Benjamin Kawer

"If we want tolerance and respect for each other, we cannot let history repeat itself. "

Date of birth
Where were you born?
Where did you grow up?
Hajnowka, Poland (on the outskirts of the largest forest in Europe).
Name of father, occupation
Ariyeh Zvi, Logger in the forest cutting down trees, only in winter, then started a brick factory.
Maiden name of mother, occupation
Deena Lewine, Homemaker
Immediate family (names, birth order)
My parents, Esther, Eliezer, Rochelle and I.
How many in entire extended family?
My father had two sisters; cousins, four more sisters in Ostolinka and a brother and one cousin - Nathan Rostker.
Who survived the Holocaust?
Eliezer and I.
My youngest sister was admitted to the camps.  I found out recently that my sister was sick in the camps and it was the day that Mengele was at the camp; she died that day.  My older sister died before we were sent to the camps.

My father moved in 1927 because his father had moved there after WWI. He worked as a logger in the forest cutting down trees. He worked in winter only, and then he started a brick factory since people needed bricks to build homes. He used the wood to burn fuel to make bricks.  In 1935 we emerged from being poor to middle class, but did not survive war.

I started attending cheder (Jewish elementary religious education classes) at age 4.  Yiddish was my first language.  From about 6 or 7 years old, I attended Polish school through seventh grade.  Life was tolerant because my city was a worker’s town and mostly socialist so anti-Semitism was not bad.  

In 1939, Poland was attacked by Germans and occupied.  The Germans came in and my uncle who lived near the railroad tracks was afraid. A German tank appeared in my backyard and a tank shell went through my window and the house was smoking.  My uncle ran out of the house because he thought it was on fire and he was gunned down.  

Germans made a pact with Russia.  After two weeks the Germans pulled out and Russians came in.  We were in the occupied part and went to Russian schools and learned German.  At age 14, I mastered Russian language and German language.  Russians were there for twenty-three months. Then the Germans attacked Russia and Germans came to our town in June 1941.  

They started harassing Jews to bring their possessions.  On August 1, 1941 the Germans took everyone to the market place and marched us into the forest.  They killed the rabbi and the only doctor, and put the rest of us onto trucks.  

They took us to a ghetto called Pruzany. They put fifteen to twenty families into one home.  There was little food, no fuel and we took apart furniture to burn for heat.  I was sent to a working camp to build a highway in the forest.  After five to six months I was sent back to ghetto.  In the ghetto I worked with turf/vegetation to be used as fuel.  In January, 1943 they started evacuating ghetto.

I went with transport #3.  They took me and my family to a train station. We arrived at Auschwitz.  They threw us out of train.  About ten percent of people died in transport.  They separated men from women and my father realized what was happening.  

My father said to my brother Lazer, “Ben is the youngest one, take care of him.”  They took my brother on one side and sent me with our father.  My father pushed me over to my brother.  

My last visual picture of my mother was of her holding her grandson. 

They separated us and tattooed us.  I was with my brother.  In Birkenau we were put in barracks, ten to twelve people in a bunk.  In the morning we were yelling and screaming and we were taken outside.  During the night we smelled smoke and did not know what the smell was.  We found out next day what the smoke was.  

My eyes were crying but not from the tears, they were crying from the smoke coming out of chimneys. My nose was the smelling the burning of flesh. My heart was crying silently.

I spent six weeks in Birkenau.  Crematoriums were operating day and night.  Across from my barracks there were 25,000 gypsies.  One morning I woke up and they were all gone.

After six weeks, the Germans decided to take us into Auschwitz for work.  I then spent three to four months in Auschwitz. One day they transported fifty people to Buna work camp.  They counted fifty people and I was the fiftieth.  One guy collapsed and they took the next guy who was my brother.  

We were separated in different barracks.  I was chosen to paint; my brother was chosen to work on cables. I worked building tankers and scraping the metal from tankers.  The tankers were about fifty meters high and I worked on the top and climbed a ladder to reach the top.  My Kapo was a nice man and would give us easier jobs and gave us extra food.  I had two other friends in this group under the Kapo.

I went to visit my brother who had such a hard job and was not doing well.  So, I went to my Kapo and said I have only one brother and he does not look well and I asked if he could bring him into my group. The Kapo said he needed an extra painter and they got my brother into his unit.  

There were also civilians working at the camp.  One guy gave a piece of bread to me and I gave him a shirt in return for the bread.  Although the shirt was torn, the man liked me for my honesty. The man would come into work and he would bring in his rations.  He would share his rations every week.  

When the factory was bombed in 1944, this man came running to me with his civilian clothing and told him to put on the clothing and escape with him.  I did not go because I did not want to be separated from my brother.  

In January, Auschwitz and Buna and other surrounding camps were evacuated and we went on a death march to the train station in Glajewic.  They put us into open train cars, many froze to death.  

We arrived in Buchenwald.  It was a holding camp and I was then dispersed to Langenstein.  I was with my brother and my other two friends.  It was a death trap.  We were digging tunnels for Germans to build their planes.  They gave us little to eat and it was very hard work.  Many died in the mines and from the work.  There was a huge pit to bury the dead.  I worked in the pit with laying out the bodies.  

On April 10, 1945 they chased us out of the mines and we went on another death march. We marched for four days and nights, no food or water.  On the fourth day we were resting and I said to my brother that I could not walk anymore.  His friend said he would escape with me.  

When it turned dark, I distanced myself and my friend and I ran.  I called to my brother and he ran.  Four guys ran and shots were fired but nobody was hurt.  We ran into the fields and slept.  The rest of the group marched on.  Two weeks later they took them into a forest and killed them. 

The hunger was terrible.  We went to a house in the fields and asked for bread.  The man of the house who was a Nazi, told his wife to give us some bread and he will look for the police.  The Nazi said everyone had fled, there were no police.  The Americans were nearby, we were eventually liberated.

One of the groups was from Belgium so we went to Belgium.  The Joint (JDC) was waiting for us in Brussels on June 1, 1945. We stayed in Belgium for fifteen months. 

Name of Ghetto(s)
Name of Concentration / Labor Camp(s)
Where were you in hiding?
Fields and forests in Poland outside Langenstein
How is it that you came to Michigan?
I had relatives lived here
Occupation after the war
Insurance business
When and where were you married?
1952 in Detroit.
Esther Horowitz
Dena Kawer, artist, Fay Wolf, homemaker.
Five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
What do you think helped you to survive?
My brother and I took care of each other and that helped us both survive. Also, the drive to survive was vengeance; I saw Russians take a Nazi and tie him to a tree and watched as they sawed him into parts while he was still alive. I thought they were executioners as well and I would not live like that. I believe that my story has to be told.
What message would you like to leave for future generations?
If we want tolerance and respect for each other, we cannot let history repeat itself. 

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