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Memoir of Fryderyk Winnykamień

Winnykamien, Fryderyk Diary 1944
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
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tags: Displaced Persons family ghettos humiliation

type: Memoir

Fryderyk Winnykamień was born in 1922, to a middle-class Jewish family in Łódź. His father owned a dental practice in the city, and Fryderyk was attending a technical gymnasium, which he was unable to finish because of the outbreak of the war. According to him, his older sister Pola was unable to enter medical school because of her Jewish background, despite finishing gymnasium and her family's efforts toward this goal. Fryderyk had a younger sister as well, by the name of Ryszarda.

Soon after the invasion, the Winnykamieńs moved to Warsaw in 1939, and on to Gniewoszów a year later. There they lived relatively undisturbed, considering the circumstances, until the onset of Operation Reinhard; thinking that the Warsaw ghetto would be safer, the family relocated there in 1942. Soon, however, they managed to slip out of the ghetto, and live on the so-called "Aryan side"—outside of the ghetto—with forged papers. Once on the outside, Fryderyk started writing a memoir of life under occupation, in which he recounted the historic suffering of Polish Jewry under the German genocidal assault. He survived the war—even working as an interpreter for the Germans at one point—and subsequently emigrated to the United States.

Unlike many diaries, in which the authors narrate their suffering and write for posterity because of an urge to bear witness, Fryderyk's memoir written in hiding reads like a historical account of the war. The very decision to write is prompted by a historical event—which Fryderyk immediately understood as historical: the landing of the Allies on the beaches of Normandy in June 1944. While the narrative contains many personal episodes of suffering, such as the encounter of the Winnykamieńs with the Germans on the outskirts of Łódź, it is a document vastly different from many personal accounts of the war. Rather than turning inward, like Moryc Brajtbart and many others, Fryderyk Winnykamień is very aware of the historical moment in which he is creating the text, and has very strong ideas about the importance of the survival of the document relative to the survival of its author.

Winnykamień here implies erroneously that the Allied landing in France in 1944 was the first Allied invasion of Europe. In fact, the Allies had invaded southern Italy the previous year.

Ethnic German.

In German: "Go, go, run, quick!"

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It is the beginning of June 1944, as I begin to write my diary. I have decided that from the moment of the Allied invasion on the European continent,1 I will start writing down all of my experiences from the moment of the outbreak of war, i.e., from the day of September 1, 1939 until the end of it, for as long as I will be able to survive it and inasmuch as nothing will interfere with this endeavor. Truth be told, it is hard for me to write about my experiences, as I must shift my memory back by 5 years and certain gaps in my story will appear and a large amount of interesting details will be missed by the time I arrive at a given moment. Yet, as the diary would be much less valuable if I started writing it from the current moment, I will strive to remember everything that may be a source of meaning for future readers of this notebook, and of course for me, if I will one day have the chance to read about these unlikely experiences under more favorable circumstances [...]

I mentioned above that the decision to write this diary is tied to the invasion of the Allies in Europe. This connection may seem strange and I have to explain it. Until the day of the invasion, i.e., until the day of June 6, 1944, we heard all sorts of rumors, predictions and prognoses on the state of affairs of governments around the world. There were constant expectations and vacillations between extreme optimism and pessimism [...] So was it worth drudging up the past to remember facts from the previous few years in a moment when I had so little hope that it would not be all in vain, like so many of our other bloody attempts? And would dwelling on my own odyssey be at all agreeable to me? If I had known that no one would ever read this and no one would ever know the meaning of misery and suffering, blood and tears, pain, sorrow, grief and flames of hatred?! No! In such a case, I would never start writing, because whatever would happen, I prefer to outlive the notes, instead of them surviving me to endure afterwards as a symbol of a certain miserable life, unfulfilled hopes and an even more miserable end to our hellish suffering. I prefer to be a living symbol of all of these truths in the future, a symbol of the victory of patience, good faith and hope over despair, bitterness, extreme resignation and longing for the quickest death! In principle, our situation has absolutely not undergone any change from the moment of invasion, but we know, after all, that it's the beginning of the end, the beginning of the final act of the war's drama. And this final act cannot last very long. For this reason, we have been infused with a powerful new hope, a new strength and a desire to survive! It is faith in speedy liberation that forces me to write, as I see that these memoirs will not be in vain and that in the future, they will have the appropriate meaning by their proper use.

[...]

The four of us marched through this orgy of disorder and bloody chaos and we began to slowly approach the end of our wandering. It was scorching outside, which really exhausted us, but we didn’t stop to rest, although the women had swollen feet from the hard march. About 7 kilometers before Łódź, along the road where a Volksdeutsche2 colony began, we encountered a long column of light German tanks. It was about 12 o'clock and they must have stopped to eat something. The German crew came out of their tanks or sat on the side of the road in the shadow of the tanks, or they stood while chatting to the Volksdeutsche farmers, whose buildings stretched along the road in a long row almost all the way to Łódź. All of this German and Volksdeutsche brotherhood was drunk and excited. The last group was not stingy with offering their liberators vodka, and singing, laughter, yelling and wild Teutonic cursing of both groups were the best evidence of this.

We had no choice but to pass through the middle of this drunken soldiery; there was no other path. Yells could be heard coming from various sides. We figured that the German colonists were inciting the soldiers to beat the passing Jews, whom, as local residents, they easily recognized. So we try to make our way through them as quickly as possible, but there was no way to do this without being perceived. At a certain moment, when we were passing by the drunken soldiers, the Volksdeutsche must have identified us as Jews to one soldier, who stepped away, began to wildly scream, "los, los, laufen, schnell!"3 and started to run after us. The sadist saw that we were horribly exhausted and in this simple way he wanted to abuse us, by forcing us to run! My mother and younger sister and I began to run despite being tired. There was no need to drag our feet. The soldier kept his hand on the butt of his gun and was completely drunk. Anyway, the fact that he was drunk is of little relevance, because a sober German is capable of committing more terrible crimes than the drunkest bully. However, my oldest sister was always extremely proud, full of honor and ambition, and although we called on to her to run with us, she did not want to listen to the Teutonic soldier. Paying no heed to the fact that she was a woman, he ran up to her from behind and hit her on the back with his fist with all his strength. Wild screams of approval spread among his companions. The poor woman, pushed with this powerful blow, fell into a ditch on the side of the road. I ran up to her and helped her to climb out of it. The torturer stood above us with a gun in his hand and drove us to run quickly, to the laughter and screams of the company of thugs.

We then all ran together, while he ran behind us, not allowing us to stop or even slow down, yelling the whole time: "los, los." After almost a whole kilometer of running, he finally stopped, but continued to scream after us to run. And when we began to slow down, he chased after us again. Finally, the screams of this bandit and his companions receded into the background and, barely alive from exhaustion, we stopped. Such was our first direct contact with the Germans. But we didn't expect anything better from them.

[...]

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Accession Number 2008.321.1
Date Created
June 1944
Page(s) 5
Author / Creator
Winnykamien, Fryderyk
Language(s)
Polish
Location
Warsaw, Poland
Reference Location
Łódź, Poland
Document Type Memoir
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