Hirsch (later Henry) Kolber was the oldest child of Markus and Leona (nee Mandelberg) Kolber. Hirsch was born on June 6, 1923 in Przysietnica (Kracow, Poland) where his father owned a lumber yard and his mother operated a grocery store and inn. His brother Aaron was born in Przysietnica in 1925. Soon after his birth the family moved to Barcice near the Czech border, where his three sisters were born: Manya was born in 1927; Mina was born in 1930 and Genia was born in 1933. There were only a few Jewish families in the village, and the Kolbers maintained good relations with their Polish neighbors. Hirsch attended public elementary school in Barcice and then went to gymnasium in the neighboring town, Stary Sacz. The family shared a large house with Hirsch's aunt, uncle and cousins. Immediately after the start of World War II, the Kolbers fled to Stary Sazc since it had a larger Jewish community; stayed with friends there. As soon as they arrived, the Germans rounded up all the Jews, separated the men and women and held them in the high school as hostages. After their release, the family returned to Barcice. Markus handed over his lumberyard to a sympathetic Pole of German extraction while continuing to work there with Aaron. Hirsch performed different forced labor including snow shoveling and road building. In May 1942 German authorities selected 100 young men to work in Rabka, approximately 80 kilometers away. Rabka had been a health resort before the war and now housed a school for the SS under the command of Wilhelm Rosenbaum. After they arrived, Rosenbaum had the Jewish men count off by tens. He then proceeded to shoot every tenth man. The others had to dig a ditch and bury the victims. Rosenbaum continued to select new victims each week. Despite Rosenbaum's brutality and the back-breaking work digging a tunnel in a mountain, the Jewish youth wore civilian clothes, and lived in the homes of Jewish families in the town who also fed them. They also were periodically given a weekend pass to return home to visit their families. Hirsch remained in Rabka for about six or seven months. Shortly before he left Rabka, in either September or October 1942, he heard a rumor that the Germans planned to liquidate the ghetto in Stary Sazc. All the youth were permitted to return home one last time to say good-bye. This was the last time Hirsch saw either his parents or his siblings. A few weeks later a Pole told him that the Jews had been shipped to Majdanek, but after the war, he was told that they were sent to Treblinka.
In late 1942, Hirsch and the other surviving youth from Rabka were sent by truck to Krakow. They were housed in the ghetto, but each day they walked to Plaszow to build barracks for a new camp. Hirsch worked in the carpentry workshop manufacturing cabinets for the army. Conditions in the camp were extremely brutal, but Hirsch was assisted by a friend tasked with caring for the commandant's dogs who shared some of the dog's food with him. In February 1944 Hirsch was shipped to Auschwitz in an open cattle car. Unlike most prisoners, Hirsch was sent directly to Auschwitz rather than Birkenau since he was to work the same as in Plaszow. In December he was placed on a death march to Gross Rosen. Only about ten percent of the prisoners survived the march. From there he was sent to Buchenwald where he was liberated on April 11, 1945.
Hirsch was greeted by a man in a jeep who told him in Yiddish that he was a rabbi with the American army. The rabbi, Hershel Schaechter, organized a transport of young people to France and Switzerland. Hirsch spent two years in Switzerland living in a hachshara, a hotel and a children's home on Rue de Pregny in Geneva. After receiving a letter from friends of parents inviting him to come to America, he immigrated to the States in June 16, 1947 at age 24. In June 1968 Henry received a letter from the World Jewish Congress looking for survivors from Rabka who would be willing to testify against Wilhelm Rosenbaum. Henry testified in Hamburg to the murder of ten men his first day in Rabka. Rosenbaum was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison but released after a few years for health reasons.