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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:                      HERMAN DZIEWINSKI

INTERVIEWER:                 UNKNOWN

LOCATION:                        ATLANTA, GEORGIA

DATE:                                 c. 1986

Transcript (PDF)

BIOGRAPHY

Herman Dziewinski was one of nine children born to a Jewish family in Proszowice, Poland. His father was a livestock trader. As a teen, Herman began working as a butcher in nearby Krakow, Poland.

When the Germans and Soviets invaded Poland in September 1939, Herman fled west. Eventually he returned home, where he immediately witnessed anti-Jewish violence and restrictions. Herman was soon sent with his family was sent to a transit camp in Slomniki, Poland. His parents were immediately killed, while the siblings and their families were transported to other camps and ghettos.

Herman lived in the Krakow ghetto and worked on the construction of what was originally the Plaszow labor camp. He was later transferred into what became the Plaszow concentration camp, where he worked in the kitchens, butcher shop, and stables. As the Soviets advanced in late 1944, Plaszow was evacuated. Herman was sent to help evacuate a labor camp in Czestochowa, Poland. A few days into January 1945, the Russian army liberated Czestochowa.

Herman made his way back to Krakow and was soon reunited with two of his brothers and their wives. In Krakow, Herman was also reunited with and married Maria Geitler, a young woman from Krakow whom he had met in Plaszow. Herman, Maria, his two brothers and their wives soon decided to flee anti-Jewish violence in Soviet-occupied Poland. They crossed Czechoslovakia into American-occupied Germany. They settled in Wurrmansquick near the Eggenfelden Displaced Persons camp. Herman and Maria soon welcomed their first child.

In 1949, Herman, Maria and their daughter immigrated to the United States. With the assistance of Jewish organizations, lodging was found for the family in Atlanta, Georgia. In Atlanta, Herman soon went to work at a grocery store. Within two years, he and Maria had saved enough to purchase their own grocery store. Two more daughters were born in Atlanta and the young family soon bought a house. Maria continued to work alongside Herman in the grocery store. Within a few years, Herman’s brothers and their families had also joined them.

Scope of Interview:

Herman talks about his family, growing up in Proszowice, Poland and working in Krakow as a butcher before the war. He traces his escape into Soviet territory before returning to his hometown and Krakow when World War II broke out. Herman recounts how his family was sent from their home in Proszowice to a nearby town called Slomniki, where his parents were murdered and the rest of the family was transported to other camps and ghettos. He discusses what life was like in the Krakow ghetto and early days of the Plaszow labor camp. Herman talks about his different jobs in a kitchen, butcher shop, a stable, and going out on construction details. He describes the working and living conditions in Plaszow as well as the various punishments, selections and liquidations he witnessed. Herman recalls being injured in the camp. He describes the liquidation of the Plaszow concentration camp and Czestochowa labor camp. Herman recounts his liberation as the Soviets entered Czestochowa. He recalls the anti-Jewish measures the Germans enforced in the early days of the occupation. Herman describes the processes new arrivals in Plaszow endured and what it took to survive the camp. He explains how he returned to Krakow after the war and was reunited with his brothers and other family members. Herman remembers the better treatment the Commandant’s dog received over the prisoners and his inability to help more prisoners, including his brother’s family. He shares one incident of resistance and an example of religious beliefs that were tolerated. Herman describes his journey form Soviet-occupied Poland into American-occupied Germany. He reflects on his early days in the United States. Herman details what he encountered when he returned to his hometown at the end of the war. He shares another incident of resistance he observed in the camp. Herman finishes by reflecting on the ruthlessness of some of the German soldiers and guards as well as the unawareness of others.

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