Avigdor (Victor) Louis (Part I)

Can you tell me where you were born?

I, Avigdor (Victor) Louis, was born in Cracow, Poland. There were many Rabbanim in the town; our family Rav was the Tchechover Rav. We davened in a small shtiebel. I attended a cheder.

What can you recall about your family?

I come from a very frum family. I had two brothers and two sisters; I was the third child. My father owned a fabric store, while my mother stayed home and took care of the family. My oldest sister moved to Eretz Yisrael in 1932. We all wanted to emigrate, but by the time we decided to leave we weren’t able to get visas anymore.

How did life change once the Nazis invaded?

The Germans invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and arrived in Cracow two days later. When we heard that the Germans were coming, I fled Cracow together with my brother and a friend and ran east towards Russia. However, the Germans were faster than we were. They caught up with us after we had walked 300 miles and shipped us right back home.

The original assumption was that the young people were strong and would survive while the older people would perish. My father and mother went into hiding at the beginning of the war since they weren’t young and the Germans would have most definitely murdered them.

I arrived home two or three days before Rosh Hashanah. I was taken to a forced labor camp where I was given different types of work. When I was asked what type of work I was skilled in, I replied that I knew how to work as an auto mechanic. I had never worked as an auto mechanic before but I took whatever job they allowed me to do.

Did you know what was happening in other parts of Poland and elsewhere in Europe at the time?

The plan of the Germans was to exterminate the Jews all over Europe. We were not prepared for this at all. We thought Germany was a civilized country that could set an example for others. But, obviously, this was just a show. They were thirsty for our blood. Who would ever have imagined or believed that an entire country would follow one man?

When were you taken to the ghetto?

When we returned home from the forced labor camps we were taken to the ghetto. I went together with my older sister and younger brother. Since we arrived later, when most families were settled already, we were divided up among other families and placed wherever there was an empty spot. My parents came out of hiding, since we thought the situation was improving. They joined us in the ghetto.

The ghetto in Cracow was very large. There was a population of approximately 50,000 people there. Those who had some money were able to purchase ration cards for food. Even with the ration cards we were only given a little bit of food. This is how we lived and miraculously stayed alive. I continued working as an auto mechanic in the SS camp. My boss was nice to me and helped me out.

to be continued

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.