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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:                       BRONIA POLIWODA MERLIN

INTERVIEWERS:               JOHN KENT

DATE:                                  JUNE 8, 2001

LOCATION:                         ATLANTA, GEORGIA

Transcript (PDF)

BIOGRAPHY:

Bronia Merlin was born Groneta Poliwoda in Sosnowiec, Poland on May 8, 1920. She had three sisters and one brother. At 16, she finished school and started working as a salesgirl in Katowice, Poland. When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, a ghetto was established and the Jews of Sosnowiec were conscripted into forced labor. Probably in March 1941, Bronia was sent from the ghetto to a labor camp in the area, where she made uniforms for the German army. In November 1943, Bronia was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. She was soon working in an ammunitions factory in one of the many sub-camps. In October 1944, she was sent to Freudenthal, in the present-day Czech Republic. She remained there until the Russians liberated the camp in May 1945.

Bronia briefly returned to Sosnowiec after the war and was reunited with a brother-in-law. Together they travelled to Germany, where they located his wife, Bronia’s younger sister. Bronia had learned of her parents’ deaths in Auschwitz-Birkenau. The other siblings also died during the war. Bronia spent the next few years in the Feldafing DP [displaced persons] camp. In Feldafing, she married a family friend, Alter (Arthur) Slomnicki, and had a daughter. In October 1949, the family immigrated to the United States.

Bronia’s sister and husband settled in New Jersey. Bronia, Arthur, and the baby settled in Jacksonville, Florida. The couple became citizens and had two more children in the United States. In 1966, Arthur died. Bronia remarried Ted Merlin in 1975. When his health began to decline in the early 1990’s, they moved to Atlanta, Georgia. In recent years, Bronia has become active in sharing her story of survival.

Scope of Interview:

Bronia recalls her family and early years in Poland. She recounts the fear and violence she experienced when the Germans occupied Poland in 1939. She describes being forcibly taken from the ghetto to a labor camp. Bronia describes being sent from the labor camp to Auschwitz-Birkenau, surviving selections, and working in an ammunition factory. As the Allies advanced, she recalls being sent to Freudenthal, where the Russians eventually liberated her. Bronia outlines the journey to search for her family, which took her back to Poland and then to Germany. She describes coming to America, raising a family, learning a new language, and acclimating to a different culture. Bronia concludes by acknowledging her struggle to cope with loss and the joy that her family brings her. 

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