Nathan Garfinkel

"Where was the civilized world?"

Name at birth
Nusin Garfinkel
Year of birth
Where were you born?
Name of father, occupation
Kalman, Flour mill business
Maiden name of mother, occupation
Sara Tarkeltaub, Homemaker
Immediate family (names, birth order)
Parents and seven children: Fishel, Rachel, Regina, Helen, Sonia, Bela and me
How many in entire extended family?
Who survived the Holocaust?
Regina, Sonia, Helen, Bela and me

            Nate was born in Chmielnik, Poland in 1920.  He had an older half-brother, Isaac and sister who were children of his father’s first wife who died while giving birth to the sister, Mandzia.  About four or five years later, his father remarried.  Nate was the oldest of the next sibship of seven.  He described a very close-knit family.  Nate’s father bought wheat from farmers and sold the wheat to flour mills.  His mother was a homemaker who also helped out in the business.  Nate would bicycle far distances to the farms acting as a go-between the farmers and his father.  He described that his father was a very religious man whose life revolved around prayer and studying the Torah.  Nate described that he went to public schools but transferred to a religious school, a yeshiva, due to the anti-Semitism he experienced.  Nate loved education but seemed more interested in secular studies.  He found a teacher, a mentor who taught him more worldly studies.  Nate revered this teacher, Meir Gorlitzki, who described as being brilliant.
            The Germans invaded Chmielnik and created a ghetto there shortly after their arrival, he related.  The Jewish Committe assigned jobs, his included cleaning offices, cleaning streets, shoveling snow.  In December, 1939 to about March, 1940, he and about 300 others, were sent to Biala-Podlask labor camp to build embankments for bridges for the Germans.  The Germans later used these bridges to invade at the Russian border at Brest-Litovsk just across the Bug River.  He wondered how the Russians couldn’t figure out that the Germans were going to invade them.  He was later sent back to the Chmielnik Ghetto which was now fenced in.  He would escape, ride his bike to farms to get food for his family.  He traveled to Lodz to communicate with family members there.  In mid-1942, a selection was held at the central marketplace.  All Jews who were under 12 and over 40 were told not to report.  He and two sisters were taken to Skarzysko Labor Camp.  He was at the largest and most brutal of the 3 camps there, “A” camp.  His sisters, Helen and Sonia, were at the B camp’s potato flour factory which was described as wonderful because they had access to food.  All the prisoners would go to A camp once a week for delousing.  There his sisters would smuggle in thin pancakes to Nate.  They arranged through a good Nazi officer, a Mr. Laskowski, to have Nate transferred to B camp.  At A camp, Nate worked making anti-aircraft bullets.  The starvation at A camp was described as being terrible.  His former mentor, Meir Gorlitzki, was also at A camp.  He died of starvation with his head in Nate’s lap.  He told him, “Nate, don’t forget if you survive, tell this so-called civilized society in our 20th century where the 3 B’s were born, Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms, what happened here.”  Nate now lectures every Wednesday to students at the Holocaust Memorial Center in W. Bloomfield, MI to carry out his legacy to his teacher.  Later after Nate was transferred to B camp, the good Nazi, Laskowsky arranged for the 50 Jews in the potato flour factory to be transferred to Chestochowa in the beginning of 1944, as the Russians were advancing.  Also, previously, Nate’s hand was severely burned at Skarzysko, Laskowsky gave him medicine for his severe burns.  Nate and his two sisters were later transferred from Chestochowa in November, 1944.  He went to Buchenwald, his sisters to Bergen-Belsen.  After the war he learned that Sonia and Helen found Bella and Regina, his other sisters, who had been at Kielce at Bergen-Belsen.  At Buchenwald, the starvaton was terrible.  Nate witnessed people eating human flesh in order to survive, cutting from the buttocks of human corpses.  At Buchenwald, there was no work which was good for him because he related, that the Germans would have seen his hand and would have killed him for it.  At Buckenwald, he also made a pledge to two influential people from Lodz, a Poznineski and Galaroos, that he never forget.  They subsequently died at Buchenwald.  Nate was at Buchenwald from November, 1944 to April, 1945.  He was then on a Death March from April 9 to May 7, 1945.  Out of about 1600, only 164 survived.  He described the death march as barbaric.
            Nate was hospitalized for 3 years after the war, for his hand, for his teeth which had been knocked out in a beating by a Nazi in the Chmielnick Ghetto.  Nate later testified against this Nazi at a war crimes trial.  He traveled around Germany for 3 years to learn what Germans thought and felt about what had happened.  He was surprised to learn that East Germans were also imprisoned and suffered to some extent.  He learned after the war that everyone left in the Chmielnik Ghetto was subsequently sent to Treblinka, including his parents and younger sister and brother.  He was reunited with his four sisters.  His sisters married and received sponsorships to come to the USA.  His spot on his lung cleared up and he was allowed to leave for the U.S. to be reunited with his sisters in 1951.  He worked in New York for a year in a dry goods store.  He moved to Detroit one year later to live with his sisters.  He worked for the Hudson Motor Car factory.  He learned English and worked for Foremost Dairy Company as a driver.  He later went to barber school and became a barber. Nate is now retired 7 years.  He married in Detroit in 1953 to Mildred Jacobs Garfinkel.  They have three children, Sheryl, Arlene, and Kenneth.  The two daughters live in Detroit, Kenny lives in Chicago.  Kenny has four children, Max, Rebecca and Sophia (twins), and Sydney.  Nate enjoys reading, especially history and politics about World War II. 
Name of Ghetto(s)
Name of Concentration / Labor Camp(s)
Occupation after the war
What do you think helped you to survive?
We were able to produce for the German industry. We were young enough and physically strong enough to go to work.
What message would you like to leave for future generations?
Where was the civilized world?
Charles Silow
Interview date:
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