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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:                       HENRY POPOWSKI


DATE:                                  JULY 16, 1983

LOCATION:                          ATLANTA, GEORGIA

SPONSORED BY:                 Taylor Family Fund

CITATION:                            Henry Popowski, July 16, 1983, p. xx from the Herbert and Esther Taylor Oral History Collection, Cuba Family Archives for Southern Jewish History at the Breman Museum, Atlanta, Georgia.

Transcript (PDF)


Henry Popowski was one of eight children born to a religious family in Kaluszyn, Poland on February 15, 1912. After his bar mitzvah, Henry moved to Warsaw, Poland and became a joiner at a factory. In 1939, he was drafted into the Polish army as a reserve sergeant. When Poland fell to the Germans and Soviets, Henry returned to Warsaw. He was sent to the Warsaw ghetto, where life became very difficult. Henry was captured trying to escape to the “Aryan” side of the city after the Warsaw ghetto uprising in April 1943.

For the remainder of the war, Henry was in a series of concentration camps. After a quick stop in Majdanek-Lublin, he was sent to Krasnik, where he worked with a group of carpenters from Warsaw for just over a year. During that time, the Polish underground contacted Henry. Unfortunately, their plans to liberate the camp did not happen in time and the prisoners were evacuated from Krasnik. Henry was sent to Plaszow for a few days before being transferred to Mauthausen. He endured a brutal selection and was sent to work in the infamous rock quarry. A few weeks later, he was sent to Melk in Austria. He joined a work detail that travelled to a sawmill near Amstetten every day. An Allied bombing raid destroyed the sawmill but the prisoners and guards survived by running to the nearby forest for shelter. Henry was finally transferred to Ebensee. Henry became ill in Ebensee and was likely just days from death when American forces finally liberated the camp.

After liberation, Henry worked with an American field hospital. He travelled with the hospital from Linz, Austria to Landshut, Germany. There, Henry was reunited with two brothers, who soon emigrated to Palestine, and learned the rest of his family had been killed. In Landshut, Henry organized a Jewish community, married, and had a child. In 1949, Henry, his wife, and their infant son immigrated to the United States. They settled in Charleston, South Carolina and opened a furniture store. Two more children were born in the US. In 1955, they became US citizens. Henry passed away in 1994.

Scope of Interview:

Henry describes his family and early childhood in Kaluszyn, Poland. He talks about his work before the war and how he was recruited into the Polish army when the Germans invaded Poland. He describes life in the Warsaw ghetto, witnessing the ghetto uprising, his capture while escaping from a bunker, and the murder of other Jews caught hiding. He talks about his deportation to a series of concentration camps in Poland and Austria, including Majdanek-Lublin, Krasnik, Plaszow, Mauthausen, Melk, and Ebensee. He recalls brutal treatment in Mauthausen and working with the Polish underground while in Krasnik. Henry describes escaping from a bombing raid and becoming very ill in Austria at the end of the war. He recounts the disbelief and confusion within Ebensee when American troops finally liberated the camp. He describes how he came to work with an American field hospital and ended up as a leader of a Jewish community in Germany before immigrating to the United States in 1949. Henry considers his faith and how he has come to terms with the Holocaust. He discusses the creation and importance of the state of Israel. Finally, Henry explains his reluctance to share his story but his desire for future generations to learn from it.




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