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Helena Pietyra - Auschwitz

Film | Accession Number: 1996.166 | RG Number: RG-60.5055 | Film ID: 3448

Helena Pietyra describes her experience living near the city of Auschwitz, Poland.

FILM ID 3448 -- Interview Auschwitz Pietyra -- Camera Rolls #1-3 -- 01:00:04 to 01:24:13

Roll 1 Madam Pietyra sits in the living room of the apartment she occupies in Auschwitz. Pietyra is citizen of Auschwitz. She was born in Auschwitz and has never left. She recounts that Auschwitz was a predominantly Jewish city before the war. Most of the city was occupied by the Jewish citizens, including the apartment Pietyra lives in, while only a few buildings belonged to Catholic citizens. Overall, the Jews were liked. The non-Jewish citizens liked their Jewish neighbors because they allowed customers to purchase goods on credit and did not charge any interest. There was a synagogue and a Jewish cemetery in the city. Both were damaged during the war, and while the synagogue was completely destroyed the cemetery remains, though it is no longer in use. The Nazis destroyed the graves in the cemetery, and then the houses.

01:06:49 Roll 2 Deportation of the Jews of Auschwitz started in 1940. According to Madam Pietyra, they took with them only what they could carry. This explains the presence of furniture from the Jewish inhabitants when Pietyra moved into her apartment in 1940. The Jews who were deported from Auschwitz, as well as Jews from all over Europe, were brought to Auschwitz camp for extermination. Madam Pietyra and the citizens of Auschwitz knew that Jews were being gassed in the Auschwitz concentration camp, because Polish railway men who worked there would leak information. Sometimes when Pietyra took the train, she would pass train carriages in which Jews were being transported to Auschwitz. She remembers seeing the barbed wire in the windows and the faces of the Jews behind. When the wind blew from the west, the citizens of Auschwitz could smell the odor of burning bodies. Yet if an outsider visited the city and inquired about the smell, the citizens would not tell them what the cause was, as it was dangerous to speak the truth. The resistance was active and Pietyra's brother was a member. After the Jews were deported, the Polish population made up the majority of the city. The Germans lived in houses.

01:17:23 Roll 3 Lanzmann asks Madam Pietyra if she knew at the time how the Jews were being killed. Pietyra states that at the time she and other citizens of Auschwitz knew Jews were being gassed and killed in other ways. They knew the extermination of the Jews was on a large scale, since convoys arrived all the time to the camp. Though it was painful to stay in the city after the war, Pietyra claims that almost everyone stayed in order to make a living. Catholic cemeteries were bombed by the English during the war, as there were munition stores underneath. The camp itself was never bombed. The city of Auschwitz remains very similar to how it was before the war, except for a German bunker which was turned into a store. A member of Lanzmann's camera crew says at 01:23:28 "Auschwitz marketplace general sound atmosphere." Sounds from the street.

Event:  March/April 1979 (Pologne II)
Production:  1985
Auschwitz, Poland
Created by Claude Lanzmann during the filming of "Shoah," used by permission of USHMM and Yad Vashem
Record last modified: 2021-06-03 12:47:08
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