The Germans set up a labor camp called Biesiatka. It's near the town of Mielec in Poland. My brother Sol and I were able to escape from the camp, but didn't go together. On Sunday morning March 7, 1943, the Germans came in to Biesiatka with a truck and rounded up the Jews. They shot everybody into a mass grave including three of my four sisters. Our mother died of typhus a couple weeks before the massacre. She is buried at the camp.
Our home had been burned down when the war started, but I wanted to go back to Jaslany. I was hoping my brother Sol would come back as well. Something was pushing me away from it though. I wound up in the next village, looking to find some eggs in a barn. There I found Sol sleeping with the pigs. Sol told me father had come back from Russia, so we were together a few more times. On June 6, 1944, D-Day, we were ambushed in a field. Our father was captured, shot and tortured to death.
My father was good friends with a Polish farmer, Maciej Dudzik. Father told Sol and me to stay with Mr. Dudzik and his family in Chajkowa, Poland. "He will never double cross you." Mr. Dudzik and his wife, Zofia, agreed to let us stay. They had eight children, including girls, 13 and 14, our age. Sometimes, we were invited to sit inside for breakfast together. It was sometimes a sour potato soup, but we were given our share from the big pot, treated like the other children. We stayed in their big fields in the summertime. The fields protected us. The girls would bring us drinks of water.
One day, it was raining so we went into the stable. Mr. Dudzik said we could do this. We saw a truck coming with two German soldiers. They went to the stable and started examining and taking out bales of hay. Sol and I both had guns. We were hiding behind the last bundle of hay they were about to take. We were ready to shoot them when Mrs. Dudzik ran into the barn screaming at the Germans in Polish to leave the wet hay alone. "We’re trying to dry it." If Sol and I would have killed those two Germans, other Germans would have killed everyone in the village. I can’t believe how good the Dudziks were to two Jewish boys. They could have sold us out to the Germans and saved their own family.
When the Russians liberated the area, I wanted to join the Russian army but they said I was too young. Sol and I took a train to Lvov (Lemberg). We separated there. He got a job as a janitor in a Russian hospital, and I was finally taken into the army. After a month, the Communists transferred me to the Polish army because of my Polish-sounding name. I called myself Zygmunt Dudzik in honor of the man who had helped us for over a year. Our unit fought the Germans near Berlin alongside the Russian soldiers. I ended up in a coma from a bomb attack. When I woke up in a hospital, it was August 1945. So I missed the end of the war.
I recovered and the Polish army assigned me to the military police outside of Warsaw. When Sol found me there, we just walked away.
After the war, we went to Germany, Czechoslovakia and Austria. We wound up in a Displaced Persons (DP) camp called Fohrenwald, which is not far from Munich. We decided we would go to Israel, but that didn't work out, so we ended up going to America instead. We were orphans and was accepted as part of a United States orphans' quota. We sailed on the ship, S.S. Marine Flasher, and arrived in New York with an older cousin and his wife in November 1947. These cousins had a store in New York. But we were told about Detroit and decided to come here because we both liked cars. The organization ORT helped us learn welding and car mechanics.