Henry Libicki looks back on living in Poland through Hitlerís reign of horror during World War II
This is the first of a series of stories by Bill Hanson in honor of National Holocaust Remembrance Week. The remainder of the stories can be found at www.thecommunityvoice.com
Charles Baum, an old friend, recently passed away. He was 91, had lived through the horror of the Holocaust, and had an amazing life.
After the funeral, we were talking about Charley at The Community Voice, how the survivors of the Holocaust were getting very old, ending their incredible time in history. Yatin Shah, owner of The Voice, pondered their passing.
“Someone should write about it, before their stories go with them,” he said.
I volunteered. I have had an interest in the Holocaust for most of my adult life. I’ve wondered about the history of anti-Semitism in the world and how the Germans came to be the spear point of those incredible years. I’ve often wondered how Adolph Hitler could turn ordinary German people into savage killers. My research for this story led me to a deeper understanding of anti-Semitism and its historical roots, closely tied to the evolution of Christianity.
National Holocaust Remembrance Week, which began on April 15, ends on April 22, and is a time to reflect on hatred, genocide and the fortitude of the Jewish people. I am honored to present to you some of the stories of those who lived through the Holocaust.
In the interviews and the notes I have taken, I was tempted to go into great detail about historical anti-Semitism and write some reasoning for all that happened. In the end, nothing measures up to the first person stories of those who lived through it. I’ve omitted quotation marks since these are, for the most part, the tellers’ words.
I met Henry Libicki at his beautiful home in Petaluma. Henry and his wife Lucille built their retirement dream home on a hillside overlooking the Petaluma valley. Henry has a laser sharp intelligence and speaks with carefully chosen words, his Polish accent barely coloring his English.
Until recently their retirement was filled with lots of work for charities supporting those in need in our community. Last year, Henry became unable to drive, which forced him to slow down. He was born in Klobuck, Poland, and at age nine, his family moved to Czestochowa, Poland.
In his own words
Here is Libicki’s story of the Holocaust in his words.
Our family was in the wholesale flour and grains business, my father bought grain from landowners, paid mills to refine it and then sold the flour to bakers. Just before the war, a baker wanted to sell his operation. My mother argued that everyone needed bread; whatever happens, it might be a good move. They bought the bakery and began to work there, baking bread for the first time.
On the morning of Sept. 1, 1939, my mom woke me up and told me to get out of bed and get dressed. The Germans were attacking Poland. We could hear the bombs; it was very frightening.
Hitler was trying to get rid of the Jews. We heard all kinds of stories out of Germany. Anybody who was not there has no business asking why the Jews didn’t do anything against the Nazis, why we didn’t resist.
One nice sunny Sunday morning, just three days after the war started, the Germans marched into our town. They were amazing, they marched in tight formation, their uniforms were clean and crisp. The soldiers were tall, handsome men. Their helmets and guns were shiny. They were smiling at us and joking with people. They asked if they could have some water to wash off the road dust from marching. They were polite as they washed up. Happy and very powerful looking, they laughed and kidded with people. That night we thought maybe it would not be so bad after all, maybe the stories we heard from Germany were exaggerations.
The very next day, they started shooting people in the streets, everybody. People stayed inside that day. This is how Hitler planned it – come in and scare the hell out of everybody. It worked. No one gave a thought to resisting after that.
In two weeks, the fighting was over. The Germans had defeated Poland. The Polish army had horse-drawn cannons and swords. The Polish air force had bi-planes made of wood and canvas. The Germans had Messerschmitt dive bombers, tanks, motorized heavy artillery and many more trained soldiers than Poland. It was over before it started.
Two weeks after the defeat of Poland, Hitler invited the Russians to come in and take half of Poland. Hitler and Stalin had already decided how they were going to divide the country before the German invasion. Stalin wanted to buy some time to build his army, to get his military together. The Russians were not involved in the invasion. Stalin and Hitler trusted each other about as far as one could throw the other.
Hitler’s plan for Russia, even before they were allies, was to populate Russia with German people who would then use Russians as their slaves. On June 22, 1941, Hitler attacked his former ally.
There was a joke during the war after Hitler got in hot water in Russia. The joke goes that Hitler visited Napoleons’ grave for advice. Hitler had already occupied France and was on the attack in Russia, much like Napoleon in the previous century. When Napoleon’s forces attacked Russia, his army bogged down in the freezing winter and suffered an enormous defeat. It was the beginning of the end for France. He asked Napoleon what he should do about fighting the Russians. Napoleon said, “Lay down next to me, you’re finished.”
After the Germans came, we were allowed to continue working the bakery, which kept us fed and in an easier spot than most people.
Our family was also very lucky because we already lived in the part of town that became the Jewish ghetto. We were allowed to stay in our home, although they forced two families to move in with us. People did what they had to do to stay alive, and it was not easy.
One day too late
On Jan. 16, 1945, the Nazis put my older brother on a train to Buchenwald, a death camp. He died there; I still think about him. The very next day, we were liberated by the Russians. They didn’t open the gates and set us free. We did, and they just passed by, totally focused on Germany. One day too late for my poor brother.
U.S. President Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower was not so nice when the Americans liberated the captives. He forced the German people to look at the dead in the camps. He made them dig graves and bury the dead. He rubbed their faces in it. The Russians were only thinking one thing – get Hitler in Berlin. At the end of the war, Hitler used German youth as soldiers to defend Berlin. These children willingly died for him, a terrible thing.