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January 1916 | Brudzew, Poland
Chaim's family came from a small town where his father owned a textile store. When antisemitic pogroms broke out in Brudzew, the Engels moved to the industrial city of Lodz. Chaim was then 5 years old. In Lodz he attended a Jewish school that also provided a secular education. After finishing middle school, Chaim went to work at his uncle's textile factory.
1933-39: Our neighborhood in Lodz was predominantly Jewish, so most of my friends were Jews. As a young adult I began my compulsory army service. On September 1, 1939, only two weeks before my tour of duty was scheduled to end, the Germans invaded Poland. After a few weeks I was taken as a POW. One German captor learned I was Jewish, but he didn't shoot me. I was taken to Germany for forced labor.
1940-44: In March 1940 all Jewish POWs were returned to Poland. I was deportedto the Sobibor death camp in the summer of 1942. In October 1943 a small group ofprisoners revolted. I stabbed our overseer to death. With each jab I cried, "This is for my father, for my mother, for all the Jews you killed." The knife slipped, cutting me, covering me with blood. Chaos took over; many prisoners ran out the main gate. Some stepped on mines. Some gave up and didn't run at all. I grabbed my girlfriend and we ran into the woods.
Chaim hid in the Polish woods with his girlfriend, Selma. After the war they married and lived in Europe and Israel. The Engels settled in the United States in 1957.