that probably the land that my dad owned probably became part of a…
PRINCE: Collective.
KOENIG: Collective farm.  So he may have had part of it, some of it, I really don’t know.
PRINCE: Jerry –
KOENIG: And once we left Poland we really didn’t think that we wanted – maybe it was a mistake on our part.  Maybe we should have corresponded with him.  I felt very close to the man.  But, there was always this doubt in my mind that – especially at that time.  Conditions are different now.  People from the United States go to visit their relatives in Poland and there’s nothing thought of it.  At the time when you go back to 1945, ’46, ’47, if you had somebody there receiving a letter from the American zone in Germany, he would have been greatly suspected and possibly –
PRINCE: It wasn’t good for him.
KOENIG: Right.  So we didn’t want to get him into trouble.
PRINCE: Let me ask you this, do you know what a Righteous Gentile is?
PRINCE: An honor conferred by Yad Vashem which – non-Jews that helped Jews.
KOENIG: Right.
PRINCE: Would you consider this man a Righteous Gentile?
KOENIG: I would.
PRINCE: Did you ever write –
KOENIG: Submit his name or –
KOENIG: No, for this very simple reason that what I would be –
PRINCE: Doing more harm than good –
KOENIG: Right, and not necessarily from the government as much as possibly from his neighbors.  What in the hell were you doing saving Jews?
PRINCE: All right.  (TAPE STOPS)
KOENIG: – Terribly against you.
PRINCE: I just asked you, I was thinking if there was anything – since your experience was so unusual – uh, I keep wondering what I’ve forgotten to ask.
KOENIG: I think the only unusual thing about it was the survival itself, because when you think about it, the odds against surviving were so tremendous that just the mere fact that a person survived no matter how, no matter where, was almost unbelievable.
PRINCE: What do you think makes the difference sometimes?  Between surviving and not surviving.
KOENIG: Well, the difference is life.  I don’t follow the question…
PRINCE: Well, in other words, it took your father who, in this case, who thought it out.  On the other hand, there was a lot of luck in it too – to find the right person, that nobody did sneeze at the right, wrong time.  I mean, there was a series of all kinds of things, as there were in the camps.
KOENIG: Yes, I think so because (PAUSE) you can call it luck, you can call it a fortune of – chain of events because really when you stop and think, the chance of dying started for us in 1939, September 1, 1939.  Myself and a neighbor girl were taping up the windows.  I don’t recall if I mentioned that to you and this is when the first bombs fell –
PRINCE: You could have gotten killed then –
KOENIG: Could have gotten killed then, right with the first bomb, right?  So anything from September first – and many times I joke about it because somehow or another I’m not a gambler.  I’ve never gambled.  Or if I did – if I bought a chance on anything it’s really so rare, I just – it just isn’t my nature to gamble.  People say, “Why don’t you?  I mean, why don’t you buy a lottery ticket or why don’t you…?”  I said, “I gambled once and I won.”  I mean, I can’t beat that.
PRINCE: That’s right, that’s true…

Tape 5 - Side 1

KOENIG: A little after we were liberated by the Red Army and we went back to dad’s property, the one that he promised the farmer to save us, and this sort of became a focal point for other survivors in the area that found out there was a Jewish family in a large farmhouse.
KOENIG: So as the days went on, some of those survivors were coming in and picking up a little food and maybe washing a shirt or something like this, and then being on their way to wherever they wanted to go, probably to their hometowns.  But (PAUSE)
PRINCE: Were many of them from – were any of them from Treblinka?
KOENIG: Some of them were.
PRINCE: Not very many…?
KOENIG: One of the girls that came by – and I, I would judge probably that she was maybe 19, 20 years old.  And…this girl survived in Treblinka just a few days before the front line moved across that area, the Germans were very anxious to eliminate anything and everything that was in that camp.  So any people that were still there were lined up at ditches and machine-gunned.
PRINCE: Oh, there’s not supposed to be many survivors.
KOENIG: No.  That girl fell into the ditch and she was not even grazed by a bullet, and just simply fell in there.  And they were covered up, and at night when she felt it was – when everything quieted down, now you picture this.  A girl, someone 19, 20 years old –
PRINCE: Was she covered by dirt or by bodies?
KOENIG: Bodies on top of her.  And dirt.  And she clawed her way through all this blood, bodies and finally digged herself on out of the ditch.  And now _____ within yards of the death camp and the woods around it.  And it was several days before the Russians actually came into the area, and the area became sort of no-man’s land.  It was still – the Russians weren’t there yet, and yet the Germans had already pulled out of the camp, and hell, what does a kid like this know?  Is it safe to come out?  Isn’t it safe to come out?  And anyway, she lived a few days in the woods, and then she finally got up enough courage to talk to some Polish peasants in the area.  And then they told us about – told her about us, and she came to our house, so…I don’t remember how long she stayed with us.  And then the other young girl that came was mom’s cousin, the one that I was telling you in the beginning that was here in St. Louis when I came to visit my parents and my mom’s cousin.
PRINCE: Oh yeah.
KOENIG: Well she was a young girl who survived in Poland by masquerading as a Christian.  The whole family, both her brother and she, had blond hair, just totally not resembling a Jew whatsoever.  And she worked, in her case, being a woman, she was able to work on a farm but in her case she actually had everybody fooled.  In other words, the people that she was living with and working for did not know that she was Jewish either.  And she had to go to, you know the Catholic religion was deeply rooted in the Polish country people.  And going to church on Sunday, that was a must, and all the other things the community had to do, and she kind of gradually picked up the – the information on how it’s done and so on.  And actually she survived on a farm and nobody knew that she was Jewish.  So she was the other young girl that finally came there.
PRINCE: Did she have a uniform on, or a striped whatever, from the camp?
KOENIG: Which one, the first girl that I told you about?  I really don’t remember.  I really don’t remember.  And I don’t remember where she was from.  And these things are – a lot happened so long ago that some of the facts, you know, you sit there.  It was a – at that time I was about 13 years old, 14 years old, and you listen to a story of crawling through dead bodies piled on top of you, in the middle of the night, that’s just unbelievable.  It just – it just really…you wonder about the strength of a human being?  How much can you really tolerate?  Why is it that some little setback that a person can have now causes you to have a nervous breakdown and have to go to a psychiatrist and deal with it for the next 10 years, when there you survive this kind of experience and you come out relatively sane, I guess.  Now what happened to that person later on, I don’t know.  But maybe in her case, being that young, maybe she did not have the deep scars that maybe my parents did.  But –
PRINCE: There’s that –
KOENIG: As I recall, she was a very strong, very normal, very sane person.
PRINCE: You’re saying something that I don’t know if there’s any, well, statistics on.  I don’t think that you – you’re saying that if you’re young, it’s easier, but I’m sure that there were many young people who went through things, or who might have even gone through what you did, and came out differently, and older people –
KOENIG: I’m sure, I’m sure –
PRINCE: And I don’t know that an age –
KOENIG: Well, there again, we spoke about Marlene before.  As far as Marlene is concerned, and here again you’re talking about a person four years younger than I am.  And as far as her mental well-being, I think it was all there.  I don’t think Marlene really had any great deep scars –
PRINCE: None of us know what any others do in the dead of night.
KOENIG: Right, right.
PRINCE: Um, all right, so you’re at the farm. And when do you go back to Pruszkow?
KOENIG: Well –
PRINCE: And why do you go back, to look for relatives?  To pick up business?  To establish your life?
KOENIG: Actually, we went to another town first.  Dad did not want to go back to Pruszkow.  He thought that he really could not face some of his friends.  And I’m really not that familiar with what transpired between my father and some of his close Polish friends.  But I think that maybe at one time or another dad asked them for some help and I think that he was turned down.  And I really think that he felt that he didn’t want to go back to his hometown.  And he did – for awhile we lived in another town basically in that same area where Kosow was, except it was a larger town.  And I remember dad picked up a partner and I don’t remember who that was, and got into something – a bakery, he operated a bakery.  Dad didn’t know anything about running a bakery, but anyway that was his source of income.  And this was for the first time that I went to school.  And of course I was so terribly far behind, I really had a rough time.  And dad got a tutor for both Mike and myself and in a short time we were able to catch up and get back into school.
PRINCE: Was it a public school?
PRINCE: Jews and Gentiles…
KOENIG: Right, which I was the only Jew in the whole darn school.
KOENIG: There weren’t many.
PRINCE: Jew and Gentiles, excuse me. (LAUGHTER)
KOENIG: Yes, that’s right.  I was the only one there.  And well – my brother.
PRINCE: Yeah, two Jews.  How did that work for you?
KOENIG: Well and not so well.  In other words, there were expressions of anti-Semitism by fellow students.
PRINCE: Did that frighten you?
KOENIG: Not too much, not too much.  You sort of learned to live with it.
PRINCE: Did you go home and tell your parents?
KOENIG: But I’ll tell you what did frighten me.  What frightened me was the fact that here you were in a country that was basically under the influence – bad influence of the Soviet Union, a country which is – that professes being Atheistic, doesn’t recognize any kind of state religion.  And yet in Poland in the afterwar years, religion, Catholic religion was taught in the classroom.  And…which was very surprising to all of us.  We thought that the first thing that would happen is that really the Soviets would step down very hard on the Catholic Church in Poland because in Poland, as I told you before, the church and the state were – were one.  Catholic religion was the state religion, this is what was taught in the schools, and now, as a Jew in afterwar Poland, I didn’t have to attend the religious classes.  And I had the choice of either staying in the classroom or leaving.
And this brings up the point of teaching religion, moment of silent prayer or however you want to call it in this country.  And I can tell you one thing, that in my own personal experience, I hope that this never happens, because I think that it would be very bad for democracy in this country if it ever got started.  And now I’m basically a very conservative person and I voted for Reagan and – but there’s one area where I disagree with him very strongly, and I think keep that religion out of public ____, out of schools, and because my own experience with state-supported religion was lousy.  I don’t ever want to see that again.  So, and when you have been in that situation where you are the only the kid that is different, and they tell you, “Sure, you can stay or you can leave.”  And you get out of that seat and you walk out that door, and you know that there is 50 pairs of eyes looking at you walking out of that door and saying, “This kid is different.”  And that’s not a very good feeling.  And my experience was that when I did stay and I said to myself, “Okay, there is nothing wrong with finding out something about the other religion.”  There was intentionally directed into an area where Jews and Christ and killing and cross and everything else was brought in –
PRINCE: So you couldn’t win…
KOENIG: –for my benefit.  So…
PRINCE: That was the teacher.
KOENIG: The priest.
PRINCE: The priest, oh, a man of God.
KOENIG: And really, I think that problem there is that Catholicism in Poland is responsible – it plays an entirely different role than it does here in the United States.  And there it is responsible for the anti-Semitic feeling that Poles have is because it is – the  church is frequented by the people – the people are basically very religious and when you are daily exposed to this kind of stuff taught to you by somebody who you respect, a priest, from childhood on, you grow up to believe in it.
PRINCE: Right.

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