Leo Besserman

"Don't take the basic stuff for granted such as food, shelter, clothes, and family. Remember the past. Don't let this ever happen again."

Name at birth
Leib Besserman
Date of birth
Where were you born?
Where did you grow up?
Modliborzyce, Poland
Name of father, occupation
Chaim Baruch Besserman, Butcher
Maiden name of mother, occupation
Sara Deana Milchman, Homemaker
Immediate family (names, birth order)
Parents and three children: Isaac, Leo, and Rachel
How many in entire extended family?
Who survived the Holocaust?
Isaac (my brother) and myself
My hometown was Modliborzyce, Poland.  In September 1939, it was occupied by the Germans. The Germans instituted tracking measures against the Jews.  This was because of my Jewish religion and race.  In October 1939, certain roads were forbidden to Jews.  Then the Jews were confined to their houses from nightfall to morning.  The Gestapo could search and seize at any time day or night the houses without legal requirements.  Arrests were made.  All of the Jewish inhabitants of Modliborzyce had to be identified as Jews.  

In October 1939, the Jews were required to wear an armband with the Star of David.  At the same time, a forced labor duty for all young and able-bodied Jewish citizens was introduced.  
I had to go to work regularly at six in the morning.  We were taken by guards in groups to the assigned place of work.  

I was assigned to a commanding officer in the forest where we had to clear the trees that had fallen.  The work was carried out daily for ten to twelve hours always under the supervision of the guard personnel.  The Jewish laborers were kept separate from the Polish laborers.  In the evening after work, the truck transported us back to the Jewish community in the same way as we were transported to the job.  I did this daily forced labor wearing an armband with the Star of David.

At first, our parents and the children lived together in the ghetto.  Our family was transported from the Ghetto and was killed.  My brother and I were told this by a message from members of the Polish underground.  In any case, we never heard from them again.

This situation became more difficult.  Like all of the others, we had inadequate nutrition and work clothing.  We were constantly abused by the SS guard personnel and we lived in constant fear of being killed.  Occasionally, when we received our food, some of the SS abused us.  I was hit on the head and in the face with a rifle butt.

In September 1940, my brother and I were transferred by the Gestapo men to a transit camp in Zaklików, Poland.  I stayed there about one week and then I was taken to the forced labor camp, Rachow.  The camp was completely surrounded by barbed wire and was always guarded by soldiers.  It was forbidden, by a penalty of death, to leave it. 

During my time in the Rachow, I did export work on the Vistula River.  We were always taken under guard in closed trains to our jobs.  We worked under constant guard for about ten to twelve hours a day, six days a week.  We then returned to camp.   

In December 1940 or the beginning of January 1941, I was taken to the forced labor camp, Budzin.  I was here until mid August 1943.  This camp accommodated Jewish forced laborers that worked in an aircraft factory located close by.  I made aluminum aircraft parts.  My work schedule here was also six days a week around ten to twelve hours a day.  We were under constant guard.  The Jewish forced laborers were separated from the other workers.  In the mornings, we were always led under guard to our place of work and in the evening in the same way brought back to the camp.

I was then transferred to the forced labor camp, Rzeszow, where I was held until January 1944. Again, I worked under the same conditions and with the same life as in Budzin, working in an aircraft factory.  On a machine, I had to make parts for aircraft. 

Then I worked in the forced labor camp Plaszow, a southern suburb of the ghetto of Krakow.  I was there for about one week.  During this time I did not work.  In the beginning of February 1944, I was transported to a larger concentration camp, Flossenburg in Germany.  I was there until the beginning of March 1944.  

From there I was transferred to a forced labor camp in Colmar/Alsace in France, west of Stuttgart, Germany, which was under the concentration camp Natzweiler.  I stayed there until August 1944.  I worked there in an aircraft factory.  It was the same as my first forced labor camp, Rzeszow.  This factory was transferred from Rzeszow to Colmar.  Both the work as well as the living conditions were similar as in Rzeszow.

In August 1944, I was transferred to Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin.  I was there until October 1944.  During that time I was busy with the repair of railway tracks.  Then I was transferred to Bremerhaven, a forced labor camp, where I was held until March 1945.  With a file, I had to clean ships that were rusted.  I worked ten to twelve hours a day, six days a week. The work was always done under guard.  The Jewish labor force was always kept separate from other workers.  The camp was closed by barbed wire ring and was always guarded.  It was forbidden to leave.  

In March 1945, I was in the concentration camp, Bergen-Belsen where I was liberated on April 16, 1945 by the English troops.  After my release I was in the hospital at the displaced persons (DP) camp at Bergen-Belsen until August 1945.  

From there I moved to the DP camp Zeilsheim near Frankfurt, where I stayed until the end of 1948.  In June 1949, I lived in Frankfurt.  From there I came to the emigrant camp, Bremen-Grohn, where I stayed until late June or early July 1949.  

With a visa, I emigrated from there to the United States of America.  On July 15, 1949, I landed in New York.

Name of Ghetto(s)
Where were you in hiding?
In attics
What DP Camp were you after the war?
Yes, in the DP camp at Bergen-Belsen until August 1945 and then at DP camp Zeilsheim near Frankfurt
Where did you go after being liberated?
At the end of 1948 and then in June 1949 I lived in Frankfurt. Late June or early July 1949 – went to emigrant camp Bremen-Grohn July 15, 1949 - I landed in New York.
When did you come to the United States?
July 15, 1949
Where did you settle?
Detroit, Michigan
How is it that you came to Michigan?
There was work in Michigan
Occupation after the war
I owned my own home goods business, salesman
When and where were you married?
Married in Detroit; November 11, 1956
Ruth Besserman, Homemaker
Darlene Besserman Wood
Nicholas Wood, Amanda Wood
What do you think helped you to survive?
I was young and strong. My determination to stay alive and also having my brother with me.
What message would you like to leave for future generations?
Don't take the basic stuff for granted such as food, shelter, clothes, and family. Remember the past. Don't let this ever happen again.
Darlene Besserman Wood, daughter of Leo Besserman
Interview date:

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