Survivor STORY

Rubin Lansky, born Rywekz Zychlinski, grew up in Ozorkow, Poland. At 17, he was arrested and sent to work as a slave laborer in a series of camps and as a worker building the Autobahn. He was also interned in Buchenwald and at Stutthof. After five and a half years, while the Soviet Army was invading Czechoslovakia, where Rubin found himself at the end of the war, he was able to escape using false papers. After the war he found out that he was the sole survivor from his family.

Rubin met his future wife, Lola Borkowska, in a DP Camp in 1945. In 1947, Rubin was able to join her in New York. A few years later, in 1953, the couple decided to move to Atlanta, where they opened a small grocery store in East Point. Within a few years, Rubin began what would become a very successful career in real estate.

The Lanskys were very active in the Atlanta Jewish community and Holocaust Survivor community in Atlanta. They were involved in the founding of Eternal Life – Hemshech, Organization of Survivors and Future Generations; in effecting the creation of the Monument to the Six Million in Greenwood Cemetery, and in the development of the Holocaust Gallery at The Breman Museum.

In 1982, Rubin and Lola received the Israel Bonds New Life Award, presented to those who survived the horrors of the Holocaust and went on to distinguish themselves in community service.

Rubin died in 2005 at the age of 82.

Life and Survival in Europe

Over there, there was already Russian; the Russian said that he can’t let us in. He had orders not to let nobody in. So right away, the Czechs assembled over there, “Let them in! Let them recognize the bandits!” and all this. Right away, I see a Russian like a Jeep go by, and he hears, you know, people holler, screaming. He stopped and said, “What’s going on here?” They told him that they wanted to come in to see the SD [Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsführers-SS, the intelligence organization of the SS and the Nazi Party]. “And I have orders not to let nobody in.” He said, “No, let them in.” He was a bigger rank, you know, bigger rank. So we come in – I think it must be a school or a hospital. We saw they tried to give him some food; we throw it out. I say, “They don’t need no food; they deserve to die just like our brothers did.” So one Russian goes with us, with a revolver, and I come in. The SS over there, the big guys with the uniforms still on and everything. I said, “Gruss Gott.” Gruss Gott, in German, is hello, goodbye, you know, like “hi” or something. “Oh, Gruss Gott.” I say, “Ich bin a Jude, I’m a Jew.” “Oh,” he said, “Jew, my best friends were Jews.” He went to school with one and…I say, “Look, you know Jews don’t fight. Germans are good fighters, but instead of fighting, they kill for nothing. Now, you have your chance to show that Jews can fight. Only Germans can fight and conquer.” And they start, they didn’t know what to do, you know, the big guys with the uniform. Yesterday he was the master; he could kill, he could do anything. And now…We went on those guys with those pipes, and we meant to kill them. And I was strong and they were strong. I mean…So the Russians had to stop and say, “Stalin skazal, Stalin said, we can beat him up but don’t kill him. Because they tore up Russia, they have to build it back. In five, six years, he’s going to be dead. It’s too good. You kill him now, we’re going to bury him, and nothing happen.” We went to another one; I’d been over there about, I think, about two-and-a-half weeks. Every day we came to visit, they brought SD, SD – only SD in that place. I got tired of it, so I said, “Well, let me go.” I didn’t, I wouldn’t believe my father was not alive and my mother’s not, my brother’s, nobody’s alive. I came back to Ozorkow.

Atlanta

Did you and Lola get into that culture much?

No, you couldn’t get into it…With the American, you mean?

Yeah.

No, we were Greener [Greenhorns]. You know the Greener is, I mean, a dummy, I mean. They didn’t know what I went through. As a matter of fact, we lived here in Rock Spring [Rock Springs Road]. All the Jews lived in Rock Spring, you know. The one who had to pay the rent, in that time, was a hundred five dollars. A hundred five dollars was a lot of money. I had here my friends; they worked for twenty-five dollars a week. Here in Atlanta was no union, no nothing. But I had a doctor in my house, a Jewish guy – he’s still alive – and two other Jews. And I was the fourth Jew. So those three got together and they bought a little swimming pool, you know, for the children. Maybe it cost five dollars, ten dollars, I don’t know. So one came in and told me to take my son out, you know, because he don’t belong there. This was for Americans. Yeah, I still don’t talk to him. I see him and I see her, and that’s the way it is. And I didn’t blame him; he wanted to be with his own, you know. We didn’t speak English. Lola spoke already, she learned in Germany – she took lessons, you know. But I went to school a few nights, and there was a Jewish teacher and every time he started singing, “God Bless America.” He spoke some Yiddish, he was a bachelor. I said, “Can you tell me how I’m going to make a living from ‘God Bless America’? Every minute you start off with ‘God Bless America’.” He said, “You pay me?” I said, “No.” “Well, the government tells me to teach you how to sing ‘God Bless America’.” I said, “The heck with him.”

Making a Living

In beginning, I say, “How I going to make that? But when I came here, I had a grocery. You got to stay twelve hours, Saturday till ten o’clock. And Sunday, Lola picked me up; we went to the beach for a few hours – two o’clock, she picked me up. But everybody had a grocery, so if everybody had a grocery, it’s not so bad, so you’re going to have one, too. I been eighteen years in the grocery. But getting rich in the grocery, no way, nah. You can make another few dollars, but…So I start, we had some tenants in Ozorkow. I knew a little about it, and I wanted to go into real estate. So in East Point over there was a bank, Hapeville, in Hapeville, not far from East Point. And the building we’d been in, there was a barber and a beauty parlor and a washitarium. No air condition, plain, you know, plain building; it was about, maybe, five years old, maybe a little more. So I told the girls over there, “I want to see the president.” They said, “What do you want us to do with the president?” I said, “Well, he owns a building that I rent, and I want to buy it.” [phone rings] Oy, gevalt [Yiddish phrase loosely translated as ‘oh good grief’] . So she asked me the name, and I told her my name, gave her the telephone. It took about a week, maybe a little more, and I got an appointment. I came in and I told him, “You’re my landlord. I live and I got a grocery in your building.” “Yeah, what can I do for you?” I said, “I want to buy the building.” He said, “Do you have enough money?” I said, “No, I don’t have enough money, but I’m going to give you a down payment. If I don’t pay, you take it back and you’re going to have my money and you’re going to have the building.” He said, “Oh, so you know how it works.” I said, “Yeah, I mean it’s just like anything else. You pay it off, it’s yours. You don’t pay it off, you take it back.” He said, “You know, I’m going to give you a loan. Just let’s talk later on about a price.” [He] said, “I worked in a bank in Chicago, and I have people coming from East Europe, and they got loans. And I didn’t lose one penny. If they couldn’t make it till seven o’clock, six o’clock, they made it ten o’clock. If this was not enough, they took the grandma to help, you know. There’s no question that you come from the right place, that people like you have a good name, and this is more than anything.” Then we started bargaining so much. Anyway, I bought it.

Rubin Lansky