Wojciechowski, Marian Interview, 2009 June 16. OH-02007. [Transcript.] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.
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An Interview with Marian Wojciechowski An Oral History Conducted by Claytee D. White The Boyer Early Las Vegas Oral History Project Oral History Research Center at UNLV University Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas ©The Boyer Early Las Vegas Oral History Project University of Nevada Las Vegas, 2007 Produced by: The Oral History Research Center at UNLV - University Libraries Director: Claytee D. White Editors: B arbara Tabach Transcribers: Kristin Hicks Interviewers and Project Assistants: Barbara Tabach and Claytee D. White The recorded interview and transcript have been made possible through the generosity of Dr. Harold Boyer. The Oral History Research Center enables students and staff to work together with community members to generate this selection of first-person narratives. The participants in this project thank the university for the support given that allowed an idea the opportunity to flourish. The transcript received minimal editing that includes the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader's understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. In several cases photographic sources accompany the individual interviews. The following interview is part of a series of interviews conducted under the auspices of the Boyer Early Las Vegas Oral History Project. Claytee D. White, Project Director Director, Oral History Research Center University Libraries University Nevada, Las Vegas • • • 111 Preface At age 95, Marian Wojciechowski recalls his personal story of being born a region called called Poland in 1914, just as World War I was beginning. This narrative gives special attention to his Polish background at a time when the country did not technically exist, and their language was forbidden. By the late 1930s and the dawning of World War II, Marian is a young man struggling to understand what is transpiring, but knowing that he must participate in the Polish underground resistance against the Germans His activism gets him arrested and sentenced to Auschwitz as a non-Jew and without penalty of death. He recalls the Gestapo beatings which have left him without feeling in his fingers and a loss of hearing. He shares historical perspectives of the war era, agricultural coops, goal of Germans to sell Jews to the United States and other countries, and a story about a woman who helped save 2500 Jewish children during war. iv Table of Contents Session 1: Marian Wojciechowski starts with his early years in Russia controlled Poland, where he was born in 1914 at the beginning of World War I. Talks about school children not being allowed to speak Polish, only Russian or German. Farm life, father trained horses among other things. Tells about schooling of siblings being affected by Great Depression; he and his younger brother attend school; younger brother becomes a priest and moves to US in 1963. Describes "coop movement"; going to university and then in military service in 1937. History of Poland; invasion of Poland by Germany 1-13 Session 2: Begins with Polish surrender to Germans; earlier start of the underground movement. Explains that Auschwitz started for Polish people, prior to targeting of the Jews. Tells how Hitler wanted to sell the Jews to other countries such as England, Italy and United States. German spies turned in non-Jewish people to be sent to Auschwitz; people who gave water or helped the Jews, etc. Talks more about Polish underground resistance. Tells story of Jewish infant who was saved and raised by Catholics, became a priest 14-18 Photos from Mr. Wojciechowski's collection Story of woman who helped save 2500 Jewish children during war. Story of what leads to his arrest, being part of the underground, moves often. Takes train to Warsaw and eventual arrest. Describes being beaten by Gestapo; being spared a death sentence. Explains that he spent three years in Auschwitz, where got very ill; where bribe money comes from. He has lost hearing and feeling in his fingers due to the beatings 19-28 Session 2: Talks about last name, shortening for Army to Ian Wojmar; how he came to be in US Army after release from concentration camp. Gives some historical background of Auschwitz camp for Poles, later the Jews; American denial of the camp and refhsal to "pay" for Jews to leave; more about the agricultural coops. Talks more about his arrest; city of Radon 29-46 Appendix: Manuscript of a lecture he presented in 1988 to the Polish Discussion Club, Troy, Michigan v ORAL HISTORY RESEARCH CENTER AT UNLV Boyer Early Las Vegas Oral History Project Use Agreement Name of Narrator: Name of Interviewer: Il/j/f / 7~£A VVc, tlie above named, give, tcvfhe /)ral History Research Center of UNLV, the recorded intervicvv(s) initiated on w f/^ as an unrestricted gilt, to be used for such scholarly and educational purpcKcs as shall be determined, and transfer to the I University of Nevada I^as Vegas, legal title and all literary property rights including copyright. This gift does not preclude the right of the interviewer, as a representative of UNLV, to use the recordings and related materials for scholarly pursuits. There will be no compensation for any interview^ Signature of Narrator Library Special Collections 4505 Maryland Parkway, Box 457010, Las Vegas, Nevada 89154-7070 (702) 895-2222 Signature of Interviewer 1 Good morning. This is Claytee White. It is June 16th, 2009. We're in the reading room in Lied Library at UNLV. So how are you this morning? Thank you very much. Just fine. Good. And would you please give me your full name. My name is Marian Wojciechowski. Now, there are parts of my life where I was using other names, especially during the war. For instance, I didn't want to, you know, use my real name so my family would not be eventually persecuted. So then I used at that time other name, which later on again legally I corrected that to Wojciechowski again. Would you spell your last name for me? Yes. W-O-J-C-I-E-C-H-O-W-S-K-I, Wojciechowski. Wojciechowski. It's close. Yes, close. But I'm going to call you Marian. Yes. Yes. Okay. Very good. I know that you're 95. So tell me a little about your early childhood, where you were born, what that place was like. I was born in Poland in the area, so-called historical area of Poland, it's Polaneic. It was known at that time because in at 18th Century over in there in Polaneic was one of the Polish-American heroes. He was later on in Poland to fight, you know, with the Russians at that time because they thought that the Russians were the worst enemies of Poland. And they divided Poland between Russia, Austria and Prussia. So actually over 123 years Poland was not on the map of Europe as a country. Yes. It was divided completely, you know. I was born in 1914. So at that time, you know, the First World War started. Yes, 1914. But before that... my older brothers, sisters, were not allowed to speak in school in Polish, just in Russian or in German. That means Prussia and Austria—they spoke only in German and in Russia we spoke in Russian.. .Austria was more, I would say, willing to give more freedom to the people to learn foreign languages and so on. However, in Russia it was not allowed. So then if, for instance, they caught someone, then they took them either to Siberia in 1 Russia or they took them to the area where there were no Poles to speak Polish to. So in Russia I would say people transferred from one part of the country to the other parts. For instance, right now there are some in Austria, some still Polish names. And the people that are descendants from those, they were at that time before 1914, you know, they can four different things. They would say, okay, you should not do that. And they did that not only with the Poles. They did that also with Turks. They did that also with Germans. So they were taken in Russia and put them far away so that they will not be connected. But anyway, in '14 — the war started in '18 — Poland was started to be an independent country. So at that time, I was not yet bom. But my older sister, for instance, told me that for her to have the books in Polish to leam Polish — she was under the Russian part taken of the country. So at that time to get the books they had to swim in their kayaks, in small boats to the Vistula — Vistula, or the river, the main river of Poland, Vistula. On the other side, on the Austrian side to get the books back. But if these books will be found in our house, then my father would be taken, you know, at that time either to Siberia.. .or somewhere in Austria. So then it was up to grade school. The grade school. But Russians they say the more stupid the people are the easier it is to run them, you see. So what that means — they did not allow to leam any other languages except Russian. So that's at that time they brought the books in. The older sister, for instance, and the younger one, they leam Polish from the Polish book at that time. Now, at that time after 1918, then it was okay because it was independent in Poland. So independence itself, it is ~ they started fighting. Part of the Polish were fighting, you know, on the German side. That means Prussia and Austria. They were fighting against Russia in First World War. So what it was at that time that, you know, the brothers were sometimes fighting against (each other); Poles against Poles. The only thing is these Poles were from this part of Poland and these Poles were from the other part of Poland. So it was really, really -- but even from United States at that time that were here, the people, mostly those that came later to United States, then they went to our Polish Army here. The Polish Army was at that time built and they were all made around here. Pittsburgh where most Polish people were. But at that time they wanted to go to Europe, to Poland, and fight for Poland. And there was, I would say, a place where—Niagara Falls and Buffalo, in the area over there—they make the camp to fight. From over there they went to France and they were fighting Germans in France. And then from France they went to Poland and they were fighting in Poland against Russians, against Germans and Prussians. Who trained them, the ones who were in the Niagara Falls area? How were they trained? They were trained over there. There was the camp over there to train the people. Before they were sent to France, they were starting training here. They were trained by the United States or by — They were trained partially I would say by United States, but mostly by the people that were — I would say they had to escape from those parts of the country over there because they came to United States. That's why they were — you know, they had their own also people trained in Russia, for instance, and they were training here. So what that means: at that time the army, Polish Army, they spoke three languages actually. Some of them spoke, you know, officers and high officers, (spoke) Russian because they went to Russia, to the army to have the job, to do something. Then the other ones were speaking mostly German because they were bom over there. And since it was not allowed to speak Polish, they spoke German. And they spoke German only with people ~ yes, the German.. .So it was very difficult at that time — Yes. To talk to each other. Yes. To understand each other, yes. But still (General Holler) was actually from, you know, over there, sent with this unit later on by United States and Canada. They were sent to France. They were fighting in France. And then from France they went to Poland. The same it was with the weapon. They had, for instance, Karabiners that, you know, weapon, which was sometimes different weapon in Germany, different in Russia, different in Germany, different in Austria. And then, you know, to see that one fits the other, it was a problem. Yes. So they started at that time buying the weapon. But what it is again, you know, because communism started and so on. They already said.. .they wanted to bring from France their weapons to Poland to fight I would say for Poland. However, what it was that some of the neighbor countries did not allow (them) to go through their country because they didn't want to be against Russia or against Austria. So this way, you know, 3 was really problem. But anyway, at that time (Persuski) ~ they were again ~ people, they were I would say in charge. They were civil, hourly people or there were military people, you see. So they didn't have enough. For instance, some of them spoke for Russia and wanted to go with Russia against Austria and Prussia. Now, some, those belong over there to Prussia and Austria, they wanted to fight the other ones, you know. But (Persuski), he was in the underground. They called that PPS. That is Polish social part of the system like socialistic, you know, not communist, but socialistic. So socialist state. He was in Russia. He was taken over there to Russia. And he escape from Russia through Japan, you know, all around, and came to Poland again, you know, to fight. Yeha. But he says, okay, to fight. He thought that the worse is Russia. So he was with the Germans and with the Austrians fighting Russians then. For instance, (Demoski), who was in Russia and was I would say speaking for Russia, he wanted to have Poland fight but not Russia. But he wanted to fight Germans. So, again, you know ~ so then they wanted to have (Persuski) ~ the Germans wanted to have (Persuski) to swear that they will be truthful and fighting only for Prussia and Austria. Then (Persuski) didn't want. He says, you know, I am not swearing that I will fight them only because I am for Poland. So at that time he was - (Persuski) with the help of this I would say socialistic help, he was trying to fight. So at that time they arrested (Persuski) because he didn't want to swear allegiance to Austria. And they put him in Germany in (Bagdabood). He was I would say (Koslo) over there. He was there up to '18. Germany, you know, abdicated in the First World War. Then they released (Persuski). He came to Warsaw. And since he was in charge of the army, he was at the same time in charge of all armies from Russia, from Austria and from that, and he was in charge of Poland. And they spoke on this subject. And they say, okay, he was socialistic. But he was socialist as long as Poland was in I would say not independent. At that time I think Poland started to be independent he says he was socialist up to I would say stopped to be socialistic at the time they say in the history stop history on Poland independent. Now, tell me what it was like for you growing up. What are your earliest memories, 1918-1919? At that time I was, my parents were, I would say, at that time it was no much work over there and they were in this small town at that time, (Pewaunyitz). In the beginning it was, oh, a few hundred people. Later on was up to a thousand people. Later on after maximum 3,000 people. So what did your parents do for a living? They were cultivating the grounds. So farmers, like farmers. The only thing is my father tried to do many other things. For instance, oh, he tried to, let's say, to have the horses. And the horses — took the little ones to grow up. And then he trained them as horses to ~ English, for instance, race and took them. Later on after they grew up and they were, for instance, one, two years old, then sold them. And they were purchased at that time by I would say landowners to have the nice horses for they own. So then, for instance, the priests were buying, you know, because priests also drove the horses to go to the other church or to the sick people. So they wanted to have the good horses. So that was one thing. Besides that, for instance, they have like geese and have 50 geese or a hundred geese or so. And they at that time in the fall they were selling them. And the same with selling eggs, selling (dod). So this way that was not only living only from the farm, but farm was one of that. But we had the horses. We had cows. We had over there. So it was good. Did you learn to ride horses? Could you ride horses as a little boy? My father, you know, was « now, I was not buying horses later on. You see, I finished grade school over there. And then it was to go to the high school. High school was like here we would say - high school here the same. The only thing it was so that the closest one was about, let's say, 15, 20 kilometers from my place where I was bom. Now, but at that time to go this 20 kilometers or 15 kilometers somewhere, it was to go to drive the horses. But drive the horses, the roads were very poor. So sand in the summertime. And in the fall after rain it was very often ~ how you call? Clay or muddy. Washed out. Yes, clay. So driving through the clay or through the sand, you know. So this 20 kilometers, it took, let's say, four or five hours at that time because the roads were not good. And my father went to send me to school, high school at that time. And for that first year he sold some - I don't remember - picks or something like that and paid for tuition and, of course, oh, every two weeks, every three weeks or four weeks brought to me food. So you lived where the high school was located? Yes. I used to live with — it was a special lady who had, you know, three, four, five students like me. And, you know, she cooked for us and she ate from that herself. So I was in that. But later on came the Great Depression. Now, did your sisters go to school also? My older brother. Sisters were already married. And my older brother, he was in the school also. But he didn't finish the school because it came — how you call it? ~ the Depression and there was no money enough to pay for that. Everything what they had to sell was very cheap. And if they wanted to buy commercial stuff, something like — whatever, you know, where they needed in the farm, it was very expensive. So this way my brother stopped and he went to work for the community. That means like a secretary, not the main secretary. But he was assistant secretary, my brother then at that time. Then me and my younger brother, he went also to I would say school, to grade school — not grade school, but high school with me together one year lower, you know. And he studied good and music play and so. At the time it was so that the school was — the whole high school was transferred from one city to the other because they build new building, new building for high school but in the other city. So they went over there. And so I went over there. And at that time I transferred to the other city over there for high school. My brother says I don't want to go to high school over there; I want to be a priest. And he had studied and he was the priest and he was - spoke foreign languages and he had, of course, doctorate, Ph.D. degree in divine or church and also philosophy. At that time after the war, he came to United States. And he was here in United States, oh, first in Canada and then in United States, here in Toledo over there. Then he went to Middle America and South America. When did he leave? When did he first come here? 1963 he came here. And at that time after being six months here he spoke already in church in English. Wonderful. Now, I want you to go back again. When you finished high school — Yes, I finish high school. Then I say, okay, what to do later on? In the high school I could finish because what I did --1 didn't have other -- my father could not help me anymore. So what I did I 6 tutored. I was teaching the students that were maybe not smart enough, but the parents had money to pay for high school and for me. And this is back in your hometown? No. That was already in the high school. Okay. So in the same city as the high school. That was in the same city, Yes, high school. First I started over there. It was so-called (Stopgeetsa). That was the place where I was in the high school. Then later on the high school was transferred to (Bushcosstrewy). (Bushcosstrewy) was the resort place, you know. Resort. Resort, uh-huh. So now, is that the place where you became a tutor? No. I finish over there high school. The first year we move over there I finish high school. Then I say okay to go later on. So my friends say, okay, go to Warsaw and go to the school. The school was Warsaw School of Economics, a university and I went over there. At that time I also worked first as a tutor for about six months or so. And then they needed, you know, help later on in this ~ Cooperative. — coop movement. They needed the coop movement, new people to train them and to have them later on start working and developing coop movement. Is that to do with farming? Coop movement had to do with farming? Coop movement was all part. There was separate coop movement. There was loans. And then there was separate coop movement for eggs and butter. And there was separate coop movement for farmers and so on. At that time I got the job over there as the assistant secretary again over there in coop movement. I had very, very good, you know, I would say the boss, man who was in charge of that for me, my boss. So he was very good. And he says, okay, here's the key to the building. Here's the key to the office. Then he says I will give you job to do and you do the job within your week. He gave me such I always had the job, but I could not keep that longer than a week. And so at that time I was ~ he says, well, you will be working in the daytime we are here, fine. If you are in the university, you know, during the ~ we didn't have all the equipment that you have now today. At that time it was very, you know, I would say simple. So at that time if you want to work, come 7 here tonight, working in the night, please you can do that. If you want to work Saturday or Sunday. So I was full-time student and full-time worker at that time. And so usually I spent very short time on any type of, let's say, vacation or so. Work, work, work, you know. But I got my master's degree in three years. Wonderful. And studying over there I took, as I said, two things. First was this one to leam, you know, how to be — Oh, the cooperative. Cooperative, how to cooperative. And second thing I was in the school. So this way it usually was this way that I was getting in the morning for eight o'clock I was going to the university. That was called not university, but was Warsaw School of Economics. So I went over there. And I was over there up to ~ I was busy normally after 12 o'clock, two o'clock or so. Then after that I went to work over there where I was, you know, and then did my part of the job. Then work over there until about four o'clock, five o'clock. Then I went to the university, went back to the library because the library was open up to ten o'clock in the evening. So I was after the ten o'clock in the evening over there. Then ten o'clock I went back out and I was living at that time in so-called academic — Like a dormitory. There were I believe seven floors or so. It was the place where we used to live (as) students. So I was over there. And I got 50 percent I would say free and 50 percent I had to pay. So from this money I was making at that time in work, I had to have enough to pay for school. I have enough to pay for my lodging and for eating and for clothing and for everything, you know. That was education also. So I studied. After ten o'clock I came to the place where I lived and then to my room. And to have enough money pay for, two of us were living together. Right. You shared the room. We were sharing room. So at that time I went home. Then he still studied, my friend. He was studying. So I went to sleep. I slept as long as he was studying. Then at the time he was going to sleep, so he wake me and I got up. And I studied up to the morning up to about six, seven o'clock and again. So it was hard. But as I say I made master degree and bachelor's degree. Master's 8 degree was in working on that and bachelor's degree in education. And then after I got the degrees, it was ~ Which year did you get your master's? Beg your pardon? Which year? That was 1937. And then I was already 23 years old at that time I finished my studies. And so I had I would say postponed my going to—in Poland it was that everyone had to go to the military service. So I postponed that until I finish my studies. I could not postpone anymore because I was 23 and that was not longer. And so I was at that time what I want to do. I was tired. And so I says what to go to the military service to rest in the service. Yes. And to rest because I was so tired. So I went at that time to say, okay, I go in army it was. It was the flying. Air force. Air force. It was the question of (pancer) division. That means the tanks and all that stuff. And also it was also the — all stuff, you know. It was also horses, riding on horses. So I say I will go to military service to have to do with the horses. That means horses where we didn't have enough I would say tanks, cars or so. So we had the horses. The horses would just drive people from one place to the other. It was pretty good. And so I went over there in September and I was for one year. Then nine months was just training, military training, officer's school, and three months later I'm practicing that in the other units, you know, to practice in that as candidate for officer or officer already at that time. So after one year in the military service, I came back to work as the inspector. First I was I would say learning the farms, farmers' inspections and how to send, for instance, the com or wheat or so, how to clean that, how to sell and so on. And we send that to (Gadansk) at that time to (Abrontens). And that was three months. And after three months they took me and started teaching me again. The same gentleman who was before teaching me how to work as the assistant secretary, the same gentleman he was right now teaching me how to be inspector. Yes. And very fine person he was. And that was for one year working. So you worked 1938 to 1939? '37-38 I was in the military service. And I started in '39 to work as the inspector. And then at that 9 time I started before the war started. That was that I was at that time, let's say, 25 years old. And the next one with the age, younger age, asked me was there a next one, gentleman who was over there working already for maybe 15 years or so and he was 50. Now, and I learn very good, so good that wherever I went, you know, they wanted rather to have me as the inspector come than him because I was more, I would say, working with them, more easy working with them. I didn't want to take, let's say, pride that I did something or I taught them something or so I told them that or that or that. I says during my inspection they improved that and that and that, but I didn't put anything on me. I put the credit on them. So they liked that very much. And then World War started. I was called to army and I went to the army. I went to east where I used to work before to my unit. And then they sent the whole regiment — they sent three regiments as the army. They sent also with some other part of people and, let's say, where we were sent, you know, and cannons and so and small tanks and so. And we were taken again west. About, oh, let's say a week or two weeks before the war started, we were already on the borderline between Germany and Poland. They expected the invasion? Yes. They started at the first of September. Germany started. Yes. But we didn't know. And, of course, Germany had better things, more air force, were prepared already for the war. And what it was, it was some kind of treason on Poland from England and France. England and France before the war, they made the agreement that if Germany would -- or whoever would attack Poland, they will attack them. But as the time came Germany was ready. They were not ready. And they didn't want us to prepare. So they say if you will, I would say, start preparation for the war - that means just organizing for the war -- he says then what we do, he says, we will nullify the agreements. That they would come help Poland. And they didn't allow us to prepare for that. So Germany attack Poland. And at that time they didn't do anything, anything. Okay. Because Germany had been preparing ever since the end of World War I. Yes. Hitler came to power and was already three years preparing. So now, France and England weren't prepared either. 10 They didn't want us to prepare. But were they prepared? No, they were not prepared either. But they thought that they will give Poland that S check (indiscernible) as it was with (Balkans) that all that Hitler took that over. And they were not ready to fight at all. So at that time we were told go. That means go east because Stalin did not attack Poland yet until 17. September 17 th. Until September 17 Stalin attack Poland. So the people during that time from 1 st to 17, they were going east to reorganize. They say we will be reorganized and go. And then on 17 Stalin attacked Poland from the east. And Germany had already attacked from the west. Yes, from the west. And 17 days later Stalin attack from the east and then also from north and south because they took Czechoslovakia. So, again, that was — so Poland was all around. Why was Poland so important to so many people? You see what it was, Poland was I would put ~ my thinking is this way. That was 30 May 91. You know, at the time Poland prepared after United States had already Constitution and United States was free country at that time. At that time from United States was (Cashusko) find Pulaski was killed. He was the head of the American Calvary, Pulaski, Poland. So are you talking about the Revolutionary War now? Yes, Revolutionary War here. So then the next similar revolution was in Poland at that time. And the revolution, they wanted to give the rights to all people, all people are equal. So, you see, they wanted to take that in Poland. But Russia and Prussia and Austria, they were afraid that if this revolution will be in Poland and if, for instance, Poland will have the freedom as United States has, then they, I would say, will be -- they themselves will be in trouble. Because Poland would become too strong. So that Poland may be too strong. And what more, you see, they -- (Habsworth) and all those, they actually reigned the country, their countries. And, you know, slaves were still over there. Poland wanted to make the slaves free. So that's why (Cashusko) being here, you know, in United States, he wanted to fight over there. But he did not have enough arms and people and so on. So 11 that s why they were afraid of that. And they wanted to, I would say, not to allow Poland to be independent because being free they would make free all the people. Right. So they would bring democracy and freedom. Democracy, Yes. So in 1939 you joined the military again. You had to go back into the military. Yes. What was that like? Now, you see, that was like hell. It was like hell. We waited until it started to be 1st of September. It was that night and changing today to — Dawn. Yes. The sun didn't come out yet. And at that time like we were here — myself, we were on that such hill. We were on the hill over there. And my, I would say, friends and so on, we were here. Now, German tanks started to — To surround you. - cross us. And German still part at that time was taking — still was German. And so they were there. And what it was they had the tanks and cannons, which were going to us and far behind us. And our weapon what we had didn't go to them. Didn't even reach them. So we could not much make - you know. So they started shelling at us. So now, it was about - they say about two-thirds of the soldiers were killed or heavy wounded. But this one-third was still there. Then the Germans were going to us and trying to take us. And they didn't know that going over there they had to go under the — it was some kind like, oh, hills between the hills. So you were on a hill. Did they have to come through the valley? Right. In the valley. And so they went into the valley. And they didn't know that they are getting into the valley. And we had over there the cannon and their train. If they got int