A Holocaust Survivor’s Story: Part I

On July 16, 1937 — 70 years ago today — the Buchenwald concentration camp opened in Germany. Every Holocaust survivor has his or her own story. When Jack Welner speaks to people about his life during World War II, he says, “I talk about what happened to me. What I experienced.”

When the war broke out I was about nine days short of eighteen. The war broke out September the first, and my birthday was September the tenth in 1939. I was born in Lodz, Poland. Lodz is the second largest city in Poland, it had a total population of about three-quarters of a million people. A third, like a quarter of million, were Jews.When the war broke out, a lot of Jews ran away, towards Russia, before the Germans came in. I tried to run away, but I came back right away, because the roads were impassable, they were full of military. Then on the third of December I ran away with my older brother to Warsaw, which was the capital, and we tried to go across to Russia, but we couldn’t so we stayed in Warsaw until about April of 1940.Then we read in a German paper that the Germans are creating a ghetto in our city of Lodz. So we returned to Lodz, because my mother, my sisters and my nephew were all left there alone. So we returned to Lodz. The Germans forced us to go into a ghetto.

What the Germans did, they took the most dilapidated area of the city, the slum area. They surrounded it with barbed wire and all the Jews who lived outside that perimeter, what they called a ghetto, at a certain time they had to leave their places. The non-Jews who lived inside that perimeter left the ghetto into our places and we went into the ghetto. They surrounded it with barbed wire.

May the first (1940), they closed the ghetto. At that time in the ghetto, were about 160,000 Jews. We were in that ghetto until August of 1944, when they transported us to Auschwitz concentration camp.

Jews entering Lodz ghetto, 1940. Photos courtesy of the Jewish Virtual Library.

Before World War II, there were about 233,000 Jews in Lodz, roughly a third of its population. According to the book Lodz Ghetto by Isaiah Trunk, based on the records kept at Lodz, on May 10, 1940, SS Brigadef