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.
EIDELMAN: What does that mean?
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.