Henry Lewin

"By all means and costs, to preserve the State of Israel.  The Holocaust would not have happened if we had had at that time a State of Israel.   I want future generations to love each other and trust each other. To love Israel and help Israel with everything for their entire lives. If we had Israel as a Jewish country at that time there would not have been a Holocaust. Germany wouldn’t dare start killing people because Israel wouldn’t allow it. The children need to know how... (continued below)"

Name at birth
Herschel Lewin
Date of birth
Where were you born?
Where did you grow up?
Warsaw, Poland
Name of father, occupation
Moishe Bear Lewin, Sold tobacco products
Maiden name of mother, occupation
Miriam Kaufman, Homemaker
Immediate family (names, birth order)
Parents and there were eight children born to them: Chil (Charlie),Yitzchak (Isaac), Bella, Cudik, Ruchel (Rachel) (passed away), Motel (passed away), Aaron (passed away), and I. They raised five. Three died at young ages. I was the youngest.
How many in entire extended family?
There were about fifteen first cousins. My father had two sisters. My mother had one sister and two brothers.
Who survived the Holocaust?
Three of us: Chil, Cudik and me. One cousin out of the fifteen survived. No aunts or uncles, nor parents.
Warsaw was occupied by the Germans in September 1, 1939.  After they were in Warsaw about a week or tens days the city was in ruins from bombing by the Germans. They needed people to pick up ruins from the streets so they started catching people walking on the streets or going shopping. They forced people to work during the daytime. At night you could go home. I was 20. They had me work. My father didn’t dare to go out of the house. I got away not being recognized as being a Jewish kid. My father had a beard and wore orthodox clothes and he looked Jewish. 
After four or five weeks they kept me several days doing forced labor. My sister Bella was living twenty miles out of the city of Warsaw in a small village. At the time the Jewish people didn’t know what was happening in the city. I went to my sister and stayed with her. 
After a couple of weeks the Germans came into the business belonging to Jews and took everything. My sister was married to Feliks and he had a younger brother Toddack (about 18 years) and we decided to run out to save ourselves and to go to the Soviet Union with Bella, Feliks and Toddack.  Since we had a lady (Bella) we decided to rent a horse and buggy to go sixty miles to the Russian border. After making about forty miles on the way to the border in the city Bialystok, we saw people walking coming back from the border. Some of them were wounded with blood. They stopped us and said don’t go any further. There were Polish bandits on the road waiting to attack the Jews and steal from them.      
My sister wouldn’t have been able to go around them so we went back. We went back to Bella’s village. Yitzchak was married with a wife and baby in Warsaw. Cudik was in Warsaw, single. Chil was married with one child living in Lublin. 
I stayed with Bella a few days and went to see my father and mother in Warsaw for a couple of days. I tried not to be visible and avoid walking near Nazis. The apartment building we lived in Warsaw had forty tenants.  One of the tenants was a gentleman (I don’t know remember his name) with two daughters, no mother. He was born in Bialystok, Russia, raised there. He had two daughters same age as I was. He knew me, I knew him. We started talking and he said let’s run to Soviet Union. I liked the idea—there were two young girls my age. My father and mother told me to save myself and said to go. My parents had a feeling something not good was coming but they were already 58 years old and they were considered old at that time. Most of the people had a house or apartment, goods and furniture, and hoped the bad situation would pass by. 
We picked a date to run away and we started out walking towards the Soviet border. The first fifty miles we took a train out of Warsaw to Bialystok. The train stopped at a border between Germany occupied border and Soviet Union. If we went the highways we had to cross a check out point through the Germans and they were brutal to whoever wanted to leave their territory. 
We were lucky—the four of us—we just pushed ourselves through. There were lots of people trying to pass that border. We went through not hurt. We had nothing with us. The Germans took jewelry and valuables away from other people. We went to the neutral pass in between the two countries. We came close to the Russian soldiers but the Soviet Union soldiers would not let us go into their territory. 
We had to wait five or six days. They had no orders from Stalin to let people in to their country. After five days living and sleeping on those neutral grounds with nothing over our head, it rained on us. We had no food for five days. Nowhere to buy anything and nothing was given to us. 
After five days an officer came to the border and he said he got orders from Moscow that we can go into the country. This was about ten miles from Bialystok. After five days, we were hungry and wet; we came into the city of Bialystok.  The city had about 100,000 people at that time they now had about 300,000 people. About 200,000 had already crossed into the city. The city was overwhelmed with people who ran away from the Germans. I slept in a shul and it was full. 
Everybody was afraid because Hitler said he was going to kill the Jews that is why everybody fled to safety. After about a week in Bialystok, I met some people who came there before me and those people told me that I have a brother already on the Russian side in Luck. Yitzhak left his wife and child in Warsaw and went to Russia to see if it was possible to bring over his wife and child. I went to Luck, a small town, and we stayed together. 
Yitzhak was there about three or four weeks and already had a job as a carpenter. He was happy to see me. He said, “Herschel, I have to go back to Warsaw and smuggle back my wife and kid. He was afraid to leave me alone. He was my older brother and an older brother was like a second father feeling responsible for a younger sibling. The Soviet Union at that time started asking people like us to go further into Russia, towards, Moscow and move past the border city and we would become legal. 
My brother told me to make it legal. They needed working people to go to another city about 100 miles from Moscow. (I’m not sure of name of city). He told me to sign up at that city so he would know where to find me when he came back. He took me to the train to cross towards to the new assigned city. 
That same day he started going back to Warsaw. He got to Warsaw and they started selling everything they had. By the time they were ready to go to Russia, he couldn’t make it. It was harder to get out of Warsaw and into Russia. He got caught and went through the ghetto. He most likely died in the ghetto. Many died from hunger or sickness. 
Bella never tried to get out of her village from Poland. They were taken away and sent to a concentration camp. 
Cudik survived. He made himself papers under another name and as a Pole not a Jew, an Aryan. He was blonde.  He spoke perfect Polish and was about a year in Warsaw with a false ID card. He would sneak in to see our family when there was no fence around. 
(He died five years ago in California.)
My mother and father were left alone in the ghetto themselves. When the Germans took people from the ghetto to be killed, my parents hid themselves in the basement #2. They needed food and they were helped my neighbors in the building. Cudik helped them bringing them groceries when he could. They were in the basement for in 1942 for two years. The Germans did not know about the second basement. They were safe. 
But then the Germans started looking into the basements. One day they got to my parents and found them and they took my mother. My father was prepared for that moment. He had cyanide. He killed himself. The Jewish religion says a Jew should not take his own life. My father was an orthodox. If he did that in spite of what he believed. My mother was taken to Majdanek, a concentration camp and crematory. She died there. Cudik was there and a neighbor from the same building survived the war and he lives in Los Angeles, California, and he was a witness to what happened to my parents. His parents were for a while also hidden in the same basement. 
Cudik knew a lot about what happened in Warsaw. A certain day he was caught on the street to work—they took Poles too. They caught young people to go to Germany and do labor in the farms because their own people were in the army. They forced foreigners to go to Germany and work for them. Before they sent someone to Germany they had to go through a medical exam to see if they were sick—afraid of tuberculosis. 
Cudik had to go through a commission from German doctors. He was afraid they would see he was circumcised and know he was Jewish. He had an idea and beat up a fellow in front of him under pretence he was going out with his sister so they called the Polish police and they came and arrested him for disturbing the peace. They put him in the Polish jail. He saved himself. He noticed it was getting worse being in Warsaw. He went to smaller places outside of Warsaw to look for work with his false papers. He finally settled in one place and met a Polish girl and she took him in and he stayed there until the war ends. He stayed three years. 
I found work in Russia. I met someone and got married in 1945.  I stayed in Russia until the end of the war. When the war ended in 1945 I was staying in Russia with my wife working and I started working towards going back to Warsaw, Poland. We had to get permission to be let out from the Soviet Union. Up until then we didn’t know we didn’t know what went on in Warsaw with the Jewish people. 
On my way back to Warsaw, my wife and I went by train to try to find my old roots and see what happened to my family. My first trip in Poland was to go to Warsaw to the house where I was raised. There was nothing there but bricks. Everything was leveled by bombs. I couldn’t find any of my old neighbors or friends who would know what would happen to my family. 
I figured I’d go to the village to find Bella. My sister had a neighbor who owned a pharmacy and was a Pole. The building where my sister lived was there but it was a youth home for the Polish government.  I went to the neighbor’s house, and the pharmacy was closed up. I started asking around; they said he has a pharmacy in a bigger town. That was about five miles away. I waited several hours for a train to go by to go by train. 
I found him in the other town. I opened the door to go in the pharmacy and a bell rings and the pharmacist’s family was living in the back of the store. The pharmacist comes out and he looks at me and when I started talking he said he remembered me. He said my brother was here and comes every week to find information. He figures if I come back I will find the pharmacist. Cudik had the Polish papers. My brother was there a week before. He gave me Cudik’s address, he was in Lusk. I couldn’t wait to get on a train to go find him. He said I could stay with him for the night but I said I had to go. 
I left the same day and came back to Warsaw and there was no transportation so had to go to Warsaw to take a train. I went to Lusk and I looked up the address and knocked at the door early morning and a young lady opens the door for me and she looks at me and she grabs me and said Herschel.  
She had never met me. She recognized me from what Cudik told her about me. He was with her and her family and she helped save his life. She hugged me. I found one brother. I asked where is my brother she said that they separated and he had a nice apartment in Lusk and lots of money for being a businessman and they agree that he would live in the apartment. A big piece of Germany’s territory went to Poland. My brother went into the places that were Germany, now Poland. I said when is there a train there? She said I will go with you. She (Helena) looked for an excuse to go there. The next day we went and I met my brother.
Helena and I went to Walbrzych to find Cudik. He was there trying to make a living. He was active in the Walbrzych market selling men’s clothes. At the time I was living with my wife and my first son born in Austria. I was living in a city which was about 200 kilometers from Walbrzych, in Richbah.  I went to see him at his apartment with Helena.  
He had a feeling I was alive because he knew I ran away from the Germans in Russia. I was the reason he left his address and whereabouts with the pharmacist whenever he moved. After several days I went back to Walbrzych to my wife and child. Cudik and I communicated seeing each other back and forth by train. We had to take two trains to get to Walbrzych. 
One day I was at the station between the two train stops waiting to the next train Walbrzish, I noticed two men talking and walking and speaking Yiddish. I was surprised to hear Yiddish so I followed them. I recognized the voice and got closer to this man who was not dressed popularly and dressed in old clothing, not shaved and dirty, like a poor person. 
I kept following the two men. They noticed someone was following them and they were scared. They thought it was someone not Jewish. I scared them so they both turned around ready to fight. When they turned around I saw Chil’s face. 
I called out Chil! I hadn’t seen him in seven years. This was 1946. In 1935 Chil married a girl from Lublin and he moved from my parents’ home to Lublin and they established a residence there and in 1936 they had their first baby, Lydia. The distance between Warsaw and Lublin was about 250 kilometers. No one had cars or telephone. 
I said Chil, and pointed to myself Herschel! After hugging and kissing I said where is Sophie, his wife and Lydia. He said here at the station waiting for orders from the people responsible for them to come back to Poland, waiting to hear where to go. They took a trip from Russia to Poland. Whoever was in the wagons had to eat and sleep in the train cars. His wife and child were in one of the train cars on the railroad. 
I went with him to go see his wife and child. I lived in a house in Richbach in a house and brought the three of them back with me. He was my brother I would have given him anything. They had big baggage with them of old bedding and pots and I said you don’t need anything; I have everything, pots and pans. I said just take your toothbrush and come with me. When I met Sophie and the baby (Lydia) was already 7 years old. I expected them to survive because they were also in Russia. I brought them back home so they could move in with me. Shortly after that, when Cudik heard that Chil was alive and with me already he gave up his apartment and also moved in with me. 
After several months we started thinking about our future. We decided at that time Israel was not a country yet. It was hard to get in there because the English were not letting in Jews because the Arabs demanded that. So we decided instead of sneaking into Israel we decided to go to America because we had a chance to go there legally and we prepared ourselves with that. 
We signed up with the representatives to help us get into the United States. It took two years. In those two years we had to get medical checks to make sure we didn’t have tuberculosis or any other sickness. After two years my older brother, Chil, Sophie and Lydia were called into the consulate.  There were papers for them to go to St. Paul, Minnesota. We said goodbye and we were happy that they were going to America. We wanted to leave Poland because it was communist and before and after the war the people were still anti-Semitic. 
After Chil was in Minnesota several months, I was called into the consulate and I had papers for me, my wife who was pregnant and my son. Our destination was to come to Detroit, Michigan. All three brothers, we were far away from each other. I arrived into the United States and on March 16 1951, into Detroit by train. It was all arranged by HIAS. 
I had one brother in St. Paul and Lydia was already 13 or 14 years old.  As soon as we came to Detroit, a few weeks later she came to visit us. After being with us several weeks she decided to stay with us in Detroit. She got attached to us and liked our babies. We forced her to go back to St. Paul. After a couple of months she came to visit and this time she came with a big suitcase for a long time to visit. She was the only child of Chil. They didn’t want to be without her. Lydia wanted to stay with us in Detroit because of the weather. 
St. Paul had a terrible winter and they thought Detroit looked warmer, a better climate. So Chil decided to move to Detroit with his Sophie. I rented an apartment in the 12th street area, a Jewish area in Detroit. I put in new linoleum. I couldn’t afford carpet. I bought beds and a table and chairs and I called them up and said the apartment was ready. They came over and lived two blocks away. We corresponded with Cudik and he didn’t know when he’d get papers to come. The American consulate divided us. Cudik told us he didn’t know when he’d get a visa to come to the United States. I worked full-time. I was in Detroit a year already and I could now speak English. 
I went to a lawyer, Mr. Merzon, I picked him because he spoke Yiddish and was friendly to the newcomers. He promised he would start working on sending a visa to Cudik from here. We needed that when he gets here so he could have a job. 
My first job in the U.S. was for a chain of supermarkets and I had been working for them for more than a year. I went from a stock boy to an assistant manager to a manager. I told the manager I worked for and he guaranteed a job for my brother. I also had to show that I had $1,000 in a bank in a savings book. This was so he wouldn’t fall to welfare. Everyone had to go and swear that I would support him if needed. It took about six months. Mr. Merzon was also in touch with a lawyer in Germany and he got papers and came straight to me in Detroit. 
Cudik left Poland for Germany in 1947. We all went to Germany from Poland to immigrate to the United States. Germany was occupied by the United States, France and England. We stayed in Germany about five years before coming to the U.S. We lived together until Chil and Cudik moved to Austria. 
Everybody found work in Detroit. . Chil was a janitor at Ford Motor Company. Cudik started peddling and did very well. 
My wife at that time did not work.  We had two sons: Maury (Moishe) and Irvin (Yitzhak)        
I advanced in my job very rapidly and I became a manager at a supermarket. I was promoted quickly. I was a manager of a supermarket with about fifty or sixty employees, some college degrees.
I couldn’t speak fluent English and I was their boss. After working as a store manager for two years I was promoted to supervisor. I supervised fifteen or sixteen supermarkets, supervising about 600 employees. 
The company was Wrigley supermarket. It became a stock company. After being a stock company a company from Texas bought it. The management changed and then the Texas company sold to a New York company. They changed the name and then changed name again. Chatham became the name. I disliked the whole thing and I quit after working for them for 23 years. 
When I quit I decided not to go in the grocery business. I decided to be my own boss. Irvin was in Lansing at Michigan State University and Maury was still in high school at Mumford in Detroit. 
I looked at the Detroit Free Press every day to see which businesses or stores were for sale. One day there was an ad for a gift shop in downtown Detroit for sale. For some reason I wanted to investigate. We all had cars and were Americanized. It was in the 1970’s. 
When I came to investigate the gift shop I found out it was inside the Guardian building in downtown Detroit. The owner was a Jewish fellow who wanted to retire. He sold me the business. I noticed he wasn’t running his business right. The owners were old and sick and in a hurry to sell it. I bought the business for $13,000. At that time it was doing about $1,000 a week in sales. After two months, I doubled the business.  
I called it Guardian Smoke Shop. The main items were tobacco, cigarettes, cigars and tobacco. I brought in ladies stockings for the young women working in the building. Michigan had a lottery to buy tickets and I applied for that and I had a lottery at my store. I had first aid items. By adding all those items I tripled the business in about six months. 
Irv the younger son worked for me. Maury was married and had three boys. 
Name of Ghetto(s)
Where were you in the Former Soviet Union?
Izewsk, Ural
Occupation after the war
Owner, Guardian Smoke Shop (Gift Shop)
Nina (deceased, 1993) and Henia, Homemaker
Maury, distributor Irving, podiatrist
Three grandchildren: Brandon, Jeremy and Ryan and Two great-grandchildren
What do you think helped you to survive?
Leaving German-occupied territories to Russia. I think I survived because I made the right decisions at the right time. By moving to country to country I was able to survive. I was young and willing to move around. I was also lucky. I survived being in Russia for five years it took lots of luck.
What message would you like to leave for future generations?
By all means and costs, to preserve the State of Israel.  The Holocaust would not have happened if we had had at that time a State of Israel.
I want future generations to love each other and trust each other. To love Israel and help Israel with everything for their entire lives. If we had Israel as a Jewish country at that time there would not have been a Holocaust. Germany wouldn’t dare start killing people because Israel wouldn’t allow it. The children need to know how important Israel is. 
Charles Silow
Interview date:

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