Oral history interview with Leon Kowner
Leon Kowner (né Kovner) describes his early life; living comfortably in a rented apartment in a good neighborhood in town; attending a private school (called Nasza Szkola) in Łódź, Poland; finishing elementary school in 1939; how all the teachers in the school, except the caretaker, were Jewish; growing up in a patriotic, Polish atmosphere at home because his father was an officer in the Polish Army; his family having social ties with German and Polish veterans, some of who were already members of the Nazi party at the beginning of the war; the Germans entering Łódź; Nazis coming to their home; being warned by friends to escape the ghetto; the roundups of Jews for forced labor; the restrictive laws; having to wear an armband on the left arm and the changes in the style of the band and badge; his father finding a house, which belonged to a railway worker and had a garden; the gymnasium for Jews; the first winter in the ghetto (1940-1941) and his mother rationing food; the death of his sister (Nina, born in 1935) in Auschwitz when she was nine years old and his guilt over her dying illiterate; being an avid reader; the custom in the ghetto to refuse food if it was offered to you during a social visit; making Jewish figurines and arranging scenes from Jewish life in show cases; meeting the poet and painter Melania Fogelbaum and how she influenced his life; reading poetry and living more as a bohemian; visiting Melania at the other end of the ghetto, on Marynarska Street; being among several of her admirers, including Hela Zymler (Helena Zymler-Svantesson); Melania’s illness; beginning to paint and write poetry because of Melanie; how creating art helped him distance himself from the reality of the ghetto; children being hidden in apartments; the deportation all of his mother’s family; spending little time at home when he was living in the ghetto and the tension he had with his parents; wanting to volunteer for labor to leave the ghetto; and deciding not to volunteer because of his father.
Some video files begin with 10-60 seconds of color bars.
- Leon Kowner
- Ms. Teresa A. Pollin
2005 March 29
1 videocassette (DVCAM) : sound, color ; 1/4 in..
Record last modified: 2020-09-15 09:25:38
This page: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/irn44158
Also in Oral history interviews of the Give Me Your Children: Voices from the Łódź Ghetto collection
Interviews conducted for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's "Give Me Your Children: Voices from the Łódź Ghetto" exhibition.
Ruth Eldar, born in Łódź, Poland November 18, 1928, describes her older brother; her family home; attending school; learning Hebrew; her parents’ wholesale business; her grandparents; the beginning of the war and being sent to the ghetto; life in the ghetto, including food, hygiene, and education; working in a dressmaker’s workshop; starvation; hiding during a roundup of children in the ghetto; being afraid of the gunshots and dogs; her social activities in the ghetto, including discussions of literature, drawing, and starting a theater; Yiddish poetry; her family’s view of Chaim Rumkowski; and more details on her family (she also shows pictures to the camera).
Aleksander Henryk Laks (né Chaim Benzion Cale), born in Łódź, Poland in 1927, describes taking his mother’s last name, Laks, after the war; being active in the Holocaust survivors community in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; growing up in a Jewish family in Łódź; his birth mother dying when he was a young child and being raised by his step-mother, Balcie; economic conditions in Poland; attending public school; the German invasion in 1939; the abuse his grandfather suffered and his disappearance; his school closing and being forced to wear a yellow star; the restrictions placed on Jews; the sealing of the ghetto in May 1940; life in the ghetto, including their apartment, food, and school; his bar mitzvah in 1940; the deportation of children from the ghetto; working 12 hour days in a metal workshop; hiding in August 1944 when the ghetto was being liquidated; being deported with his family to Auschwitz; his step-mother’s death in the camp; arriving in the camp and the selections; being shaved, beaten, and tattooed; being sent to the Gross-Rosen subcamp Kaltwasser; having several teeth forcibly removed; being sent to camp Lärche; being sent to Flossenbürg, where his father was killed by a Kapo; being sent with other inmates to Bodensee to be drowned; being sent by train to Offenburg, Germany to clean up the town after a bombing; being taken to Emmendingen, Germany, where he was liberated; his physical condition upon liberation; traveling to Emmendingen in 2004; and several photographs he has from the ghetto (he shows them to the camera).
Jacob Lapides, born on November 11, 1928, describes growing up on Brzezinska Street in Łódź, Poland; his father, who was a tailor; attending school; living in a Jewish orphanage with his siblings; his father’s death in 1938; living in the ghetto; education in the ghetto; being moved to a much bigger building on Franciszkanska 76; Chaim Rumkowski asking members of the Beitar to adopt children; his sister, Sarah, being adopted by a family; his bar mitzvah in the ghetto in 1941; the deportation in September 1942 and hiding with two others in the cemetery; going to his Aunt Lola’s house; Jewish police coming to his aunt’s house to take his grandmother; being a member of a Zionist organization; rations in the ghetto; being taken to the Czestochowa camp in March 1944; doing leatherwork in the camp; and the food in the camp.
Juta Bergman, born in 1927 in Germany; describes being Bratslav Hasidic; being deported in 1933 to Poland with her Polish-born parents; her father’s death in 1934; attending a public school; life in Łódź, Poland; the German invasion in September 1939; having to wear the yellow badge indicating she was a Jew; her education in the ghetto; rations in the ghetto; life in the ghetto as a child; working with other children in a workshop; learning about sex from an older friend; how it was forbidden to gather more than three or five people and disobeying this restriction; being involved in a Zionist organization and distancing herself from her home; her mother’s belief that the war would end soon; attending Rumkowski’s speech in the big square and feeling disdain for him; her brother informing her about the deportation of their mother and grandmother; witnessing the murder of a young girl; her mother escaping from a camp and returning to the ghetto; surviving several camps, including Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen; liberation; returning to Łódź; and getting married to a Łódź ghetto survivor.
Henryk Bergman describes his family, including his parents, older brother (Pinchas), and younger sister (Ruth); attending school; the Zionist movement in Łódź, Poland; training with a military youth group in 1938; the German invasion; the creation of the ghetto; the Zionist youth movement in the ghetto and the leader, Rafael Zelver; the Jewish policemen coming to get him one night in 1944 and avoiding deportation; going to a work camp; being transported to Auschwitz with his sister and mother, who were killed; stealing food from the kitchens and sharing with other inmates; injuring his foot and going to the hospital in the camp; and being shipped by train from camp to camp towards the end of the war.
Karolina Ciesla, born in Łódź, Poland in December 1927, discusses her childhood and family life; the order that Jews must wear the Star of David; her family’s forced relocation to the Łódź ghetto; the miserable conditions in the ghetto; attending school and then vocational training in the ghetto; the death of her father in July 1942 which symbolized the end of her childhood; going into hiding with her mother Sonia and sister Teresa during an Aktion; the local youth organization to which she belonged; her deportation to Auschwitz-Birkenau along with her sister, mother, and aunt in August 1944; the murder of her mother upon arrival to the camp; being sent with her sister and aunt to a series of slave labor camps; liberation on May 9, 1945 by Russian forces from a camp in Halbstadt (Meziměstí, Czech Republic); returning to Łódź and being reunited with her sister; and immigrating to Brazil with her husband and daughters in 1957; and finally settling close to her sister in Israel in 1961.
Esther Eisen (Ester Aizen, née Ester "Tusia" Cygielberg), born in Poland in 1929, discusses growing up in Łódź, Poland; her father, mother, and older brother; the beginning of the war; her enjoyment of writing essays and songs as a child; her family being kicked out of their home and sent to the ghetto; conditions in the ghetto; the typhus epidemic and her mother and cousin getting sick; being deported to Auschwitz and being separated from her father during the selection; being sent to Germany near the Elbe; being transferred to a camp near Potsdam, Germany; liberation and returning to Poland; getting married; and going to Israel.
Chaim Kozienicki, born in Łódź, Poland in 1928, describes having three brothers; his father, who was a carpenter; attending school; his Polish pride and the development of his Jewish identity; his interest in Zionism; planning to travel to Israel in late 1939 but being thwarted by the German invasion in September 1939; the restrictions placed on Jews; the beating of his father and the effect this had on him as a child; moving to the ghetto; his education in the ghetto; the library in the ghetto; his struggle with having fun as a youth and dealing with the terrible conditions in the ghetto; work in the ghetto; his bar mitzvah; the selections for deportation; his family’s final meal before being deported; his first love in the ghetto; and writing in a diary while he lived in the ghetto and keeping it until he arrive in Auschwitz.