Aron Straser photograph collection
The collection documents the Holocaust-era experiences of Aron Straser (born Aron Struczanski) and his family, originally from Smorgon, Poland (Smarhoń, Belarus). The collection consists of photographs depicting Aron’s father Jona Struczanski prior to his wedding in Smorgon, his family gathered around the grave of his grandparents, Aron shortly after liberation, and Aron’s future wife Gucia Widawska (later Judy Straser) shortly after liberation at Bergen-Belsen.
- Credit Line
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Aron Straser
- Document Creator
- Aron Straser
Aron Straser (born Aron Struczanski) was the second of Jona and Rywa (née Lapidus) Struczanski's three children. He was born in Smorgon, Poland (Smarhoń, Belarus) in October 1925. Aron had one older brother, Fajwel, and a younger sister, Rachel. Prior to the war, Jona was employed in the local textile trade while Rywa kept the home.
In summer 1941 the Jewish residents of Smorgon experienced increasing persecution following the German invasion of the Soviet Union and Soviet-occupied Eastern Europe. In addition to marking their homes, German occupiers compelled the Jews of Smorgon to engage in forced labor. The Struczanski family, among others, were forced to work cutting peat in the bogs surrounding the city. On August 1, 1941, just weeks after the German occupation of the city, Jona was shot and killed. Over the course of the next four years Jona's widow and children struggled to survive their many transfers through the Nazi system of camps and ghettos. Aron, Rywa, Fajwel, and Rachel all survived the Holocaust, his older brother Fajwel died shortly after liberation on May 19,1945 from the effects of his years of physical deprivation and starvation.
Aron, Rywa, and Rachel were reunited after the war at Bergen-Belsen where Rywa and Rachel were liberated. The former concentration camp was adapted to meet the needs of displaced persons, and it was here that Aron would meet Gucia Widawska (later Judy Straser), his future wife. Aron and Gucia later immigrated to the United States, and Rywa and Rachel immigrated to Palestine.
Judy Straser was born in 1929 in Łódź, Poland, a city with a Jewish population of about a quarter of a million before World War II. She was ten years old when the Nazis entered the city in September 1939. The Nazis renamed the city Litzmanstadt. Early in the occupation, the Germans rounded up some of the Jews in Łódź and forced them to witness the hanging of four Jews. The Nazis warned that death would be the consequence of not obeying their rules.
On April 1940, the Jews of Łódź were put in a ghetto, closed in, and guarded by the Germans. Judy remembers the ghetto being huge, overcrowded, and surrounded by barbed wire fences. At the time, the population of the ghetto exceeded 200,000. Jews began to succumb to sickness, starvation, and abuse due to the inhumane circumstances. Everyone except the little children was forced to work in order to qualify for the miserable daily food ration.
In 1942, Judy’s family, except her and her mother, were taken out of the ghetto. These family members died sometime during the war. In 1944, the Nazis began to liquidate the ghetto. Judy remembers everyone feeling frightened about being transported to an unknown location. Judy and her mother hid for a while, but when their food ration was gone, they gave themselves up to the Jewish ghetto police. They were given a pound loaf of bread and stuffed into a cattle car.
After a miserable two day train ride in filthy conditions, Judy and her mother arrived at Auschwitz. They were rushed out of the train and surrounded by screaming Nazis and barking dogs. A selection occurred, and men, children, and elderly were taken elsewhere. About two hundred women were left, including Judy and her mother. The women were told to enter a large building to undress and take a cold shower. They were searched for valuables, their heads and bodies were shaven, and they were given oversized camp clothing. The group was instructed to line up outside. Five rows, each with twenty shivering, frightened women, formed. A young, red-headed woman who appeared in front of Judy and her mother asked them where they were from. Judy raised her hand and responded, “We are from the ghetto of Łódź.” The woman asked if there was anyone with them by the name of Bruska. Judy told her that Bruska was her mother’s maiden name. The red-headed woman approached Judy’s mother and asked her if she had any family in France. It turned out that the woman was Judy’s mother’s niece, Irene. She was a non-Jew and was in Auschwitz trying to save her father and brother. Irene made sure that they were protected. When Judy’s mother asked what had happened to the rest of the people on the transport, Irene pointed to the crematorium chimney and told her, “Don’t ask any questions.”
Judy and her mother were placed in Birkenau. Irene, having advance knowledge of upcoming selections, tried to make sure that Judy and her mother were not chosen for gassings by taking them to her quarters. For six months, Irene managed to do this successfully. One day, Judy was grabbed by a German guard and put into a holding barrack with other children. Judy’s mother frantically alerted Irene to this, and Irene was able to get Judy out of the barrack. The children being held there were eventually gassed.
Judy and her mother were inspected by Dr. Mengele and selected for work in Breslau, Germany (now Wrocław, Poland). There they dug anti-tank trenches around the city for two months. After that, the Germans marched them to Bergen-Belsen. Judy knows that she would not have survived there without her mother’s presence. Shortly before liberation, Judy contracted dysentery and typhoid.
The camp was liberated by the British on April 15, 1945. Judy was 15 years old at the time. Judy and her mother were the only survivors of their large family.
Irene survived as well, married, and had two children in France. She died in a car accident in 1988.
- System of Arrangement
- The collection is arranged as a single series.
- Legal Status
- Permanent Collection
- The photographs were donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2004 by Aron Straser.
- 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.
Record last modified: 2022-03-24 10:56:05
This page: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/irn522519