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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMORIST:            JOSEF WIND

INTERVIEWER:       ERNA DZIEWINSKI MARTINO

DATE:                      NOVEMBER 10, 1989

LOCATION:              ATLANTA, GEORGIA

Transcript (PDF)

BIOGRAPHY:

Josef Wind was born in 1912 in Lvov, Poland. He was the fourth of five sons born to Cila and Mikhael Wind. Josef’s father died in a Russian prisoner of war camp during World War I. Josef’s mother encouraged him to observe religious traditions, but was not overly devout. Josef attended public school and was one of only a handful of Jewish students accepted into a technical school, where he excelled in mathematics and studied electro mechanics. Because anti-Jewish quotas prevented Jews from attending Polish universities, Josef began working at a Jewish-owned printing shop after completing technical school. Sometime during the 1930’s, two of Josef’s older brothers left Poland for Palestine but Josef chose to remain.

In 1939, the Soviet army invaded Poland and occupied the area around Lvov. During that time, Josef worked for the Russians. Then in 1941, with the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Germans occupied Lvov. Josef was severely beaten, forced to bury the bodies of prisoners murdered by the fleeing Soviets, and used as a slave laborer. He was then forced to move into the Lvov ghetto. Josef’s mother, younger brother, and one of his older brothers and his wife and children were all killed during the war.

Josef managed to escape from a train taking Jews from Lvov to the Belzec extermination camp and return to the ghetto, but was soon sent to the Janowska labor camp. In Janowska, Josef again tried to escape but was forced to work for the Sonderkommando 1005. For over a year, he was part of the special unit that removed and burned thousands of bodies from a nearby ravine and from other mass graves in the area. In November 1943, Josef and others from the unit escaped. Josef was recaptured and ended up in another concentration camp. After narrowly escaping execution again, he was put to work using his electrical and engineering skills. As the Russians advanced in July 1944, the Germans began to evacuate the camp. Suspecting the Jewish prisoners would be killed, Josef again escaped. For a week, Josef hid in the woods. Once the Soviets had liberated the area, he returned to the city.   

Josef spent the next year working in a warehouse in Lvov for the occupying Soviets, sharing living quarters with other survivors who had returned. He then moved to Breslau (Wrocław), Poland and married Bronia Mendel, another survivor from Lvov. As antisemitic violence surged across Poland, Josef, Bronia and others fled to Austria. Josef first lived in a DP camp in Linz, Austria before settling into a DP camp in Salzburg, Austria. Josef spent the next four years as a teacher and the Director of the Salzburg ORT School.

It took two years for Josef to reconnect with his two older brothers who had fled Poland before the war. After a visit to see his brothers in what was by then Israel, Josef, Bronia, and their young son immigrated to the United States in December 1951 and settled in Atlanta, Georgia. A second son was born in Atlanta. One of Josef’s brothers later immigrated to the United States as well. Josef died in 1994.

Scope of Interview:

Josef introduces his family and explains his educational and religious background. Josef recounts the abuse he endured from the Germans and their Ukrainian auxiliaries after World War II began. He outlines how he was taken for slave labor before being sent to the Lvov ghetto, where his family and friends all perished. Josef details the mass murders he witnessed in the Janowska labor camp as part of a special unit known as the Sonderkommando 1005. He describes how his unit was forced to remove and burn thousands of bodies from a nearby ravine and from other mass graves in the area. He shares how he escaped multiple times before always being recaptured and once only narrowly escaping execution. Josef shares how he was working as an electrician in a concentration camp at the end of the war. When the camp was evacuated, he recalls how he escaped and hid in the woods until the Russians liberated the area. Josef describes the antisemitism he encountered in Poland after the war, which prompted him to flee to Austria. Josef recounts marrying another survivor, living in DP camps, and working in an ORT school. He explains why he then chose to immigrate to the United States after reconnecting with and visiting two surviving his brothers in Israel. Josef explains how he has tried to come to terms with Polish antisemitism and share his experiences with his children.   

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