Interview Commentary

The Upper Silesian city of Bedzin where Udel Stopnitsky was born in 1915 is just a few miles from the hometown of Abraham Kimmelmann, another Boder interviewee. In the 1930s it had nearly 60,000 inhabitants, about half of them Jews. Stopnitsky mentions initial German atrocities there in September 1939 but provides details only for the period after 1941, when Nazi policies caused the Jewish population of Bedzin to double. Not only did the Germans ship Jews from small communities in the surrounding area to the city; they also put off construction of a ghetto there until January 1943, which made it for some time a refuge for Jews fleeing harsher persecution elsewhere in Poland. Stopnitsky points out that in 1942 the Jews in Bedzin heard about Auschwitz from an escapee and apparently believed what they were told. And yet, apart from constructing hiding places to avoid deportations to the nearby killing center, Stopnitsky recalls more resignation and denial than resistance among his fellow Jews. He holds Moshe Merin responsible for lulling the Jews into a false sense of hope that deportation meant being sent to work someplace else.

Stopnitsky remained in Bedzin until the Germans began to liquidate the local ghetto on August 1, 1943. Perhaps the most affecting passages of his interview describe attempts by his family and others to evade the deportations by hiding in cleverly concealed rooms in their ghetto apartments. Especially for those like Stopnitsky who had children, the results were usually tragic. After a few days, hiding became impossible. Stopnitsky and his family, together with many of their neighbors, simply gave themselves up. Sent to Auschwitz with five members of his family, only he survived. One of his most vivid memories of Auschwitz was the cruelty of the Jewish capos there. He was then sent to work at the Krupp arms plant at Fünfteichen, the same camp that held Kimmelmann (although there is no indication that they knew each other there). When it was evacuated in the early part of 1945, Stopnitsky was sent via Gross-Rosen to Flossenbürg concentration camp in Germany, and he ended up being marched from there to Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia, where he remembers conditions being still comparatively good. Among his memories of the last days of this “model" ghetto was the arming of Jews by Czech guards, who until then had worked for the Germans.

As Stopnitsky saw it, postwar Europe could only be viewed as a land of exile, one that “burned," in the colorful Yiddish term that traditionally referred to anti-Jewish violence. Two of his brothers gained entry into Palestine by impersonating members of the "Jewish Brigade" of Palestinian Jews who had volunteered to fight Hitler in Europe. Stopnitsky, however, returned to Bedzin to discover the fate of his remaining family. There he experienced the persistence of Polish anti-Semitism at first hand. At the time of his interview in September 1946 at Hénonville, France, Stopnitsky had just arrived to take charge of an ultraorthodox kibbutz financed by American Jewish charities. There 120 Jews like himself learned carpentry, tailoring, and agricultural skills in preparation for new lives in Palestine.

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.