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Sol Grosswasser

Nationality: Polish
Location: Germany • Kielce • Missouri • Poland • Siberia • Sosnowiec • St. Louis • Stuttgart • United States of America • USSR
Experience During Holocaust: Escaped the Holocaust • Lived in a Displaced Persons camp • Was a Forced Laborer

Mapping Sol's Life

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

“The Jews there started to organize... We were not criminals. We didn’t do any harm. We didn’t do any wrong and there was no right. We didn’t deserve such a terrible place.” - Sol Grosswasser

Read Sol's Oral History Transcripts

Read the transcripts by clicking the red plus signs below.

Tape 1 - Side 1

Jacobs: Your right ear was damaged during the War?
Grosswasser: I can’t drive. When I was in camp, it was never healed. It never was healed properly. I had an infection. I had about 60 percent hearing.
Jacobs: On your right ear?
Grosswasser: On my right ear.
Jacobs. Uh huh, but 100 percent on your left ear?
Grosswasser: Yes, my left ear is…
Jacobs: That’s good. Good.
Grosswasser: But I have difficulties, especially when I am in a crowd. When I come to hear, for instance, I like to go on lectures, discussions, and I have to always toplace myself to sit on the right side to hear with my left ear.
Jacobs: I see, but you do…it’s not such a great inconvenience, is it?
Grosswasser: Oh, and I miss…I hate to start with a hearing aid…(laughter) But I do miss, many times, you know, the punch words. Sometimes if you miss them, you miss everything.
Jacobs: Is that like missing a good joke? The last word?
Grasswasser: Well, you know, not only a joke. You know, the last impression, an important word you miss. In a crowd you know, my problem is, what the doctor explained to me…In a crowd, you know, that shimmering noise…only from breathing…this, like a wind or a noise like shimmering noise, it disturbs my hearing.
Jacobs: It does?
Grosswasser: Yeah. In a crowd, you know, with lots of people, the breathing, and even if they don’t talk, but you know, the presence of a lot of people is disturbing.
Jacobs: Now this is early in February 1981. How many years ago did that happen?
Grosswasser: Oh, well….what _____________ was it?
Jacobs: Which camp was it?
Grosswasser: ‘51. I was not in a German camp. I was in Russia, in Siberia.
Jacobs: I see.
Grosswasser: In a labor camp.
Jacobs: A labor camp. And today we’re going to talk about how you go there.
Grosswasser: Well…(laughter)
Jacobs: You remember when you and I first met at one of the big meetings, at the JCCA, a very casual conversation started. And then you said that you had escaped from Poland into Russia, and I became very much interested. And you said, “No, you never have talked about it very much, you didn’t want to.” And then recently you called up and said, “Yes, you’re ready to talk about it.”
Grosswasser: Well, after this we met one or two times
Jacobs: Right
Grosswasser: You asked me if I am ready, well, I was ready all the time actually. But I just – how do you say – waited until a good time, you know, a convenient time. Well I guess we can talk about it. You see, I come from a family of seven children.
Jacobs: Seven children?
Grosswasser: Seven children. I was the youngest.
Jacobs: And your family lives in…
Grosswasser: ….in Poland.
Jacobs: Where?
Grosswasser: near the city of Kielce, which was the district city.
Jacobs: North Poland.
Grosswasser: South of Warsaw.
Jacobs: South of Warsaw.
Grosswasser: South of Warsaw; it was near Cracow, 81 kilometers from Cracow. This was the largest city in the area.
Jacobs: Seven children.
Grosswasser: Yes. I said that my father was an Orthodox, a religious Jew. But you know, we lived in a very difficult time – between the two World Wars. And…
Jacobs: Was he a business man, or professional man?
Grosswasser: Yes, a business man.
Jacobs: He was.
Grosswasser: Yes, he was. He dealt with the cattle. We were well off until I was about ten or eleven. And then he got broke, and we struggled actually, since then. He switched to other businesses but never successfully because the other brothers left home which they worked with my father together.
Jacobs: How many brothers were in the business with him?
Grosswasser: Two, the oldest. Then there were two sisters. There was a brother, a sister, and a brother and a sister and then three youngest, youngest. And one – I have only one brother, they survived, three, the three youngest.
Jacobs: Now in your father’s family, he was one of how many children?
Grosswasser: Well, I don’t know exactly. (Laughter) I have to think. Two brothers only, three sisters that I know.
Jacob: And all of them were in the cattle business with him?
Grosswasser: No, I’m talking about my family. No, no, no, no. they did also own similar businesses. Yeah, they were, but my father, my grand-grand-grandfather…when, in 1863, ‘62 in Russia but ‘63 in Poland, they eliminated serfdom. But Jews were not serfs. They were, they ____________ plenty. There were all kinds of other – how do you say – uh, professions, or businesses. A grand-grandfather had the business of taking from the landlord all the milk he had from his cattle – from his cows – processed it and sold it to the town, to the cities. And while he lived on the farm, he also, also had a right, he used it, he had a portion of land. I don’t know how much. And when they eliminated serfdom, the Czar Alexander II of Russia, this part of Poland was under the Russians, my grand-grand-grandfather inherited, I mean, received that land. It was his. And so this is from where my father, I guess, got _________. We were close to the land. And that’s how my father, I guess, got into the business of cattle. And it was a business that, during the week, there were a few other smaller cattle dealers that used to bring to my father. And Saturday night, one of my brothers and another two men – gentile – used to help load them on the train to the big cities. And it happened one time he made a delivery of cattle and when my brother went to collect the money, that man left for America, with all our money. And my father, you see, like I said, he had the smaller cattle men, yes? And my father was not entirely broke. But he paid all these small guys, all these small men, the money. And he was practically left with nothing.
Jacobs: So one of his partners absconded with money and went to America?
Grosswasser: And left for America. I remember not his name, because for years in the family there was conversation about it. It was like you say, a nickname. They all called him, “mumpitz.” What it meant, I don’t know. But I remember one day I thought I would look him up here in America. But how could I? (Laughter). You know. Since then he switched to deal, because it was in the family, one had a dealership. They made, actually, produced shirts and underwear. So my father started to deal, you know, with this kind of business. But he never made it good. And we, when we grew up, we had difficulties, you know, the younger children, because like I said, the older brothers were married. The sister married and we only received, he was taught trades. So my brother in Israel is actually a tailor. My brother after him, he actually, he makes the uppers for shoes, the, you know, the uppers for shoes. He was a very colorful young man and he went to school and was trained by _______________. I also went to the upper making course and these…the organization ORT – I took a course in making patterns.
Jacobs: Making what?
Grosswasser: Patterns, for shoes.
Jacobs: Patterns for shoes.
Grosswasser: Yes, design shoes. This is what I’m doing for thirty years.
Jacobs: But…so that was in preparation for America?
Grosswasser: Well, (laughter), not originally, no.
Jacobs: There was no longer a place for you in the cattle business, by then it was all over?
Grosswasser: Yes. Like I say, the younger, we already knew trades. Did you read, uh, Isaac, uh;
Jacobs: Bashevis
Grosswasser: Itzak Singer, his brother. The Family Moskat.
Jacobs: Yes, that’s a classic.
Grosswasser: Yes, I read it. In fact in…
Jacobs: Yiddish….
Grosswasser: In English. No, I couldn’t get it in Yiddish. I read it about twenty-five years ago. You know, you can see the metamorphosis in the family. All the children, the younger children, their influence from the situation in Europe and in Poland. The influence of the Bolshevik revolution – all the Socialist, Communist movements, Zionist movements, and that is what I wanted to mention before. My older brothers, the eldest especially, was religious.
Jacobs: Oh.
Grosswasser: Going farther, we were already modernized. And went through a modern movement. There were clashes in the family. My father wasn’t happy about this, but my father was a reader. He read even the books that we used to bring home. He was familiar, I mean, the Yiddish newspaper was always in our home. Of course, there wasn’t a Jewish house or home in Poland that you couldn’t find the Khumoshim, the five books of the Bible, you know, the Machzorim. You know what a “Makhzer” is?
Jacobs: For the holidays…
Grosswasser: For the holidays and other…when a couple marries, this was the first gift that was given them. This was in every Jewish home, of course. But in our home, you see, my older brothers were Zionists, and there was a lot of literature and books and so on. And my father was actually aware of all this, and he read, too. He was familiar with it, although he was a religious Jew, but not fanatic. I would not say he was a fanatic. I would not say he was a scholar in the Haskalah…He was not a “Maskil,” but he was touched by the Haskalah.
Jacobs: Was there a large Hasidic Jewish community there, too?
Grosswasser: Part. A part.
Jacobs: You had many varieties of Jewish people there….
Grosswasser: Yeah. They used to come. Well, my father did go every year to a Rabbi…Hasidic Rabbis. But himself wasn’t as frenzied about it as others.
Jacobs: Did he make contributions to the rebbe?
Grosswasser: Well, he used to. When he’d go, he write a kvittle…little letter and put in some money. Well, Shimon Dubnow, the Jewish historian, had a history of Hasidism….
Jacobs: Yes….In what language, did you?
Grosswasser: Mainly I read in Yiddish. In Polish. I read Russian, too, and German.
Jacobs: It’s also in Hebrew, his Toldot Hachasidut, the history.
Grosswasser: Toldot, yes, history. I know Hebrew not well. I can read well, but I understand not well because I was in Shomer Hatzair…
Jacobs: Oh, the left wing…
Grosswasser: Well, I…I told you we grew up the times were entirely different.
Jacobs: That was the Socialist Zionist group?
Grosswasser: The Socialist movement, but national….Yiddish. Shimon Dubnow says that the Hassidic movement was a positive movement. It was a time when the Jews were in a very difficult era, after Chmelnitzki. You are familiar with this? And the way he describes the Hasidic movement. He says it was a positive movement. Shabbtai Zvi and all this….these movements, they shattered the Judaism, the Jewish existence in Eastern Europe. And Hasidism, although it was in many ways the rabbis were, in fact, the “Litvish” Litvish mitnagdim, they were, they didn’t, the Litvaks they were not Hasidim at all. Against, they opposed it. But even in Eastern Europe, parts there were the Hasidim parts, supported them silently…and parts were against.
Jacobs: Even in your childhood and youth, you lived in a very substantial Jewish community, didn’t you?
Grosswasser: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Jacobs: Yeah…were there many synagogues around you?
Grosswasser: Well, they were not far.
Jacobs: And was there a Vaad? A central Jewish council?
Grosswasser: Oh, the Vaad Hoeir.
Jacobs: The Vaad Hoeir, yes. Was your father – did your father….
Grosswasser: I worked with a man – he was the council. They called it “dozzer” — now it’s, I don’t know. He was in council of the Vaad Hoeir, I think. Unfortunately, he got lost – the whole family. He was an excellent person. Before the War, he was suffering so much.
Jacobs: Before 1939?
Grosswasser: You see, he anticipated…he anticipated more than others. Rabbi, you see, the problem was…you see…the experience the Jews had from World War I…are you already taking it…what I’m saying…what I’m talking about? I don’t know…
Jacobs: Sure, sure.
Grosswasser: Oh, I didn’t know. The experience from World War I…I was born in 1914…was that the Jews had rather good memories. Worries we all got, the atrocities of war, but the relationship with the Germans, because somehow they could converse the Germans, and the Germans trusted the Jews more than the Pollocks. And they didn’t hurt anybody. So people said Mein Kampf that Hitler wrote, well, they said, “Hitler as Chancellor will behave different than Hitler as agitator.” You understand that point? When he would become Chancellor, he will behave like a mensch?
Jacobs: He’ll have national responsibility.
Grosswasser: He’ll have responsibility and this is what he says in Mein Kampf. He will never use. But that was the mistake. Like I said, that man that I worked for, his name was Oberlingorsk. He was very, very, seriously, um….
Jacobs: Mistaken?
Grosswasser: No, he was…he predicted…
Jacobs: He predicted. He said Hitler was going to be Hitler, no matter what position?
Grosswasser: That’s what he said.
Jacobs: But he couldn’t sell that to his other friends on the Council?
Grosswasser: Well, so what? (laughter) Who knew? Who knew? Who could anticipate a nation like the Germans, who were regarded as a progressive nation in Europe, that they will do such atrocities?
Jacobs: As September 1939 came closer, was it not clearer and clearer that this man was right? That the Hitler before his Chancellorship in 1933 was going to do the terrible things that he promised in Mein Kampf? He had six years before the War…six years of Hitler!
Grosswasser: We had already the Nuremberg Laws.
Jacobs: In 1935?
Grosswasser: ’35. We had already the Nuremberg Laws which did, how do you say, take away many rights of the Jews in Germany. And he threw already many into concentration camps. And he did already also, many movements like the Socialist, Communists, in the concentration camps. But what could be done anyway? Now there would probably have been many Jews go to England, to Israel, but England didn’t allow to go. They only let Jews with a lot of money, 20,000 Polish Zlotys, which meant a lot of money. There were very few that could have the money – only they could go to Israel. At that time to Palestine. Palestine to go. Illegal was difficult, only, only certain…
Jacobs: Can you remember?
Grosswasser: I remember a case, I mean, my friend’s brother went, but although a few could go, they went illegally. Oh I guess if they could supply 20,000 Zlotys.
Jacobs: Yes. You remember Zionist life in your city before 1939?
Grosswasser: Oh, well, sure. In every city you had a Zionist organization, a few had, like Shomer Hatzair, Khalutz Hatzair, Betar and Allgemeine Zionist, which was…
Jacobs: You remember Gordonia?
Grosswasser: Gordonia, yes. The movement of youth.
Jacobs: Yes, all of them flourished.
Grosswasser: Well, until the War.
Jacobs: Until 1939?
Grosswasser: Hoping that one day they might go to Israel. Many were working at kibbutzim, preparing themselves to work in agriculture. The difficulties and so on.
Jacobs: What were you doing in 1939, before September?
Grosswasser: As work? Well, I worked in shoe business.
Jacobs: In the shoe business? In a factory?
Grosswasser: Well it was a factory, but I usually worked in the office.
Jacobs: Doing what?
Grosswasser: Patterns. Making patterns for shoes.
Jacobs: Oh, for the upper parts of shoes. A skill which you still employ today.
Grosswasser: Up to today, yes.
Jacobs: Up to this day.
Grosswasser: I worked in the profession for a short time in Russia – after they released me from the camp. And then after the War – I worked in Germany, at the same skill. And when I came to the States, I worked for almost thirty years.
Jacobs: And now we’re going to talk about the time when finally the Germans crossed the border. Now you were not on a border city…
Grosswasser: Not far.
Jacobs: Not far.
Grosswasser: The third day after the War they were already in…near our city.
Jacobs: The third day? September the first?
Grosswasser: September the third, the fourth, they were already near Kielce. When we hear that the German army come, comes, is coming, we didn’t know what to do. Pollocks, they, most of us didn’t know. The Jews took, they made a bundle, and they left the town. Actually, it was not organized. We didn’t know why, and…
Jacobs: Your Jewish Community Council? Your Vaad had no directions to give? Nobody knew what to do?
Grosswasser: Nobody, nobody knew what to anticipate.
Jacobs: Even those six years Hitler had been in power?
Grosswasser: Yes. We had already Kristalnight and already they know his laws and what they could actually do.
Jacobs: But you just said some Jews…
Grosswasser: So, they just bundled up and did go to the next town. And then started to think – what to do? They didn’t know, and they decided, and so we heard some people came and they said that the German army came, and they didn’t do anything. They didn’t harm anybody, so we waited another day, we went back home. I and a friend said, “We don’t go back home.”
Jacobs: Did you leave immediately? September the fourth, when the German army was at your gate, so to speak?
Grosswasser: No. The Polish government called the young people…
Jacobs: Like yourself?
Grosswasser: Yeah. They said, “All young people of military age go…move East, that we would get a hold on the German army, we will mobilize you.”
Jacobs: How old were you at that time?
Grosswasser: I was twenty-four.
Jacobs: Twenty-four. So it applied to you.
Grosswasser: Twenty-three. Yeah. So when these people came, they said that the German army came into the town and they didn’t do any harm. They don’t hurt nobody, well, most of the people went back.
Jacobs: Back home?
Grosswasser: Back home.
Jacobs: Did you?
Grosswasser: Me and a friend said we don’t go back, we go farther East.
Jacobs: You were not married?
Grosswasser: No. I had a girlfriend, though,
Jacobs: Yes.
Grosswasser: But I was not married. Said, “Don’t go back.” And we went farther East and we came to the district city, Kielce, and the other cities were bombed and burned.
Jacobs: Before you got there?
Grosswasser: Before we got there.
Jacobs: By airplanes? By Germans?
Grosswasser: Yeah. In fact, we had a few encounters with the tanks, were shooting on us. Lay down low, under, behind some rocks or besides, behind some laid-down trees. And there were a few, few encounters we had like this. But we walked, during, before we came to a town called Siedlowice. And we got together, there were young people from everywhere. And the local, some local young men, too. And one said that he knows the area well. And during the night, he led us to a forest, a shortcut. And we made 65 kilometers in one night, um. In the dark, I see. You could only move in the nights. Because on the road they were shooting people, walking people they used to shoot down. So mainly we walked during the nights. And…
Jacobs: Eastward?
Grosswasser: Yes, eastward. We went eastward and eastward, and it took quite a few days. And we almost reached the River Bug which is by the city of Chelm. You read about the stories of Chelm, but this is the city. We came close to that city and before we reached the River Bug, the German tanks were already ahead of us. And you couldn’t cross the border. In fact, you couldn’t already get in to the town of Chelm. So we wandered around there in the woods for a day or two, and we said that we are surrounded already by the Germans. (Pause). So, in the meantime, I lost my friend.
Jacobs: How?
Grosswasser: It was in the early third of fourth days. When he became before the Vistula, the river by the city of Pulavra.
Jacobs: The city of Pulavra, near the Vistula River….
Grosswasser: Yes. The Germans bombed the bridge so bad that you couldn’t cross. There were only the big iron poles laying across with…you couldn’t cross with any vehicle, cart, or cattle, or horses. You see, my friend got hurt his foot and he did get up on, some man picked him up with horses. A wagon and horses. And so he made up. I told him, “You will cross the river. And by the town of Pulavra you will wait for me and I will look f or you.” It was the only thing I could do. And then before I had reached Pulavra, the bridge was bombed. Now, on the foot you could cross somehow, I did cross, but there were so many people killed there because when the bridge was bombed, people…some people ran east and some people ran west – I mean, back and forth. There were hundreds of people laying dead. And you know, when I crossed the bridge, you could hardly make a step not walking on the dead people. Well, I spent quite a few hours looking for my friend, but I didn’t find him. So I get…got acquainted with the other people from the other towns, but from the city of Czestochowa, you maybe heard it?
Jacobs: Yes.
Grosswasser: It’s by the Pollocks, it’s an important city. The religious, black Madonna, is in that city. They make pilgrimages every summer to go there, the Catholic Polish people. From that city he was. He was a Jewish boy. And so I lost him. But this young man, up to the Bug, like I said, we couldn’t go any father, so we decide to go back.
Jacobs: Into Poland?
Grosswasser: Yes. Of course, to Poland. And I came home exactly on the eve of Sukkos.
Jacobs: All the way to Kielce?
Grosswasser: All the way to Kielce.
Jacobs: Erev Sukkos.
Grosswasser: Erev Sukkos. Well.
Jacobs: How many miles had you actually gone? From Kielce to Bug, how many miles is that?
Grosswasser: Well that before I figured out, it was something like close to 1100 kilometers…
Jacobs: 1100 kilometers. So now you were back to square one.
Grosswasser: Now I was back at home. Well I wouldn’t make a big story. I couldn’t make peace to live with Hitler. Couldn’t make peace.
Jacobs: Whom did you find at home when you returned?
Grosswasser: Well, my brother-in-law didn’t come back. He was taken to prison. The Germans took him a prisoner-of-war. And quite a few didn’t come home, I mean, didn’t – in the neighborhood.
Jacobs: Your parents?
Grosswasser: My parents were at home. My sister moved to my parents, and she had a little child, a baby, about a year old at that time. And my other sister lived in the same city with three children. Well life was…we didn’t, we expected something, but we didn’t know what to expect. And I couldn’t make peace. I decided I couldn’t stay here.
Jacobs: Was there any work for you to do?
Grosswasser: Yes, there was work. Still the same work. But I decided I cannot stay in that atmosphere, uh, with unknown expectations. I organized, I had some friends in other cities, other towns, and I found out from some of my friends – they had a contact from the city of Cracow – and they had a lead, a man that can take across the river of Bug to the Russian side. So I organized a friend, my home town, he is now in Canada, and we went to the city, the city of Yegsheyev, Yegsheyev.
Jacobs: Near where?
Grosswasser: And we met… was about 20 kilometers, 25 kilometers from us, from our city. And we met there a group, and they were, us, was two, and they were four, was six. There were four boys and a girl. The girl was the sister of one of the boys. I was, together with us, there were seven young people. Six boys and a girl. And we decided to go, to go to Cracow, get the lead, and go farther.
Jacobs: Did you have money with you?
Grosswasser: Not much. We dressed like Pollocks.
Jacobs: Pheasants.
Grosswasser: The trouble was, that people were taken out of the train many times, it was not known for what, like pheasants, like Pollocks we could dress in simple, plain but practical good shoes and jackets, cause it was December. We left the date, of the 11th of December, 1939 still. We came to the station of Cracow.
Jacobs: Railroad station?
Grosswasser: Railroad station, yeah. And a man is approaching us. He was Jewish. He didn’t speak Jewish, but the only word he asked was, “Amcha?” Amcha was slang in Poland—it is “our people.” Amcha means “folk people.” You know it, I know. But he said, “Amcha?” We said, “yes.” And he spoke Polish. He said, “Do you plan to go into the city of Cracow.” And we said yes, we have to look up somebody. And he said, “Don’t, there are rumors that there will be tomorrow some…” I don’t know how to say in English…they will search people and…
Jacobs: What word were you going to use in Polish?
Grosswasser: In Polish, the way you say it would be Oblawa.
Jacobs: Oblawa?
Grosswasser: You know Polish?
Jacobs: No.
Grosswasser: Oblawa in Polish means searching, arresting, harassing…things like that. Well since we cannot go into the city, we decided we wouldn’t go. Three o’ clock in the night, we meant to spend the next day in Cracow, but we didn’t wait. Three ‘o clock in the night there was a train farther east, so we went. We took the train and went east. We went east as far as we could go. And we reached the town of Zanuk. It is by the river San. The river San which goes into the Bug. And on the side of San was already the Russians.
Jacobs: Ah, the Germans had not arrived yet?
Grosswasser: Oh, they were already in Zanuk. This was already December. This was already the division, the demarcation line. The Russians came all the way up to Bug. And this area was the San, the border, south. They were in the south. And the Germans were up to the Bug and up to the San.
Jacobs: At this time, the Germans and the Russians had made a treaty of friendship.
Grosswasser: The non-aggression pact, they had signed, Molotov signed with Ribbentrop a non-aggression pact. So we were in San and we were looking for somebody to take us across the river. We found a man – he said that he is a leader, a Ukrainian man. And he knows the area and then he takes over people across the river, the San. Well then it came close already, we made some dates, some preliminary dates. He came to us – we had to pay of course for this. I guess, like I say, we didn’t have money, actually, to, call it money. A watch, another had something else, not big money. But anyway…
Jacobs: How much money did it actually cost? In money? In addition to objects like rings, and…?
Grosswasser: Well I guess it amounted to something like fifty dollars.
Jacobs: Yes…plus.
Grosswasser: So he came and he said that he had doubts about the man, because when that man took these people across the San, that river, he made that man, that was a Jewish man…that middle man…made up with the leader that every man he takes over, he make up some sign to return to him to make sure that he takes them across the river. One has to bring back, let’s say, a button. Simple things. The other, a pen or something special. He made up to make sure that he takes across the river.
Jacobs: A sign of guarantee…
Grosswasser: A sign of guarantee, yeah. He made up with every man. And that Ukrainian man had to bring back these signs.
Jacobs: He took them across one by one?
Grosswasser: No, many groups. In groups, yes. All of our group was seven, like I said. Six boys and a girl. We kept as a group. So, but, he said that the last two times he brought back signs, but not the ones he made up, and he doesn’t trust him. So we waited a few days but we couldn’t find any other leader…We decided to go.
Jacobs: With this man?
Grosswasser: With this man. So the time came, they made up with him the signs, the signs of guarantee, or whatever they were called. And he came with a wagon, with a horse, and he took us and he drove us, and drove us into the woods, and drove us straight into the German command – in the woods!
Jacobs: The German command!?
Grosswasser: A group of German soldiers. And they scared the hell out of us. They looked for the shovels, and they said they were going to make us dig our own hole and bury us…right there. And they took away anything they could from us. And he, that, that son of a gun, that Ukrainian pretended he is a victim, like us. But we had seen that man, that middleman, was right. All right from there we got out alive. They took away not everything yet. Because they left something for their friends, for their comrades at the river, at the last post. It was a post, an address post of the Germans at the river. He led us straight into there. Over there, they took us and throw us down the basement and then the came, they beat us (laughs…pauses), half dead. They didn’t kill nobody, but beat till half dead, and took away everything we had. They ripped everything because probably were hiding and clawing and here and there. They ripped practically everything. And we were left with nothing. And then…they did chase us into the river – that was true. And they said, “Who will be the last to shoot?” And I was the last (laughter). But they didn’t shoot us. They shot into the air a rocket. No, excuse me, just shoot in the air. And if the Russians hear the shoot, they came from the East and they threw the rockets and lighted the whole area. And when the Russians caught you, they chased back the people. They didn’t want smugglers. But luckily, it took a little while till the Russians came and there were a lot of brush, tall brushes and all kinds of growth.
Jacobs: On the other side of the river?
Grosswasser: On the other side. So we bended down. When they threw the rockets, we bended down and we got into the woods. We managed to get into the woods, all wet…everything got frozen on us. It was December and that area was already cold. It was still frozen. And we didn’t know what to do. For one thing, we were afraid for the Russians – that they would catch us. So we spent the night outside, frozen, wet. All night. And then…but we didn’t wait till it got real light outside. Before it got light, we, one by one, we started to go to the village. There was a village near and one hut was away from the village and we got into the town and they let us in. And they let us dry out and we gave them something. One gave a piece of him soap or something, but nothing practical was left to give them…nothing. And they let us spend a little time and from there we went – it was a Friday – we went to the town, Lazko, over on the other side. We didn’t have any money – we didn’t have anything to eat. It was Friday, Friday night we went to the shul, (pauses) so somebody would take us home for a meal. This was the habit. And I imagine you’re familiar, Friday nights when a wanderer was in the town, most of the Jews took home for Saturday, a meal.
Jacobs: Hakhnasat Orkhim.
Grosswasser: Hakhnasat Orkhim, that’s right. My father used to do it quite often. I mean, there’s no shame.
Jacobs: Of course.
Grosswasser: We didn’t have any money, no, strangers, and I was taken home and my friend was taken home and the others apparently taken home, too. And we spent Saturday and Sunday. I, my friend, find, found work in the town. It was a small town. About, I don’t know, six, seven thousand people.
Jacobs: How many Jews?
Grosswasser: I don’t know. I was the only there one and a half day. I don’t know many details. But I left. I said I would have to go to an area where there is a leather and shoe industry. So I went to the city of Stryj. It was about 50,000 population, fifty, sixty thousand.
Jacobs: How far away?
Grosswasser: It was near Lvov, forty kilometers from Lvov. And nearby was the city of Stanislav which had many tanneries of leather.
Jacobs: How did you get there?
Grosswasser: By train. I don’t remember how I got the money to take…

Tape 1 - Side 2

Grosswasser: the details – you want probably to know more about the camp itself, no? I will make it short, the story. Is this interesting?
Jacobs: Very. Very interesting. And it tells us about your own spirit. You were determined, weren’t you?
Grosswasser: Yeah.
Jacobs: You were half dead from the beating of the Germans, yet you made it.
Grosswasser: I was determined to survive. By the way, the next two brothers, they too fled to Russia. That’s why they survived. They had already families. I was the only one unmarried. Well, the next to me, he lost his wife and child. And the one who is now in Israel, his wife survived the German camps but they lost a child. And after the War, he went from Russia in 1942 – I’m jumping the gun, I guess.
Jacobs: What’s his name?
Grosswasser: My brother? Nathan.
Jacobs: Nathan is now in Israel?
Grosswasser: And he, from Ander’s Army, from Russia in 1942, he went to Israel. And his wife survived the camp and they met after the War in Israel. And they raised a beautiful family, lovely. One daughter is a professor, she has a Ph.D. in Biochemistry, and the other daughter has master’s degree in teaching in the high school of Tel Aviv.
Jacobs: Lovely.
Grosswasser: I was there visiting twice. Now my wife is planning with my son to go this summer. But anyway, so I came to the city of Stryj and well, I find work there. I didn’t work all the time, but I somehow I lived until, and then we organized. I met some people, young people, we had to do something. We organized a “cartel.” You know what a cartel is? In Russia they have a cooperative shop of shoes, a factory, we organized. And the government supplied money, the Soviet government. And since there were these tanneries, leather was available, and we organized a cartel. So I was in a very good standing.
Jacobs: A “cartel” did you say?
Grosswasser: Cartel in Russian, yes. This is like a….like a….
Jacobs: Cooperative.
Grosswasser: Cooperative shop. Cartel in Russian. It wasn’t a large factory but that’s why I said, it was a cooperative. Well, anyway, I was in very good standing of course. Every few days we had registrations. The Russians knew every move from all these people. There were people, native people, you know, people that were living there in the town, and earlier this was Ukrainian. They were ultimately Soviet citizens. So they urged us to become citizens. We didn’t want to, of course. Who knows what will happen? We wouldn’t want to be able to go home after the War will some time finish. So they made registrations. Those that refused, they made registrations. They knew every step you made. They knew where they lived. They knew what you do…everything. All right, but I was in good standing because I wasn’t speculating, I wasn’t crossing borders and I worked in that cooperative, which was a government agency. Anyway, so I was in good standing. So they started to arrest people. I was taken twice, but since I have such good papers, they let me free. Now, but they wanted to get rid of all these people that were not citizens. So on the date of the 30th of May 1940, there were waiting trains, cattle trains, in the stations. And they took all these people that were strangers, not citizens…
Jacobs: Including you?
Grosswasser: Including me. There was already, you know, an excuse. And they took us to Siberia. It took 22 days in a cattle train. They fed us, and at the large stations, they stopped. And we got warm meals at least once a day. They fed us. But the conditions – there were no toilets. Twenty-two days without washing, without toilets, without…at the station, you could run out and get some water. And in Russia is a habit of taking water from the locomotive, hot water, and they drinking this as tea. They call it “Kepyatok.” The root of the word is “Kipi”…it means cooking, boiling. Anyway, travel in Russia – in Russia they don’t have a comfortable way of travel like they travel here.
Jacobs: Primitive?
Grosswasser: Yes. They are used to it. It’s the kind of way of traveling – to stop at the station and get some water from the locomotive, the Kepyatok, and they are drinking as tea. You’re lucky if you can get it. But anyway…
Jacobs: How many were with you?
Grosswasser: On the train. Three thousand people.
Jacobs: All Jews?
Grosswasser: Mainly…mainly Jews. There were some Polish people, but not many. Mostly Jews.
Jacobs: These were Russian-Ukrainian Jews?
Grosswasser: No, no…These was mainly Polish Jews. There were some from Czechoslovakia, wandered in, but mostly Polish Jews.
Jacobs: That had just accidentally come together in – where was this, Laskov or Strjy?
Grosswasser: Strjy and Laskov, and Lvov, and Pinsk, all the whole area that the Russians occupied in 1939. It was up to the Bug and the whole area. My brother was in Grodno, which was about probably 400 miles away from Strjy. He, too, was taken. He was taken the same day. They organized the whole area to clean up and these “spekulantin” which they call “speculate,” “speculators,” or undesired people…
Jacobs: Foreigners.
Grosswasser: But they didn’t kill nobody. They didn’t beat nobody, because Stalin was a very shrewd man. He thought that these people would come in handy one day. Some kind of trade. (pause) But anyway, they took us 22 days until we come to the place. It was 800 kilometers north of Tomsk. The city of Tomsk is known, it was a fur trade post – still at the Czar years ago.
Jacobs: Fur trade.
Grosswasser: Tomsk was a large city, over a million people that time. And we went 800 kilometers north – this was Siberia. At the station, the train didn’t go any farther. At the last train station, Asinov was the name.
Jacobs: Asinov?
Grosswasser: Asinov.
Jacobs: In Siberia?
Grosswasser: In Siberia.
Jacobs: It was June. How was the weather in June?
Grosswasser: Hot.
Jacobs: Hot.
Grosswasser: Hot and muddy and mosquitoes. And malaria. Well, the only thing you could do there was work on the farm which was very, very poor managed. Or they had – what do you call it – cutting wood, lumber mills, they had seven lumber mills there. So I worked in the lumber mills. Loading boats, whatever it is, and people started to get sick with malaria. And what I had seen the first man was a tall man and he was probably in his thirties. And when I had seen him get sick, it was really really scary because he was such a good looking man…strong. But when you have seen him, he was shaking and attacks he used to get afternoons. It was really scary. And a few weeks later, I had gotten malaria, too.
Jacobs: Did you?
Grosswasser: Yeah. They took me to a hospital. They called it a hospital. It was a barrack. Well all the houses were wooden barracks. No hot water, anything, no toilet inside the house, outside…outhouse. But meantime our people started to organize.
Jacobs: Jews you mean, when you said, “our people”?
Grosswasser: Jews, yes. Before I got sick, yeah, the people there start to organize…that there was no reason to put us in such a place where criminals would actually kill us there. We were not criminals. We didn’t do any harm. We didn’t do any wrong and there was no right. We didn’t deserve such a terrible place. And like I say, this was before I got sick. There were already rumors and conversations and organizing. Meantime, they had seen the Russian NKVD came and they picked out people. For instance, they picked out a man, he was the leader of the Independent Socialist movement in Poland. From Cracow he was. They took him out. How they found out, I don’t know. And they singled out people, here and there, and they took them away and you never seen them again. And then I got sick and went to the hospital and all the people did organize a strike, and nobody did go out to work. Over three thousand people. The local NKVD, the local authorities, didn’t know how to handle. They never had a strike in the Soviet Union. They didn’t know how to handle it. So they telephoned or telegrammed to Tomsk, to the district city, and the prosecutor from Tomsk came. He came to fly or by train, I don’t know. And he said all the people together and he would talk to the people. He would give them a lesson. This was the Soviet Union. And there are no strikes. So all the people came out, children, mothers, and fathers, everybody came out. And he stand on a truck and started to talk. And the women and the children started to cry and to scream, and it was a terrible scene. And he couldn’t take it. And he fainted on the truck. He fainted on the truck. So they drove him away. They shoot in the area to disperse the people. Some people said that he must…was a Jew. But nobody was for sure. We don’t know. But some people said they thought he looked Jewish. Who knows? There were Jewish commissars in the Soviet Union, there were, we know. But anyway, they dispersed the people, yes? In two weeks came an order: Elderly people, people with families with small children and people that are sick to take out of the place. And since I was in the hospital, I didn’t wait for the doctors. From the quinine I was yellow all over, I went to the line and registered myself and I got out of there. But here I want to make a point. Solzhenitsyn says, “The problem was with the Russian people, (pause) that they didn’t organize – they didn’t put any resistance.” And this is true. Of course, it’s a fact that we did strike and we did demand, and they made changes. That’s why I want to make the point…
Jacobs: Excellent point, sure…
Grosswasser: Yeah, it’s a fact. So a lot of people did get out. So I said when it came to the point of travel, I said, “I am sick still. I cannot travel myself. I want to take out my friend,” who is now in Canada. “So what do you want?” I said, “I have a stepbrother” – he was my stepbrother. They said, “his name is Moshenberg, your name is Grosswasser.” I said, “We have different fathers.” So some girls from Poland were working in the office. They asked them is it possible. They said, “yes.” What did it hurt them? So they let him go. I said, “I need more help. I have another friend I want to get out.” I acquainted with him. (pause) And they said “One guardian is enough.” But when he came to the train, there was a family. They had a big wooden box. And when the third friend of mine came to say goodbye, we him in that box, and we took him out. You see, even in the most strict dictatorship, you can do a little cheating. If you want, I guess, if you want to take a chance, how to say. (Laughs) All right, we got him out. We threw him in some food. Well, he was in there for two days. Later on, because of the – I don’t remember how many days it took the trip – they took us to the Ural Mountains, near Sverdlovsk, Sverdlovsk is a big city.
Jacobs: Yes.
Grosswasser: It’s on the border, between Asia and Europe. But it’s a large city, Sverdlovsk. If you were 40 kilometers from Sverdlovsk, it was already civilized.
Jacobs: How many kilometers?
Grosswasser: Well, this was from Siberia to Sverdlovsk. I don’t know, a few thousand kilometers, anyway…
Jacobs: A thousand kilometers!
Grosswasser: Oh, yes. Russia, Russia is so big. So then we took him out of the box. But all the way we were worrying because he was not on the list. And when he came – when we would come to the place – what would they do with him? Nobody asked. (laughter) Nobody checked. We came, and he came. And we got him out of Siberia. Out of that place. I want to say where there’s a will, there’s a way, but it doesn’t work always, but we were fortunate. But unfortunately, later in the War, he had typhus and died.
Jacobs: Oh.
Grosswasser: Anyway, I found…met his brother later.
Jacobs: In that city?
Grosswasser: No, no. Already in Asia, after they freed us from the camps.
Jacobs: I see.
Grosswasser: I met his brother later in Germany. I didn’t know him but in conversation, he told me his name. I said, “Your name is Figger? You have a brother named Khayyim?” He said yes. So he told me that his brother had died of typhus. We separated later but anyway I found out, unfortunately. (pause) All right, so we were near Sverdlovsk. This was already more civilized. Barracks were back there….
Jacobs: What month was this?
Grosswasser: This was in the fall of 1940.
Jacobs: ‘40…the fall…
Grosswasser: Yes. I don’t remember the month exactly, but it was fall. It was very, might have already been late fall because in a few days it started to rain and it was Rosh Hashanah. We find out it was Rosh Hashanah. But it started to rain and changed right away into snow, right away already snow and winter. On Rosh Hashanah. It was still cold earlier, very cold, but more civilized. We were near a town. We were then in a small camp. Still a labor camp, but we were not guarded and we could move. In fact, we could go to the nearest town. I mean, we couldn’t go to the railroad station because you needed a document which we didn’t have. I mean, you couldn’t escape.
Jacobs: Were you given a document?
Grosswasser: No. We couldn’t get it. We didn’t have any documents. That’s why they weren’t afraid that we would run away, because we couldn’t. But anyway, there, over there, were a few works. A work in the quarry of rocks or a brick factory they had. This was the main factor, or they had the factory chopping the rocks into – what’s that called, gravel. So I worked in the gravel, in that gravel factory. And then later I got sick again of malaria. This area was still malaria, but not as bad. And I was sick still two times. And a friend of mine got acquainted with NKVD commandant, and they let me work in the city. I was the only one. I had to walk every day and walk back.
Jacobs: What did you do?
Grosswasser: Again in a shoe factory. Yes. They made an exception. Now I want to make the point that they didn’t maim, kill us, or hurt us. They had a difficult war themselves, and…but they lived themselves in difficult conditions. They couldn’t do any better for us.
Jacobs: (pause) How were you defined? Were you a Jew, or were you a Pole?
Grosswasser: Well they knew we were Jewish. Most of them are Jewish. But they didn’t bother about it – they didn’t bother us. This was the time…wasn’t yet anticipated.
Jacobs: Did a government agent give you this job?
Grosswasser: Yes. Like I said, the commandant, the NKVD has jurisdiction over us. I even remember his name. At the moment, I forgot. He was a nice man. There were human beings everywhere. He was a nice man. He liked us for our behavior. For our, in fact, he organized one time a New Year’s party for us and he came to watch us. It was girls and boys and men and women, you know, all ages. And he respected us for what we are. And in fact, one of our boys started to date a girl, a Russian, and he said, he just advised, “Maybe it’s un-proper for you people, you know, we are Jewish, to date a Russian girl.” It might get into some complications. He advised it. He was a nice man. Commandant Kanner. He was a Russian. There were only two men. Nobody guarded us. He and an assistant, that’s all.
Jacobs: How many were you?
Grosswasser: This was a small camp. There were probably only about 150, 200 people, that’s all.
Jacobs: But you all stayed together?
Grosswasser: Um…
Jacobs: Were you fed?
Grosswasser: Well, how was it there? We were paid money.
Jacobs: For your work?
Grosswasser: And you could go, and they made a special, a real cheap, kitchen, a restaurant.
Jacobs: What sort of living arrangements did you have? You called it a camp.
Grosswasser: Well, they were barracks.
Jacobs: Yes.
Grosswasser: And we were three boys in a room. If there were, for instance, a brother and a sister, they lived in one room, and they had another…another girl in that room. I mean, three, four people. If there was a family, they put them, father and son, a little boy and he had trouble and local people got interested in the boy so he would go to school. Like I said, they didn’t do harm. I mean, I have to be honest about it. About that time. They didn’t beat nobody, they didn’t hurt nobody.
Jacobs: It was a period of waiting for something else to happen.
Grosswasser: Yeah, yeah. Like I said, Stalin was a very shrewd man. He knew probably that these people might come handy. He had plans already maybe that Poland will be turned Communist and he will use these people to take force. Of course, after the War, when Poland became Communist, a lot of Jews had high positions. I remember, I don’t know if you are familiar with it – later on Kruschev…when Kruschev came to visit to Poland, you have too many Jews here. It changed. And they kicked out, there were about 20,000 Jews in Poland. And they kicked them out. You are familiar with it, too.
Jacobs: Yes.1967. But meanwhile, here you were in this giant city, working in the leather industry, in a shoe factory, and coming home at night to your camp room.
Grosswasser: No, here, I have to correct. Yes, we were living in these barracks. That’s right.
Jacobs: And did it seem like a place forever?
Grosswasser: No, no. We didn’t know. We knew that the War wouldn’t last forever. And then, they signed….there was an immigration government of Poland, Sikorsky. General Sikorsky. Are you familiar with this?
Jacobs: Sikorsky, yes.
Grosswasser: They are helicopters Sikorsky. The headquarters were in London, and they signed an agreement, the immigration government of Poland and the Soviet government and that was already after the Germans attacked Russia.
Jacobs: After 1941?
Grosswasser: After the Germans attacked Russia. In 1941, yes. They signed an agreement between the Polish immigration government and the Soviet government, yes. And they released all the Polish citizens from the camps.
Jacobs: Now did you stay in that camp from the fall of ’40?
Grosswasser: ‘40, till fall of ’41. Yes, later summer, fall of 1941.
Jacobs: By then, Germany attacked Russia.
Grosswasser: Right. In June the Germans attacked the Russians. That’s right. So in the meantime, the Polish government signed an agreement with the Russian government and the Soviet government released all the Polish citizens from the camps.
Jacobs: Jews or non-Jews, it made no difference?
Grosswasser: Yes. And we decided, since I worked in the factory, they started to talk me into stay there. “You will have a good job, you will live, be happy like anybody of us.” But I didn’t want to buy that. So we all went from the cold country, to the hot country.
Jacobs: Where’s that?
Grosswasser: All the way to Central Asia, near Tashkent.
Jacobs: You mean you went all the way to Tashkent? You had a choice…
Grosswasser: Well, they had to let us go somewhere. They let us free from the camps. Nobody wanted to stay there.
Jacobs: The agreement was for you Poles to be repatriated to Poland.
Grosswasser: Poland was under the Germans, what are you talking? The agreement was to let free the Polish citizens, out of the camp.
Jacobs: And give them the choice of what next for themselves?
Grosswasser: Well, the Russians still had the jurisdiction over us, but not…they to let us free from the camps. So we decided and went down to the hot country. And this was fall. Over there, was already everything rationed, the War, you know. Difficult to buy. Difficult to get anything.
Jacobs: You went to Tashkent?
Grosswasser: We went to Tashkent and I mean there was a free world. Of course, the cities are the Moslem that…the Uzbeks, and those Uzbeks are entirely different people. They are difficult to discipline. They far away from Moscow and they live entirely different. You know, there it was still a four-month summer. And the winter itself is not a winter, so it was entirely different. But you couldn’t live in the city.
Jacobs: But 150 of you all went…
Grosswasser: All went, yes. From all over Russia mostly went. I don’t know how we communicated, but all the people felt the same way. Others were in ________________. Everybody went to Tashkent and this area. Nobody wanted to stay in those rotten places. So over there…so we went there and find we couldn’t live in the city because we didn’t have passports, Soviet documents. In small towns, you could live. So again we had to go live on a farm. So we lived on the farm. We worked on the farm. But we couldn’t go far from the city, only four kilometers. So we used to come to the city for a show. They used to come, and then the War evacuated. We lived near…didn’t live in Tashkent…near Tashkent…a city of Chimkent, about 150, 160 thousand people, population. But the theaters, you know, from Kiev from Moscow and all these theaters and ballet and operas and orchestras, and I always enjoyed this. So we used to go every two, three times a week. We used to spend in the cities. And of course, young people, we just wanted to meet some girls, too. This is normal. Anyway, it was different, anyway it was a good area of waiting. Well, but somehow, the time moved and a Polish army was organizing in the territory of the Soviet Union, the Ander’s Army. Are you familiar with it?
Jacobs: Yes.
Grosswasser: Alright. And we did hear that in the place of Chokepak is the name….is about 300 kilometers from out city, from the city of Chikent. All the young people got on the station, thousands of them, they came – I don’t know why, how they found out, but somehow people communicated, and we went to Chokepak. Until we came to Chokepak, the climate over there in Chokepak was Kazakhstan. You see, we lived in southern Kazakhstan, but the….population are Uzbeks. The territory Moslem. The Kazakhs are all the Moslem. The Uzbeks are from Persian descendents, and the Kazakhs are Mongols. The Uzbeks are regarded for a higher culture; the Kazakhs themselves respect the Uzbeks because they are more cultured. And they are, they are. But anyway, so we came to Chokepak and we were in an entirely different climate…cold, snow, it was terribly cold. And over there was a station, a Polish, Polocks, already Polocks are in command. The officers mostly Polocks, there was some Jews, but mostly Polocks. They said, “Polocks of Polish, of Christian belief, to the right, and Polocks of Jewish belief to the left.” Those to the right, they took right away to a bath…to a bathhouse, clean them up, wash them up, and came out in military uniforms. And us, they just neglected. So we spend for a few days, then went back home. They didn’t accept us, they didn’t want us.
Jacobs: Back to…
Grosswasser: Back to the Kohlkhoz, to the farm, to the collective farm. Chikent and the Kohlkhoz, yes. Back. That’s the way they treated us. But some managed to get into the army, like my brother, for instance. He did get into the army in 1942 and later the army, the Soviet Union wanted to the army to go together with the Russians, but the Anders leadership demanded that they will be separate. They will fight from the West front. And so my brother – they moved out the army to the Middle East, into Palestine at that time. That’s the way he got out. When he came to Palestine, he threw away the uniform and said, “I’m going to a kibbutz.”
Jacobs: Menachem Begin did the same thing.
Grosswasser: Yeah, yeah.
Jacobs: Was Begin in that outfit?
Grosswasser: Somewhere…I imagine he was in one of these places, yes. And so my brother did.
Jacobs: That’s how he got to Palestine?
Grosswasser: And you know that I could get in one time when I went back for him. You see, they took away our documents I had. And I went back on the farm and then I had to go back and get my documents…the temporary documents. And a train passed by, the train with these Polish Jews. They were going to the Middle East and I could get on the train without…but I had the documents of my friend, and I hesitated and didn’t get in. They wanted to just pull me in and take me with them. I probably would have got out that time.
Jacobs: A great turning point in your life. You could have been in Palestine or in Israel today. Instead…
Grosswasser: Well anyway, I went back to the farm and then we received internationalism after this. Since we were already, after the agreement with the Polish government, we received international passports. So I could live in the city. So I lived in the city and I worked again in a shoe factory there.
Jacobs: Still another one, or the same one?
Grosswasser: In Chikent, near the farm. This was the city that we used to come there for a good time. So I was in that city.
Jacobs: Did you have any connection with the local Jews?
Grosswasser: Very little. There were at least, we called them “Teimaner” Jews.
Jacobs: But you knew it was Rosh Hashanah.
Grosswasser: Well, yes, yes. We had some friends with elderly parents, a big family from the city of Zamoscz where Peretz lived. You know the writer Peretz? The city of Zamoscz he was born and lived till he moved to Warsaw. Of this city…we had two brothers that lived with their parents, elderly people, and then they had also, they also had a sister, a brother-in-law, and a daughter. But the whole family, they were very close. The parents for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, they used to go always to the city and pray together with these local people. They prayed different. I never was at a service there.
Jacobs: Oh, you never attended a service?
Grosswasser: No…no.
Jacobs: Not on Shabbat?
Grosswasser: No. Well, I don’t now if they had every Shabbat service. This was kind of, not official. They met in a private house – they made this.
Jacobs: Oh, there was no synagogue?
Grosswasser: I’m don’t…not sure. I’m not sure. But I know this all took place in a private house. There were very few Jews there. Local Jews. Usually they had a little business. One had a shoe repair shop, another with something else…these local Jews.
Jacobs: They were lower class…
Grosswasser: Well, I don’t know. A shoe repair in Russia…it isn’t regarded exactly that…in fact, a middle class…he was independent. Everything is controlled by government and these little shops are independent.
Jacobs: That was good.
Grosswasser: Well anyway, I was working like I said, in the shoe factory. It’s getting late, maybe, yes? Well, I will make it short now.
Jacobs: No, no, it’s alright.
Grosswasser: Well, it was coming 1943, 1944.
Jacobs: You stayed there for three years…in Tashkent?
Grosswasser: Chimkent, yes. 100 kilometers from Tashkent. And then I met my wife. 1943. I went back to college.
Jacobs: Where?
Grosswasser: In Chimkent. The college was evacuated from Kharkov. The Kharkov University was evacuated into that town. And she attended that. Excuse me, it was at Kiev, not Kharkov, the university. Because my wife is from Kharkov. And she attended their college. And I went back…
Jacobs: Kiev University…
Grosswasser: It was transplanted to Chimkent. And she attended the college…
Jacobs: In 1940…
Grosswasser: 1943. And I went back to get my degree there.
Jacobs: In what?
Grosswasser: Not political science. It was, commercial art. And I met my wife there…in 1943. But in 1943 she finished college and when she finished college, engineer in chemistry and building materials, ceramics…like glass and roofs…how do you say? Tiles and all this…not pottery. Tiles…building materials….ceramics…and chemistry. They didn’t give her the diploma. The diploma they sent to the city of Slodlosk and she had to go to work there and it was over there…there, it will be in the office. She wouldn’t get it. She had just a copy of it. And she had to go there to work. So we met and she had to leave. I, in Chimkent, and she, in Sloklosk. She had a few encounters. They lived in a dorm and they stole everything and she was unhappy there to work there in that plant. And she was young. She didn’t have any experience yet. She has to work hard – not like an engineer. She was unhappy. Now her aunt was a lawyer. She was evacuated…she was evacuated…in Chimkent she was. But my wife’s parents, the father was killed in the war, a military man…officer. And her mother died of liver disease.
Jacobs: Where?
Grosswasser: In 1943, in Chimkent.
Jacobs: In Chimkent?
Grosswasser: Yes. So the aunt adopted my wife. She has a brother ten years younger…she adopted them. She didn’t have any children.
Jacobs: I see.
Grosswasser: Alright. Then came already 1944. She evacuated and the Russians took back the city of Kharkov from the Germans. She went back to Kharkov. And my wife, illegally, she left Slodlosk and went back to her aunt…to Kharkov. And she had a lot of trouble, till her aunt straightened out her papers. So she was in Kharkov living with her aunt. And then we were in correspondence and I was still in Chimkent…
Jacobs: You were not married?
Grosswasser: No, no. I wasn’t married. So she came back to Chimkent to me in 194…the end of 1944. Or, it was already ’45. …’45…time moved toward the end of the War. It was already ’45, and she came to me, to Chimkent, and we married in 1945.
Jacobs: Ah. Remember the rabbi who married you?
Grosswasser: It wasn’t the rabbi who married…the rabbi was in Poland when we came…I had a “ketubah”…
Jacobs: Jewish?
Grosswasser: Not a rabbi, but a knowledgeable man. They copies another ketubah (laughter). He is now in Israel – the one that wrote the ketubah. He was quite a knowledgeable man in Yiddish. It was only two witnesses – my friend and his wife who lives in Canada (laughter). In the Soviet Union, it was a civil…
Jacobs: In Chimkent?
Grosswasser: In Chimkent, yes. And then (pause) people spread news that if you will go to Lvov, the war was already finished, you can get to Poland from Lvov, legal. But how would you get to Lvov? I…I work in a job, I’m not released. My friend works in a job, he’s not released. My wife didn’t work. She came…she didn’t work yet when she came back. But his wife, my friend’s wife, was an engineer working in a post office. It was a responsible job. She couldn’t get leave. What can you do? How can you go to Lvov? So my wife…we found a doctor, a Jew, and he was an expert of science…sinus…sinus. And he made her sick with sinus. And he said it is climatic – that she has to change the climate. And she was wearing a scarf up on her head, pretending that she has a head…because for neighbors, for people…that she is sick and she has to change the climate. And she has some friend in the post office and one of the friends worked out documents for us. A telegram from the University of Lvov that we are admitted to the University of Lvov to study. We had documents. Now I want to make a point…how careful you have to be in the Soviet Union. It doesn’t have to do with anything – but I will continue later, come back. But I want to make a point. My wife…my friend’s wife worked in the post office, an engineer, and there were working many engineers and operators and whatnot. Alright, every year the local authorities of agriculture, or other business give a direct report to Moscow. Now on the telephone, when they…they talk on the telephone, the operators all that they have to do is connect and it is not allowed to listen what the conversation is about. So one operator at the post office did sneak in and listen. And another – her best girl friend – noticed. She snitched on her. And that girl got ten years in jail. Ten years!
Jacobs: Oh my. What a kind of lifestyle.
Grosswasser: This was a…you see…my wife was young. She was raised in the Soviet Union. She is…her mother was Jewish. Her father – if you heard about Karaimer Jews – her father was a Karaimer Jew.
Jacobs: Yes.
Grosswasser: Well, I don’t know. I met a man, an elderly man here in St. Louis, he was from Poland too, but he said he knew some Karaimer in Poland. Near Warsaw, there was a small group of Karaimer Jews. And he said that they were so far away from Jews.

Tape 2 - Side 1

Grosswasser: The family name is Magid. Her father’s name is Magid. You know what “Magid” is? A speaker is a preacher.
Jacobs: A preacher, yes.
Grosswasser: But later they changed to Chabelski which my…is her aunt’s name. Chabelski. But in home, her family name is actually Magid.
Jacobs: Isn’t that something.
Grosswasser: Now alright, now I will go back. So like I said, my friend’s wife had to be very careful. She knew about the case. But since we got these documents that we are admitted to the University of Lvov, so I…they couldn’t get the leave from my work, we all illegally went to the train. We had prepared tickets and everything. The tickets you had to bribe and we had a man that got for us tickets because it wasn’t easy to get tickets. And we pushed ourselves into the train. It was very hard to get into the train. And we came to Lvov, and in Lvov it was true…in Lvov you could register officially and go back to Poland.
Jacobs: How far is Lvov?
Grosswasser: Otherwise, you see, the people are still in Russia for a long time. We got out ahead of time.
Jacobs: This was the year 1945?
Grosswasser: ’45, already, yes, after the War.
Jacobs: The War ended in August…
Grosswasser: And we came probably in May. The War was finished and we were already August…September…we were already in Poland.
Jacobs: I see…And Lvov…
Grosswasser: From Lvov we crosses – Lvov you see is now in the Soviet Union.
Jacobs: How did you get to Poland from Lvov?
Grosswasser: Well we registered and legal across the border to Cracow. By train. And then we can go anywhere we want in Poland.
Jacobs: And where did you go to?
Grosswasser: From Poland we went, my friend had some…the one that lives in Canada…he had some friends, a friend that he had, his father had some housing, houses in Sosnowiec. In the city of Sosnowiec.
Jacobs: Is that near Kielce?
Grosswasser: Not far. This is already near Kattowice. Not far from Kattowice. The city of Kattowice.
Jacobs: That’s a sizable community.
Grosswasser: Kattowice, yeah. Sosnowiec too is a good size city….near Silesia.
Jacobs: Ah. Did you see War’s devastation in the cities?
Grosswasser: Oh yeah. Everywhere. Not too much actually. But there was destruction everywhere. Alright, and then I again found work but temporarily. None of us wanted to establish themselves in Poland. For one thing, we started to look for relatives. We didn’t find any. I found a cousin. He was traveling all over Poland looking for somebody. And…
Jacobs: There were only twenty thousand…
Grosswasser: So my wife, with a neighbor, went to Warsaw because she was from near Warsaw to find out what was going on there. My wife went with her and there was a Jewish committee and they went to the Jewish committee and there were thousands and thousands of letters and cards from all over. Everybody wrote to the Jewish committee. And she found a card there, it said, “Nathan Grosswasser, from Kielce, is looking for his brothers and sisters and all the names.”
Jacobs: Oh my.
Grosswasser: And he gave his address. When she came home, I found my brother!
Jacobs: What was his address?
Grosswasser: In Tel Aviv.
Jacobs: In Tel Aviv?
Grosswasser: Yes. I told you he went there in ’45…the Polish Army.
Jacobs: Yes. That very year?
Grosswasser: Yes. So I know already and I wrote right away. But I knew that my other brother, that he was in the Soviet Union. And I couldn’t find him. And then…we were still young people….we didn’t know where to settle and how to settle. First, find somebody. So we decided we joined a Zionist organization. The Zionists are very active, taking people across the borders.
Jacobs: The underground…
Grosswasser: The underground…trains. And with that train, we crossed into Czechoslovakia. In Czechoslovakia, nobody, they advised not to settle down because it was very unsettled in Czechoslovakia. It wasn’t yet Communist, but it was uncertain. We went to Austria, and Vienna. We spent some time there and we made a point to go to Germany because there were the camps in Germany. So I went to Germany but in the meantime, my wife was pregnant. So it started to get difficult to move. So that cousin that I told you, he was restless and traveling. He was already in Germany. He found my other brother and one Saturday night he comes with my brother to me, at the camp.
Jacobs: Ah. Which camp was that?
Grosswasser: It was Weidheim.
Jacobs: Located where?
Grosswasser: Well this was south of Nuremberg…south…
Jacobs: As far south as Munich?
Grosswasser: It was near Munich. Near. I forgot the name of the city actually. It was a pretty large city, too. But anyway, and he lived in Stuttgart. There was a camp in Stuttgart. Here is a beautiful camp. It was a sanatorium for heart, people with heart…owned by a Nazi. So the government took this away. The American government actually took this away and made a camp there for Jews. And so he took us there. And the day when we came in, straight from the train, my wife went to the hospital and had our son.
Jacobs: Right there in Stuttgart!?
Grosswasser: So anyway, in Stuttgart we got met by my brother and it was a nice place. In Stuttgart, we wanted to go, we planned to go to Israel. But my brother, the one in Stuttgart, got sick…seriously sick. They didn’t know yet what it is. He was a few times in the hospital. And then we thought, and because my brother in Israel wanted us to come there, and he wanted to go, but Israel it was difficult times. We thought that my brother was so sick that here in this country they would be able to help him. So we brought him over here but unfortunately, he had Hodgkin’s Disease. And nothing could have been done.
Jacobs: How long did he live?
Grosswasser: Eight months after we came.
Jacobs: Did you come directly to St. Louis?
Grosswasser: Yes. I came because St. Louis was a shoe center. So they directed me. I had the choice of Boston or St. Louis.
Jacobs: ORT or HIAS directed?
Grosswasser: The Jewish Family Service took care. I had twelve dollars in my pocket.
Jacobs: When you arrived?
Grosswasser: But I went to work very soon…four weeks.
Jacobs: Within one month you had a job?
Grosswasser: To Samuels Shoe Company. We were fortunate. We met people, people who, from the street, helped us. You see, our son was just three years old when we came here and the only thing we could speak was German. And I was walking with him on the street and speaking German and a woman walked behind us and she asked, “Are you from Germany?” I said that we just recently came. And she was a Jewish woman from Germany. And she got acquainted and got interested, and the whole neighborhood started to, get interested in us. There was one from Vienna.
Jacobs: Where did you live?
Grosswasser: Around Limit, you know, in University City. The Loop there, yes. And there was, I forgot the name, Stein, Paul Steain…no, I forgot. He had a big job with the Wohl Shoe Company and he had a friend, another one that was a superintendent in Samuels Shoe Company. So he lived there, too. So he talked to that superintendent and got me a job right away. But I didn’t stay long there because they didn’t have a place in…as a pattern man. So I went to International Shoe Company.
Jacobs: And your wife got a job?
Grosswasser: No. My wife went back and she had the master’s degree and she was an engineer, she is teaching literature. (Laughter). She got her Ph.D. Already.
Jacobs: Do you consider yourself pretty lucky all the way through?
Grosswasser: Yes. Well, after…I regret many times that I didn’t go to Israel to be honest. I mean, not by bread alone. The United States is a beautiful country, but when I was young, I rebelled. Many times I…we had with my parents, with my father especially, conversations and disagreements. But when you getting older, life is teaching you something. You know the word, “Darf Kein.” Yiddish? Because they are mistreating us, because they wanted to change us, “Darf Kein Nicht.” In spite I wouldn’t….in spite I wouldn’t…I’m in heart a Jew. Maybe I’m not a pious Jew, but I don’t know what counts more. I think when I learned about Khederin history, because I went through all this in my life, until now, I enjoy going to discussions and reading and learning. And to me the Jewish religion is actually the history. What is more than to be a Jew? What means more? To me, this is more than anything else.
Jacobs: When did you come to feel like this? Was it a difference recently?
Grosswasser: Oh yes. Already a long time. After…at the end of the War. Because my wife – she didn’t want to leave the Soviet Union. She had relatives there. Her brother was just a young boy; she felt guilty to leave. And besides this, we went to the unknown. And she was rooted there. And I wasn’t. I didn’t want to stay for simple reasons. For fear. I was old enough already.
Jacobs: To think of what might happen?
Grosswasser: To think of…yes.
Jacobs: To Jews?
Grosswasser: Yes. And I met a man – he was from Minsk, a Jewish city by the way. And he told me, they called me over there, “Sasha.” My wife still calls me, “Sasha.” And my friend is also Sasha. Shlomo is my real name, Solomon. Sol. He said, “Sasha, if you would have been there in 1932, 33, and in the morning, when the people woke up, they sticked out the head just to find out how many people they dragged out in the night from this building.” It was, he said, just scary. And when he told me this, it got me so deep in my body…
Jacobs: Yes.
Grosswasser: That it never left me.
Jacobs: And you are sure that it was best for you to leave Russia.
Grosswasser: I felt this one hundred percent.
Jacobs: Is your wife been reconciled to it?
Grosswasser: Oh yeah. By now, absolutely. She has a brother. He visited here. My wife was back, too. Before she left, she received from the State Department a letter to explain to her is she knows that the Soviet government, regardless of how long you are out of the country, and regardless what citizenship you have, they regard you still as a Soviet citizen.
Jacobs: So you better watch out!
Grosswasser: You better watch out, yes.
Jacobs: And what did she do?
Grosswasser: Well, she went to see..
Jacobs: She went! Was she challenged?
Grosswasser: No, no. But she had unpleasant experiences. She went with a group tour from New York. Mostly were from New York, New York area. And they called themselves the group, “The Friends of the Soviet Union.” Now she was the only one, a former Soviet citizen. And they came to the customs in Leningrad – they didn’t bother none of them. But they searched my wife’s baggage. Of course they knew she was coming to visit family and she would have an excess amount of things. Now you can have one item, but if you have more…it already commercial. So she had two jackets, which are worth nothing in this country…plastic jackets…remember that was a big deal! And a friend, a neighbor, he had found…met his brother, because she had lost contact with her brother and a neighbor found him when he went to visit his family. So he…his sister is diabetic…so he sent a package of saccharin. Oh, this is commercial. And another friend sent hair nets. And they found a few of them, so she had trouble with them, and she had to pay $194 fine. So she had a bad taste after this.
Jacobs: But that’s all.
Grosswasser: Well, yes. But she had a few other slight encounters which were minor. No, she feels American and she raised here our children.
Jacobs: How many children have you now?
Grosswasser: Well, we have two.
Jacobs: How old are they?
Grosswasser: Jack is 34. And he is now junior partner to the company, in a company, computer scientist. Yes, computer scientist. He has a master’s degree in computer science, and now he’s getting a master’s degree in business administration. And he is Vice President of that company, and now he’s a junior partner. They are fifteen years apart, our children. (Laughs). Our daughter is only nineteen.
Jacobs: Yes. She’s a lovely girl.
Grosswasser: She plays very well piano. In fact, she’s teaching. She has five students.
Jacobs: This is as happy an ending as I’ve ever heard.
Grosswasser: Well I mean, there’s more details to it, but we cannot need just cover everything.
Jacobs: Maybe there are other things that you think of. If so, give me a ring and we’ll talk further.
Grosswasser: I might. If I will, I think I might make notes. I should have made maybe notes.
Jacobs: It’s alright.
Grosswasser: I don’t know if my talk was interesting, or not.
Jacobs: Well, we’re going to find out. Let’s see how it works right now. Thank you very, very much.

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