Survivor STORY

Abraham Solomon Kozerow, Adek in Polish and now Eddie King in America, was born in Wolomin, a small town outside of Warsaw in 1931. His mother, Mary, was an American – she was born on Hester Street. She met Simon, Eddie’s father in Europe – her parents were hat designers and traveled regularly to Europe.

Eddie was not allowed to go to regular school – he went to heder (a traditional Jewish elementary school) and remembers pogroms, vicious attacks, against the Jewish community every year on Passover. Eddie’s family lived in Warsaw, but had returned to Wolomin to visit his grandparents on the September 1939 day that the Germans invaded. His father and uncles left to try to get to Russia. When the Germans entered Wolomin, the first thing they did was to confiscate the radios house-to-house. Eddie’s grandmother went to get the radio, but walked too slowly and the Nazi officer shot her to death.

Eddie, his mother and brother were forced to move into the Warsaw Ghetto, living in horrific conditions. Eddie, who says he had no fear in him at the time, escaped from the ghetto at night through a small hole in the wall to steal food for his family. He would have been shot had he been caught.

Eddie’s mother tried to see somebody in charge, saying she was an American citizen (America was not at war at that time), and the family was miraculously allowed to leave, arriving at the border city of Bialystok, which was teeming with refugees. Finally, the Russians opened the border to allow the refugees to cross through, and the Kozorows made their way to Moscow and to the American Embassy. Eddie’s mother was arrested leaving the Embassy; Eddie and his younger brother, Jerry, were left to fend for themselves for several weeks until they too were picked up, to be sent to Siberia. As they were waiting to be loaded onto the trains, Eddie heard someone yelling, “Adek! Avrom!” It was his mother, a few cars down, but the door had already been closed. A Russian soldier stepped in to open the latch and push the children into their mother’s car.

Two weeks later, the train arrived at a gulag (a labor camp) in Siberia, where Eddie’s mother worked in a coal mine in the winter and cut trees in the summer. Eddie and his brother went to school to be indoctrinated in Communism and then to work in the afternoons. Eddie continued to escape to try to find food for his starving family; he was caught twice, and the second time a hot poker was jammed into his thigh.

In 1941, a Japanese diplomat visited the camp and arranged for a certain number of Jews to be brought to Japan, including Eddie and his brother, Jerry – but not their mother. Eddie and Jerry were taken to Kobi and then to Yokahama. Eddie told everyone who would listen that his mother was American and that he had an aunt in New York named Jean Hassmann. The boys were put on a ship to Seattle, Washington, and then sent by train to New York. Eddie later found out that his aunt had contacted a congressman from Brooklyn, who had somehow tracked them down and arranged for their travel.

In New York, Eddie and Jerry stayed with their aunt. After school, Eddie sold goods he bought on the Lower East Side door-to-door in his neighborhood to make extra money to help support his brother and aunt. Contact was made with Eddie’s mother through HIAS (the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) and she joined them in America. Seven years later, they got a call from HIAS saying that they found a Simon Kozerow in Frankfurt, Germany, and the family was soon reunited.

As an adult, Eddie naturally found his way into sales. After retiring at age 70, Eddie began a whole new career painting discarded liquor bottles, which are incredibly popular at art fairs and street fairs all over the metro area.

From a Child's Perspective

We found her, she found us through an organization called HIAS [Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society]. Like the Jewish Red Cross, I guess. She came to America and the three of us were together, the four of us were together, my aunt, my brother, me and her.

Do you remember what the reconciliation [with your mother] was like when you finally saw her again?

I wasn’t very emotional. You sort of, you lose your, I guess you lose your emotions. Everything was black and white. As I said, I worked, I did this, I did almost the same things I did in Europe during the war. I hustled. I guess that’s the only thing I knew how to do. Protect the family or something. I don’t know, it wasn’t, I don’t remember what happened when we met her. I really don’t. And when she came here, she went to work right away in a sweater factory, by piecework. She worked like ‘til midnight every night from six o’clock in the morning. Never saw her. So yeah, I took care of my brother and me. If Jean was around I helped her out, ‘cause she was always trying to find work as an actress, you know. It wasn’t always that plentiful. The Jewish stage was a small thing on 2nd Avenue.

So, did you get any parenting yourself after about the age of like eight?

No, I was the parent. I really never got any parenting, and maybe that explains my life, my adult life, which was a mess sometimes. I don’t want to go into it too much. It was a mess. I didn’t know how to be a child, I guess. Never played ball. Parenting, no, no. I never heard my mother say, “Don’t do this,” or “Go to Hebrew school,” or “Do this,” or “You got to do this.” I just did things, okay? The only thing she did with me, on Sundays, she would help me sell some stuff on Delancey Street. She’d look out for the cops, so I shouldn’t get a ticket, ‘cause I had no license. Otherwise, she would work at the sweater factory.

Separation of and Finding Family

My father never talked much. He never wanted to talk about anything. When I say quiet, even raising us, he didn’t discipline. There was no, I can’t explain it; he was a quiet little man. He was shrunk to nothing, and he never gained that weight back. He was always very thin and small. I have pictures of him. And, so, I sort of took care of him too in a way. There was no, I don’t think there was any relationship there, except I knew he was my father. But, the last time I saw him I was eight years old, and now I was like fourteen, fifteen, or sixteen. So I didn’t know him.

Racism and Race Relations

And when I came south, I worked for this company, and I traveled to Albany, Georgia, and places like that and I used to see black people walking off the sidewalk when you were walking. They would step off the sidewalk. I said, “This got to be crazy; it’s just like the Jews in Poland.” A Jew had to step off the sidewalk if a German was coming or a Pole was coming. Step off the sidewalk. Or else you were shot or beaten. I said, “My God, this is like Poland.” That’s what rang in my head. I said, “God almighty, this is just like Poland! A black man is walking, you have to, he has to step off the sidewalk for you to walk by, like you’re better than he is.”

Eddie King