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Natan Offen

Cracow, Poland

Natan was one of four children born to religious Jewish parents. They lived in an apartment in Cracow's [Krakow] Podgorze district, a predominantly Jewish area on the southern bank of the Vistula River. Natan's father was a shoemaker until 1936, when he became a dealer in billiards equipment. His mother worked as a dressmaker. Natan and his siblings attended Polish public school.

1933-39: When I was 13 I built a crystal radio. Late at night, my father and I would listen to stations from all over Europe. In August 1939, when a German invasion seemed imminent, the Polish army opened flour, tobacco and chocolate warehouses in the city to the public--they didn't want the Germans to get the goods. We got a sack of flour, cartons of cigarettes and chocolate. On September 6, 1939, the German army occupied Cracow.

1940-45: On their way back to Germany, injured German soldiers arrived in Cracow from the Soviet front. I carried them from their train to a delousing car set up in the rail yard. One SS soldier with badly frozen feet spoke to me in Polish. He called me "friend." His cordiality angered me. How dare he think we were friends. I hoisted him on my back, letting his feet drag. Carrying him across the rail yard, he wailed in pain as his feet struck the rails. Later, I wept; I'd lost my humanity. I'd become a beast like him.

Natan was deported to the Plaszow labor camp and then to Gusen, a subcamp of Mauthausen. He was liberated by Americans in May 1945. Natan moved to the United States in 1951.

 

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