I studied in Yeshiva but I was a rather mischievous student. When I was 12, my father died of complications due to a stomach ulcer. I left school to learn a trade so that I could help support my family. I became an apprentice to my uncle who was a cabinet maker and a carpenter. I gave all of the money that I earned to my mother so that she could take care of the family. I kept only ten groshen for myself so that I could buy a pop.
While working as a cabinet maker, I started a union. For this I was arrested and jailed for eighteen months. While I was in jail, I learned a lot from teachers and philosophers who were also jailed at the time. My mother came to visit me daily.
After I was released from jail, I left my uncle’s cabinet shop and went to work for the competition. I eventually became a fine craftsman, making cabinets and other furniture.
In 1938 I married my first wife, Perle Kleinman. We had a son who we named David, after my father.
Shortly after this, the war broke out. We learned about the war through speeches that we heard on their radio. We listened to Hitler’s speeches about the ‘Jewish Problem’ and knew that there would be trouble.
Our family was taken to the Lodz ghetto. At first, the Nazis took only the men. My family decided that it would be best for me to run and come back when things had calmed down. I took one of my sisters, Fayga, and we ran from town to town, hiding from the Nazis.
At one point, we were almost caught on a train. The Nazis were on the lookout for a run-away brother and sister team, we had to make a narrow escape. Eventually though, we were caught and taken to work in labor camps where I was forced to perform whatever work the Nazis demanded of me.
I was regularly beaten while in these camps. My teeth were knocked out and at one point my nose was broken. Because of these beatings I suffered from back problems that would plague me for the rest of my life. Despite all of this, I always managed to escape; I kept my sister Fayga with me every step of the way.
My sister and I did whatever we had to do to survive. Sometimes, we would eat raw potatoes right from a field, just so that we could sustain ourselves a little bit longer. At one point we and other runaways were rounded up in a barn by SS officers. We cried all night, certain that this was going to be the end. But in the morning, the officers let us go. At one point I traveled from Lodz to Warsaw on foot, escaping from the Nazis, a distance of some 85 miles.
Throughout my ordeals, it was very important to me to take a stand and show the Nazis that I
would survive and that new generations to come would know and learn about what had happened. Despite this brave attitude, I was never really sure that I would survive.
My sister and I managed to survive in hiding until the end of the war. We were somewhere near Lodz when the Russians liberated the city. We went out into the streets and could see the Russians marching in; that was when we knew that the war was really over.
After the war, I traveled through Czechoslovakia to Austria to Germany, where I stayed in a United Nations camp. At the camp I learned English from a schoolteacher who was volunteering there after the war. When a group of workers from the UN camp came looking for milliners to go to Canada, I signed up right away, despite not knowing what a milliner was. Later on I found out that milliners made hats, something that I was not qualified to do, but I was already in Canada at that point.
In Canada I met and married my second wife, Annie Fleishman. I continued to work as a carpenter and cabinet maker, and eventually moved to Detroit. My wife Annie and I had three daughters, planting what I liked to think of, as the base of a large family “tree” that would branch out across generations.
I survived the war, but I never forgot. Like so many others, I lost most of his family and many loved ones. Before traveling to Canada, I went back to Poland to try to find any family and friends who might have survived. I went back to Ostrowiec where my family lived, but found nothing.
I met one old woman who I had known before the war. She was not Jewish. She saw that I was trying to find my family. She told me, “Don’t even bother, there’s nothing left here. Everyone’s dead.” There were actually two other survivors in the city at the time, one woman and one man, out of 12,000 Jews who had lived in the city before the war.
Eventually I learned that my mother and siblings, except for my sister Fayga who I had saved, were all dead. One of my sisters, Chana Devorah, had been married and her husband Zuvol and their two sons, one named Dovid as well, had also been killed.
My wife and son were also murdered by the Nazis. Worst of all for me, was that I never found out exactly what happened to my mother. I had been told that the whole family had been sent to Auschwitz, but I never found out for sure. My mother and I had been very close; I carried a picture of her in my wallet for the rest of my life.
In the United States, I wanted to make sure that people knew about the tragedy and injustice of the Holocaust. I belonged to and was an active member of Shaarit Haplaytah, the survivor organization for many years. I was a member of the Holocaust Memorial Center and actually helped its founder, Rabbi Charles Rosensveig, lay bricks in the foundation of the building on Orchard Lake Road.
I continued my work as a carpenter and cabinet maker as long as my health allowed. I even built Aron Kodesh structures (holy arks that hold Torah scrolls) for many shuls (synagogues) in the greater Detroit area. In 1978 I was involved in protesting a Nazi bookstore in Dearborn and wouldn’t let the Nazis speak out against anyone.
Building the Holocaust Memorial Museum
I left behind a legacy, through my three daughters, ten grandchildren and twenty-one great- grandchildren many of whom are scattered across the country and across the globe now and through my sister that I saved, Fayga, who resides in New Jersey and has three sons, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.