David P. Boder Interviews Mendel Herskovitz; July 31, 1946; Fontenay-aux-Roses, France



Mendel Herskovitz, the son of Łódź shopkeepers, was twelve years old when the Germans attacked Poland in 1939. He and a younger sister tried to flee their native city but were forced to return when the invaders overtook them. In the Łódź ghetto he learned metal-working skills that would save his life. Rather than being deported to a death camp, in 1943 he was sent to the ammunition plants at Częstochowa and Skarżysko-Kamienna. His description of conditions there shows that work was arduous and punishments draconian. At the same time it shows that tenuous contacts with Polish workers in the factories ameliorated the Jews' position to some degree. Note the items confiscated from him and his fellow workers upon their arrival at Buchenwald. Herskovitz also shows that the Jews in Czestochowa retained some power to influence events by bribing German officials, as they did to save one of two transports of Jewish children evacuated from Skarżysko.

Not long after dumping Herskovitz in Buchenwald, the Nazis tried to move him yet again as the American Third Army approached the camp in April 1945. Indeed, the Germans gave Jews priority in these marches that often ended in the prisoners' death. Mendel was immensely proud of eluding the guards and finding a place with the minority of prisoners who remained to be liberated. If he embellishes his tale of evasion and concealment a bit, we can forgive him; the outline of his experiences is perfectly credible, and, by any standard, remarkable. His description of the final, ecstatic contact with his liberators should touch the most jaded reader.

The interview took place at the home for young Jewish survivors at Chateau de Boucicaut just outside of Paris. There Herskovitz was studying to become a furrier. When kidded that there would be little call for that trade in Palestine, he expressed no interest in leaving France for kibbutz life. He had had enough, he said, of communal living.

From FRESH WOUNDS: EARLY NARRATIVES OF HOLOCAUST SURVIVAL by Donald L. Niewyk. Copyright (c) 1998 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. www.uncpress.unc.edu