Morris Gutterman

Nationality: Polish
Location: Annaberg • Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp • Dabrowa Gornicza • Germany • Graditz • Missouri • Poland • Regensburg • St. Louis • United States of America
Experience During Holocaust: Family Died During the Holocaust • Family Died in Gas Chambers • Liberated • Lived in Multiple Concentration Camps • Sent to Concentration Camp • Sent to Ghetto • Suffered from Disease • Was a Forced Laborer • Worked in Factory

Mapping Morris' Life

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“The most memorable thing is the last day I spent with my parents… This was the worst thing and most left in my memory from the war. Seeing them being separated… I’ll go one way and my sister, and my mother and another sister and my father being torn away. That’s the last time I saw them.” - Morris Gutterman

Read Morris' Oral History Transcripts

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Tape 1 - Side 1

GUTTERMAN: I am the son of Isaac and Brina Gutterman, born on April 10, 1923 in Dabrowa Gornicza, what is Silesia. It is now called Silesia. I’m one of three children who were born to a family of middle class, and I went to a – religious school, yeshiva, ’til 1939 when the Germans occupied the city where I lived…where I lived and where I was born.
After two days the war started, and they went and they started right away with different ordinances but were mostly they were against the Jews. Jews had to give up their jewelry, all their valuable possessions and we were afraid to go out. They were shooting in the street, people, especially Jews…if they knew they were Jews. And I left, I myself, left the town, and I thought if I go deep into Poland, I’ll be saved. And I walked approximately 40 kilometers, and by the time I got there, they were ahead of me and they occupied the town where my grandparents used to live. And after being there a couple of days with the grandparents, I decided to walk back to my hometown because I saw that there’s no way where to run from the Germans…that they caught up with me.
On the way home I passed by a bridge what was probably wrecked by the Poles, mined, and the bridge was laying in the water and when I passed by, they stopped all the Jews. The refugees what they were going back…I wasn’t the only one running away. It was like you see in Vietnam – what happened. People with their bags on their backs…going back and some of them were going farther. There was a mish-mash. And I was taken down into the water to build a bridge. We had to pick different things out of the water and we were working at gunpoint because they managed to find every Jew, and don’t ask me how they found. They recognized, they asked some other people who is a Jew and they pointed out…the Poles pointed out who was Jewish. And I worked a day…it was from the morning until sundown and they were shooting at people in the water, and I managed to get out by sheer luck, you know, and I went back home to my parents.
All of this was taking place – it took probably two or three weeks between leaving home and coming back. I still was home with the parents for a couple of years in that place and food was rationed. We had a very bad life. And around 1943 what was…the Germans occupied…the occupation was already four years…they formed a ghetto in our town where they took all the Jews in a 10 block square area and they piled them in, about 10 people or 15 people to one room. And at that time they made a selection. They had all the Jews come out in a big square and the trap was, if they find anybody left in the house, they go around and search – they will be shot right there on the place. Of course, everybody went and at that time there was a selection. There was a high-ranking German – perhaps the rank of a general, what came there and he was standing at a little table and everybody passed by him. And he just looked at him and separated people to the right and to the left. And nobody knew what meant “right” or “left,” but being only at that time only 19 or 20 years old, I knew that the elderly people are staying on one side. Everybody could figure out that it’s not good that they separate the young from the old. Man or woman – it didn’t matter.
And at that time, it was the last time I saw my dad and my mother. And I had a sister what was 13 years old at that time, and she went with the parents. She was too young to be taken over to the people what they thought they can still get some work out of them and they be useful to do some forced labor. My parents were only in their early 40s, and they were already too old, so they selected only from the age of 16, and I would say, up to about 30 or 35. And the only thing I know, that in the city, right next to Dabrowa Gornicza, there was a city with the name Bedzin. There was a big school building and I know that they took them all to that school building. It was a six or seven story building and they spent there two days and the building was located next to the railroad tracks. And I know from witnesses what they lived close by, that the following day, they were loaded up on cattle trains. There was a whole train with about 80 or 100 cars and they loaded up…they filled up each cattle train and they went to Auschwitz.
EIDELMAN: How old were you at this time?
GUTTERMAN: I was 18…40, uh…I was 19…19. I went there. I knew what building was taken. I went there and I stood outside away, within a block from the train, and I could see the people getting loaded in the train. There was – we were blocked by SS and Gestapo and they stayed with their machine guns. We couldn’t get too close. But we could hear the cries and from the men and women…from our parents…where they were taken into the cattle cars. And that’s the last time I saw them. The only thing we knew is that we were close to Auschwitz and they probably went to Auschwitz.
EIDELMAN: Did you know the reputation of Auschwitz? At the time why would you be upset if you knew they were going to Auschwitz?
GUTTERMAN: We knew already. I mean, we knew during the time we were in the ghetto, we heard…we knew that people were getting sent to Auschwitz. We heard of Auschwitz and the name was known already, and we knew about the gas chambers and everything…and there’s nothing we could do. Where could we go? We were in a ghetto and getting out of the ghetto…you couldn’t get out of the ghetto.
EIDELMAN: This was what year again?
GUTTERMAN: That was in 1942. I will correct this – I said 1943 – and it was 1942, and it was around August of 1942.
EIDELMAN: What were your emotions when you were separated from your family and parents and they left on the train? Did you know what was going to happen to them?
GUTTERMAN: Well we knew. I…I, myself and my sister, we…we cried. We knew that we won’t see them. We knew we lost them and we never going to see them anymore. And we stayed on in the ghetto and lived in the same room. It was just like losing…like you have parents and you lost them with their normal death. We knew that we won’t see them anymore. We knew they gone. We stayed on for another eight or nine months after that and we lived in the ghetto.
And I went away to the camp. I was…I didn’t volunteer to go. I was just taken out of the house and sent away to a forced labor camp, what was in Upper Silesia, and my first camp was Annanberg and in Annanberg everybody went to work. We were building the Reich’s autobahn, what is a highway…one of the biggest projects that Hitler set out to build from one end of Germany to the other, and we built all the bridges. Not “we” – when I say “we,” I mean, there was camps and hundreds of kilometers where they were occupied – they were built by forced labor camp, by Jews. And there were bridge builders and they worked for bridge building companies where they build bridges. And the camp where I was…I was…I didn’t build bridges, but I worked with a contractor, a private German contractor, where he came to camp every morning and there was a group of us went with him and we build the road…we were road builders. And we went by bus…by truck, I mean, by several trucks of us. And in each truck was two or three guards for every 30 or 40 people there were three guards with…well, they were guarding us all day while we were…were there. We weren’t treated inhumanely at concentration camps. We were getting 15 minute breaks, you know, two times to sit down and eat. But that didn’t last very long.
In 1944…early in 1944, I was sent away from this camp into another camp, with the name Kletendorf, and in Kletendorf, I spent only a couple of months and I was sent away to a camp with the name Graditz.
EIDELMAN: Do you know why they sent you from Annanberg to Kletendorf?
GUTTERMAN: They kept sending us away because of a demand of the other place needed people to work on the same highways. They kept being on further away, you know, deep into…that here they finish with it so they had to send to a different camp. In Graditz, we run into a camp where people got sick on typhus and they wound up closing up the camp because all the people…what I mean…all the people, and it was several thousand people in this camp. And this camp was closed up of the epidemic…typhus epidemic. And I remember that I contacted the typhus and I was laying probably unconscious because everything seems like in a dream. But I know that I woke up one morning, and I was real weak and I saw some friends of mine standing around me. And there was…nobody got any medication…medicine for…to get better. It just…whoever had luck to survive…survived.
It was a big several story building. It looked like it was a school once and there was a basement. And I went down in the basement and the basement was fixed up with showers…no showers…just to wash up – faucets – all along. I went down in the basement where we had to step on dead bodies, what they put them down there, in order to get to wash ourselves. And all the typhus came from lice and all that what we had from not cleanliness. It was very…everyone of us was real filthy. We didn’t have the facilities to wash ourselves. And this was one of the worst camps and the worst what I went through. But that wasn’t the end of that. From this camp, after I got well, they evacuated the whole camp…everybody that was in there and I went from there to Gross-Rosen.
EIDELMAN: Why did they evacuate everybody?
GUTTERMAN: They evacuated because the camp was closed up on account of the typhus. Those that survive, they evacuated from there and they sent me to Gross-Rosen with a group of about 300, I think…we were, anyway, between 300 or 400…we came to Gross-Rosen. That was the first concentration camp that I was in. Gross-Rosen has some gas chambers already, and we could see when we came in to this camp. Everybody had to…so we walked in the gates. We walked for a few yards or so and we stand on a big place, you know, and we had orders, everybody, to undress…naked. Throw your clothes down and from here you walk over to this barrack over there and that where you get different clothes – you know, concentration camp clothes. Over there, that…we could see the chimney…chimneys more than one from the ovens where they burned people, and this was in early…middle of 1944. I would say it was summer. I remember but I…I…months and dates didn’t mean anything. We couldn’t keep up with what day of the week it is, or month. The only thing we could tell is when the sun goes south in the morning…when it…when the sun goes down.
EIDELMAN: Were your days any different on Saturday or Sunday?
GUTTERMAN: No difference, no difference at all.
EIDELMAN: Did you know what day of the week it was?
GUTTERMAN: No, not at all. Once I was working, you know, before when I was in a forced labor camp and I went out to work, we knew what day it was because we went through a big cities or so. Or we were in contact with some other workers besides Jews, where they worked on the roads, building the roads. So we talked to them and said, “What day is today,” and so you know…we knew what day it was.
But the concentration camp, there was no…we didn’t go out to work. That’s all we were doing there was sitting in the barrack and in the night when we had to go to sleep, we slept on the floor. There was no beds and I done that for several months. I don’t know exactly if it lasted two months or three months until I was sent out.
But the reason I was sent out from Gross-Rosen, I think, that was the time when the Germans already tried to evacuate…erase everything they were doing in order that they don’t get caught. They start taking apart our barracks and going deep into Germany because they knew that the Russians are advancing from the Russian front through Poland. Poland was already occupied as early as…Warsaw was occupied as early as January 1945. And they knew, you know, that eventually they going to lose the war and they start evacuating a lot of camps, you know.
EIDELMAN: Was there much conversation between you and the Germans, or the guards?
GUTTERMAN: There was no conversation between guards…absolutely no conversation at any time. If it was a forced labor camp or a concentration camp, there was never any…any dialogue between guards and prisoners.
EIDELMAN: How would you know that they knew…that they were going to lose the war? How did you know what was going on?
GUTTERMAN: Well, I know later…I figured it out later after the war was over, the reason why they were doing it. At this particular time, I didn’t know why they are sending me from one camp to the other. I didn’t know until I got to the other camp. You see, we start working and we found out they were through over there, or so…it didn’t mean that every time I was sent away that they were finished with the camp. They had new people coming in and replacing me and they took some old people and sent them somewhere else. Nobody knew the reason why you get sent away from one camp to another.
From Gross-Rosen I was evacuated too, after being there several months, to a camp. And all the evacuation happened by train…by cattle car. I did not walk, as the case is with some other evacuations from other camps – from other people what I heard after the war…that people walked as much as 50 or 100 kilometers, you know. In my case, I was sent by cattle car to Dritte by Braunschweig. It was near the…let’s see, I forget where it was…in Germany, well deep into Germany, anyhow, and I worked into the Herman Goering Werker, what is the factory what manufactured big shells for big guns, eight millimeters, or whatever they called them for the war. And I worked there for the last two months before I was freed by the English. This turned out to be later the English occupation of Germany…when you know, Germany was occupied by Russia and the United States and England. So this was the British zone, but I was not evacuated…I was not liberated in the place where I worked that Herman Goering Werker. From there they still tried.
Their last effort was to send us closer to Hamburg, and they evacuated us a week or two weeks, not more than two weeks, before it was liberated. It was around April 1945, I was sent to a…I was inside a cattle car on the railroad tracks in a city with the name Celle and that is between Hanover and Hamburg. It is very close to Bergen-Belsen. And it was close to the sundown that day, and it was April the seventh or eighth, and we were bombed by the United States or English bombs, and the whole railroad tracks were all turned upside down.
And the reason they bombed it is the next track where we were standing ready, I guess, just to be wait for a green light for the train to move on to the direction of Hamburg. But the next truck there were anti-aircraft guns…a whole flat cars…with anti-aircraft guns…whole train, and their aim is to knock out those anti-aircraft guns. And it wind up that they killed 70 or 80 percent out of all the people, of all the Jews on the train. And the car where I was in was actually turned over sideways from the impact of bombs. A bomb did not hit the car I was, but it hit the next one or the third car away.
The only thing I remember is, I crawled out and crawled over bodies, and I went into the railroad building…the station building and I went down into the basement of the building and I laid there crying because I felt hurt. I was hit with different objects and I laid there and cried and I was wrapped in a blanket and I had my hair parted in the middle. That was…that’s in order that we cannot run away without catching us. I had hair on each side and shaved in the middle about two inches…in the middle of the head…was shaved so that I could be caught easily and recognized that I’m a Jew, and shot, you know, for running away. And while lying in that basement, and I was crying, I didn’t see anybody. That all I heard is the impact of the bombs, one after the other. They were still bombing that railroad station. It was dark…it was real dark…no lights whatsoever and all the dust was falling on me because it looks like the building…the railroad station building was be hit too, or so.
And the next thing I knew was somebody came down to the basement and said in German to me, “What is wrong with you? What is wrong with you?” And he had a uniform of an airforce uniform on. I found later…I couldn’t see the color, but after he took me out, he asked me if I can walk out of there. And I said, “No,” and he carried me out from the basement and he carried me for perhaps a block until the road what leads to the railroad station. And he said, “You stay here…sit down here in the middle of the road and wait for ambulance. And ambulances are coming back and forth to take the wounded airmen to the hospitals, so later they going to take you.” So I was laying there and I didn’t care if I get runned over. I didn’t care anymore.
So the next thing I heard is that a couple of women came out from the ambulance. They ask me what’s wrong with me and at that time I made up my mind…I still had my, mind was still clear…that the less I talked, the better off I’ll be. Perhaps in my accent they will recognize that I am not a German and they would know that I’m not a German by just looking at my striped uniform and my…the way I had my hair parted. They did put me on a stretcher and put me in the back of the ambulance and they went to hospitals for foreigners…which was for Poles. Poles were also taken to Germany for forced labor, but they were not in a concentration camp. And they made special…they built barrack hospitals for foreigners. And the next thing I knew, they stopped at a hospital and I heard….they talk outside in German…and they were told that there was no place and they kept me in there for a period of time.
And they made another stop and they finally got me into another hospital for foreigners where they took me in there and somebody asked me who I am, and I acted more…that I’m more injured than I was. And I know that they gave me a bed and they shaved my head off, completely. And they washed all the dirt off, and they put me in a bed and I was laying there for the next six or seven days. And I was fed, but I didn’t try to make a conversation with anybody and that’s all I heard is Polish, what was very familiar to me.
EIDELMAN: Did they know that you were Jewish?
GUTTERMAN: They didn’t.
EIDELMAN: Didn’t they recognize the way your hair was parted and by the clothes you had on?
GUTTERMAN: There was Poles in the concentration camps too. We were not only Jews in concentration camps. There were Poles…there were Germans for opposing the Hitler – the Nazi regime. They were in a concentration camp.
EIDELMAN: Why couldn’t they tell by your hair?
GUTTERMAN: They couldn’t tell because they didn’t know what the Germans…what kind of rules the Germans had in the concentration camps. They didn’t know why. So after being there six or seven days, one day I heard a nurse comes in and in a Polish language, she said, “The English are here…the English are here…they’re marching through the city with tanks.”
With all of a sudden I got all the strength – I got down from the bed. I was on a bunk bed on the top…I turned around – I was mostly laying against the wall and looking at the wall or sleeping or resting for all the days I was there. All of a sudden I got all the strength and I went down and put on my striped uniform with my wooden shoes what I had…what was laying under the bed….and I kept one of those striped caps and I went out. And I walked for about two blocks to the main street and there they were going with tanks and everything.
I was standing there on the corner and they waved to me and I was only one standing…the rest of them…all the Germans were hiding, you know. And I was standing there and they waved to me and some of them came over, and I didn’t know a word English, you know, and I didn’t understand. They talked to me and they ask me, and some of them hugged me, and I don’t know for how long…for how many hours I was standing watching all that war material going through and until a English soldier walks over to me with a bicycle. He was wheeling a bicycle and back of the bicycle he had a suitcase, and he opens up the suitcase and there was some…a suit and underwear and shoes and everything. And he said, “Do you want this,” you know. Well, with the motions I could understand enough that he wants to give it to me…and the bicycle.
I accepted, you know, and I came back to the hospital over there with it, and when I walked in right away I said to everybody, “Do you know that I’m Jewish? Did you know that I’m a Jew?” They said, “Oh,” in Polish. They were mostly Poles, the nurses and the sick people, and some of them said, “We figured that you must be Jewish but we don’t care. We don’t have nothing against the Jews.” I was more afraid for the Poles that they could give me out…in the last few days before the war ended. I went and got dressed and I wanted to get out of the hospital.
And while I was still in there, an English officer came in and he start going around asking, “What is your name, and what is your name?” And he came over to me and he asked my name, and I said, “Morris,” and he said, “Moshe?” I said, “Yes.” And he said, “I’m a Jew too. I’m the chaplain for the English army,” and he said, “Do you know it is Passover now?” I said, “No, I didn’t know it’s Passover.” He said, “How do you feel?” And I said, “Well…” My weight was down to probably about 80 or 90 pounds, at that time, you know. I looked like a skeleton and he asked me, if I can wait for him…to sit here and go nowhere.
EIDELMAN: What language were you speaking?
GUTTERMAN: Yiddish. He spoke Yiddish. And he came back after a little while…he came back…and he brought a care package with Passover things in it. And he said, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll get you out of here because this hospital is no good. I get you in one of those Nazi hospitals where they had it reserved for their own people…with all the best facilities, the best of everything. We’re going to take the Nazis out of there and bring them in this hospital here. We put you over there.” And he done so. He done that on the same day or the following day. And he ordered a nurse for 24 hours day and night to watch me and put me on a diet. He ordered…he had a doctor…a military doctor come and put a diet for me…not to start eating too much at a time.
EIDELMAN: Were you injured by the bomb or was it more or less the fact that you were so weak?
GUTTERMAN: I was weak from the time I was in concentration camp. I was gradually losing weight and I looked like any of those skeletons what you saw on pictures shown in the Holocaust or true pictures if anybody was in the Yad Vashem. In Israel, they saw the pictures. That’s the way I looked because I was in camps…that’s all we was laying, you know, one on top of the other…boards. It’s all you’re doing is looking out and everybody looked like a skeleton. Because everybody went down to half of the weight what we had before we went into the camps…of malnutrition, just plain malnutrition. And from there he did transfer me to that better hospital. And I had good care of nurses and a good diet and they watched everything what I was eating, in order that I don’t…A lot of people passed…died after the war from eating – not watching what they eating.
After I got well enough from then…after I got well – what took at least a month – when I was in the hospital, before I felt well enough to get out of the hospital, I went to Bergen-Belsen, what was only 30 kilometers from the city…from Celle…from the city where I was liberated. From there I went back to Poland after several months, because I heard from somebody what came back from Poland already to Bergen-Belsen that he saw my sister. My sister what is two years older…she lives now – it’s the only sister I have and she lives now in New York…and that she is in Poland and what city she is, I didn’t know her address. But I came to the city and I went there. It took two weeks to get to Poland from Bergen-Belsen.
EIDELMAN: How did you get there?
GUTTERMAN: Just by car-hopping from one car and another…train. There was no passenger trains going but there was freight trains moving on tracks from Bergen-Belsen to Hanover up to the Czech border…Czechoslovakia. And it took me about two weeks. When I got there, I found a Jewish Center what was already in the city where I was told. I went to the Jewish Center and I found her name and then what address she lived and I got reunited with my sister. We came back from Poland. We didn’t stay there very long. We thought this is not the place to be. We went back to Germany.
EIDELMAN: Didn’t you want to go to your hometown? See if any of your belongings were left?
GUTTERMAN: Didn’t even go to our hometown. I know I cannot find our parents. We didn’t own our home. We was renting. So I didn’t have to go there. What I going to find? I can’t find my parents. I didn’t want to see home – hometown. And I was 30 kilometers from our hometown and didn’t go there to see it. After being in Poland for two weeks, I urged my sister to…she got married already because she was liberated in January. And she got married to a…from our hometown…a man what she was dating during the war. She knew him from before the war, and I convinced them that Poland is not the place to stay, that we should go back to Germany. I came already from Germany…from Celle…from Bergen-Belsen, and I knew that there will be a big move, either going to the United States or to Israel and to find a place that we could call our home. And they agreed to go with me. We settled in Regensberg, what was Lower Bavaria, and we were there from 1945 ’til 1949. It took four years – we applied to go to the United States because of the quota.
EIDELMAN: What was in Regensberg? Was it a displaced persons camp?
GUTTERMAN: People lived in displaced persons camp. We were fortunate enough to get a private place. We lived in an apartment, and we lived pretty well, you know.
EIDELMAN: What kind of job did you have?
GUTTERMAN: I didn’t have a job. I went into business. I opened up a business and started from scratch with yard goods and with a partner. And we had this business ’til 1949. In 1949…after both of us…I married in Regensberg in 1946, a year after the war was over, and we went to the United States. After we knew that we got papers to go to the United States we sold the business. We sold out the merchandise, gave up the business and we came to the United States with a child…with one daughter what was eight months old. She was born in Germany. And here we had two more children, another daughter and a son.
EIDELMAN: How did you happen to come to St. Louis?
GUTTERMAN: I was, uh, the way the quota was, the HIAS – the organization what took over, what took the people to the United States had to figure out that so many people are going to every city. Otherwise if they would leave the choice to every person, everybody would pick Los Angeles, or everybody would pick New York. And we got maps over there and we got a little information and we knew about climates already…where it’s a nice climate, you know, all year-round climate, but they didn’t give me a choice to pick. They didn’t give nobody a choice. So I was designated to come to St. Louis. So I came over here. I figured what’s the difference, you know. Maybe here it’s going to be a lucky town!
EIDELMAN: What business are you in now?
GUTTERMAN: Grocery business. I been in grocery business for the last 20 years. I had different jobs here. It wasn’t easy. It was hard. It was a hard start.

Tape 1 - Side 2

EIDELMAN: What happened when you first came to St. Louis? What was…is the ratio of Jews to non-Jews and how were you treated by the Poles? What was…was there much antisemitism? What was it like being Jewish in Poland?
GUTTERMAN: Well, I could feel all the antisemitism perhaps more than some non-religious boys at my age because I had peyess and I was more recognized as being a Jew than a…
EIDELMAN: You had what? Pardon me.
GUTTERMAN: Peyess.
EIDELMAN: What does that mean?
GUTTERMAN: Peyess.
EIDELMAN: No.
GUTTERMAN: Sideburns.
EIDELMAN: Oh.
GUTTERMAN: Hasidic.
EIDELMAN: Now I understand.
GUTTERMAN: Yeah, Hasidic. I was raised in a Hasidic home. My father had a beard, of course. Now everybody has a beard, but that’s my father, right there. (SHOWING PHOTO) And I was a member of a Hasidic group…youth group. I could see the antisemitism. I was spit on, on several occasions. I was hit. I had objects thrown to me…a stone or so, on a lot of occasions. Poland, during all my youth, I could feel everyday, and I was scared a lot of the places to go because I was Jewish.
EIDELMAN: Fortunately you went to a Jewish school so you didn’t have to worry about non-Jewish friends bothering you.
GUTTERMAN: Yeah…yeah. I was going to Jewish youth school because in Poland it was very hard for…to go to a public school, for Jews, because they were singled out. In the public school, they didn’t mingle with the non-Jewish. There was Jewish kids going to public schools but they were sitting separately. They were reminded on every occasion that they are Jews by their schoolmates; perhaps not so much by the teachers as much as by co-students…by the non-Jewish students.
EIDELMAN: When you went into the ghetto you said there were 10 people in a room. What was daily life like? What was it like being in a room with 10 people? Was there constant arguments? What was a typical day like in a ghetto where you had 10 people in one room?
GUTTERMAN: There was no arguments. We were very united because we all knew we facing the same end. Nobody knew we ever going to live through this horrible thing. Everybody knew it was just a matter of time. We kept stalling. That our parents were taken away earlier and put to death, and we just staying here for a little bit longer…so we were very much united.
EIDELMAN: What did you do during the day?
GUTTERMAN: There was no business. That’s all we did was just sit and play cards. I tried to – just the time to go away. Food…we were rationed. There were places where you went and you stayed in the line and you got your food rationing there for every day, per person…so much food, just barely enough to live through.
EIDELMAN: Did you go outside and walk around?
GUTTERMAN: Yeah, you could be in the streets, but on only a certain…so many square blocks what was around there had barbed wire. They just cordoned off a certain area and they put all the Jews there and you couldn’t go out. They made like a gate…a couple of gates to go out and at the gates, there were Germans standing there. You couldn’t go out. You try to climb and get over the barbed wire, you know, you could get shot.
EIDELMAN: Did anyone ever try to go out of the ghetto?
GUTTERMAN: Yeah, there were cases where people went out and we heard of their fate, you know. Some of them managed to get away. We only heard of the people what they didn’t manage to get away.
EIDELMAN: What about your possessions when you left your house originally? Did you try to take valuables with you, or…
GUTTERMAN: It depends. When…when we left from our original home to the ghetto, we did take some belongings with us. We couldn’t take the furniture because if they put in so many people in one room, not everybody could take the furniture. So we just left. We took the most valuable things with us, you know. And the other things we left there. They didn’t give us a chance to take. There was no way you could carry furniture. So we went into the ghetto. It was furnished already for other people what they lived there.
EIDELMAN: I see. Why do you think, when you were in the later stages of Germany, when they were taking you from camp to camp, why do you think they let you live? Why didn’t they send you to a death camp?
GUTTERMAN: That’s why they selected only the young males and females. They put females into factories where they worked and they done some work what was useful for the German economy…and the same thing with the men. They put them in different – either they put them on hard labor to build the highways, and they put a lot of men into factories to do useful work for the economy. Only young people…and they kept them as long as they figure they can keep them and until it got to be…when they put the final solution it was put out that they got to get rid of them. That’s when they tried to evacuate and all the forced labor camps and send everybody into concentration camps. And eventually they managed to do that.
EIDELMAN: In other words, the thing that helped you was your age. You were just the right age.
GUTTERMAN: Just the right age for it. You see, it helped me, and it helped Toby, and it helped thousands of other ones…whatever there was left. Don’t forget that was three million Jews in Poland. And you take any three million population and you go and divide the age, you gonna find out that there’s probably a good healthy age what they are very good to do some work, is probably at least one-fourth of it. So it should have been left at least 6 or 700,000 from Poland. There isn’t that many left. There might be 200,000 left, you know. We are scattered between the United States, Australia, Israel. Majority of them went to Israel, you know.
EIDELMAN: Did you hear stories about Polish people who went back to their hometowns and how they were received there? Did you know of any friends that did go back to your hometown, and what happened to them?
GUTTERMAN: I have friends what went back to the hometown and they went into the neighbors and of course they recognized them and they say, “Oh, what are you doing here? Oh, you are alive, you know. Well, we glad to see you.” Of course if they meant it from the heart that they glad to see. As far as my impression of the Poles is, they were antisemites and they still are and even after, at the cost of six million Jews what they perished, there is antisemitism in Poland right now. Of course…perhaps it won’t be shown if you gonna go there and find a person what you knew him from before the war. If he embraces you, it’s gonna be all false…a pretense, you know. But it not true from the heart, because they never liked the Jews and I don’t think there’s a change, especially there’s no Jews…there’s no problem with Jews right now in Poland. There can’t be any antisemitism from after the war…not perhaps in the young generation unless they are put hatred in them by their parents, because there’s no problem with Jews. There isn’t any in Poland. There’s so little…there’s hardly any Jewish community there.
EIDELMAN: Why do you think the Poles felt the way they did toward the Jews? Some people have said that the Poles are amongst the most antisemitic people in Europe at the time.
GUTTERMAN: Well, I don’t know. Personally, I don’t know if this is a good opinion or not. I believe that we Jews in Poland…we were dressed different than Jews in the United States. A Jew in Poland had a beard…had sideburns. He wear a different outfit. We was recognizable. You take a Jew in the United States…you go out…can anybody tell if you a Jew or I’m a Jew? Then antisemitism is less because you don’t see any difference, you know.
Over there the antisemitism perhaps came from jealousy. The Jews were the merchants in Poland that dates back from my grandparents…my great-grandparents. They were born in Poland. They were merchants. My parents were merchants. Her parents were merchants – my wife’s – and perhaps that’s why there is more antisemitism in Poland – and in Russia – the same way. The Jews…the Jew was recognizable the way he dressed and with his customs.
EIDELMAN: Did you speak Yiddish in your home more than Polish?
GUTTERMAN: Yeah, Yiddish.
EIDELMAN: So you probably had an accent a Polish person could recognize, or no?
GUTTERMAN: Well yes, yes. I would say yes. I don’t know the majority – I would say yes. The majority of Jews has accents, yeah.
EIDELMAN: When you look upon your whole experiences of going into the concentration camps, how do you think it affected your life after that?
GUTTERMAN: Repeat the question. I was thinking about something else.
EIDELMAN: In other words, how has going through this experience…how has it affected your life since that?
GUTTERMAN: Well, it affected, actually I think we all affected by the experience what we went through. That is something we will never forget…it’s experience. I believe our children feel different…even they were born in the United States. Being a second generation and being the children of the survivors, they feel that they are left out…that they are different from the children born, you know, American children didn’t came through it all…the Holocaust. And the reason for it is, they don’t know a grandparents, from either side…from my side or my wife’s side. They never knew them. How many kids are born here in this state and didn’t know their grandparents, at least for a while of their life. They never saw.
EIDELMAN: How did it affect you?
GUTTERMAN: It affected me too. It affected me in the beginning very bad. But life has to go on and I was trying to build my own family – my own new life. After I got married in Germany, I came here and I tried to make the best out of this country. Tried to build up, you know, raise children…have a nice home, and make a living here and try the best of it. So time heals everything. And that’s the answer to it. Time heals the bad memories of losing relatives and parents and a sister. Don’t forget it was 35 years ago. If you had asked me that question 30 years ago, I’m sure I would probably drop some tears telling you this story. But the heart gets to be like a stone after so many years that I can talk about it without being affected too much emotional.
EIDELMAN: When you were involved in the concentration camp, were there any resistance movements, or…
GUTTERMAN: No, not in the concentration camps where I was. I never seen any resistance. I had not seen anybody doing anything what would cause – what you would say was any resistance. Not to my experience.
EIDELMAN: Oh, I know…one thing I wanted to ask. Also, your parents were taken in the cattle cars, you said everyone knew what fate at Auschwitz was going to become of them. Did you even know about being tricked to take showers, or just general…
GUTTERMAN: No, no. We didn’t know exactly what was going on. We heard rumors that there is a concentration camp with gas chambers, with ovens, called Auschwitz. And we knew where Auschwitz is – that it was only 30 kilometers away from where we lived – and we were so close to it. We didn’t know exactly the way it was going on because there’s nobody came back from there. It’s just like talking about heaven or hell. Can you ask somebody how does it look in heaven or hell? Nobody comes back from over there. So nobody came back. The only thing, I guess were rumors were, and where we found out is from non-Jews…from Gentiles what worked on the railroad station. And he saw maybe – he wrote in a letter maybe from Auschwitz to somebody in this town, that all those cattle cars with people what they’re coming in – they get unloaded at Auschwitz and they go and they never come out from there. So it wasn’t so hard to find out. It couldn’t have been a secret.
The secret was that we didn’t know how actually it happened over there because there was nobody that close to it that could know until the war was over. When people survived, they could tell. They give a story of what Auschwitz and Belzec was and Treblinka…all that. There’s always a few survivors from every camp. I don’t think that there’s a camp – there were in the thousands of camps – there’s not one camp…there’s not one survivor left that he can tell a story a how it looked at that camp and give a little description of it, you know.
EIDELMAN: When you were in the concentration camp Graditz – or was it Gross-Rosen?
GUTTERMAN: Gross-Rosen, yeah.
EIDELMAN: What kind of meals did they have there?
GUTTERMAN: Very bad. Meals were just water with a little potatoes in it that you had to go and dive in and dig in to find the potatoes. The nourishment was very, very bad. I don’t think I could have survived there six months. Luckily, coming to Gross-Rosen to this camp – I came from that camp, from where I worked in the ammunition factory, where I had some good nourishment. Cause I worked under a German contractor what was fixing the stoves what they heat the metal to make what is very high intensive ovens. And I worked for him and he happens to be a good-hearted German where he helped me out with food.
EIDELMAN: Which camp is that?
GUTTERMAN: In Dritte by Braunschweig, what was the Herman Goering. It was after Herman Goering, was the Chief Airforce Chief. And it was in his name that it was affecting…the whole factory was underground. Very sophisticated machinery and everything.
EIDELMAN: What were the hours that you worked – in most of the labor camps?
GUTTERMAN: Who knew? We didn’t have a watch to look but it seems like from daybreak until dark, you know. Probably, I would say, a 12 hour shift was normal. For concentration camp or forced labor camp. What was called zwansarbeitslager, konzentrationslager, zwansarbeitslager.
EIDELMAN: When you were working on the roads and highways, did you have much conversation with non-Jews on the roads?
GUTTERMAN: Yes, occasionally we did. We were more in contact with different kind of workers. Poles, Ukrainians, Russians, where they were sent from Russia when Hitler occupied part of Russia and he took prisoners of wars…just young people out of there and they brought them into Germany to put them to work, you know. Nobody got paid for anything. The only difference – he took non-Jews into camps where they were not perhaps treated as bad. They were perhaps given better nourishment than the camps for Jews. Jews…there was no question that they were treated worse than any other foreigners, regardless of what they were taken there for…political reasons or just prisoners of wars. Everybody was treated better than the Jews.
EIDELMAN: Were all the men kept separate from the women? Did you have any contact with women?
GUTTERMAN: No, no. They never put women and men together in one camp.
EIDELMAN: Were there much discussions about – the prisoners – about when you were in the concentration camp…about the future…about what was going to happen? Where you were going to go and so forth?
GUTTERMAN: Oh, there’s no question about it. There were some people I was in contact with them where they gave up life. And there were some people with full of hope and they said, “We gonna outlive ’em. Don’t worry…the day will come – the reckoning day will come – we get out.” And this was the only way to live through it. The people what they gave up…those didn’t make it. It took a lot of courage and a lot of will power to live…to survive. And I would say that anybody what is alive today – what survived – man or woman…the only reason they survived is the will power they had to live.
EIDELMAN: Can you give any examples of will power or things you did that enabled you to survive, where perhaps someone in a similar position might not have?
GUTTERMAN: I don’t know of any particular incident right now off-hand. I know that every day I went to work – I try…I never tried to do anything at work to aggravate the guards or so that I would be beaten or hit with the rifle butt. I tried to stay away from trouble, you know, and to follow orders. That was the only way to survive. If you couldn’t put up an opposition…by yourself, you couldn’t do nothing. It was not organized. The only way to survive was…is to follow orders and to see…to stay away from trouble.
EIDELMAN: Did you ever, this entire period, get into a run-in with a guard or be punished for any reason?
GUTTERMAN: I was beaten for not doing the work properly and on many occasions I was told in German to pick up this stone. And I said, “I cannot pick it up by myself.” I was beaten, you know. And I fall down and I got back up and finally somebody else came over and helped and it depended always on the guard you had. If they were not sadistic, they hit you one time and gave up, you know. They weren’t too stubborn that you do it the way they wanted, you know. So in cases it happened, there were people who lost their lives that way. I would say it’s a matter of sheer luck…
EIDELMAN: Did you ever…
GUTTERMAN: Sheer luck if anybody survived – luck and hope.
EIDELMAN: Did you ever witness a guard kill somebody in front of you?
GUTTERMAN: Yes, yes, several occasions. For non…for non…for trying to talk back to him or so.
EIDELMAN: Give an example of like what happened when he spoke.
GUTTERMAN: In one particular case in Gross-Rosen, they took us out of the barrack to carry prefabricated sections of barracks. They were putting up new barracks. And there was a bunch of us carrying, and one guy just fell down. He fell down and he couldn’t get up, or perhaps he wouldn’t get up. And they shot him down in the place. That’s the only time I saw anybody being shot. They shot him right there where he fell down. He was beaten first and he must have been so weak he couldn’t get up and get back to it…to carry…and they shot him right there. That’s the only time I saw anybody being shot in concentration camp. But I saw some hanging. That was in the ghetto.
EIDELMAN: What was the reason for their being hung?
GUTTERMAN: They had rationing, and they caught three people doing some black market with the stamps…with the rationing stamps. They got a hold of some stamps and they were selling them. And as an example, they took everybody out in the middle of the square and we had to watch. We stayed there under gunpoint. There must have been 700 to 800 Jews watching three people being hanged. I witnessed that.
EIDELMAN: When you look back upon all the things that happened, what are the things you remember the most…were the most memorable things that you think about?
GUTTERMAN: The most memorable thing is my parents…the last day I spent with my parents…staying there at the point of the square for hours to go to that table where this general was standing there to being separated. This was the worst thing and the most what is left in my memory from the war. Seeing them being separated…I’ll go one way and my sister, and my mother and another sister and my father being torn away. That’s the last time I saw them.
EIDELMAN: There was no warning about that? You did not know that was going to happen?
GUTTERMAN: No, no, no warning. But once we got in that square, we couldn’t get out…the square. You know, how they build in Poland…the squares? It was around the houses…top of the, you know, buildings – three, four story buildings. On the top, on the rooftops they had all Gestapo, on the top of the rooftops – and they pointed machine guns. So everybody couldn’t get out of there. Once you were in there, you know, that’s it. And before going there, we didn’t know what they call us all together.
EIDELMAN: So there was no warning.
GUTTERMAN: No warning. There was no other choice. There was no choice.
EIDELMAN: Have you had any interest since then in the Holocaust, like reading about it, or studying it, or…?
GUTTERMAN: Well, yeah. I read some books. I went just last week to hear Jack Eisner at the JCCA about the survivors. I was interested to see the “Holocaust” series, even it didn’t make so much impression on me as it did on people what they didn’t go through all this. But I think they showed on the “Holocaust” people what were digging their own graves and all that. There’s no question about it. It’s all true, you know. But this is things I haven’t seen myself, you know, and it made a very bad impression on me. Of course, I knew about it from people what I talk since 1945 what they come from Ukraine and some other parts in Poland – where the Germans had this systematic…the Final Solution.
Over there, they performed on a different way than in this part of Poland where I was. You see, they divided Poland into…the part where I lived, they made this as unified with Germany, right after they occupied. So in other words, they treated us a little bit better like they would treat the German Jews. So instead taking out people and put them against the wall, or take them outside the town and have them dig their own graves, they send us more to camps – to the forced labor camps where they were building the highways, you see. And when they made the separation, they took the people to Auschwitz instead of taking them and putting them in mass graves, you know. So even, this was to me, a novelty, you know, and it was…
EIDELMAN: Were you tattooed at any time?
GUTTERMAN: No. Tattooing was only in two or three camps, Dachau, I found tattooed people coming in and my sister was in Auschwitz – she has a tattoo on her. Auschwitz had tattoos and Birkenau, what was a branch of Auschwitz, it was very close, they tattooed people…everybody…all the prisoners.
EIDELMAN: Did you seek any reparations from the German government?
GUTTERMAN: Yeah, of course. I applied right after…several years after the war was over, when I heard everybody else is applying, and I applied. And I was getting some kind of restitution for being in camp for all the years I was in there. And I’m also getting right now a disability pension for life. What is, most of the people have fixed themselves a disability pension…what had to be verified by a doctor, a German doctor, or a doctor what is authorized by the German government in the United States. What examined me and found out that traumas and things what bad on my while life that I should be classified as a disability, you know, for certain percentage, you know. Some of them been getting 25%. They put this on a percentage wise. The more disabled a person is, the more disability percentage wise figures the pension. As far as myself and my wife – we are collecting 25% disability, what is a moderate pension. There’s some people getting more than that. It depended on what kind of report you had and what kind of doctor you had examine you, and how you presented your case to work…you know.
EIDELMAN: Where does the money come from at this point?
GUTTERMAN: German government…German government.
EIDELMAN: You get checks now?
GUTTERMAN: Direct from the German government, you know, Munich – some were…people get them from Frankfurt – it all depends where they used to live over there and what part. They lived in Bavaria – they lived in Saxony, you know, it all depends what state they lived.
EIDELMAN: You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to, but I’d just be interested in knowing just how much, let’s say, the 25% pension is.
GUTTERMAN: Roughly a little bit over $200.
EIDELMAN: $200 a month? Has that gone up with inflation, or are they keeping it the same?
GUTTERMAN: Yeah, yeah. They have a cost-of-living increase once a year. Whatever the German government decides. If they have inflation six or seven percent, that’s what they go. This year it’s a 10 percent inflation. It has a clause – inflation clause. It was with the participation, I believe, of the…thanks to the United States, I’m sure…if the German government did not volunteer to pay all this money. It was thanks to work of the United States government, plus both the Jewish Congress and other Jewish organizations here in the United States and abroad what brought them to convince the German government that we entitled to it.
EIDELMAN: Are your mother and father – are they listed in Yad Vashem as known people that died in Auschwitz?
GUTTERMAN: I don’t know if the Yad Vashem has a list of everybody…of every person what perished in the concentration camps. I don’t know.
EIDELMAN: The reason I ask you this is, that one of the things that our group is trying to do is to get the names. I’ll send you the form if you want to fill it out, but they are trying to get the name of as many people as they can – that they know of. In other words, I’m sure you are right. They don’t have the name of everybody, but they’re trying, as best they can, to get the name of every person.
GUTTERMAN: If I’m not mistaken, Mrs. Prince came one time with forms. She was over to the house and she bring the forms with her and she left the forms. I’m not sure, Toby, if we filled them out. We did. We filled them out and returned to Mrs. Prince and what happened after that, I don’t know. Were they forwarded to the Yad Vashem?
EIDELMAN: Yes, I’m sure they are. They may have kept a copy of them, but I’m sure they were sent to Yad Vashem because that is one of the missions of our committee – if we could be of any assistance in helping Yad Vashem collect every possible name. They’re always working on it, you know. They are trying to verify every person.
GUTTERMAN: I been three times to the Yad Vashem and I don’t know. There must be archives over there, but I don’t know if this is accessive to the general public. But when I went through, I did not see any. And I went through books, but they did not have any names, so it’s stories more for facts what happened. Perhaps they trying to establish a department of names, I don’t know. But it would be a good idea to have some names over there alphabetically – that if somebody goes there for reference, he can open up a book and look in alphabetically and find the names of people that what perished in gas chambers.
EIDELMAN: That’s a good idea. That’s a good question. I wonder if they’ve done that.
GUTTERMAN: It should be looked into it. It should…
EIDELMAN: Did you bring back any type of memorabilia or any belonging with you as souvenirs of what happened?
GUTTERMAN: I got a picture of myself with a Star of David. It’s a picture of myself in the ghetto – what is, I think, rare. There’s not too many. You take right here, in St. Louis, we have 60 to 70 families…couples what they survived, maybe, a total of 140 to 150 people. I don’t know if there’s too many what they have pictures.
EIDELMAN: How did you carry it with you through all this?
GUTTERMAN: I didn’t carry it. This picture was given to somebody in the ghetto – like a girlfriend. I had a girlfriend in the ghetto. So after being a yeshiva buchar, I changed so much, you know, I changed over – I lost faith. You all, all those traumas what happened, everything, it causes people to lose faith. People, what they did, believe – I mean, where is God? We’ve been righteous people. We haven’t done anybody bad and look what he’s doing to us? So I had a girlfriend. I gave that picture to the girlfriend. The girlfriend sneaked out of the ghetto and she was for two, three months away and she got caught later, as Jewess, and was sent to a concentration camp. But in the meantime, she left all her pictures to a Gentile family, but they were nice! So after the war, she went over there and got it. That’s where I got the picture. I got the picture from Rushke.
EIDELMAN: How did you make contact with her after the war was over?
GUTTERMAN: Well, she lives in New York. And we were in contact, you know. Right after the war I found out. You know, every city have a society, and they start those societies right away in 1945-46, after the war was over. And we start find out who else is here from this Dabrowa, and we found out that this guy – oh, I knew him – I used to go to school with him. So he, in turn, found out that in this city there, a girl used to go with her, she lives over there, you see, so this way I found out and I found out her address. And I called up and we been in contact since then, you know.
EIDELMAN: When you were in the ghetto, were there very many people who had girlfriends? Where could you go to be alone with a girlfriend?
GUTTERMAN: Oh, we just all stayed together. And we lived within a block or two blocks or three blocks away, and it’s unbelievable, we had lost our parents and nobody had practically parents. And we were in moods of singing and tried to – we had so much courage and so much life in ourselves that I cannot understand right now being at this age and the only thing I can figure is that a child is a child. He doesn’t have the feeling of what it means losing a parent, you know…by being a parent myself and going through so many things you know – raising kids. I lost my wife to cancer after being married for 32 years, so I cannot figure out right now how we could have so much courage to live at that time, after going through so much.
EIDELMAN: Do you still feel…how do you regard God and religion and being Jewish right now?
GUTTERMAN: I belong to orthodox shul, but I wouldn’t call myself being religious. I’m not observing Sabbath. I don’t observe kashruth, you know. But I do believe in God. I don’t think I lost all my belief, but I’m sure if the war hadn’t broke out – the way I was raised, I would have been a very orthodox Jew right now. Not just a very orthodox, perhaps a rabbi. That was my ambition – that was my parents’ ambition – it that I will be a rabbi. But all this changed, you know. I did lose faith right after the war was over and in the concentration camp and during the war, I start losing faith. So after the war was over, I didn’t believe so much. I didn’t believe that we are better…the chosen people. How can we be chosen…we were chosen to die, not to live like anybody else.
EIDELMAN: Okay, I think we can end it here unless you have anything else more that you…
GUTTERMAN: I would say that this is my story of my life.

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