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Yitzhak (Irving) Balsam

Praszka, Poland

Yitzhak was the second of four children born to religious Jewish parents. The family lived on the Polish-German border in Praszka, a small town where Yitzhak's father worked as a tailor. His work was not steady, and the family struggled to make ends meet. Yitzhak attended Polish public school in the mornings and Hebrew school in the afternoons.

1933-39: At 4 a.m. on September 1, 1939, we were awakened by an explosion. The Polish army had blown up the bridge over the Prosna River to impede the German invasion of Poland. But by 6 a.m., the Germans were in the town--troops with bayonets, tanks and trucks. For the next seven days German convoys moved through Praszka. Every day, I and other Jewish men from town were forced to build roads outside town.

1940-45: I was deported to several camps, including Auschwitz, and then was imprisoned with 60 men for escaping from a death march. Most were executed; the rest of us were forced to transport the bodies to a cemetery where two mass graves had been dug. We buried the bodies in one, then were forced into the other and hit with machine-gun fire. When the shooting stopped, five of us were still alive. We were ordered to fill in the second grave, then the guns were turned on us again. Miraculously, they had run out of bullets.

Yitzhak was sent to Mauthausen for forced labor, and then to the Gunskirchen camp to die. He was liberated in May 1945 and emigrated to America in 1948. Yitzhak died in 1992.

 

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