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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
Interview with Stanley ("Stan") Phillips
Interviewer: Steven Guy
Date of interview: February 18, 2002
Diane Fischler edited this history student's interview
7: Mr. Phillips, if you would, please tell us where you are from and where you were
P: I was born October 1, 1931, in Drohobych, which is now [part of] the Ukraine.
When I was born, it was [part of] Poland, that area is southeastern Poland.
Drohobych is bordering on the Carpathian Mountains, actually in the valley. That
particular area was [an] oil-producing [region] and still is an oil-producing area of
Poland. They also have less known salt mines that have been there for many
years. That area went back and forth between Russians and Ukrainians and
Poles. And, if you know Polish history, Poland didn't really exist much as a
country. It was in the Middle Ages that it was a power as the Polish-Lithuanian
Empire, and then it [became a country] after the First World War. Poland was
then established. Prior to that time, it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Okay, my original name was Sigmund Philipstahl. When I came to this country, I
dropped the "Sigmund" and became a "Stanley," and then I went for my
citizenship papers-I got them when I was with the United States Army-in
Frankfurt, Germany. The examiner said to me, "Why do you want this name
'Philipstahl'? You're going to go into business. Why don't you make it 'Phillips' or
make it 'Stahl?'" I said, "Make it Phillips." And that is what it [became]. So then I
became Stanley Phillips.
I think, psychologically, one of the reasons I did that [name change] was because
I want to tell you-my family knew my story. But they didn't know my whole story,
and I've been married 48 years, and my wife still doesn't know my whole story. I
came to this country in 1946. I might be getting ahead of myself. Let me go that
far and then you can ask me.
I came here in 1946 with my mother. My mother died six months later, and I was
left here pretty much by myself. I did not speak any English when I came here. I
really wanted, going back psychologically, to drop my name because I just
wanted to start my life anew-start a new person. One of my stumbling blocks
was my accent. I had an accent like everybody else had. And I graduated from
high school in just three years. I was a pretty smart kid.
I went to Syracuse University, and my first year I ran into the head of the speech
department, Dr. Maclaroy. He said to me, "Would you like to get rid of your
accent?" And I said, "Sure, I would like to." He said, "Take two semesters of
public speaking with me, and I will guarantee you [that] the accent will be gone."
That was my freshman year. That summer I had to go to school, and I looked in
the catalogue and sure enough, Dr. Maclaroy was teaching public speaking.
One-on-one and one-on-two for two semesters, so I signed up for both of [those
courses]. Well, in those days, summer school was five days a week, and a
couple of hours a day. And I remember we only had about nine students in class,
and the first day in class, Dr. Maclaroy explained how the speeches would be
made: 20 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes, 10 minutes-whatever. And at the end of
each speech, the class would then critique-except when Mr. Phillips gives his
speech. He said, "I want you to interrupt him every time he mispronounces a
word." Well, I want you to know, I think the first 20-second speech took me
almost 20 minutes. It didn't take very long. By the end of the summer my accent
was gone so I have Dr. Maclaroy [to thank].
I think one of the reasons I did that was because when I had an accent and I was
young, people wanted to know where I came from and what happened, and I
didn't want to talk about it. Once I got rid of my accent, nobody asked me.
But, interesting enough, I met my wife at Syracuse. She had a sorority sister that
knew me when I first came to this country, and she told my [future] wife that "he
couldn't' speak a word of English." Needless to say, I am not a proponent of
bilingual education. Now that I've made my political remark, go ahead.
G: What was life like growing up for you in Drohobych?
P: Well, you have to understand, I was born in 1931, and the war broke out in 1939. I
have a good memory. I remember things from when I was probably 6 or 7 years
old. We were very well off. My father had oil wells, and so there [were no worries]
as far as money was concerned. The family traveled. We had servants. It was a
good life. Then the war broke out.
War broke out on September 1, 1939, and we were first occupied by the
Germans. The German blitzkrieg came through. But then during that time, Stalin
and Hitler had made a pact [Nazi-Soviet Pact signed on August 28, 1939]. They
divided Poland in half so the Germans pulled back and the Russians came in. The
first time when the Germans came, I don't remember any atrocities toward Jews,
but they were there only a week. That week there was nothing. As a matter of
fact, the Germans were extremely friendly. The population of Drohobych was
divided, something like: 15,000 Poles, 15,000 Ukrainians, and maybe 10,000 to
15,000 Jews-or thereabouts. I think the population was around 70,000-maybe
less. Well, Jews spoke German or Yiddish, which is very related, so with the
Germans, they were getting along fine. They [Jews] weren't too happy with what
was happening, but there was very little known yet about what was happening. I
mean, people heard Hitler's speeches, but I don't think anybody believed that
anything was going to happen.
But then the Russians came. And, of course, I was very much affected by it
because they took my father and sent him off to Siberia because he was a
capitalist, but he did something more than that. He was a very-well, you would
have called him over here a "right winger." And that's [a term] very few Jews get-
that kind of label. But he was a right winger. He was an anti-Bolshevik. He was
anti-anybody, but he was a Polish man, a patriot. He was in the Austrian Army in
the First World War. He was in the Polish Army, so he was very unusual. In the
Polish Army, he was in the cavalry-that's like the Green Berets. And for a Jew
that was very unusual, too. [He was] a very gung-ho guy. When the war broke out
and he came to the realization that Poland was not going to exist as anything, he
ordered his workers to sabotage the oil wells. They did that by throwing scrap into
the wells and jamming the drills and that's it. And, you know, [with] an oil well you
can find oil in one location and six feet over you can't find it [oil]. You know, it's not
there. Well, the Russians considered that a counter-revolutionary action because
he destroyed state property, even though the property-at that time-was his. He
was sent over to Siberia.
Our house was confiscated. So [I] was just left with my mother and my brother.
My brother was 7 years older than me, and my mother got a job at one of the
refineries as an accountant. I don't know. I don't remember whether they needed
bookkeepers under the Russian system. Whatever she was doing-that's what she
was doing. And we lived in quarters that were provided to us, right at the refinery,
and everything was fine. I was going to school. Because my father was sent to
Siberia, I could not join what they called "the pioneers." The pioneers were like
[what] you got in Cuba. You got these kids who walk around with these red
kerchiefs-that's the beginning of a communist organization. And because my
father was a counter-revolutionist, I could not be a pioneer. [That] put pretty much
[of] a stigma [on] me. In other words, I found out later that my expectations of
being anything in that system [were] very nil. So that was it. The school was good.
[For] your 9- or 10-year-olds, it [was a] plaything. You want me to continue?
G: That's fine.
P: In 1941, that's when Hitler attacked [the Soviet Union], and I remember to this day
[that] we overslept and early in the morning [June 22, 1941]. I think was on a
Sunday [it was Sunday]. I heard these tremendous explosions. I remember [that] I
jumped out of bed. We had the apartment on the second floor, and it was maybe
half a mile from the refinery proper-their tank farm. Man, I go to the window.
Things are blowing up. Then I see these planes flying at almost the second-story
level. Then I saw the pilot. The plane had the [German] Iron Cross on it. So I knew
the Germans were attacking. It didn't take long. Then the Russians started pulling
out. I don't think it took a week, and the Germans had already occupied us.
We were considering going East but then we heard that the only way of going was
by train. The Russians had trains going back that way, but the Germans were
attacking the trains and also the Ukrainians-who were not very happy under the
Nationalists. They were called "Ukraine Nationalists." They were not happy under
the Soviet system or the Polish system, but they were looking forward to the
Germans coming in. So they were attacking anybody that was leaving.
My brother, in 1941, was 17 years old; I was 10 [years old]. He pretty much took
over as the father figure. My mother had a very difficult time coping with this
because she never had to do anything before the war-everything wad done for
her. So my brother decided we were not going anyplace. We are staying put. And
then the Germans came and maybe a week or two weeks later, we got evicted
from the apartment at the refinery. We had to go back in the city. The refinery was
sort of on the outside [of the city]. We went to the city and what they [Jews] called
a "pogrom" started. You heard the term "pogrom"? This was like, let's go into town
and crack some Jews' heads. It wasn't done by the Germans. The Germans were
the ones instigating the Ukrainians to do it. I think [with the first pogrom], there
must have been 300 Jews killed.
G: Do you know what created that anti-Jewish sentiment?
P: By the Germans or by the Ukrainians?
G: By the Ukrainians.
P: I have my own theory. Maybe a lot of Ukrainians won't like it, but I think [I would]
blame the Ukrainian intelligencia because that gave them an opportunity to get
the Jewish property-homes and whatever. And they [incited] the peasants to go
and do it. We're sort of sidetracking. But in the end it turned out to be the
"Righteous Christians" that hid the Jews. They were not the intelligencia. They
were the peasants who did it. So that's why I think the peasants had nothing to
gain with it.
There has always been anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is nothing new. Hitler didn't
invent it. So I think it was an opportunity, and the Germans sort of said go ahead
and do it. And then maybe they also wanted to ingratiate themselves. To the
Germans, you know, we're riding with you. I know a lot of them that joined. The
young ones joined the German Army battalions, which were already part of the SS
[Schutzstaffel-protective squadron belonging to the Nazi Party-not to German
military]. So that was it. How far do you want to go?
G: How important was religion to your family?
P: No, we were not religious. We ate ham. Would you believe that? We did observe
the holidays. [We were] very similar to Reform Jews here in this country [U.S.].
G: In 1939, your uncle was executed. Why did that take place?
P: Who knows. It was not in my city. He lived in Gdynia. Gdynia was a Polish seaport
(northwest of Gdansk-then call Danzig]. You heard of Gdansk? Well, Gdansk was
called Danzig; it was part of East Prussia. It was set up there [Danzig was a "free
city" as determined by the 1919 Versailles Treaty]. It was predominantly German.
Well, Hitler claimed that he started a war with Poland because he wanted a
corridor between Germany and Danzig. And the Poles refused to give [it to] him.
And it was like a sliver of land. I don't think it was anymore than 20 miles across.
So, the first place where [the Germans] attacked, I think the war broke out at
midnight on September 1, 1939, when they attacked Poland. Well, it didn't take
[the Germans] to maybe 3 o'clock in the morning. And they were already in
All I know is that in the morning, they asked the Poles or whatever they were,
"Who were the prominent Jews?" And they picked ten Jews, and they hung them
[around] noon. As far as I know, my uncle was the first Polish Jew that was
G: When did you go to the labor camp?
P: Well, I'm gonna build it up for you. So the Germans came in 1941. In 1942, there
were a lot of restrictions. You had to wear a Jewish star on your armband and you
pretty much stayed out of town because the Ukrainians would catch you in the
street, and they beat the hell out of you. I got beaten up several times as a kid.
The Germans, in the meantime, were telling the Jews that they were planning to
[set] up a section of Drohobych where the Jews would be safe. Of course, they're
of the attitude [that] we're in the war [and] we can't protect you from these
Ukrainians, so we're going to set up this section. You might call it a "ghetto," but
we don't call it a "ghetto." And we have a fence around it, and you can live there
and do whatever you want. And I remember to the day [that] they were distributing
a newspaper from what they were considering "show ghetto"-their "resienstadt" in
Czechoslovakia. And there were pictures of Jews sitting in cafes. And a lot of
Jews went to the ghetto.
My mother and my brother got back to work at the refinery. If you worked at the
refinery, they [Germans] left you alone because you're working for the war effort.
We could backtrack. The refineries before the war were predominantly run by
Jews, talking about engineers. So somehow my mother was able to do it.
I had a wet nurse. You know what a wet nurse is? When I was born-these were
not times of formulas-but my mother didn't want to breast-feed me. So at that
time, you would find a nice healthy peasant girl who happened to have a baby and
she had milk for two. She came and lived with us, and she breast-fed me, and she
was with us until I was about 6 years old [around 1937]. She was working as a
janitor in an apartment house for a Gestapo women, and I'm not talking about the
wives-but the women who were part of the Gestapo. I got blue eyes and I had
blond hair, so they decided I will pass [for a so-called "Aryan" German]. So I went
with Hasia-her name was Hasia-and she told the German woman that I was a
nephew of hers.
G: How do you spell that?
P: Hasia, H-A-S-I-A. It's a soft H. The funny thing about this whole thing is [that] it
came to me that one of the Gestapo women was into phrenology-that's this
feeling your head and things like that. I used to go with Hasia when she cleaned
these apartments. I was helping her and this woman was there, and she called
me over, and I was kind of frightened and she started feeling my head. There
were some other German women. She announced to them that as an expert in
phrenology, I am a perfect example of the Aryan race. I had an Aryan head so
then everything sounded good. But now this was in the summertime, and the
question was, what if I had to go to school? And the concern was, I go to school
and the kids remember me. You know, the jig is up, so I had to leave Hasia.
And my brother got me a job in the refinery in the carpentry shop. I was polishing.
The carpentry shop was making furniture for all the Germans, and I was polishing
it. At age 12, that was a great job for a kid. You're talking about an apprentice
shop program in carpentry and furniture-making in eastern Poland--you start
Then what happened was the Jews were pretty much segregated: the Jews that
went into the ghetto and the Jews that worked at the refinery. The ones that
worked at the refinery lived in separate quarters. We were not part of the ghetto.
We never went into town. We just marched.
It was seven kilometers to the refinery: march to the refinery, march back, and we
would get fed at the refinery. It was only about one meal a day. No meat but other
stuff. And then they [Germans] started taking Jews out of the ghetto and I don't
think any Jew ever made it from the Drohobych ghetto into Auschwitz. They all
made it into the forest and then they got shot.
Before the war, we had this peasant that used to come. I call them "peasants"
because it's a farmer, but basically it's somebody who's got about five acres of
land. He used to come to our house, used to bring in fresh eggs and fresh butter,
and somehow he came to the place where we were living. We are not under
guard-nobody would bother [us]. The Ukrainians knew that these were Jews you
don't mess with. We didn't go out, and nobody came in.
When he [farmer] came, he offered to hide us out. You got to understand, [if] he
gets caught, he gets executed. There are no if's or but's about it. I was not part of
this. But it was decided that my mother would do it [hide]. I didn't know at that
time, but my brother was already involved somehow with the partisans.
So my brother decided that my mother will go with the peasant, and I will stay with
my brother. We were separated and that was it. And then I think shortly
afterwards, it wasn't a problem for her [my mother] to disappear. You just
disappeared and nobody knows anything. If the Germans ask, they probably ask
my brother, "Where's your mother?" and he'd probably say, "I don't know." He and
I-after the war-never discussed it. Then they slapped guards on us. They slapped
the Ukrainian guards and now we went to the refinery. We were under armed
That brings me up to 1943. They [Germans] totally eliminated the ghetto in
Drohobych. But we still worked at the refinery. It was the beginning of 1944 in
January or February that my brother told me he is going to be gone, and I
shouldn't be concerned. He would get word to me. And he disappeared. And then
I got word, some guy came up to me and said, "Your brother wants to [help you
escape]." We used to walk by this crossroad and he [intermediary] said "Your
brother wants you to be there tonight." Polish roads had these ditches alongside,
drainage ditches, so I was walking along and it was in the snow and I just rolled
into the ditch. Somehow nobody knew it.
G: Were you lined up?
P: No, we were marching. These must have been at the refinery about 500 or 700 of
us. So we used to march in a column. I just fell into the ditch on purpose and
everybody marched by me. So I went to the crossroad and I'm sitting and waiting
for somebody, and nobody showed up. I decided that I don't want to get caught
there in the daytime by the Ukrainians or Germans. I wasn't that much afraid of
Germans. I don't think I was afraid of anybody. I just didn't think it was a good
idea to be around. So I made the decision to go back to the camp.
I came to the gate and we used to wear a badge with an "R" on it. I don't
remember what the hell the "R" was for [Refinery ?] but "R" was good. That was a
good sign. If you had an "R," you lived. And this Ukrainian guard stuck a gun in
my chest, and he pulled the trigger. But it clicked. Nothing went off, and I started
screaming. If you ever heard a kid screaming--man, did I start screaming. And this
German officer in charge of the camp-you have to consider that this was already
1943-1944, the Germans were guys that were about 60 years old. They were
what is called "Heinber." There was no longer some Gestapo guys there. We were
working really for the Army because the Army needed the petroleum-the
gasoline. So this guy came out and he grabbed me and they threw me in. They
beat the hell out of me. They really did. They threw me into the camp. About a
couple of weeks later I get another message from my brother.
G: When he put the gun in your chest, did it misfire?
P: Yeah, I think it did-either he didn't have anything in the gun-but I don't believe
that-I think it misfired. I don't believe any Ukrainian would walk around [?]. They
were guarding Jews. They were looking for any excuse to kill you. So I think it was
about a couple of weeks later that I got the word again [from my brother]. But this
time I was told to hide out in the refinery and I was told a specific place where to
hide. It was an empty storage tank. You have to climb up the ladders to the top,
then open the thing, then there's another ladder which goes down in. I sat there. I
remember it was about 12 or 1 o'clock. We had a family whistle-and I hear this
family whistle. My brother was outside, and I came out.
By this time the German guard at the refinery-these 50- to 60-year-old Germans,
were buying insurance. They were cooperating with everybody. I went outside the
refinery and there was a hay wagon and there was a guy directing the horse
team, and they [?] threw a German jacket on me, and they poured vodka all over
me. And they said just lay there, and we got stopped once. I don't remember
whether my brother was sneaking around the back. You go through a road check,
and he said that he had this German soldier [who] was drunk] and he was taking
him into his place because the guard smelled the vodka. They were laughing but
these were partisans. That's how I wound up with the partisans. You know what
the partisans were?
P: The partisans were guerrillas. That's what the Russians called them-"partisans."
When the Russians retreated, they left behind specially trained troops and some
had a commissar, who was the indoctrinator. They just stayed behind for a
resistance movement. Now the group I was with consisted of some Poles and
some Ukrainians. They were not very keen on the Germans. The Russian soldiers
escaped German camps or whatever-stragglers. There were some Jews, too. I
was with them till I was liberated. I think it was August 1944. Yes.
G: What kinds of activities did this partisan group do?
P: Kill Germans. Sabotage, blow up-if we could blow up a bridge. There were other
young kids beside me, and they were using us, mainly the children. We're 13
years old. If you talk to anyone who was in Vietnam, they'll tell you that the
average Viet Cong was 13 or 14 years old. Thirteen-year-olds make fantastic
soldiers. You're not afraid. You don't believe you're gonna die. And it's a game.
For me, it was a game-revenge and the thing to do. But they used us mainly to
collect food from friendly peasants. You couldn't grow anything in the mountains,
in the forest. You were on the move all the time. You never stayed in one place
because the Germans would find you in one place. So it was a hit-and-run
[operation]. But usually kids can move around much easier. As bad as Germans
were, they left kids alone. Except if they knew they were Jewish kids-that was a
different story-but they had no way of knowing who we were-and we also did
what guerrillas do.
G: Did they take time to specifically train you?
P: Well, there was no basic training. I don't remember how long it took them [but]
they handed me a gun. [It was] a Russian sort of a submachine gun, a semi-
circular magazine. Not very accurate but you spray a lot of bullets. But [they]
always say, do what I do, hide the way I hide. There [was] a lot of setting up of
ambushes. You don't go out; guerrillas don't make a frontal attack. Guerrillas will
suck you into it [an ambush]. Then that's the way they do it. So that was basically
what was involved. I remember there was [one time] where we made a real raid.
There were Germans. We were very, very, very-I don't want to say "brave." I think
[we were] probably crazy. But [it was] a different town. There we found out there
were Germans in a movie theater. And [it was] Saturday night [or] Sunday night,
and they [Germans] felt very comfortable. They had no guards, nothing like that,
and we just came in and set fire to [the theater]. I was something that they were
doing. But I think mostly it was like blow up a couple of trains-stuff like that.
G: Was there central leadership to this?
P: Oh yeah. Definitely. The commissar, the guy who was the chief communist. He
was the big boss. There were some tactical leaders, but they were mainly the
Russian soldiers that stayed behind.
G: After you were liberated, did you share your experience with other Holocaust
P: You have to understand that right at that time we're there [late 1930s, early
1940s], there was a Jewish population of 15,000 in 1939-then there were 400 left.
My experience at [time of] liberation was like Yogi Berra says, "Deja vu again."
And we knew the Russians were getting closer and closer and closer. I remember
I was with a squad, and we were just waiting. There was a road and we were
waiting to see if the Germans were going to come through. We would ambush
them and if the Russians came through, we will greet them.
And we saw this soldier coming up the path. We knew he was a Russian-it's the
uniform. So we ran out, screaming, yelling. I don't know if you ever watch the
Second World War movies. The soldiers hug each other, kiss each other. I ran up
to this guy. He must have been about 19 years old-he was a kid. And I started
hugging him, and he-typical Russian sense of humor-wants to know, "Why are
you so happy to see me?" Well, let me go back a little bit.
Under the communist system, Jews were called "Hebrews." Everybody had on
their passport what their religion was-whatever it was-and because the Russian
word for "Jew" is very close to "kike," the Community Party ruled the Jews will be
called "Hebrews." So when the guy asked me, "How come you're so happy to see
me?" I told him, "Because I'm a Hebrew." And he says to me, "You're not a
Hebrew, da Yid, you're a Jew." And you talk about deja vue again. And this just hit
me over the head, and I just said, "Uh." There we go again.
So my brother enlisted in the Russian Army. I didn't see my brother until 1949.
And then I went looking for my mother. I found her in with the peasant, and she
was in terrible shape. She was-not so much physically-but mentally in very bad
shape. My mother was born in Germany, and [she] was able to go back where
she came from, so my mother registered. They gave her the papers, but they
wouldn't give me the papers because I was not born in Germany. But that wasn't
a problem because when you came to the border, she just showed them the
papers and I just walked across.
We will go back to when I met the Russian soldier and I told him that I was a
Hebrew-or in Russian, "yavre." He asked me, "Why are you happy to see me?"
And my answer in Russian was, "Putta mochte ya yavre-because I'm a Hebrew."
His answer was "Tin ya yavre [you're not a Hebrew] da Yid" or "You're a kike." So
my feeling was a combination of them sending my father away-and I knew again
there was no future for me there. This followed me. I wasn't going to be any-not
that I was a communist, but it's the funniest thing.
When I was a kid, I had asthma before the war. I think my father gave me an
atlas. I didn't even know how to read. I would spend hours and hours going
through the atlas, and I was fascinated by the United States. And, interesting
enough, I was fascinated by Florida. It was something about this word "Daytona
Beach." I didn't know how to pronounce it, but I remember there was a map of
Daytona Beach, and I just thought that was so cool-you're talking about 1939. So
it's interesting [that] I wound up in Florida because my wife was from Florida.
That's how I wound up here.
G: How did the Holocaust affected your religious beliefs?
P: I'm an agnostic. And I'll explain it to you. An atheist is one who denies the
existence of God, in my estimation. I don't deny the existence of God. My attitude
is that whoever invented "god" to keep mankind in line was so smart and such a
genius [that] she should be called "God." Many times I think about a "chosen
people"-chosen for what? My feeling, for example, was in my attitude for
Germans. What threat could I represent to them? Not only me but I had cousins
that were exterminated at the age of 2 and 3. What threats were they to the
G: When you were in the labor camp, how did the Germans choose who they
murdered-when they did, when they took them out into the woods?
P: Well, they didn't take anybody. They did take people from the labor camp that
were sick, and they didn't say that they were going to shoot them. Because they
said they were taking them to the hospital, and you never saw them again. You
found out they just took them down the road-toward the end after I was gone.
That labor camp existed for at least another three months after I escaped. They
were gradually paring it down till eventually nobody was left.
G: So it was just random?
P: I remember periodically we had these line-ups. Everybody was up there, and
that's when the Gestapo showed up. And I remember we stood three or four
hours. They would pull people out because somebody fell down-who were too
weak to stand. I remember they once pulled a guy-he looked at this Gestapo-this
SS guy, he looked at him. It was just any excuse.
G: Right there in front of everybody?
P: Well, they pulled him out. They said, "Now you go over there." Everybody left and
those people stayed behind. You never saw them again. We never knew exactly.
We found out when I went with the partisans, then I knew what they were doing.
The partisans knew where they were taking the people and where they were
killing them. But they couldn't do anything about it. Our partisan group was
probably around 100. What's 100 guys doing to do? Nothing.
G: Moving back to after liberation. What was the reaction of the survivors? Did you
P: It's funny. Nobody met. Nobody was retelling stories of what I did or what
happened to me-or them. I had recently a guilt feeling. I survived and other
people didn't [survive]. I had absolutely no interest in locating anybody. But later
on I did make an attempt to find somebody. Unfortunately, he died.
We then crossed the border and kept on following the war. This was January
1945. The Russians were still in Poland, and my mother and I were just following
them-right behind the troopers. And then we came across Poland, either
hitchhiking or walking. We got into Krakow, which is a city in [southern] Poland. I
hooked up over there with a French boy who was there with his mother also. They
were both Auschwitz survivors. They were trying to go back to France. Maybe it
wasn't Auschwitz because he was in pretty good shape. He and I decided to take
care of our mothers.
We just kept on going west, and I want you to know that you go through a war
area where there's ammunition, there's dead bodies, there's army men laying all
over the ground. They don't come over and clean it up and say okay, let's pick it
up. So I was well armed. So was my friend [well armed]. We walked into what was
Germany, what become Poland after the war, but before the war [it] was
I remember we walked into a German farmer's house, stuck guns at him. Told him
we were Jews. And that guy must have made in his pants. And we requisitioned a
wagon, and a horse, and foodstuff, and we went in style. We went all the way. I
was in Berlin--on the outside of Berlin, [and] they [Germans] were fighting in the
city, and then [later ?] we went from there into the British Zone. And this is a funny
The river [Spree River or Havel River] separated where the British stopped and
the Russian [Zone started]. There we had to wait for them [British] to finish a
pontoon bridge so we could cross it. We couldn't even take the horse and wagon
[across the pontoon bridge]. We had to leave it because it was just a walking
bridge. We walked across this bridge and on the other side there stands this
British townie. What a difference between a Russian soldier-or even a German.
These guys didn't wear helmets. They had this beret and [it was] real sharp
looking. He stops me. I had what is called a "Schmeisser," this is, a German
submachine gun. I had a Luger, which was a pistol. I think I had a hand grenade
hanging on me, too. And he tells me with a big smile-he motions that he wants it,
and I just refuse to give it. I'm not gonna give it to him. And there was the Mexican
standoff. Then he reaches in his pocket and takes out a chocolate bar. He
motions, lets me know, "If you give me your gun, I will give you the chocolate bar."
And I was disarmed in about 30 seconds. I haven't had chocolate since 1939
[laughter] so, I think to myself, even through all I went, I was still a kid. I haven't
changed, you know. This "war hero," whatever you want, but, man, that chocolate
bar did it.
G: When did you decide to move to the U.S.?
P: Well, I didn't decide. We were transferred to a displaced persons camp in Bergen-
Belsen [located near Hannover in northwestern Germany]. Bergen-Belsen was a
concentration camp at one time, and then after the British liberated it [April 15,
1945], they formed it into a DP [displaced persons] camp for displaced peoples
[largest DP camp in Germany after the war]. And when you came there, they were
checking out the kids in the hospital. Well, I was healthy-and all the other kids
were sick. The hospital was manned by Dutch doctors and nurses. They spoke
German, but they didn't speak Polish or Russian. And when it was determined
there was nothing wrong with me, and I spoke German, they asked me if I would
translate for them-be an interpreter for the other kids. So I say yes, and I used to
walk around with the doctors. When the doctor tells the kid to cough, I start telling
him to cough. Then Sweden took a bunch of kids in after the Second World War,
a bunch of Jewish kids. And there was a shipment of kids going from Bergen-
Belsen to Sweden, and the doctors asked me if I wanted to go along-even though
I wasn't sick. Swedes were taking a lot of kids to recuperate, and I said, "I'll go if
my mother can go," and they said, "Ya." And we went to Sweden.
In the meantime, my mother had a brother who came to the United States in 1939
for the [New York] World's Fair. He never came back so we assumed that he was
here [in New York}. And when we were in Bergen-Belsen, there were various
Jewish groups there. There were two Jewish [Yiddish daily] newspapers in New
York City: The Day and Forward. And they [newspapers] were [writing] that
anybody who thinks they have relatives in the United States to run a little
classified ad, looking for so and so. My mother put in an ad and we were in
Sweden. We [then] hear from my uncle. He was in the American Army. He was
already in Italy. He went through North Africa, Sicily, and he came to Sweden in
full uniform-master sergeant in the infantry-a whole "salad" full of medals, and
he's the one who brought us to this country. He took a discharge in Europe [but]
he stayed after the war was over. He passed away and my mother passed away
in 1946 when we got here [United States]-six months after we got here. My uncle
passed away in 1957. My brother passed away in 1980. So that's it.
G: That was your entire family?
P: Yeah. After I got my computer a couple of years ago, I decided I wanted to find
out if there was anybody left in Sweden. So I sent an e-mail to the Jewish
community in Sweden, and they referred me to the Swedish National Archives. I
sent this guy an e-mail and I got a response. Apparently, they got me in the
Swedish National Archives.
I came here on the first passenger ship that same into New York Harbor after the
war-SS Drutney Home [correct name?]. You talk about Sweden-a very liberal
country-and the guy says that there were 20-some-odd Polish citizens and 32
Jews. Now these 32 Jews were Hungarians, Romanians, and Poles, but even the
Swedes did not consider them as nationals of some country. But they were. This
exemplifies anti-Semitism. There was no identity.
G: What did you do when you got to the United Sates? How old were you?
P: I was 15.
G: Did you get a job then?
P: No, I came here. My uncle, who I told you brought us, he stayed in Europe and
went into business. He arranged for me to stay with this family after my mother
passed away. He was paying $25, $35-something like that. And I was in
Lindenhurst, New York. That's on Long Island. I went to Lindenhurst High School.
I was very fortunate because there was a junior-senior high school, 700 kids, and
when I came I couldn't speak English, and this was funny. They wanted to stick
me in elementary school, and I said, "No. Nobody is putting me in elementary
school. I am 15 years old." And fortunately there was an English teacher, a Ms.
Marsh. I'll never forget Ms. Marsh. She always wore a black dress and black
stockings and she had her hair in a bun. She had this big wart over her lip with a
hair sticking out of it. She used to walk around and whack you with a ruler if you
were-you know in those days they could do it. Ms. Marsh told the principal, "Give
me that kid for a semester, and I'll teach him English." She used to teach
freshmen English, and I sat in the fall of 1946 in Ms. Marsh's class from 9 o'clock
in the morning until 4 o'clock in the afternoon. And when it came to January
, I new English. I wrote poetry. [My poetry] was published in the New York
State anthology of poets for high school. And that's how you learn a language-
total immersion. I just sat there. That's it. She was not directing anything toward
me, but you're surrounded with the kids. Nobody talked to me in anything but
English, and that was it. I was fortunate. I think that I had an accent, but the
people I stayed with had no accents, but they didn't speak anything else but
English, so that was it.
No, I did work like any [other] kid in the summertime. I worked on the farm. I did
G: How does a 12- or 13-year-old kid deal with having to carry around guns. Seeing
all this death and carnage, how do you deal with that internally? And at the same
time, how do you keep yourself going?
P: I have a saying that somebody said to me, "Aren't you afraid?" I would say, "A
chicken also dies." I don't know why. Whether you're a fatalist, I always believed
that if my time comes, maybe now is not [the time]. Look, I'm 70 years old. I have
outlived my life expectancy by 58 years. Hitler should have done me in when I
was 12. So I'm a winner. When my daughter had her [child]-my first grandchild-
five months ago, my first reaction was Hitler lost. I won.
G: As you look back at what happened over the past 58 years, how do you view why
another person would do these [horrendous] things to another person?
P: I'm going to give you an answer you might not want to hear, but I think that in the
animal kingdom the human species is the only species that kills for the sake of
killing. All the other animals only kill because they're hungry. That's one
explanation because that's why people might get joy out of it. I used to go hunting.
I never enjoyed hunting. I stopped hunting. I remember I shot a deer, and I was
sick over it. I don't own a gun now. I don't want a gun. I used to be a very
intimidating person to other people maybe because I never showed fear.
One reason we left Miami [was that] I felt I can't intimidate anybody now at my
age so I might as well get the hell out of there. But I used to have an office by the
airport-and that was when they had a lot of crime. Everybody bought a gun, and I
bought a machete. I had this machete lying in my car and somebody once told
me, "You know, they call you 'loco gringo,'" because "they're afraid to get to you,
you got a machete. They're not going to fool around with you." I said, "Why?" And
he said, "They know if a man has got a machete, he's gonna use it." So I don't
know why people do it.
Look, you had things that went on in Bosnia, you have the stuff that goes on in
Africa. Why would black men kill each other? And it's not even involved in religion.
I can see religious strife. I can see where the Serbs went after the Muslims. And I
can see where the Muslims retaliated. I can see what's going on in the Middle
East between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Look what is going on in Africa.
Hey, you're the same people, you're doing it to each other. I traveled all of Central
American, and I've been to places like Guatemala. It made me sick to my stomach
to see the oppression over there and especially in Honduras. I can't explain it. I
think we belong to a very rotten species, that's all.
G: How do you deal with this now? The whole issue of everything that happened?
P: Anything that happens now or what happened?
G: Just from everything in the entire scope of what you've seen.
P: Well, I dealt with it before. Quite honestly, as far as Germans are concerned, the
only ones that I had [anything] against were the ones that were older than me. I
certainly got my opportunity to make even the score in a little way. And the
funniest thing-I got drafted [early 1950s ?] and I wound up in Germany with the
U.S. Army. And we were still an army of occupation. I was put in charge of
German employees. Of course, they were dying. They thought that "oh my God"
because my reputation sort of preceded me. The guys in the outfit knew my
background so I guess they were telling the Germans to watch it. [These guys
would say to the Germans], "Watch, when this guy takes over, you guys are
gonna tow the line."
I didn't make them tow the line. I got over it, but there's one thing I decided. I think
all Europe is rotten. Well, honestly, I'm not telling you only toward Jews. We have
Europeans here, but if something happens when they come to this country, and I
think maybe the reason they come to this country is to live a different life. I think
all the Europeans, as far as I'm concerned-I have no desire to go back to visit. I
don't even want to give a lousy fenig. To me, it's all economics. You want to hurt
somebody, hit him in the pocketbook. So I don't want to go there. I don't want to
spend any money in Europe. As far as the Germans and Hitler are concerned, the
only thing now I hold against them is they robbed me of my childhood. I was never
a child. I want to tell you something. When you get to be 50 or 60 years old, you
realize you were never a child. And I know I missed a lot of things. The only one I
can blame for this is the Germans.
G: Do you watch movies about the Holocaust?
G: What about the legacy of Anne Frank and her writings [born in 1929; died in
Bergen-Belsen at age 15 in 1945]?
P: I read it [Diary of Anne Frank] originally. I started it. I know the story. I knew
people that were in a similar situation with her, that survived, that were hidden.
Fake attics, fake basements, supported, you know, by righteous people. I know of
people that hid and never made it. I wouldn't be surprised, and I know on a couple
of occasions these people were in a fool-proof hiding place. They got caught
because they were fingered. If anybody asks me, and it's hard for me to say that's
a very good possibility that it's another Jew that fingered them. To save his own
skin, and he never did it. He got caught, and the Germans said, "Tell us who else
you know." They pulled that trick all the time. Look, we do this right now with the
Afghanis. You tell us, and we let you go. I knew people who hid out. And I knew
exactly how they did it, and it was hard. It was easier for me, for me
comparatively. It was easy. I was fine when I was working, and then when I was
with the partisans, it was cold and wet and that was about it. But I can imagine it
was very hard.
G: Back to Anne Frank, some people [would] blame her father.
P: So I heard.
G: How do you feel? Do you feel that's a fair assumption for them to draw as far as
him being able to take his family out of the country? The fact that he stayed in
hiding instead of leaving?
P: Well, I could blame my father for that. Because my father in 1939 had an offer to
come to the United States because he was an oil man-to do some exploration in
Texas. But he wasn't going to do it because he didn't believe the war was going to
come. And then he didn't believe the Germans would [come because] the Polish
Army was so strong. Especially his cavalry-they would destroy the German tanks.
I mean this was stupid. We could have left-poor judgment, not believing. He
believed the local propaganda-that we're invincible and nothing will happen.
That's a human error, but he survived.
G: He was the only survivor?
P: Yes, but I think there was also in the family other problems besides his. I think
there was a problem with relationships-inter-family relationships. I didn't have
that-we had a good family. It was just unfortunate it happened the way it
happened. If it didn't happen, I wouldn't be here. I keep threatening my wife with
that. I would be sitting on the Riviera.
G: This is my final question. Do you have anything that you live by now-as far as
what you have seen? Any kind of motto that you really want other people to
understand. Something that you could pass on?
P: I think that you have to judge people by what they are and not who they are. I
don't know if I am making myself clear. Unfortunately, as a Jew, I am at times still
not hurt about anti-Semitism because I'm used to it. And I'm not surprised by it
either. On the contrary, I'm surprised in a way of the advancement Jews have
made in this country. When I think in retrospect, look at Congress, look at the
Senate. Don't get me wrong. I had this discussion with somebody the other day
about anti-Semitism. They said, "How do you feel about it?" I said, "Well, I want to
tell you something."
I spent time on business, quite a bit in south Georgia and north Florida. We're
talking about Lowndes County in [south] Georgia-that's where Valdosta is. They
don't even like anybody who is outside of Lowndes County. I had no problem
there because I knew where I stood. Some of these liberal Northeasterners would
tell me that some of their best friends are Jews. It's like one of those buzz-words-
it makes you rile because Germans used to say that, too. I used to run across
situations where they used to tell me in south Georgia, "Well, we don't do
business with Jews." I said, "Fine. I won't waste my time with you." And I didn't. I
wasn't getting upset over it. I could accept it. When they used to give me a call
two or three years later, I used to remind them, "You didn't feel like doing
business with me two years ago. I don't feel like doing business with you now."
I think my friends-and I'm not judging some of my very best friends-but in reality,
at least in Gainesville, I have more friends who are not Jewish rather than friends
who are Jewish. If any, [in a] very close balance, I have no problem with anyone. I
think the problem is that what I said-people just forget. They forget about taking
somebody for what he is. I have some empathy.
I've been in this country since 1946-that makes me 55 years old. I went from a
time when we first came in, being Jewish was not so good and [then it] became
fashionable to be Jewish. So everybody started watching these Jewish shows and
using Yiddish expressions. Now, when I went to apply to Syracuse University,
there was a quota and [I thought} how odd [that] there was a quota.
I was a social chairman in my fraternity-which was a Jewish fraternity. I used to
look at the list of how many freshmen came in and you knew exactly 25 percent of
the freshmen class was Jewish and never more [than that]. Well, at least we're no
longer considered a minority nowadays. So now we have to be careful because
we can't get advantages. I was kidding. My daughter used to kid me about it. She
was a TV reporter, then a TV producer. She said I'm not a minority.
G: How come you don't watch the movies about the Holocaust? Is that just too hard
for you to relive or do you feel it is too glamorized by Hollywood?
P: I don't want to watch [those kind of movies]. I told you that last night I whacked my
wife in bed. I was fighting the Germans. Hand-to-hand combat. She reminded me
that this was already in the past six months, seven months. It's like the third time
that either I screamed out at night or I whacked the pillow next to me or whatever.
Every time when it happens, I told her somebody was attacking me. And I never
had these [dreams] before. I never had them because I never talked about it [my
wartime experience]. You follow what I'm saying? I never talked about my
experiences. I started talking about it because I sort of got roped into it by a lady
here in Gainesville, and I did it. My friends in Miami never asked me; they knew
me. They knew what my background was. They met my brother because he used
to come visit. But they never asked me details and I never told them. Now I'm
talking about it. Maybe my defense mechanism was don't talk about it-that way I
sleep at night.
G: You talk to psychologists and they [might] say, "Talk about it to get over it."
P: Yeah, well, that's bullshit. Yeah, they say talk about it.
G: So you actually find it's more of a hindrance to you. Why did you decide to start
talking about it-what you went through?
P: I think it was my daughter's influence. She kept saying, "Dad, you gotta." She
dragged me to the Holocaust Museum in Washington. She wanted me to give a
"testimony" there. I got a friend in Miami who is a former professor at the
University of Illinois. She wanted me [to talk about it]. I said, "I don't want to do it."
I guess maybe because I came to Gainesville and I didn't know anybody-I figured
[I could talk about it].
G: Neutral [territory]?
P: Neutral. I can do it there. So I give this [talk]. If you can get it [Jewish Chronicle],
they were the first two issues of the Jewish Chronicle. They wanted my story so
they could increase the circulation. And then that's how I got to know Ken Wald
[professor of political science at University of Florida]. I also got to know Professor
Mel New [professor of English at University of Florida]. If you looked under
Drohobych, there was this Bruno Schultz. He was a poet, an artist, and a so-
called Jewish Kafka. And the funniest thing, when my article [appeared] in the
Jewish Chronicle, he [Mel New] was just teaching about Bruno Schultz [writer and
artist and a Polish Jew born in 1892 in Drohobych, Galicia; killed by Gestapo in
1942]. So he called me up. "Do you know Bruno Schultz?" I didn't now who the tell
Bruno Schultz was. He says, "Well, he came from Drohobych." And I said, "Well,
you know I was 12 to 13 years old. I didn't 'take' Bruno Schultz when I was in
Do you have anything else you would like to say?
No, I think I said enough.
Well, I thank you for your time.