George Ohrenstein

"Learn, study, put in as much as you can in your head, into your “computer.”  It will stay with you for the rest of your life.  "

Name at birth
Jerzy Ohrenstein
Date of birth
07/08/1926
Where were you born?
Where did you grow up?
Cracow, Poland
Name of father, occupation
David, Merchant, owned a variety store
Maiden name of mother, occupation
Flora Streisenberg, Helped in store, made wedding veils, Homemaker
Immediate family (names, birth order)
Parents and three children: Eva (Vogler) Anderman, Bernard and me
Who survived the Holocaust?
My sister Eva, my brother Bernard, my niece Felicia (Liban), my cousin Edward Mosberg and me
My sister, Eva, was married to a man who was a D.D.S. (dentist).  They had a daughter named Felicia, born in 1934. Eva’s husband tried to escape from the Germans.  He went east, as many other Jewish men did.  They never thought that the Nazis would be so brutal to women and children.  Later, the Russians joined the Allies.  All the Polish men in Russia joined General Ander’s Polish Army to fight Germans under the British Command.  But her husband unfortunately died in Iran of typhoid fever.
 
My sister, Eva, and her daughter, Felicia, were helped by the Polish underground, by a man of the last name, Warenitza.  Mr. Warenitza has been honored by Yad Vashem in Israel.  
 
Eva was caught by the Germans and taken to the Gestapo headquarters.  She was sent to a concentration camp to die.  Because she was a seamstress, she was taken to another concentration camp to work on uniforms.  In the meantime her daughter Felicia was with the non-Jewish Warenitza family.  Because the neighbors became suspicious, she was taken to a cloister with the nuns.  Felicia always prayed that her mother would return, which she did.  Felicia now lives in Florida.
 
When the Germans marched into Cracow in 1939, all Jews were ordered to war armbands.  We were not allowed to walk on the sidewalks.  The Germans confiscated all of my father’s business and savings.  My father took it very hard and had a stroke.  There was no medical help of any kind for Jews, and he passed away.  He is buried in the Jewish Cemetery in Cracow.  
 
We were ordered to leave our homes, only to take what we could carry.  We were taken to the ghetto, which had bricked in walls and barbed wire. The only time we were taken out of the ghetto was under guard to shovel snow or unload trucks. The Cracow Ghetto was crowded, food was scarce, and the hygiene was extremely bad.  
 
Later, we were taken out of the ghetto to a new concentration camp called Plaszow.  When we arrived, we were told to undress completely.  We took off any rings, watches… all valuables were confiscated. We were given prisoner’s uniforms and wooden shoes, and a blanket.  There were 400 men to a barrack.  There was no mattress, but some straw.  In the winter if never got cold because there were so many people in the barracks together.  In the summer, it became stifling hot.  Our barracks became infested with insects, bedbugs, cockroaches, and worst of all, lice.
 
I did different kinds of jobs.  I used a wheelbarrow to transport sand and bricks.  The men in charge were vicious.  They had large dogs.  If the guard pointed at someone the dogs would attack.  Then he would take out his gun and kill the person.  I never thought civilized people could act in such a way.  The brutalities are difficult to describe.
 
I was working on the roads, adjusting and replacing railroad tracks, and in the wetlands. Because of the horrible working conditions, I caught malaria and was sent to the hospital.  There was a rule that you could only be there two weeks, and after that, they got rid of you, forever.  A Jewish doctor, by the name of Dr. Birnbaum, gave me quinine.  I had an infection in my ears and it had to be pierced.  Dr. Birnbaum falsified my chart.  He changed it so that it appeared that I’d been there only two or three days, and not already the fourteen days it actually was.  I started getting better.  I later learned that the Germans eventually killed him for having smuggled in medication from the Polish underground.
 
My older brother, Bernard, was in the camp with me.  He was a watchmaker.  They started a watch repair shop in the concentration camp.  The Germans had confiscated many watches.  My brother told them he had a brother in the camp that had been an apprentice, and arranged for me to work there.  I was eager to do so, as I would get away from the hard physical work and could get more rest and get well.
 
More people were brought in from other concentration camps, making the camp more crowded.  To reduce the number of inmates, periodically, health inspection was made.  At roll call, we had to completely undress, jog single-file, and go before a uniformed German doctor.  If he felt something was not right, he would point with his stick for the person to go to one side.  If he felt the person was okay, he would point for the person to go to the other side.
 
The Germans started losing the war, and the Russians were advancing.  As the camp started to be evacuated, more were sent to Auschwitz for extermination.  Inmates were forced to dig up mass graves and to pour gas on them and burn up the evidence of what the Nazis had done.  The stench of the burning bodies was terrible.  You could hardly breathe.
 
All fifty watchmakers were taken on a cattle car to Oranenburg/Sachsenhausen.  It took three days, with no food, water, or toilet facilities.  We could see the regular German army near us.  They wanted to give us food and water but the SS said no, because we were infested and were sick and would make them sick – so they couldn’t be close to us.  
 
There were 40,000 men in Oranenburg/Sachsenhausen, but very few Jews.  Most were from all parts of Europe, and quite a few were Germans, clergy, or any who had spoken up again the Nazi regime.  It shows that people are people.  One German man said, “To hell with Hitler,” and wound up in the concentration camp.
 
As the Russian Army advanced in April 1945, the Germans evacuated the camp.  We walked double file on side roads, with no food or water.  It was a death march.  If you couldn’t walk, you were killed.  Of the 40,000 that started out, only 8,000 survived.  We were in such bad shape.  I had scurvy; my teeth were loose.
 
On May 2, 1945, the American Army liberated us.  That was something special.  The Red Cross helped us.  In addition, many other Jewish charities and other charitable organizations provided us with clothing and other every day expenses.  It took me a couple of months to recover.  I registered with my brother to go to America.  
 
I learned after the war, from other survivors, that my mother passed away from malnutrition while in a concentration camp, and was buried in a mass grave in Germany.
 
I came to the United States on a Army transport ship on September 17, 1946, arriving in New York.  I had nothing.  We were encouraged to learn English.  I got a job at the Bulova Watch Company.  I was laid off later, as servicemen were returning from the war and being rehired.  I found a job as a watchmaker for other jewelers.
 
My brother came to the U.S. later, and knew someone in Detroit, where we all moved. We eventually opened our own watch repair shop.  I met a nice girl who went to central High School.  She had extremely nice parents.  We were married on March 27, 1949.  We have two daughters.  One is a teacher; the other is a writer.  We have four grandsons.  There is no better place that here.  G-d bless America!

To learn more about this survivor, please visit this site.
Name of Ghetto(s)
Name of Concentration / Labor Camp(s)
Where did you go after being liberated?
New York
When did you come to the United States?
September 17, 1946
Where did you settle?
We came to Detroit for a better opportunity. My brother knew someone here.
Occupation after the war
Watchmaker
When and where were you married?
1949 in Detroit
Spouse
Roselie Elson, Work in Family Business
Children
Flora Friedman, teacher in Dallas, Texas Denise Rodgers, writer in Huntington Woods, Michigan
Grandchildren
Four: Adam and Eric Zack, Ted and David Rodgers
What do you think helped you to survive?
I strongly believe in G-d. I looked in the sky and thought there will come a day when G-d will help us out of this mess and it happened. G-d is everywhere, in our conscience; it makes you feel good, when you do something good. If something is not right, if it bothers you, try to make it better. Don’t judge others. These days, people seem to judge you by your looks and by money.
What message would you like to leave for future generations?
Learn, study, put in as much as you can in your head, into your “computer.”  It will stay with you for the rest of your life.  
Interviewer:
Charles Silow
Interview date:
03/13/2011

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