David P. Boder Interviews Jacob Minski; August 23, 1946; Paris, France



Jacob Minski was born in 1907 in Zurich, Switzerland, to Polish Jewish parents. He was raised in an orphanage in Hamburg and always carried a stateless passport, which would make it difficult for him to emigrate once the Nazis came to power. Arrested at the time of the Kristallnacht (literally, "Crystal Night," also known as the "Night of Broken Glass") pogroms, he spent ten weeks in the camp he calls Oranienburg, the original name of the concentration camp better known as Sachsenhausen.

Minski's story jumps rather abruptly to October 1941 when he was deported to the Łódź ghetto. He remained there for nearly three years, becoming a member of the ghetto fire brigade that was so important to German authorities worried that a blaze in the dilapidated wooden ghetto structures might spread to the rest of the city. Boder drew Minski out on the barter economy and social life of the ghetto. Equally interesting is Minsk's account of his deportation with other Jews from Łódź to Birkenau (Auschwitz II) in August 1944. His description of a prisoner saving a mother's life by forcing her to give up her child during the initial selection suggests a degree of risk-taking and of prisoner control that is not always well understood. Likewise, his account of newly arrived Łódź Jewish police being targeted for death by the veteran inmates of Auschwitz demonstrates the existence of a rough and effective system of justice within the camp. The corruption of the block seniors at Auschwitz gets further confirmation in Minski's description of his living conditions there.

Minski was one of the lucky ones transferred to work in an ammunition plant in the German city of Görlitz, where conditions were much better. That lasted until the camp was evacuated in the last days of the war, when he and his fellow prisoners were sent on a westward death march. His release by the SS at the time of Germany's surrender was followed by a wild wagon ride across Czechoslovakia to Vienna.

Boder interviewed Minski at the Paris headquarters of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. He recalled his experiences in disorganized episodes.

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