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Jerzy Ogurek papers

Document | Not Digitized | Accession Number: 2004.593.1

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    The papers consist of documents and photographs relating to the experiences of Jerzy Ogurek, originally of Katowice, Poland, and his family during the Holocaust.
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of George O. Zimmerman
    Collection Creator
    George O. Zimmerman
    Jerzy “Jurek” Jakub Ogurek was born in Katowice, Poland, on October 20, 1933, to Alexander and Karola Fiszer Ogurek. Alexander was born in Krakow and earned a law degree in Brno, Czechoslovakia. He was an insurance adjustor for the Polish branch of Italy’s largest insurance company. He met Karola Fiszer when he provided service for her father after a robbery. The couple married on April 16, 1932, and lived in Bedzin with Karola’s parents, Izak and Helene Fiszer, observant Jews who owned a leather store. Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, and the family fled by train to Kielce, but returned by horse drawn cart after a week. The family home was divided and the two front rooms were occupied by Germans. Alexander now worked as the supervisor of a German leather factory and Karola worked there as the bookkeeper. Jurek was left alone during the day. Germans came to the house and took their furniture. After a curfew restricted Jews from the streets, the family moved from near the train station to near the slaughterhouse. Karola’s cousin, Max Fiszer, his wife, and daughter, Rutka, age 14, also lived in Bedzin and owned land next to the train station where Jurek helped with the vegetable garden. There were frequent selection of Jews for concentration camp and at one point, Jurek and his grandparents were placed in a group designated for later consideration. The owner of the factory where Jurek’s parents worked used his connections to change their classification so that they were not deported.

    In March 1943, the family was forced to move into the Srodula ghetto. Alexander asked Polish friends to take in Jurek, but they refused. On August 1, 1943, during the liquidation of the ghetto, the family hid in an attic with 20-30 people. After a week, they were discovered and taken to the old leather factory in Sosnowiec and placed in a labor camp. It was filthy and disease ridden and guards continually removed those, including children, who were unfit for work; Jurek was often hidden. One night in December 1943, a German guard whom Alexander had bribed let the Ogureks and Fiszers escape by the back door. Alexander also had procured them Paraguayan passports in the name Brooks. They boarded a train using a code word and were met by a Polish man at Tatra Mountain, then traveled at night on foot, through snow, to Slovakia. They were met by a Slovak peasant who took them on a hay wagon to a train station. In October 1943, they arrived in Zylina, where they searched for the Jewish family that was their contact. They, along with other Jews, stayed a week with this family. This underground network then helped them travel by train and foot across the Slovak-Hungarian border to Budapest where they stayed in a pension with other Jewish families. Jurek’s dark hair was dyed blonde and the family was able to move about. They later settled temporarily in the village of Cileoghedz. In March 1944, Germany occupied Hungary. The family decided to go back to Slovakia, but was captured by border police who turned them over to the German Army, who got the Polish commander of a prisoner of war camp to take them. When the Germans left, the commandant fed and released them and they returned to Budapest.

    In April 1944, they once more returned to Slovakia. They lived in Bratislava, near an oil refinery, which became a bombing target as the Germans moved in. The family decided to return to Hungary, but their guides turned them over to the Germans and they were taken to Sered labor camp. There were able to live together briefly as a mixed family, Alexander and Izak as Jews, Karola and Helen as Aryan, and Jurek as mischlinge, mixed race, but a German guard, Neugebauer, who had worked at the leather factory in Bedzin identified the entire family as Jewish. On November 2, 1944, they were transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. After few days, they were separated by gender. The males were shaved and tattooed with consecutive numbers: Jurek, B13976; Alexander, B13977; Izak, B13978. Jurek was taken to the children’s block. A German prisoner often gave Jurek extra food, as did Alexander, but it frequently it was stolen from him. Jurek saw the guards club people to death and throw them against the electric barbed wire fences. During roll calls, kapos regularly pulled people out of line and beat them for no reason. For a few weeks, Jurek saw his father and grandfather a few minutes daily, then contracted scarlet fever and was placed in the hospital block. He never saw his father or grandfather again.

    The camp was bombed on January 1-2, 1945; the guards fled on January 5. Around January 20, a German SS battalion arrived and ordered the prisoners to line up outside the barracks. Another prisoner came over to Jurek; it was his paternal uncle, Stasiek, whom Jurek had never met, but who recognized Jurek. The Russian prisoners were shot and the Jews marched into a field and asked who could walk ten kilometers. Those who could not, were shot. The remaining patients, about 1000 children and adults, were marched off with twenty guards who were soon picked up by trucks. The prisoners were left alone. Some inmates who had been in Auschwitz I led the way there. A lost German artillery battery asked the group for directions and food, which the prisoners gave them because the storehouses were unlocked. On January 27, two Russian soldiers entered the camp. Two days later, Stasiek took Jurek and left for Krakow. He placed Jurek with his former neighbors, a Polish Catholic family named Gawlinski. Jurek went to daily mass with them and entered the fourth grade in a Polish school. Stasiek disappeared following his arrest after being denounced by a Pole as a collaborator.

    Around April 1945, the Gawlinski’s found a Jewish family to take in Jurek. Since Jurek’s family had been in Hungary during the war, they arranged for a man delivering Torahs to Hungary to take Jurek there to search for his family. In Budapest, Jurek was placed in a Ha-Shomer Hazair orphanage. He heard from visiting families that his mother and grandmother had been seen alive. In December, the orphanage, whose purpose was to get the children to Palestine, left with the children for Germany. In Prague, someone came to tell Jurek that his mother was here. She and Helena had survived Auschwitz and Lippstadt slave labor camp. Karola had gone to Budapest looking for him, then to Prague. His father and grandfather had died on a death march during the evacuation of Birkenau in January 1945. Fewer than ten members of Jurek's extended family survived. Karola went with the group to Germany. She and Jurek then went to Bergen Belsen displaced persons to find Jurek’s grandmother, and discovered that she had died from a fall down some stairs. For nearly a year, they lived with a German family in Kavnitz, then moved to Esslingen am Necker, near Stuttgart. On December 6, 1947, Karola married Chaskiel Zimmermann, who adopted Jurek. Chaskiel, a survivor of Auschwitz and Blechhammer concentration camps from Sosnowiec, Poland, owned an apparel and notions store in Esslingen. Life became relatively normal: Jerzy was provided with a tutor and was bar mitvahed. His parents talked to him about the war years to prevent nightmares. Chaskiel and Karola did not want to stay in Germany or return to Poland. In 1949, Chaskiel went to Stuttgart and registered the family for emigration to Israel, the United States, and Australia. After six months, they were told that Jewish Family Services of New Haven, Connecticut, would sponsor their emigration to the US. The family left for America on April 16, 1950. Chaskiel changed his name to Charles, Karola to Carol, and Jerzy to George, and the last ‘n’ was dropped from Zimmerman. They settled in New Haven. George was awarded a scholarship Yale University. He earned a Ph.D. in experimental physics became a professor at Boston University. Carol predeceased Charles, who died, age 79, on December 27, 1991.

    Physical Details

    4 folders

    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

    Topical Term
    Refugees, Jewish.
    Personal Name
    Zimmerman, George O.

    Administrative Notes

    The papers were donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2004 by George O. Zimmerman, the son of Karola Ogurek and step-son of Chaskiel Zimmerman.
    Record last modified:
    2023-08-24 13:46:46
    This page:

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