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David Winchester papers

Document | Not Digitized | Accession Number: 2003.294.1

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    The papers consist of two letters concerning business transactions that were sent from David Winchester's parents, Shmuel Gershon and Chana Grafstein Wincygster, to an uncle in Mexico, one certificate from the International Refugee Organization Preparatory Commission, and one sealed document.
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of David Winchester
    Collection Creator
    David Winchester
    David Wincygster was born on May 1, 1924, in Ostrowiec, Poland, to Shmuel Gershon and Chana Grafstein Wincygster. Shmuel was born ca. 1900 in Slupia, Imperial Russia, (later Poland), to Golda and Alter Wincygster. Chana was born in 1902 in Ostrowiec to Hershel and Golda Grafstein. Shmuel was a furrier and owned his own shop. David’s family was middle class and lived in his paternal grandmother’s house. David had five siblings: Sheindel b. 1919; Esther b. 1920; Hershel b. 1922; Sarah b. 1926; and Chaya b. 1928. David’s maternal aunt Henia Kestenbaum, husband Alter, and sons, Hershel and Mier, and David’s uncle Fishel Wincygster also lived with them. Both uncles worked in Shmuel’s furrier shop. The family was very religious and his father was a Zionist. David attended the Mizrachi School through fourth grade and then the local Polish school. After two years of increasing antisemitism at the school, David left and continued his studies with a Rabbi.

    On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland and occupied Ostrowiec one week later. Troops and locals ransacked Jewish homes and businesses, raped women, and killed leading members of the community. German authorities established a curfew for Jews, demanded money, and formed a labor department. In October, Jews were required to wear Star of David armbands. Forced labor was mandatory for all who could work and getting a work card was essential. David worked for the Arbeitsamt, a type of labor agency, and was sent out to different jobs. In 1940, David’s sister Sheindel married Mr. Bliman. In April 1941, the Germans established a ghetto. David’s family stayed in their house because it was on the ghetto border. In May, there was a typhus outbreak and David’s father Shmuel got very sick. The family paid for a nurse and he recovered. David and his brother Hershel were selected for forced labor at an iron factory. His sister Sheindel was a cleaning woman for the Schutzpolizei and Esther worked at a clothing factory.

    In summer 1942, the Germans liquidated some ghettos in Poland. Many Jews escaped and told stories about Jews being gassed in camps. In September, some SS officers warned David’s family that the Schutzpolizei were going to transport people soon. David’s sister Sheindel was pregnant. One of David’s uncles asked the Catholic priest to hide the family, but he refused. On Saturday, October 10, Jewish police told ghetto residents that tomorrow they must assemble in separate areas according to their work status. Shmuel gave David and his siblings a 20 dollar gold piece to hide in their shoes. The next day, David, Shmuel, Hershel, Sheindel, Esther, Fishel, and Alter and his family reported to the square near the labor office. Golda, Chana, Sarah, and Chaya had no work cards, so they went to the marketplace. Esther had a work card, but there were too many people for her factory, so she was sent to the marketplace. David, his brother Hershel, and uncle Fishel were marched to the iron factory. Hershel was taken to another factory, but returned. David and Hershel slept near the gas pipes and were almost killed when they exploded. David heard that his father Shmuel was shot in the street by a German soldier as he tried to give him the money he was demanding. Several days later, David, Hershel, and Fishel were taken back to what was left of the ghetto, which they now called the small ghetto. They reunited with Sheindel, who had recently given birth to a son. If they were caught with the baby, everyone in their house would be shot. The group decided to abandon the baby in the Jewish cemetery, where he died from exposure. People in the ghetto established connections with Armia Krajowa, the Home Army, a resistance group, which agreed to train fighters from the ghetto if they did not look too Jewish and had their own guns. About a dozen young men snuck out and were told they would be sworn into the group after training. Instead, the partisans killed them. One boy survived and crawled back to the ghetto to warn everyone.

    In spring 1943, the small ghetto was liquidated. Sheindel was deported. David, Hershel, and Fishel were taken to a labor camp in another section of town and continued to work at the iron factory. The nearby Bodzechow labor camp was closed and David’s aunt Henia and cousins Hershel and Mier were moved to David’s camp. Henia told David that his uncle Alter had been killed by a policeman in Bodzechow. In April 1944, the Soviet Army was advancing on the region. David and his family were loaded on train cars and transported to Auschwitz II Birkenau concentration camp. During selection, David’s aunt Henia was sent with the woman and her children Hershel and Mier were sent away. David and brothers Hershel and Fishel had to remove their clothes and shoes and were forced into showers. David believed they were going to be killed. Afterwards, David was given his shoes, which still held his hidden gold. He was tattooed with prisoner number, B4647, and directed to a barrack in the Roma camp. He, Hershel, and Fishel slept on the floor, packed in tightly with other prisoners. A few weeks later, David was transported to Eintrachthutte, a slave labor subcamp where he worked 12 hour shifts at the Oberschlesische Maschinen- und Waggonfabrik AG factory producing anti-aircraft weapons. The prisoners were given a small piece of bread and some soup each day. David worked very hard to keep up his spirits and those of his friend Moshe Goldfinger. As David’s shoes began to wear out, he decided to use his gold to buy extra food. In January 1945, David had a high fever and was too ill to walk on his own. The other prisoners took him to the camp infirmary. He had pneumonia and there was pus in his lungs. The Soviet Army was closing in and the authorities began to evacuate the camp. David was too weak to stand and was left in the infirmary. The next day, the camp was liberated by Soviet soldiers. A few hours later, French soldiers took David to a hospital in Swietochlowice, where doctors put a drainage tube in his side. David was in the hospital for several months.

    On May 7, 1945, Germany surrendered. Later that year, David was still sick, but decided to return home. He removed the drainage tube and left. He went to Katowice, where the Jewish aide committee gave him money for a train ticket. While traveling, David’s symptoms improved and he no longer felt sick. He returned to his family’s house and found it was destroyed. He found one cousin, but no other family. He later learned that his mother Chana and sisters Esther, Sarah, and Chaya were murdered in Treblinka killing center in 1942 and Sheindel in 1943. In October 1942, his grandmother Golda was shot in the street during the first mass deportation in Ostrowiec ghetto. His cousins Hershel and Mier and uncle Fishel were killed in Auschwitz in 1944 and his aunt Henia in 1945. In 1944, David’s brother Hershel was sent to Mauthausen concentration camp and died in spring 1945, just after liberation. The Zionist organization Bricha gave David and a small group false papers and smuggled them into the American zone in Germany. American authorities sent David to recuperate at St. Ottilien, a sanatorium. After half a year, he was sent to Gabersee displaced persons camp. In 1947, David met Henia (later Helen) Spielman at the camp. Henia was born January 22, 1931, in Krakow, Poland, to Simon and Czarna Mosinger Spielman. When the family fled to Hungary, Henia and her brother Arthur, b. 1928, were arrested. Her parents, travelling separately with daughter Bronia, b. 1939, were also arrested. Her parents got released and, with false papers, went to Miskolc, Hungary, where a Polish police officer helped them find Henia and Arthur. The family lived in hiding until liberation in December 1944. Henia and her family emigrated to America in May 1949. In November, David’s great uncle sponsored his visa to the US and he left aboard the USS General Muir. David lived in the Bronx and changed his name to Winchester. David and Helen Spielman married on March 8, 1951. The couple settled in Brooklyn and had two children. Helen, 80, passed away on October 14, 2011. David, 93, passed away on July 1, 2017.

    Physical Details

    Yiddish German
    Certificates. Letters.
    1 folder

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    There are no known restrictions on access to this material.
    Conditions on Use
    Material(s) in this collection may be protected by copyright and/or related rights. You do not require further permission from the Museum to use this material. The user is solely responsible for making a determination as to if and how the material may be used.

    Keywords & Subjects

    Geographic Name
    Personal Name
    Winchester, David.

    Administrative Notes

    The papers were donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2003 by David Winchester.
    Record last modified:
    2023-04-07 11:30:57
    This page:

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