Abraham (Zalek) Kolnierz

"Enjoy life and be happy with what you’ve got. "

Name at birth
Abraham (Zalek) Kolnierz
Date of birth
Name of father, occupation
Haynoch, Made socks for men.
Maiden name of mother, occupation
Ruchel Jakobowich (pronounced Yakovitz)., Seamstress, sewed women’s dresses, dressmaker.
Immediate family (names, birth order)
Parents and a younger sister, Basha.
How many in entire extended family?
Large extended family, maybe 50 or so on both sides.
Who survived the Holocaust?
Only me and two cousins who I later met in Israel.
I lived in the Lodz Ghetto for most of the four years and in several concentration camps for about a year or so.  My dad heard neighbors talk about possible war.  One night on the Sabbath, a neighbor Polish boy about my age, 14, came to my parent’s home dressed as a soldier.  He took his glove off and slapped my face.  My parents could do nothing but watch. He then left.  

It was then that I decided to go to Russia.  My dad would not let me go alone.  My mom did not want to do that kind of rough traveling with a young child, as my sister Basha was only 7 at the time.  My dad and I decided to go alone, to see if it was safer there and then they would come back to get them.  We were gone for several weeks.  

Traveling was difficult, as Jews already could not take the main roads and we traveled by foot.  My dad had to pay several people to assist us the travels.  Finally, we were going back to return to Poland to get the family.  We tried four times to cross the border to Germany and the fifth time, we succeeded.  It took us two weeks of travel to return, in the middle of winter.  We found the family, but we could not leave as it now became the ghetto and it was barb-wired all around the city.  

My close cousin and I offered to take on one of the hardest jobs in the ghetto, to empty the outhouses.  We took this job as it offered more food, two soups instead of one.  This was in the summer.  We did it barefoot.  We pulled a wagon that carried a large barrel of human waste, walked it to the outskirts of the ghetto to dump it.  

After a while, I got very sick, perhaps from the toxins, and I boated up like a balloon.  My whole body was full of water; I had to lift one leg at time to go up any stairs, my head was so big that it was twice the normal size.

A doctor decided to do a home remedy.  He said if it didn’t work, I would die, but he said if he didn’t try, that I would also die.  The doctor got a hose, like a garden hose, cut off the ends and sterilized it.  He inserted it into the side of my stomach; I did not feel pain as my body was numb from the bloating.  The other end of the hose was in a bucket.  My body did drain and I lived. 

I traveled to several work camps by cattle train.  The first camp was Auschwitz where I was separated from my family.  The SS soldier stood on a platform, holding a wand and directed/separated the young and old to go to one line and the ones who looked strong went to the other line; I went to the other.  I got my tattoo in Auschwitz: B6321, the B was for the year 1944.  Then I was taken to Birkenau, the work camp.  I later went to Jaworzno, (pronounced Yavoshno) near Cracow and worked in the coal mine which was a very physically strenuous job.  

I thought I would die there from the tough labor.  I would have to walk a few miles and also take the street car to get to the mine.  They kept moving us to different camps.  I was given wooden shoes to wear.  They hurt so much that one night when I tried to take them off, I pulled off part of my big toe, as my skin froze inside the shoe.  Most of my toes nails never grew back.  

My last travel by train was probably the worst.  They piled us in about fifty to a wagon; the train was an open train.  It was so tight we could not sit down, only stand.  I was in an open train about eight days.  There were hundreds in the train.  

Once we got to our destination, Buchenwald, and were disinfected.  But since there was no room to disinfect everyone at once, people waited outside during winter until they could get bathed.  I was so thirsty I drank from a puddle and the snow.  I was so weak that I could not raise my arms to bath myself.  I got help from others.  

During our last march, I was assigned, along with some others, to walk at the end of the line, in order to remove the dead bodies from the road and toss them to side of the road.  I don’t know how I found the strength.  I was young, 19 years old.  We were in Bavaria at that time.  

I was liberated by American soldiers, while I was still marching with the SS.  American tanks chased us.  They came very close.  The German’s saw the tanks were close, so they left us on the side of the road.  

There were hundreds of people that were marching, but we were marching behind them.   The American soldiers threw food, some were cans of food, to us.  I filled my pockets.  I could not open the cans, but ate what I could.  I was so happy.

After the liberation, I lived in the German town and the Germans took care of us.  They gave us anything we needed.  It’s a miracle that I survived because I was 99 percent dead.  

I stayed on for a few more years.  I went to Hamburg in 1949-1950.  I wanted to be a fisherman and was actually in the first school established to teach us how to fish.  

I would also buy live fish from the fishermen.  I would put about fifty live fish in a sack full of ice and water and carried them on my back.  I would take a train back to the Bergen-Belsen DP camp.  I put them in a large tub and sold them live.  

I found out that I had a first cousin living in Israel and two second cousins in Europe.  
I was given options of either going to Sweden, Israel or USA.  I was going to go to Israel, but Israel was in turmoil then. Since I was the only survivor in my family, I wanted to go somewhere where I might have a chance to live, marry, and have children.  

I decided to go to Detroit, via Boston, as they had factories and work was plentiful.  I first worked at Ford Motor Company as an assembly line worker.  

I married in 1950.  Then I worked for the railroad, hammering the stakes into the railroad.  I found out about a tool and die shop.  I quit to go there, but unfortunately, they went out of business.  I decided to become a house painter and start my own business as a contractor, in the late 1950’s.
Name of Ghetto(s)
Name of Concentration / Labor Camp(s)
Occupation after the war
Paint contractor.
Phyllis Eisenberg
Two daughters, Linda and Bonnie.
Henri Medwed.
What do you think helped you to survive?
I didn’t think about anything except surviving. I lived day by day.
What message would you like to leave for future generations?
Enjoy life and be happy with what you’ve got. 

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