Menachem “Manny” Taiblum – 2007 In this interview, Manny speaks about growing up in an affluent Jewish home in Warsaw, being moved into the Warsaw Ghetto, and, under the pressure of starvation, escaping the ghetto one day to try to acquire food from a farmer with whom is father had been acquainted. He does find food, but sneaking back into the Ghetto he discovers that every member of his family (as well as many, many other families) had disappeared during a Nazi roundup. He talks about leaving the Ghetto again, returning to the farmer to find sanctuary and employment. He does, but inadvertently ends up performing forced labor to fix a bridge for the Germans that the Poles of the small farming village had destroyed. He tells of another young man he met there, who, with the help of a nun, escapes with Manny to go fight in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Manny speaks about his part in the fighting, how it felt when they discovered the Russians had liberated the Ghetto, and the tragedy of learning that none of his family had survived the camps.
Interview with: Manny Taiblum
Interviewer: Mike Falconer
Date: May 24, 2007
Transcribed By: Judy Selander
Falconer: I’m wondering if I could ask you your birthdate. You were born in 1928 and what was the date?
TAIBLUM: July 22.
Falconer: July 22, 1928. And you were born in?
TAIBLUM: Warsaw, Poland.
Falconer: Could I have your mother and father’s names? Were they living when you were born?
TAIBLUM: They were living, of course [laughs].
Falconer: I don’t make my living as an interviewer. Your father’s name if I could.
Falconer: Was your family from Warsaw, from Poland?
TAIBLUM: For a thousand years.
Falconer: Long, long time.
TAIBLUM: One thousand years.
Falconer: Was your father born in Warsaw?
Falconer: And your mother’s name?
Falconer: Did you have brothers and sisters, and could I get their names?
TAIBLUM: Younger. And Hanna, the youngest sister.
Falconer: How many years difference between you and Hanna?
TAIBLUM: Joseph was born about two years after me, and she was born in ’31.
Falconer: What year was Joseph born?
TAIBLUM: In 1930.
Falconer: So you lived in Warsaw, right in the city? Your father, you said, owned a grocery store. What type of store was it?
TAIBLUM: Here they are mostly called “supermarkets” but in Warsaw we didn’t have supermarkets, we have a regular grocery store where you have everything, what you need.
Falconer: Had the grocery store been in your family for a long time, or was it something your dad started?
TAIBLUM: No, my dad started this, yes.
Falconer: So, in those early years then, did you grow up and live in the same area for most of your young life?
TAIBLUM: All the time until the war.
Falconer: Until the war. You would have been five years old in 1933. When did you, as a young child, become aware that something was wrong in terms of the Germans?
TAIBLUM: Until 1933. I start to listen. When Hitler came to power, he started with the German Jews, but no one suspected he would start what he did. It’s an inside thing they start to taking Jewish property, also confiscates some. Until comes to Kristallnacht, which was the worst that could happen in Germany. Then the Jews know that he meant business.
Falconer: So, even as a young, young child of five or six years old, do you have a memory, any memories of those early years about him? About the Nazis?
TAIBLUM: Like I said, until ’33 I had no idea. Which I was what, I was five years old.
Falconer: Yes, just a little guy.
TABLUM: But in ’33, I had my family, my friends. Hitler just came to power and he start already with the Jews.
Falconer: Living in Warsaw in 19-. . . in those years, what was that like? Now, this is a big, big city at this point and you’re living right in the middle of it. Was your family a very religious family?
TAIBLUM: Ultra-Orthodox. But we lived, like I said, we had friends, we had neighbors – Poles – I went to school with Poles. And you have a respect that something can happen, that you are friend. When you went to school, or a neighbor you lived with him for years, who you was feeding him because he was poor. Poles, they used to take on the book and paid every two weeks or once a month. Until they got paid, you fed them; you give them everything. And later they sold you for a few dollars, zlotys, maybe three zlotys for a dollar.
Falconer: You were talking about your father, about your family’s business extending them credit.
TAIBLUM: Oh yes! Yes. Because we lived in a building, which was four buildings around and in the middle was, how I would say, like an empty space. Not a backyard, because it was concrete. Because we have a time called Sukkot. The Orthodox people used to make in this place, used to make these booths called Sukkot [Sukkah]. Many times we invite neighbors, friends. And in fact a friend of my father, who he was the chief of police, who arranged for me Aryan papers. He was the only one, this was after the uprising in the ghetto, was already lost. He met me when I run out of the ghetto after the uprising and he said to me, “Menachem, I know what’s going on with the Jewish people since your father was a friend of mine and I always got credit from him, so I arrange you some papers that you are a Pole.”
So he took me to a town about 60 kilometers from Warsaw to a sister of his. She was one of the greatest antisemites, but because she was afraid of him because he was chief of police, she kept me. And he told her, “You going to keep him here until I come back.” She didn’t know why he went and why he said I will come back. When he came back he brought me an ID that said I’m a Pollack. My name is Marian Redlicki [he spells it].
Falconer: Let me ask you before we get up to that. Now that happened later, so in these years, 1933, ‘34, ‘35, I’m not sure when your father lost his business, when things started going really bad…
TAIBLUM: It was in 1939 that Hitler occupied Poland.
Falconer: It was in September ’39 as I recall. So in those early years, you’re five, six, seven, eight years old. Did you begin to understand that you were being treated different; how did things start to go bad? When you became aware that Poles who were your erstwhile friends were beginning to turn against you? Did it happen like that?
TAIBLUM: Not in the very, very young. We had a president. His name was Pusutski. The Bolsheviks want to kill him because he was a general in the Polish army, so the Jewish were hiding him. So he became president from Poland, so the Jews had a normal good life. In May of 1935 he passed away. Came another president, which was a [fougsdeutsch]. Do you know what a [fougsdeutsch] is? [Fougsdeutsch] means its one who descends from the German, whose parents were German.
How he became president [shrugs]? Because I was seven years old. But when he became president, then I start to feeling (even as a seven-year-old boy), because of the writing on the walls, “Don’t buy from Jews. Jews to Palestine. Jews have nothing left to do here.” I used to catch Jews doing all kind of things. But still we considered this hooligans because the official politic does not interest me. But if you have a president who gives you a little incentive, so… The folks is like ships, like go behind. But still we were going to school and sometimes we were fighting with them, yes. The Jewish boys. This is like all of the schools, the fighting. The fighting was already racist; it was fighting because we were Jews, not like kids just fighting in school. Like this guy on the radio now they’re telling he was a racist because he mention something which is. . .
Falconer: Don Imus, yes.
TAIBLUM: Don Imus. Yes. I think a lot worse people mention than him. OK. So, this was going on.
Falconer: This was 1935, then.
TAIBLUM: 1935 yes.
Falconer: So you were getting in fights then on the way to school?
TAIBLUM: [Nodding head yes]. But still we was not intimated that these or whatever. No, some hooligans said “Bye bye the Jews” or “Jews to Palestine” or whatever, you know. But this happened until 1938, which I was exactly ten years old, when Hitler start to taking of the Jews in Germany. A lot of people already had a little vision. Almost all the German Jews had a good living in Germany. They had money. So they start to leaving Germany. The ones who left, left. The ones who didn’t later went to concentration camps.
Falconer: Let me ask you if I could, from ’35 to’38, when you would have been seven, eight, nine, ten, did it kind of start getting worse, a little bit worse. Do you remember that?
TAIBLUM: Yes, I remember. I remember start to getting a little worse, but still not that you had to leave, for example. Sometime you think you’re in a situation where you cannot more stay, you leave. Many Jews who were rich, had money, left before the war. There was a great leader, you had an Israeli leader, Menachem Begin. His teacher. His teacher was named Jabotinsky. He came to Warsaw in 1906 or 1907. There was a beautiful sunny day and he was standing on the podium talking and he said, “You see, my brothers, what kind of black cloud is coming?” People look all around and said he was crazy. It was a beautiful, sunny day; I think it was in May or June. What he meant he knew, he had a vision, that it’s coming -a black cloud.
Many Jews understood especially the big commerce, the wholesale business. Most of them understood what he meant. They sold the business and left. But my father, we had an aunt who emigrated to Argentina in 1935, and she was writing to my father, “Come to Argentina. Come to Argentina.” [He said], “I was born here, my parents and great parents and [everybody] for 30, 40 generations, and I’m not leaving.” This was it. Otherwise, so . . . Like I said you saw already this time a little more writings on the walls. Sometimes as I met all the Jews, they hit him or they threw stones on him, but still they didn’t intimidate them. The whole Jewish colony, as I say in Warsaw.
The fact is my father had the business until the Germans occupied Poland. He still has Polish buyers, customers. And he still was was getting on the book. Many of them moved away. They owed money; they left the address. My father used to send me, used to take the streetcar and go to collect the money. But we still had friends, we still… It was not something, like I said, to be intimidated; that you better sell and run from here because the black cloud was coming. Nobody talked about this.
Falconer: When Germany invaded, do you remember how you and your family felt when that happened?
TAIBLUM: I just remember the bombs were falling like snow in the winter. This I remember.
Falconer: They were bombing Warsaw then.
TAIBLUM: They were bombing Warsaw. There was maybe a hundred airplanes. They had in this time the Messerschmidt, called. They bombed and that’s not hardly a nice building left. Hardly. But our building, because it was a small building, I think four floors only, still was standing. Until a few weeks later, they came.
Falconer: That must have been a long period of time for you and your family not knowing what was going to happen next.
TAIBLUM: Of course.
Falconer: Did your parents talk to you about it? As a family, did you discuss it?
Were you that kind of a family where everyone talked about what could happened?
TAIBLUM: No. No, because we were Ultra-Orthodox, we believe that God knows what he does and God will save us. Whatever happens, God will save us because he’s saved us many times in the history already. He took us out from Egypt, this was Passover, the holiday. After 420 years being slaves, He took us out. Then the story about the Red Sea. My father was one of the most Ultra-Orthodox people in Poland. When they need some advice, the rabbi used to live in a small town about 200 kilometers from Warsaw. And a little train, and this I remember, a small truck used to go there to this town. And when it was before a holiday, you could see the train a few hundred people, so 90% were Jews who were friends of the rabbi went to this rabbi at the holiday for advice, etc. Until the start to rounding up the Jews to the ghetto, they confiscated our store. We couldn’t take nothing.
Falconer: When did that happen? The confiscation of the store?
TAIBLUM: This started in the beginning of ’40. September 1st, they start to bomb Warsaw. The Polish army was nothing against them. Nothing, absolutely.
Falconer: I read that, yes. Some very brave men, though. There were cases I’ve read that there were Polish officers and men on horseback that charged German tanks. There were some very brave men, but they didn’t have what they needed.
TAIBLUM: Another thing I must tell you. When Hitler invaded Poland, Poland was sold already to him. He had already Poland in the palm of his mouth because the president [Ritz Schmiggly] was a descendant. Imagine, not one – I mean they had many, many airplanes – not one that even got up from the ground against the Germans because Poland was sold, sold to the Germans. But of course, there was idealists that any country has. They had on horses many officers who were fighting against tanks. Of course. But the whole German occupied in I think two weeks or three weeks. They occupied completely Poland. In the beginning of ‘40, he already start to taking the Jews to the ghetto. Then I know they took everything. They took our stores; they took everything and we went to the ghetto.
Falconer: How did that happen? One day you’re living your life and you are running your store, and what?
TAIBLUM: The next day or even the same day come the SS and said, “Come on. Let’s go.” They just take you.
Falconer: With no warning?
TAIBLUM: No. They got worried that someone might do something, or prepare something. Was no warning. Like one day we were selling, and the next day we were without the store.
Falconer: They moved you immediately? One thing I wanted to ask too, before we get to the ghetto. Where you lived, would it have been described as a Jewish area, or was it mixed in with Poles?
TAIBLUM: Mixed in. There was not a Jewish area like we have in Borough Park in Brooklyn. No no, everything was mixed in.
Falconer: Oh really. So they move you immediately to an area that became the Warsaw ghetto.
Falconer: Where was that? How far was that from you?
TAIBLUM: I would say maybe 20 blocks.
Falconer: What happened? What did they do with you? Where did they make you go?
TAIBLUM: They had prepared already rooms. They put us with three kids in one room apartment. A kitchen and bedroom. That’s it.
Falconer: A kitchen, a bathroom, and one room for your whole family? What was your parents’ state of mind at this? I mean, I can guess, but… How did they deal with that?
TAIBLUM: Well, like I said, my father still believed that the Lord will save us. We’re going through a crisis, but the Lord didn’t forget his children. This was the philosophy from the Ultra-Orthodox. Even today in New York or in Miami, or L.A. If you talk to them, same thing.
Falconer: It must have been a sore test to have everything taken – your home, your business that you’ve worked for so many years.
TAIBLUM: Yes. The home we couldn’t take. Only what we we had on our body, a few things what we could grab from the store, like food. But they used to say, “Schnell, schnell, raus, raus, out, out.”
Falconer: So your family would have been one of the early people into the ghetto?
TAIBLUM: We had a hundred people, family, in Warsaw. A hundred people. So they were taken also. Of course. I wouldn’t say that we are the first one.
Falconer: No, no, not the first, but you would have been some of the early people coming in, because I think in the early history of the ghetto people were brought in from other areas, too, weren’t they?
TAIBLUM: Yes, but Warsaw was the first one. The first what they had, they had what was close. You held them here. The rest we’re going to deal with, one who lives outside of Warsaw, other towns, other cities.
Falconer: So you’ve been moved into this room. You’re ten, maybe 11 at this point.
TAIBLUM: In 1940, I was 12 years old.
Falconer: What began to happen then? You’re here, you’re stuck, how did you get food, how did you eat?
TAIBLUM: This was a big problem. Whatever we had still with us for a few days. Then we had from our grandparents, we had some silver and gold, like wedding rings and this and this. I used to go out on the street in the ghetto, and of course there was taking in some people who had money. They still was buying all this stuff. But in general, two years, (in ’40 to ’42 or ’43) this was our life in inhuman conditions, I must say. Hunger, but again I must repeat, an Orthodox Jew never loses faith. Never. No matter what the situation is.
Never loses faith. He never shows for the children even if it hurts him, he never shows this to the children. I used to go to some kind of cleaner house for a rich family there. I call them rich because came people with money also, especially the people who came later. They knew what happened, so they figured out, what happened to you will happen to me. It’s a matter of time only. So I had money. I used to shine shoes, I used to clean, I went to buy something for them, because some people were selling stuff in the ghetto. This was not something, a block or two. This was many kilometers. Big. Imagine in one night they took out 300,000 Jews from the ghetto.
TAIBLUM: Yes. This is in the archives. You can check. The most I start feeling already the pain that my parents feel, not so much me, and how my siblings are feeling. You must imagine how bad is when you love somebody and you see the person is in trouble and you cannot help. But I did what I could. Imagine as a boy 12 years old. Until one day I decided I must sneak out of the ghetto and get some food for my siblings, for my parents. In sneaking out of the ghetto, if I catch you, I was dead. This was no question asked.
Falconer: Was this ’41?
TAIBLUM: No, this was in ’42 already. I was there two years between ‘40 and ‘42. In ‘42 I couldn’t see anymore the pain and I decided what cost me, cost me; I must go out. Since we had a grocery, we had a farmer who used to deliver grocery to us. So one time he took me with him to this town so I know where he lives. So I decided I will go to him and I’m sure he will help me, he will give me food. But this was about 30 kilometers (about 25 miles), and you cannot walk in daytime, and you cannot walk at night when you see a car coming, because you don’t know who is coming. But still I walked and I came to this farmer; was maybe an hour before midnight.
Falconer: If you don’t mind me asking, how did you escape? How did you get out?
TAIBLUM: Well, people made some little holes in the walls where you can crawl out.
Falconer: And as a 12 year old boy you knew where the were?
TAIBLUM: I was walking around in the ghetto, first looking for some food, looking for some job, looking for something, so I know already where the holes are.
Falconer: Were you a pretty active kid? Kind of an athletic kid?
So when I came to this farmer, he knows already the situation in the ghetto. So I rested. He gave me food to eat, and he make me a bundle – a sack for all kind of produce. He made the sack in a half so one half was in the back of my shoulder and the other half was in the front of my shoulder. This midnight I became a big boy of 14 years old. Now I have a bigger challenge because I have to walk at night and I have to carry with me – it’s no matter how much was there, but for me a 14 year old boy who was for two or three years no food, no nutrition almost – but like I said the power to bring food for my parents… So I walked again over night, and now I have again the challenge to sneak into the ghetto.
Falconer: And all that food you’re carrying.
TAIBLUM: Of course the food I had to take off, first to sneak in myself, later to pull the [bundle]. But, thank God, I will say then and I will say now, I succeed and I was so happy that I have food for my parents, for my siblings and I came home. You can call this home. Of course was our home. And I found nobody. It looked like a robbery, everything torn down. Because they knew that a lot of Jews had gold with them. So they went looking – in the drawers, everywhere, like a robbery would be. What happened? Now I have the food, haven’t got the will to eat this. Still I left the food in this house of mine and I went out on the street looking for some information. The street was deserted. You didn’t see a live soul… but walking, walking, I met a very old man. I don’t know, I didn’t ask him how he is there or what because I said, “What happened?” He said, “The night…” And I told him, “I’m just coming from this town with food.” He said, “This night what you went, the SS rounded up the ghetto, took away 300,000 Jews, including all your family. All your family, your cousins. Everybody. About hundred people. Where? Nobody knows where.”
So what do you do now? 14 years old. No family, no parents, nobody left. Of course there were still some young people in hiding. I decided sneak out again and give the old man the food. He should get whatever he want. I sneak out again and run back to this farmer and I ask him for a job. He said, “I have a small farm, I don’t have a job for you. But I will try a friend of mine.” So he went to this friend and of course he didn’t tell him I am Jewish. He just said, “This boy is the son of a friend of mine, which lives in Warsaw.” And he gave me a job.
Falconer: Ah, another farmer.
TAIBLUM: Another farm. Working there about maybe a week or two, he was suspicious. I was sleeping in the, how you call the barn where they put the hay? The barn or hay barn? When you sleep in the fright that something can happen to you, you sleep as we said with one eye closed but the other eye open. One ear you may not hear but the other one [does]. Now, on hay to walk you cannot walk quiet that you shouldn’t hear. There’s no way. So I heard something already. I was laying, so I sit down and said, “What you looking here?” “Well I lost, I don’t remember what…” I say, “Here in the hay you lost?” “Oh yes, the last time when I brought the hay… because I used to have a horse wagon.” The barn has two doors: from one he came in and through the other he went out. OK. But my antenna start already to going up and I know what he was looking. The Polaks know that every Jew is circumcised.
Today any child that comes home from hospital is circumcised. But the Polaks they know they only circumcise is the Jews. He want to catch me sleeping to see if I am circumcised. This, as a 14-year-old boy, I right away come to saw through the doors (the doors were not solid, you could look through them; make from boards). I saw about a hundred feet from this barn he has his own house where he lives with his wife and children. When I saw that he went to his house and closed the door, I quietly open this door and [leave]. Because I know what’s waiting. If he didn’t got me today, he will get me tomorrow or next week. If he finds I’m Jew, he’s going to take me straight to SS because he going to get a few dollars for it, and I’m going to be dead because I escaped from the ghetto.
Falconer: Can I ask you something at this point? By this time because of your time and your family’s time in the ghetto, you must have seen many things in the ghetto. So you knew then that the Germans were killing Jews.
TAIBLUM: No, nobody knew. They used to take Jews as I say to work. Nobody knows that they killing Jews.
Falconer: While you were in that ghetto, you didn’t see any Germans killing anybody at that time? OK, all right. So you got out of this farmer’s place that night.
TAIBLUM: And I figured out I go to another small town.
Falconer: You’re just a young guy, a young kid, aren’t you?
TAIBLUM: Running from the dead. No direction. Wherever you go, you go. I wind up in this town that was about 20 miles from this town where this farmer I worked for him. Or this grocer – this farmer who was bringing grocery to us. I’m wandering a little because there the Germans were not, because its a small town. They didn’t think that some Jews is living. If they live, we take care of them later. Then I met this chef because he came to visit his sister; his sister was living in this town. So he met me and he said, “I know what happened to your family because I heard, and I will help you.” I didn’t ask how, nothing. He said, “Come with me.”
He took me to his sister and he said, “This boy is a son of a friend of mine, a long, long years friend, and he’s going to stay here until I come back.” He didn’t told her where he goes, what he’s going to do. Nothing. But in her behavior I saw, she was gritting her teeth because she couldn’t do nothing to me. Because she, “I see money here and I cannot grab them,” you understand? “Because my brother who is chief of police would kill me.” So he came back and he brought me this ID. He brought me this ID. His sister still didn’t know. He called me out and said, “Come, I’ll buy you something to eat.” He knows that his sister is not such a great giver. “I’ll buy you something to eat.” He hand me this birth certificate and he said, “Now you’re on your own.” Remember, I’m still 14 years old. Now where you go?
Going again. Now I feel a little more safe because I had papers to show. I went again and find a job by a farmer far away. Working by this farmer, the partisans blow up a bridge. You know what partisans are? They blow up a bridge. So the Germans came from the village and said… Later we found out this was not our village or any village around. We need, for example, they know that there’s 30 or 40 farmers living in this village. Everybody has to give a person to work to build the bridge. Well, if I was working for you, who are you going to send? Me, because you’re not going to go by yourself. You send me. So I went.
They said, “We take them in the morning and bring them back in the afternoon or evening.” Already prepared was a camp, called labor camp with electric and barbed wires. They figured out, I can imagine, it’s common sense today, why I have to take this pit bull and every day look for them if I can have them in my house. In the morning, just stand up outside to see if nobody is missing and go to work. This what I did. I never went back to this farmer. Never went back to this farmer.
Falconer: Oh, my God. Do you remember the name of the camp? Did it have a name?
TAIBLUM: Yes. Camp called Oleniec [he spells it – sounds like Olenyetz]. If you someday talk to [June?], she remembers good this name. Because she was the first one since I came to Portland because I supposed to get some compensation. She is from Austria, she speaks German, so was preparing all the papers for me. We had to write to the Germans, who am I, where I went, what I went through, and why I should get compensation. She knows exactly this name, this camp. OK.
Now in this camp… Out of this camp they had a coal mine. Little cars with a ton or two tons of coal on them going on tracks like a train and you have to push this from the bottom of the mine up. Being in this camp the food was so little and so bad that all the people used to lose their strength every day, day by day. Because I was still a young guy and others like me. So, if a person was pushing this little car and fell and we didn’t catch him right away to stand up, he was shot. Anyone, because if you’re not good to work…
Falconer: And you saw this happen?
TAIBLUM: Oh! How many times we run to pick up a person, an older man? He couldn’t even walk [choked up]. We were holding him; he just put his hand on the little wagon like he was pushing. There was guards. Not one time I saw, especially the young they called Hitlerjugend, the Hitler youth. If an older person was a guard, he was not bad. But the youngers, they were so brave from Hitler, that he could kill his own parents. The Fuhrer says, “We have to do.” So, I saw one time, more than once, where the Hitlerjugend was the guards and some person fall, they shot him straight.
Falconer: And these men, the guards are very young men, aren’t they?
TAIBLUM: Oh, mostly in their 20s.
Falconer: So they’re shooting because in this camp you were at this point a Pole, a Polak. You were with other Polaks, so they’re shooting Polaks, not Jews.
TAIBLUM: They were shooting Polaks. It was not Jews, no. The philosophy was, if a person cannot work, no use to keep him, no use to give him food.
Falconer: I never knew that. Wow.
TAIBLUM: I think a lot, not just you, a lot of people don’t know this. I tell you the truth. This is the first interview what I’m telling this, because in the other interviews you see here on this program, you will not see this. This is the only interview, which I’m telling you this story about this labor camp. Others, yes, they know about the ghetto, they know about me sneaking out of the ghetto.
Falconer: Was the guard’s attitude, did they harass you in other ways, or did they just want to get the work done?
TAIBLUM: They didn’t arrest you.
Falconer: If they fell down, then you were no good.
TAIBLUM: You work, you couldn’t talk, you couldn’t look around. You just have to stay work. If you work, you’re OK.
Falconer: How did they feed you? You said you were not getting enough food. When did you get food?
TAIBLUM: Oh they gave us food. They give us in the morning 200 grams bread; 455 grams is a pound. So 200 was less than an half a pound. You can imagine eight ounces. I think any roll has eight ounces. They give you this and a coffee, which was 90% water. For lunch, we didn’t have lunch because we didn’t come home for lunch. We was back there. So we ate when we came home, as we say. We supposed to get one kilo potatoes in the soup, but the guards sold the potatoes on the black market and for us, if you got in a bowl soup, you had to dive to find a potato. And then, which is true, every month came inspection from officers and they ask us how we are treated. It can be true they didn’t know. It can be true, I don’t know. But you think somebody had the guts to say?
Falconer: No. God, no.
TAIBLUM: No, because if you mention one word, they go away; you’re dead already. “Oh, the best of things. Oh, danke schön, danke schön.” I met another boy in this camp. We got friendly because I was 14 and he was 15; but I didn’t know he was Jewish and he didn’t know I was Jewish. God forbid to mention this. They had a Polish nun. I don’t know if she was also there as a slave or she was brought to work as a nun for the people. She felt very sorry for us because she saw two young boys.
One day she comes and she says, “If you would have the opportunity, would you like to go out from here?” You’re going to say yes? You don’t know who she is; maybe she’s a spy sent from the Germans. This what she has, the nun’s clothes on her, doesn’t mean nothing. We didn’t answer nothing, but she understood. She said, “I understand. You don’t trust me. I understand this.” She left. We were talking with this guy, what do you think, was she real? No she wasn’t. Well, a week passed and she comes again and asks the same question. “I promise you,” she said, “if you want to leave, I help you.” We still didn’t trust her because it’s enough to say yes and you’re dead. So she left.
About a week later she come again. This time I said like this; even I was younger, but I had more experience already. I said to my friend, “Listen, what we have to risk here, this way or the other way.” Also why I was so wise because a lot of people because of malnourishment, there was a typhus in the labor camp and people was dying every day, like flies. So, I said to him, “This way or this way we’re dead, so let’s risk.” Maybe she isn’t real. We decided yes, so she said, “This and this night supposed to be a very hot night. You won’t sleep in the barracks. They make barracks from aluminum sheets, so if it was 80 degrees outside, it was 120 degrees inside.
Falconer: Yes, I would wonder about that. Hold on. [tape ends momentarily]. Side 2 now.
TAIBLUM: We had decided that we will go. She said, “This and this night will be a very hot night. People will sleep outside.” Because they allow, because had wires around, electric and barbed wires. “This night I will come to you and I will help you to go out from here.” She brought electric wire cutter.
Falconer: Really? No kidding.
TAIBLUM: I remember it had red handles like this and she said, “You cut the one wire and then you have to crawl out. Don’t touch anything, nothing. Not barbed wire. No nothing.” Then I was this big, this fat. And she did; she brought this cutter wire and she cut and before she said, “If you get out from here, you don’t look even back. Just run through the fields, through the corn, the wheat.” No directions no nothing. “Just run.” This what we did. We were running at night.
Falconer: So this was late at night then you snuck to the wire?
TAIBLUM: Yes, and we were running.
Falconer: How did the Germans guard the camp at night? Did they have…?
TAIBLUM: They had reflectors.
Falconer: Ah, they did. They must have had some men patrolling?
TAIBLUM: No. No, they had only on the high, with reflectors, they were looking. But they couldn’t see someone who was crawling. Maybe he was sleeping, maybe he was looking on the other side. God knows, I don’t know.
Falconer: But you would have been shot had they seen you?
TAIBLUM: Oh, without question even. Without question. Because he had a machine gun on top. Not just a rifle, but a machine gun he had.
Falconer: Up until this point, did you know of anybody else who had tried to escape? [Manny shakes head]. No? Oh boy.
TAIBLUM: Well, I’m sorry, if we can go back a little? Yes. One older man escaped, I don’t know how. They got him, they took him in the middle of the camp and they start to hitting him so much, that from his shirt it came like macaroon. You can imagine. They had like what people used to use for the horses, I don’t know how you call this…
TAIBLUM: Yes. So there was two people, one from this side and one from this side. And they were like this, “Bom, bom; Bom, bom; Bom, bom [sing song].” Beginning he cried, screamed like they couldn’t say nothing. They let him fell and we saw that his shirt was like you make macaroon from it. This supposed to be a lesson, what you get if you run away or if you try to run away. Now, I am 99.9% sure that this man didn’t survive. Yes, this we saw. But again, I said, “What’s the difference.” If you’re going to stay there, you’re going to prolong just our misery. And we are going to die anyway. If not from typhus, if not from hunger, if not from this.
Somehow we going to die. So we decided to run. We run, we run, we run, we run, we run. Of course I cannot tell you where because there was no direction, no address. Oh yes, and they gave us special uniforms, striped uniforms, like the zebras. Exactly the same color, like the zebras. We’re running, running; then we see a little house. Of course, there was no electricity out of the cities, just kerosene lamps. We see through the window an old couple. No telephones there. What an old person can do to two young guys? We decided to knock on the window so they should see who we are. Of course, they recognize right away that we are run away from this camp, but they open the door. They took us in. They give us food. She give us some clothes from her husband to change and I ask him, “Could you point me the direction back to Warsaw?” He say, “Yes.” He pointed us the direction to Warsaw, but he says before we went, he says, “If you’re going to Warsaw, remember that the Jews…” how he got this, this old man the notice, the Jews were preparing an uprising.
Falconer: He knew this?
TAIBLUM: He knew this. They must to have an underground radio from the partisans or something. Because like this, if you’re going back to Warsaw… But he didn’t know that we were Jewish because he know that this camp is just Poles. But he said, “If you’re going back to Warsaw, remember that the Jews preparing a uprising.”
Falconer: Now this would have been about?
TAIBLUM: ’43 already. Beginning of ’43 and ’42; beginning of ’43 because the uprising start April 19, 1943. So it must be beginning of ‘43 because it took us at least a week or two to get there. How we survived? We go through the fields. We ripped out potato, carrot, cabbage. Like this we survived and we just go in this direction.
Falconer: So you just walked?
TAIBLUM: Just walked!
Falconer: I thought maybe you…
TAIBLUM: That we take a taxi [laughing], or go on the train?
Falconer: I guess it was different then wasn’t it?
TAIBLUM: It’s like going to the lion straight in his mind [laughing].
So, after he just say, “If you see this sun on this side, you know you’re going in good direction. Always watch the sun.” So it took us two to three weeks to get there. When we got to Warsaw and he said to me, “Being in this camp, I have a feeling that he is Jewish.” There is one word what a Jew can say to the other and if the other answers, this word, you know he’s Jewish. The word is “amchah.” Amchah mean “from your people.” If
I said to him “amchah” and he answered “amchah” I know he is Jewish, and I’m Jewish. Then we embraced.
So when we went this direction back to Warsaw… We came to Warsaw, he said, “I’m not going in the ghetto because I will try to get to the town from where I am to see if somebody is alive.” His family, because this was out of Warsaw a few hundred kilometers.
Falconer: Do you recall his name?
TAIBLUM: [Sighs] Matter fact since then I never see him. Never see him; I don’t remember his name. We’re talking about 60-something years.
Falconer: I know. Isn’t it fascinating to think that somewhere he is telling his side of the story? Interesting to think.
TAIBLUM: No, the fact that he didn’t know what happened to his family because he said, “I am going back.” Now how he in this camp is the same way that I got. I went to work for a farmer and the farmer send him [to work on that bridge]. But I knew that they took away all my family from the ghetto; his family wasn’t in the ghetto. Was in a little town where the Germans didn’t care about this town. If there is a few Jews we take care of them later. So he said, “I’m going to see if I can find somebody from my family.” We hugged, we kissed, we wished each other success, good luck. Never see him. Now I said, “I have to go to the ghetto because maybe somebody…” Because I was told they took away 300,000 Jews, but nobody knew that they going to take them to concentration camp or they going to kill them. I still figure out, maybe somebody was in hiding and came out, maybe this, maybe this…
Falconer: The only place you really had to go, isn’t it?
TAIBLUM: I had no other place to go. So again, the same challenge to sneak into the ghetto. Because we were outside the ghetto. I heard already, I saw movement, and I heard that they’re preparing an uprising. I went to the headquarters, as we say here, and I said, “I want to participate.”
Falconer: So you got in?
TAIBLUM: I got in, I had no choice.
Falconer: Do you recall how you pulled that off, how you got in?
TAIBLUM: The same thing, the same hole [laughs]. They look at me and say, “You? How old you are?” I say 14. “What you going to do?” I say, “Whatever you show me, I’m going to do.” I want to take vengeance for my family. That’s it, nothing more. So they took me in, show me a machine gun. Said, “This machine gun gives out 800 bullets in a minute. What you have to do is just pull this trigger. When you’re going to have this order, just pull this trigger and watch. Because you’re going to stay in the window like others will stay in the window. Just watch that no German should see you, even if he can see the machine gun, but if he don’t see you, he don’t know from where it’s coming.”
Falconer: So this machine gun must have been set up by a window someplace?
TAIBLUM: Yes. Not one. It was a main street in the ghetto and from both sides were buildings like here on the streets. In each window there was somebody with a machine gun. There was even a few younger than I was. There were guys 15 years, 14 years, and they said, “You’re going to stay and you’re going to hear the order ‘fire.’” General [Trope], he got the order from the Fuhrer to liquidate the ghetto. Liquidate the ghetto to mean that all the people, whatever is in the ghetto, take away. Just burn the ghetto to the ground. No witness, no nothing. General [Trope] walks into this ghetto on the main street. He was so proud and full of soldiers behind him. When he came already to the end of the street, then we had the order to fire. We start to shooting, right and left, like they told me, “Just shoot!” But in this confusion, they didn’t know what to do, they started throwing grenades…
Falconer: You did?
TAIBLUM: No, they, the Germans.
Falconer: The Germans started throwing grenades.
TAIBLUM: Whoever didn’t die yet or wasn’t killed they started throwing grenades right and left because they were confused and didn’t know from where was coming. But this German [Trope] put his hand on his head like this and said, “Oh, my God, juden schiesen; oh my God, the Jews are shooting.” He never expect, he never in his dream, that a Jew can shoot or that a Jew would put resistance against this all mighty Third Reich. So whoever was killed was killed and the rest they got out, back.
Falconer: Did the General get shot?
TAIBLUM: No, he didn’t got shot.
Falconer: Do you think you hit anybody? Your first time with a machine gun, right?
TAIBLUM: I’m sure I shot more than one because they was coming in the hundreds and three or four in the line. And we wait, the leader, they were waiting until they come to the end of the street. So then, because if we start just when they come in, then they have time to go back. But if they come to the end of the street, then… So the only ones who could go back was the last. Of course, not all of them what came were killed. When they got out, we knew that this is not the end, that that they will come with a greater force and they will try this time to do a better job. Because this time they are prepared that the Jews are shooting. Before, they never had in their mind that the Jews are shooting.
So we knew that they would come back with great force and they will demolish, they will finish everyone. The leaders had prepared already an exit to [Artinell] through a sewer. They said, “After this we have to go to the sewer and there the exit is out of the ghetto.” But seems to me, I’m sure, we had some spies in the ghetto because I don’t believe a Jew would do this. The first fighters who came to the exit and lift the plate, like here, [the manhole cover], the Germans was there with machine guns already.
Falconer: At the sewer. So you were betrayed?
TAIBLUM: Of course many, many of ours died and the rest of us had to go back in the sewer.
Falconer: So you were all trying to get to the sewer, the Germans were there, you were not hit.
TAIBLUM: No, because I was in the back still. I was in the back.
Falconer: But you saw this happen?
TAIBLUM: Yes, of course I saw. Because I was prepared to go out also.
Falconer: Your state of mind, at that point, after having shot at the Germans, you must have been in a hell of a state, I mean, you must have been very excited. Everybody must have been just…
TAIBLUM: Well, I was excited that at least whatever happened to my family, I took some vengeance. This was my only reason to go to this, to the uprising.
So we had to go back and then you couldn’t regroup again. Everybody was on his own; whoever survived, survived. Whoever not, not. I was hiding because there still was fighting after we left to the sewers, there still was fighters who was fighting there. But our group, whatever we were, 30, 40, or 50… but there was a few hundred who was fighting. I was hiding there and they put gas in the sewer. But because we was walking until here [indicates knees] in garbage, not everybody got killed from the gas. Many of us survived and then in the meantime, they burned I think half the buildings in the ghetto already, the Germans.
Falconer: At this point, you’re hiding in the ghetto?
TAIBLUM: Because the sewer was from the ghetto to out. If I had to go back, I had to come back to the ghetto again. But like I said, the ghetto was not 10 or 20 streets; it was kilometers quadrat. So I was hiding and again I decided I had to go to a farmer and look for a job. But going to some village I heard that not far from here there was a forest, and we were talking one to another, and they saw the group of partisans. I figured out to myself, if this is true, let me try. I went to the forest. I went to the forest maybe 500 feet, came out partisans, “Who are you?” “I run away from the ghetto and I’m looking for help and I want to take vengeance for my family.” They knew of course what happened because the machine guns what we had in the ghetto was from the partisans, what they give us.
Falconer: Oh, ok.
TAIBLUM: Otherwise, where could we make? Manufacture it in the ghetto? Machine guns? There was an underground traffic. What they brought they got from the Czechs, from the Russians. So they took me in and started trying me out to see if I’m not a spy, send us all kind of jobs to do, you know?
Falconer: So you became a member of the partisans, then?
TAIBLUM: I became a member of the partisans then. Yes.
Falconer: And how did you live. Where did you hide? Where did they hide?
TAIBLUM: The forest. The Germans didn’t have the guts to go in the forest because the forest was so close, dense. The trees, everything was so close. We was going at night to the villages for food. Of course I was given food because I was against the Nazis. The villagers was Polaks, Poles and they know we are Poles, the group partisans. They fighting against the Nazis. So we got food.
We were sleeping – many times we had what the soldiers had…canvas. And we used to go every day or every night to do some sabotage job. I know they had a radio, they had all the news. The radio called Radio Warszawa, the Warsaw Radio. This was for the underground people of Warsaw. They know everything what’s going on. About a month or two months (I later find out) before the war ended this radio stopped to functioning. So we don’t know if they discovered the Germans or what, because our radio didn’t. One time after I was already trying out and this and this… the Germans found a path in this… so they figured out let’s go with this path and we should find some partisans.
So this was a repetition, but this time I know already how to shoot. They put people on the trees, on both sides of the path and let the Germans go. How far more they can go in the forest where you fire. So we took people sitting in case one get killed, then the second takes over. When they came in, happened the same as happened in the ghetto, but here this was not buildings, this was trees. They know it’s coming from the top, so they started to shooting and throwing grenades. Fact is, this is what happened to me [shows hand].
Falconer: Oh, I didn’t notice that.
TAIBLUM: This finger, this hand because a piece of grenade hit me.
Falconer: You were in a tree?
TAIBLUM: In a tree! They was throwing grenades, right and left, because they didn’t know.
Falconer: They were trying to get them to explode in the air?
TAIBLUM: Yes, because they know here on the ground there’s nobody, so must be in the air.
Falconer: The German grenades used to have a handle on them, didn’t they? They used to call them “potato mashers.” They had a handle.
TAIBLUM: The minute they took out the handle and they throw, it explode. Its no matter in the air or whatever. So then what happened to me this [his hand], the other guy took over, but in the meantime, I find out that’s all his toes from his one right leg was cut off.
Falconer: So, now, you’re right handed, are you right handed? Otherwise you would have lost your trigger finger?
TAIBLUM: Yes, but after this the blood was running and the pain, I couldn’t [imitates pulling a trigger] anyway more, because you had to keep the… One was a trigger, but the second one you have to keep the machine gun because it was trembling. So many was killed, the rest left. This guy what was with me in the moment from excitement or fear, he didn’t felt that he’d been hurt, that he don’t have, that his toes cut off. Later he saw the blood, the same thing me. I didn’t feel that I lost a finger. If this would be in a place not in a war because I found the finger under the tree; it was black like this because the nerve works, you see. You could attach it back, but we had no medicine or nothing. One friend ripped off a piece of his shirt and we used to hold, the only thing what we got mostly what the people in the village were getting was, not ham, the other thing…how you call this, the buying in the supermarket… packages, ham, the Christians eat this a lot…
Falconer: Pork? Ham? Bacon?
TAIBLUM: Bacon! He took out a piece of bacon and he took the shirt and this was the medicine, everything.
Falconer: Medical care.
TAIBLUM: Medical care, that’s it.
Falconer: Oh, my god.
TAIBLUM: Well we continued another few weeks, but no radio anymore. One time since I was already a full member, they trust me, they say, “You and you and you, you three will go to the village for food.” We come to the village and they say to us, “What are you still doing here? The war has ended already. The war has ended already almost a week!”
Falconer: And you didn’t know?
TAIBLUM: How? How could we know for being in the forest?
Falconer: Oh, for crying out loud. So this was May of ’45?
TAIBLUM: Yes, this was May of ’45. No, this was January. Because there the war finish in January. The Russians came in January. Here maybe with the Japanese or whatever it was May.
Falconer: So January ’45, wow.
TAIBLUM: January ’45. Then I went back to Warsaw. Of course, Warsaw was liberated. There was a Jewish committee where all the survivors come there to sign their name and to look for their family.
Falconer: In Warsaw?
TAIBLUM: Yes. In Warsaw. The place called Praga (not Prague in Czechoslovakia) but a place called Praga. So I went there. There was thousands and thousands of names of survivors, but I didn’t find one name of a survivor from my family.
Falconer: Even for your extended family?
TAIBLUM: For 60 years I was searching. There was not a country where I know there is a Jewish population I shouldn’t write letters.
Falconer: You’ve been looking for this?
TAIBLUM: Couldn’t find. I’ve had people looking on the Internet already; many, many. Couldn’t find my name.