Mendel Lubliner was born on December 17, 1904 in Warsaw, Poland. He was 34 years old when World War II began: we know nothing of his life before the war apart from the fact that he never married. Living in Warsaw, he must have experienced the bombing and capture of the city and the Nazi occupation. We know his path through the war because in a 1949 statement made by Lubliner in post-war Germany, he declared: "I was from 15 November 1940 to November 1941 in the Warsaw Ghetto. From November 1941 to October 1942 I was in the Ostrowiec labor camp, from October 1942 to March 1943 in the Bodzechow labor camp, from March 1943 to July 1944 in the Starachowicze and Blizhyn labor camps, from July 1944 to October 1944 in Auschwitz, and from October 1944 to May 1945 in Dachau-Kaufering." We will walk through this path with Mendel to see what it must have been like.|
From September 1939 to October 1940, Mendel lived in occupied Warsaw, where he would have experienced the proclamation of decrees intended to denigrate Jews. He would have had to wear the yellow Star of David on his outer clothes. As a Jew, Mendel would have been forbidden to work in either key industries or government institutions, to bake bread, to earn more than 500 zloty a month, to travel by train or trolley-bus, to leave the city limits without special permits, to possess gold or jewelry.
On October 12, 1940, the Germans decreed the establishment of a ghetto in Warsaw. The decree required all Jewish residents of Warsaw to move into a designated area, which German authorities sealed off from the rest of the city in November 1940. This is how Emmanuel Ringelblum describes it in Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto: "The Saturday the Ghetto was introduced (16th of November) was terrible. People in the street didn't know it was to be a closed ghetto, so it came like a thunderbolt. Details of German, Polish, and Jewish guards stood at every street corner searching passers-by to decide whether or not they had the right to pass. Jewish women found the markets outside the Ghetto closed to them. There was an immediate shortage of bread and other produce. There's been a real orgy of high prices ever since. There are long queues in front of every food store, and everything is being bought up. Many items have suddenly disappeared from the shops" (86). Mendel was now in the Warsaw Ghetto: we do not know if he was already living in the area of the ghetto or if he moved into the area. He spent a full year in the Warsaw Ghetto at a time when some 350,000 Jews were packed into an area of 1.3 square miles. The official food ration for Jews was around 200 calories a day per person, which was less than 10 percent of the ration for Germans and about 25 percent of the ration for Poles. Mass starvation took place, and in addition to death by starvation a typhoid epidemic, caused by the poor sanitary conditions, broke out, so that by April 1941 the mortality rate in the ghetto was a staggering six thousand people a month.
Mendel survived that year, and he reports that in November 1941 he was moved to the Ostrowiec labor camp. Actually, it was not a camp yet but rather a Jewish quarter--an open ghetto--in which Jews lived and were farmed out to nearby German factories. The USHMM Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945, says that "living conditions in the Jewish quarter where extremely harsh; the Jews lived in terrible poverty. The overcrowding and the poor hygienic conditions led, in May 1941, to an outbreak of typhus. According to the estimate, during its entire existence about ten percent of the inhabitants of the ghetto died from hunger and disease" (IIA 270). In April 1942, after Mendel has been in Ostrowiec for six months, an Aktion took place in which 68 Jews were arrested: 36 were sent to Auschwitz and 32 were shot on the spot. "From that day on, the killings and the repression of the Jews in Ostrowiec intensified" (ibid.).
Mendel says that he left Ostrowiec in October 1942, and this is what we know happened in Ostrowiec in October 1942. On the morning of October 11 the Jews were rounded up. Many old people and children were murdered right away. Most of the unemployed Jews were put in cattle cars to be taken to Treblinka. Those who could show that they could work--about 2,000 of them--were taken to a building, where they were housed and continued to work. The USHMM Encyclopedia records: "On the liquidation of the ghetto the German authorities separated from the rest a number of Jews capable of work and sent them to the newly established forced labor camp in nearby Bodzechow" (IIA 217). That is apparently how Mendel ended up in the Bodzechow labor camp, where he says he was from October 1942 to March 1943. |
The USHMM Encyclopedia does not tell us much about the Bodzechow camp, only that some Jewish prisoners worked "in a quarry under harsh conditions" (IIA 251), while other Jews worked "for a German company installing electric power lines" (IIA 252). There exists, however, joint interview with Holocaust survivor Molly Muschkies and her daughter Ruth (http://www.holocaustcenter.org/page.aspx?pid=678), which helps us connect Mendel to the next stop in his march through the camps. "In 1942 Molly, her husband, and her daughter went to Bodzechow, a labor camp. Her husband bought places in this camp when he learned that the Germans planned to liquidate the ghetto. There was no place for their daughter, as children were not allowed in the labor camps. As a consequence, their daughter hid in an attic when the Germans returned to round up more workers. ... Molly and her daughter often fled to the forest for days at a time to escape selections. They spent several months in Sandomierz, Poland, and then went back to Bodzechow. In 1943 they were marched from Bodzechow to Starachowice. Muschkies relates that many people were shot for not keeping up. The group from Bodzechow contracted typhus and became separated from the rest of the prisoners. With nothing to eat, Molly and her daughter are convinced they survived because of the fresh water stream nearby filled with tadpoles."
Mendel says that he moved from Bodzechow to Starachowice in March 1943, so it is likely that he was in that death march with Molly and Ruth. Their description of the march helps us appreciate what Mendel must have gone through.
From March 1943 to July 1944 Mendel was in the Starachowice and Bliżyn labor camps. Yad Vashem tells us that Starachowice housed armaments factories and an iron ore mine. In February 1941 the Germans established an open ghetto in Starachowice which was liquidated on October 27 of that same year; approximately 200 Jews were shot on the spot. Of those that remained, the stronger ones were moved to a nearby labor camp that had already been prepared for their coming, Julag I. About 8,000 Jews passed through Julag I. Nine percent died in rampant typhus epidemics, or were shot as the result of a Selektion. In the summer of 1943, the prisoners working in the factories were moved to yet another camp, called Julag II. About 5,000 prisoners passed through Julag II altogether and seven percent were shot or died of typhus. This camp averaged about 3,000 prisoners at a time. In July 1944 the Germans began to liquidate the labor camp. When the prisoners saw what was happening, many tried to escape; the Ukrainian guards killed 300 immediately, and caught and executed those who had escaped. The other 1,500 prisoners were deported to Auschwitz. Mendel says he went to Auschwitz in July 1944: Was he with that group of 1,500? (http://www.yadvashem.org/odot_pdf/Microsoft%20Word%20-%206044.pdf)
Mendel says that he was in both the Starachowice and Blizhyn labor camps from March 1943 to July 1944, but he does not tell us how long he was in each of them. An online article, "Nazi Forced Labor Camp in Blizhyn," (see http://www.sztetl.org) tells us something about the Blizhyn camp. "The prisoners were forced to work for Deutsche Ausruestungswerke in workshops and in a quarry in Gostkow. The camp was surrounded with barbed wire and guarded by German and Ukrainian warders. Any attempt of escape was punished with death. Food rations were minimal and were not enough to regain strength. Workers received daily a slice of bread, a swede soup and a sour roasted grain beverage. During work time, the warders would hit the prisoners, set dogs on them and perform occasional executions. The following is a quotation of the testimony of Jozef Detko, given after the liberation in front of the District Commission for the Investigation of Nazi War Crimes in Kielce: 'In the camp there were about 500 Poles and over 4,000 Jews. (...) Jews were shot to death almost every day. In order to do that, Nazis took them to the woods. They had to dig their own graves before being killed. (...) They were shot dead approximately 50 meters from the camp fence (...) on the edge of the woods. (...) the Nazis shot at Jews with machine guns, while watchmen circled them so that nobody could escape. (...) During my stay in Blizhyn, Nazis shot on average about 4 Jews every day.' During World War Two in Blizhyn there was a Nazi slave labor camp run in a dye factory. It was transformed into a sub-camp of the Majdanek concentration camp in January 1944 (according to some sources - in February). It was a place of imprisonment for Polish, Austrian, German and Soviet citizens (on average 4,000 people). Most of them were of Jewish descent. As a result of poor sanitary conditions, famine, exhaustion, diseases and executions, the death rate among the prisoners was constantly on the increase. At the end of July 1944, facing the impending Eastern Front, the Nazis started dissolving the camp in Blizhyn. The prisoners were sent to the KL Auschwitz. However, a group of workers who were disassembling machines stayed there until September 1944." However long Mendel stayed in Blizhyn, it must have been horrible.
From either Starachowice or Blizhyn, Mendel was taken to Auschwitz, where he stayed from July 1944 to October 1944. He arrived in the camp just as the Germans were finishing their rush to murder the 424,000 Hungarian Jews deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. That probably did not affect Mendel very much, but what did affect him, as a Jew being kept alive to do word, were the working conditions. This is what the USHMM Encyclopedia says about work in Auschwitz during the time Mendel was there: "There were approximately 90,000 male and female prisoners living in the camp on August 22, 1944.... Demolition and construction on the camp itself or other nearby facilities formed a major part of the workload, as did agricultural labor; other prisoners worked in Kanada or in nearby armaments factories.... In any case, the guards and Kapos drove the prisoners furiously and beat anyone who faltered.... The living conditions further lessened the prisoners chances for survival. Sleeping arrangements consisted of wooden shelves, with a minimum of straw bedding, on which the prisoners were packed. The camp uniform consisted of a striped shirt and trousers of rough cloth, never changed or washed, stiff with dirt, sweat, and excrement, infested with lice, and completely inadequate to protect against the weather. Wooden shoes were the only footwear. The diet consisted of the lowest-quality food in amounts that could not sustain life… Prisoners that fell sick either got well by themselves or died; there was no medical care to speak of " (IA 211-212).
Mendel says that in October 1944 he was moved to the Dachau-Kaufering camp, where he remained until the camp was liberated in May 1945. This is what the USHMM Encyclopedia says about Dachau during the time Mendel was there: "During the last months before liberation, the camp was catastrophically overcrowded, due to the constantly arriving transports from other camps that were evacuated ahead of advancing Allied troops. The food supply and hygienic conditions continually worsened. There were no medicines. In November 1944, a typhus epidemic broke out in which 3,000 prisoners died in January 1945 alone and which cost the lives of about 15,000 prisoners altogether before liberation." Liberators from the 42nd and 45th Infantry Divisions of the U.S. Seventh Army entered the camp on April 29, 1944, and Mendel was a free man.
We know that Mendel sailed from Germany in October 1949 but we do not know what he had done in the intervening four and a half years. There is a hint contained in a group of five photographs found among the small collection of pictures left behind by Mendel. These photos show groups of men marching or posing as a group, and one of the pictures shows them holding the flag of Israel. One of the pictures has written on the back: "Palestina for ydim," Palestine for Jews. It would seem, then, that Mendel was involved in Zionist activity while he was in Germany.
Mendel sailed from Bremerhaven, Germany, on October 4, 1949, aboard the American troop transport ship General Hersey, arriving in Boston on October 14. The manifest shows that his destination in the United States was Mobile, Alabama, and specifically 1750 Government Street in Mobile, where there was an apartment complex in which a number of Jewish families lived. Mendel was brought to Mobile either by someone who knew him or by the local Jewish community working with a refugee agency.
With the help of the Jewish community in Mobile, Mendel came to own and operate H & M Grocery, which was off Davis Avenue. He worked there until he retired, living first at 1750 Government Street, then at 116 Parker, and finally at Creighton Towers. While living there, Mendel was diagnosed with throat cancer, and in his final months he was unable to speak and communicated with others by writing notes. Shortly after Yom Kippur in September 1975, Mendel took his own life. He was buried in the Ahavas Chesed Cemetery in Mobile.