THE HOLOCAUST: WE MUST REMEMBER
Roger Fredinburg – Host
30-Hour Series of Interviews broadcast on the Roger Fredinburg Radio Program
1-21-1998 Eleventh Program in Series
Guest: Dr. William (Billy) Samelson
Topic: The Four Forms of Resistance
Book: ONE BRIDGE TO LIFE
ISBN-10: 093543738X and ISBN-13: 978-0935437386
Roger: Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a pleasure to have you here with us tonight. These are grueling, tormented tales, these stories of the holocaust; but, they must be told. It won’t be much longer that there won’t be anybody left to tell the stories, unfortunately. So, we need to get the stories told as best we can. That’s why I’m not interrupting the series for the wild and crazy breaking news stories and things. I don’t want to interrupt it, I want to ride this thing through to completion. Call it a gift of love, an act of love or whatever.
Our guest this hour is a survivor. At one time he was affiliated with the partisans as a young boy, spent time in concentration camps and is now a professor down in San Antonio. He’s just an all around really swell guy, William Samelson. We call him Billy! Billy, welcome to the program!
Billy S: Hello! How are you Roger?
Roger: Oh, I’m doing just fine!
Billy S: Am I coming through all right?
Roger: Oh, man! You’re banging through here! You’re going to wake up America, Billy!
Billy S: I hope so.
Roger: How are you doing today?
Billy S: I’m doing fine, thank you.
Roger: I am finer than a frog hair split five ways, my friend. Billy, what I want you to do with me for a little bit tonight is to tell us about yourself, who you are and what you do now, then tell us where you came from, tell us your holocaust story. Then I really want to talk about the resistance movement because there aren’t too many people who are familiar with it. So, let’s just let ‘er rip!
Billy S: Well, I was born in Poland almost 70 years ago. During the first days of the war, the Nazi attack on Poland, I was with my grandparents in central Poland. We really never dreamed in our worst nightmares what would happen a few days later. We were, of course, occupied by the Nazis for the duration of six and a half years. I was then eleven years old when the war began in 1939. I spent 6-1/2 years in various activities; concentration camps, ghettos and some time with the partisans. I was very fortunate to be liberated by the U.S. Armed Forces on May 1, 1945.
Roger: You were a young boy when all this took place. It’s amazing you have that kind of recall. A lot of kids block out those sorts of memories.
Billy S: Well, I don’t only credit it to my total recall, ever since I was liberated I’ve been writing a chronicle of it, helping my memory and, of course, my brother was liberated as well. Together we helped each other remember events, people, faces, people we have lost, the loved ones. You know, memory plays tricks on us, through time you tend to forget. It’s a blessing and a curse at the same time. You hope to forget the bad memories and remember only the good; but, inevitably you remember both or you forget both. This hasn’t happened with us because I’ve written it all down. Then, of course, through my later studies I’ve learned to record everything punctiliously and I’m fortunate that I have all these records, not only in my mind; but, no paper as well. I’ve written a lot on it.
Roger: What have you written, Billy?
Billy S: My last book was a memoir titled, “One Bridge to Life,” which chronicles the beginnings of the war and all the tribulations; all the camps, my experiences with the Nazis, and goes all the way to liberation by the American Armed Forces. Then, of course, I’ve written a sequel already which is now in preparation for publication. The sequel takes up from where the other one ended and goes all the way to 1972.
Roger: Wow! Was it different, do you think, for children?
Billy S: Yes, it was. With children, number one, was our size, we hadn’t grown to adulthood. We were in our formative years ;not only physically but spiritually, mentally. This not being matured in every aspect of existence helped us a great deal.
For instance, I weighed approximately between 85-90 pounds when the war began. I was an 11 year old. When I was liberated, I weighed 72 pounds and I was a grown adult! I didn’t grow very much really. I’m sort of short, 5 ft 6-1/2 in. So, my growth was stunted by lack of nourishment and the stress I had undergone. That was really how our size and immaturity both corporeal and spiritual was an advantage.
I have seen grown adults around me die very quickly, perish because of lack of the nutrition they were used to. They were unable to maintain their strength. They were unable to maintain a healthy outlook on life because of depression immediately thereafter. They went very fast! Some of the adults died within 5 to 6 months of captivity. We children sustained ourselves. We had more resilience ritually because we played games. Children played games.
You speak of resistance. In the ghettos we played games among ourselves, resisting the Nazis. Some of them would be the Nazi oppressors…. no one wanted to play them!.
Roger: You mean like American kids playing Cowboys and Indians?
Billy S: Exactly! Yes. Many, many different aspects of game-playing which were a sort of salvation.
Roger: It kept you mind busy, kept you off the subject….
Billy S: Kept our spirits up! For instance, nobody wanted to be selected as Hitler, himself; but, invariably one got the role and we always killed him!
Roger: Ha, ha, ha! So, there was a little anger there?
Billy S: Yes, there was! Anger built up! Hatred built up! This remembrance of the losses that we have sustained; in lives, in loved ones, sustained us in our desire to survive and our desire see the enemy in chains.
Roger: Did you want revenge? As a child looking out at Nazi Germany and beyond….
Billy S: We definitely did!
Roger: What did you fantasize as a kid, when you thought of revenge?
Billy S: We wanted retribution. We dreamed, we fantasized in camps…. later on after the ghettos were closed and my brother and I were fortunate to be rescued by a leftist resistance movement that burned the train that was taking us to Auschwitz from central Poland. They burned the train. They destroyed it completely and killed all the Nazi guards. A group of us were able to join them. That gave us the opportunity to maintain human dignity.
Roger: How old were you when that happened?
Billy S. I was 12-1/2 when it happened. My brother was 14-1/2. There were boys and girls younger than us! There were boys and girls that executed Germans without any compunction that were 8, 9, 10 years old! It was easy, you see, the partisan underground used children very frequently in the resistance because it was easier for children to gain the enemy’s confidence, going into enemy camps to work for them, to provide them with some necessities that soldiers usually need in an occupied land. Gaining their confidence was not very difficult, especially for us Jewish boys because we knew German. We spoke German to them and they considered us sort of their landsmen, their “volks deutsch”, we told them we werevolks deutsch, German nationals. They had designations for different phases, different spheres of population. Anyone who spoke their language was considered an ally!
Roger: Wow! So, as a boy, did you end up doing some of this yourself in the resistance?
Billy S: Yes, we did. I spent 8-1/2, almost 9 months in the eastern sector of Poland, near Wolyn. We heard the group of partisans that I was with received notice from headquarters from the train…you know there is a European railroad that was running. It was the Moscow-Berlin Express. Remember the stories about that? It ran all the way from western Europe through the Soviet Union all the way to Vladivostok, all the way to the eastern part of Asia. We heard there was a change in the railway gauge. You know, the Russian gauge was about 10 inches wider than the rest of European railroad gauge. Europeans have a standard gauge of rails. The Soviet Russians had a wider gauge. Usually the transports that were going east with personnel and materiel of Nazis, of Germans, going east when they attacked Russia, went through a small town on the border of Poland and the Soviet Union (unintelligible Polish word) near the Treblinka extermination camp. We heard all of the trains stopped there overnight and were changed; all the personnel, weaponry and materiel would be unloaded from the European rail and loaded onto the wider gauge train. We were active in that sector of Poland, destroying the railroad tracks, destroying materiel and personnel. We killed! I was instrumental in the deaths of many enemies, without realizing that it would bother my conscience one day.
Roger: Wow! How would you plan these assaults?
Billy S: The group that I was with was supported by the leftist movement in Poland, by the communist movement in Poland. They were the only ones that took the Jews in! The others, the home army that were resisting also, that were partisans of the home army, was called the “Armia-Krajowa”. They were just as anti-Jewish as the Nazis! So, we had no hope with them.
But, the people we were with, most of them were former military who had either escaped Nazi POW camps or had never been captured. They formed these partisan groups and the were trained soldiers, trained military. The planned all the strategies, plan all the activities very thoroughly within the area of their operations and they would execute them. Of course, this type of military armed resistance was very helpful to the military operation of the Soviets as well as the Allies later on, because wherever there was martial resistance— not passive—there were many, many types of resistance that I could talk on for days and nights and I have written that in a book I’ve just done on the murder of the European Jews….but, this martial resistance was very helpful in that the Nazis had to bring in troops from the front in order to subdue military martial resistance.
Let’s take the Warsaw Uprising, for instance. The Warsaw Uprising was more significant than any of the battles that took place during WW II. You have to understand that during that three month period…. there were only about 23,000 Jews; men, women and children and virtually unarmed., fighting with deficient arms that were sold to them on the pretext of selling them good arms in good condition. They were fighting with molotov cocktails, as you are familiar with molotov cocktails, they are bottles full of gasoline with a lint going into them. They were thrown on the SS tanks that were coming in. Such resistance was the first to cause the Nazis, to cause these assassins, to withdraw completely from the ghetto and to bring in reinforcements from the front, from Stalingrad where they were besieged, to Warsaw. They brought in 40,000 men; SS troops, highly trained assassins, to subdue the Warsaw insurgency. That was unheard of! It delayed the conquest of the east. It delayed the whole operation called Operation Barbarossa. Therefore, it was one of the most significant battles, if not The Most Significant Battle of WW II! It brought the turnaround of the Nazi conquest.
But, you know, there are issues in resistance, in Jewish resistance. Let’s ask ourselves a question. What price were the persecuted willing to pay for moral victory? Would they pay with their lives? Was the life gained from dehumanization a life worth living and fighting for? These were the questions that we had to ask ourselves. A resister, a fighter, has to be able within his mind to decide that a life is not worth living unless it is lived with dignity. That dignity, that fight for freedom, liberty and dignity is worth laying your life down for. That’s very important! Anyone who fears giving the life, being down away with, being killed in resisting, will not resist. There has been a widespread stereotypical belief that the Jews was estranged from the use of arms and the Jews was devoid of martial qualities. Even in the Nazi period, people were saying there was a general absence of physical resistance among the persecuted Jews. This is absolutely a myth! It is not true! It does not do justice to the various types of resistance that occurred in the face of Nazi oppression. The evidence points to forms of resistance ranging from unarmed/passive resistance to examples of armed resistance, not only in the concentration camps; but, in the ghettos! That should dispel the myth that Jews went passively to their deaths.
Roger: Well, you see, that’s what their image is, Billy, especially in America. I was raised to believe that the Jews were like sheep. The Nazis just picked up a staff and herded them into the cattle cars and drove them off to the gas chambers.
Billy S: It is a myth! It is a falsehood! You realize…. now, look at it this way, the ironic contradiction to that myth of lack of resistance, of passivity and going like sheep to their death, the very ironic contradiction to that myth is the fact of the record of Jewish resistance…. mind you, this is important….the record of Jewish resistance to Naziism far exceeds that of the combined POW camps notwithstanding the fact that the latter comprised trained military personnel! In all of the POW camps allies of French, of British, of American, of Soviet origin, there was less resistance than in the death camps, the killing factories, than in the ghettos, the concentration camps and labor camps! So, that myth should be completely dispelled!
Roger: There was a lot more resistance than history tells us about!
Billy S: We owe it to the 6,000,000 dead of Nazi persecution to dispel that myth completely!
Roger: Yes! Billy, we’ve got to take a break here. Hang on! We’ll be back in just a couple of minutes. Ladies and gentlemen, our guest is Professor William Samelson, we call him Billy here. He is a survivor and we’ll get into some more of his story in just a little bit.
Roger: Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen! Professor Billy Samelson’s here! He’s a survivor and was a resister. He has quite a bit of information about the holocaust and the Jewish people. Billy, welcome back! To dispel this myth is very important! I was unaware that it was a myth.
Billy S: Yes it was. I would like to also elucidate on some points; why resistance was so difficult during the Nazi period, the Nazi persecution. It needs to be done as preface as to what resistance really took place.
There were three aspects of Nazi persecution. The Nazis, being well aware of who the Jews were. :
First: The Jewish tradition of love of family. As long as the Jewish family was together in ghettos later on, they would not resist simply for the reason that they would jeopardize family safety and family life and community life…if they resisted because it’s been well-known that for one Nazi soldier or SS man killed, the Nazis would take reprisals and kill a whole shtetl or kill 100 people, killing families! So, love of family prevented many, many Jews from resisting, from taking part in resistance.
Second: Nazi Deception: The promises the Nazis made in the ghettos they allegedly came in to resettle us, to take the people out of crowded ghettos and resettle them onto places where they would allegedly, as they professed through the bullhorns when they told people to get out of their homes and climb onto the railway wagons, the cattle wagons. They would promise many things. They would promise the resettlement would be for the better, that there would be no disease, they would be more food at the destination, and so on. People believed because most people want to be believe! They were walking into those freight wagons, those cattle cars with their families intact! They were with their loved ones!
Third: Fear of Betrayal: Another aspect of lack of resistance, where resistance might have been expected was the fear of betrayal. There were many who would be betray us; many among our own people and many among their allies, the henchmen they brought in from different ethnics and national groups.
But, there was resistance activity and resistance can be divided into four categories:
- The actions of individuals and groups in defense of their own lives and human dignity.
- Participation, as I did, participation in partisan war was waged on Polish and Soviet soil against the Nazis.
- Underground activities in cities and ghettos. We had many, many varied underground activities.
- Escapes from camps: from death camps, from killing factories, as well as ghettos and concentration camps.
But, you see, even when you escaped, and this was a form of resistance, even when escaped the camp—-let’s say you escaped the ghetto or a labor camp—the entire Nazi-occupied zone of Europe included practically every country except Switzerland, Spain in the south and Lichtenstein, perhaps, and some small communities. All of Europe was in the enemy camp! It has been known that a Jew that escaped from a camp or a ghetto and counted on someone aiding him in the escape, found that he was betrayed, that people would deliver him or her to the Nazi authorities for pound of sausage and a bottle of whiskey which was very difficult to come by.
So, the armed resistance,, although it did occur in many instances, found the Jew rather helpless and found the Jew counting on the world coming to his aid, and the world was silent! The world was unwilling to do it!
Then they say, why didn’t we revolt in concentration camps? When we entered a concentration camp we were disrobed, we were placed naked to the world! A naked man loses the power of being resistant. He ceases to fight against fate. Together with his clothing, he at once loses the intitiave and instinctive will to live!
Roger: The indignity!
Billy S: The indignity of being naked in front of the enemy and being completely helpless! There is no hiding place, you see!
Another thing, when a Jew finally decided to fight for his life, for his dignity, he realized the odds were against him or her because of lack of a defensive weapon. He realized that he was not subject to international laws of war. For instance, when they caught us, if they didn’t need us for labor, they would have killed us all! Summarily! A Jew knew if he or she resisted they would have to fight to the death because if they didn’t, they’d be killed by the Nazis anyhow, without a tribunal, without any compunction. They were not POWs. The Nazis didn’t take prisoners of the Jews, they just killed them!
Billy S: Instantly, yes!
Roger: It wasn’t like they had to get permission from Berlin. Ha, ha!
Billy S: Ha, ha! They took the law into their own hands. The officers in the field took the law into their own hands. So, there was a great deal of thought and decision-making involved in resisting. Yet, we resisted!
Roger: Yes, and you had nowhere to run!
Billy S: Nowhere. It was all enemy camp.
Roger: You either prayed for divine intervention or the outside would come in and help… and no one came until 1945.
Billy S: That’s right!
Roger: Oh, that’s terrible!
Billy S: So, you see, it is this very moral substance of resistance that differs from the political. By its very content, the moral substance spurs people to action. The ethical and moral impulses of resistance were present in every aspect of Nazi-dominated Europe. They were expressed by people of varied social and intellectual levels. They all united in resisting. This kind of resistance, I want to tell you, was and still remains the bedrock of civilized society.
Roger: Now, did the partisans focus on sabotage or get into actual battles?
Billy S: We were primarily involved in sabotage. Primarily, we were a hit and run group. Most of the time we spent hiding from the enemy because they had superior forces so we could only do hit and run activities. We could only act in random, sporadic movement so as not to be eradicated. You cannot fight tanks when you just have pistols in your hands! Those pistols were not automatic, they were ancient weapons that were sold to us for good money.
Roger: So, you were eventually captured?
Billy S: Captured, yes. We were captured at the end of 1943. That was a time when the Nazis suffered tremendous reverses on the eastern front, on the Soviet front. They needed labor! They had conscripted practically German grown-up, every German adult into the armed forces. They were already scraping the bottom of the barrel, taking Hitler Youth children into what they called the “Home Front” in order to send the able-bodied adults to the front because they were getting whipped by the Allies!
They needed labor in their factories and that is why they took the unit—they killed quite a lot of us during the ensuing resistance, the ensuing battle we had with them. Those of us that they captured they interrogated. They beat us to a pulp then sent us off. I wound up in Buchenwald, at the concentration camp Buchenwald near Weimar. That was in early 1943.
You know, every concentration camp had branches because, most people don’t realize it, all of the concentration camps or labor camps as they were called, were constructed near industrial centers.
Let’s take Auschwitz, for instance. Auschwitz- Birkenau, the twin camps, were constructed for reason of building up I.G. Farben Industries. I.G. Farben drew most of the benefits for the camps being there. When a camp was resisting, when people in Auschwitz resisted, burned some of the crematories, the industry suffered for that.
Roger: Listen, I’ve got to take this break. We’ll come back after a few quick commercials and then take a few phone calls. So, you folks on the phone lines, hang in and I’ll get to you just a quickly as possible. We’ll be back with our good friend, Dr. Billy Samelson, and finish up the program.
Roger: Okay! We’re back with Billy Samelson. We’re running short on time and we’re trying to get a few callers in if we can. In Eugene, Oregon, we have Gene on the line. Gene, welcome!
Caller-Gene: Hello, gentlemen! Billy, I’m glad you’re on tonight, especially speaking of the resistance movement! Organized resistance movements are the key to effective fight a large army and win for long periods of time.
Billy S: Yes.
Caller- Gene: The second thing I wanted to mention, could you name your book again before you’re off the air? And the third thing is, do you see persecution coming again, in this generation or the next, for Jews and Christians? I’ll take the answers off the air. Thank you!
Roger: All right, Gene, thank you.
Billy S: The title of my book is, “One Bridge to Life.” Yes, I would say that persecution is always possible under certain circumstances. This is why it is so important that we see the earmarks of any such threat rearing it’s ugly head and we can counteract it.
Roger: What do you think the signs might be, Billy?
Billy S: The signs would be, for instance, when times get really critical, like economically critical, the people love to put blame somewhere. They usually look for scapegoats. Scapegoating is the normal reaction of a human being who seeks to shirk his or her own responsibility for their own fate, they own destiny and blame it on someone else if things go bad. There are many, many factors involved that contribute to that.
Roger: What if you, for example, saw the government demonizing and attacking a group of people?
Billy S: I would….
Roger: …. if you saw that slowly building, and even though you didn’t like those people or their ideas or religious beliefs, would you still see that as a sign or would you ignore it because they’re people you don’t like anyway?
Billy S: I would still see it as a sign, yes. It is very important to remember that when your fellow human being is unjustly persecuted, you are being persecuted as well. We are our brother’s keeper, really. Let’s face it! This world has become too small for us to be ignorant of that and turn our faces away from those in need.
Roger: Aren’t we doing that really right now?
Billy S: We are! And there are people who are not! There are people who are taking very active part in being vocal when they see injustices. We see all sorts of movements of people of good will that take up for the disadvantaged, that take up for the people who are mistreated.
You see, this is why it’s so important to carry the message of Jewish resistance! The heartening aspect of the holocaust is the emphasis on the indomitable courage and spirit displayed by those who resisted no matter what form that resistance took! Sadly, we must say that has taken the worst of humanity to bring out it best.
Billy S: The lessons that we learn from those who braved the danger to save themselves and others is this great lesson—that we cannot live without our souls, without our conscience! We can not!
Roger: But, do we judge the motivation of the people?
Billy S: Yes. We should always judge the motivation of the people.
Roger: I mean, Hitler was compelling in his propaganda, that the Jews were destroying the economy and had secret….
Billy S: Yes. And, nobody asked him, “what price will we pay for persecuting this segment of our population?” Nobody asked. Everyone listened to him and he spoke the words they all felt deep inside but never spoke. He gave them a goal, a goal that would improve their lives, at what cost he didn’t say.
Roger: Billy, it’s been a pleasure, my friend! I’m really glad I’ve met you! You’ve given me some new insight on the whole resistance movement and I greatly appreciate that. I’m sure the audience does as well. Continue your writing and your good work, and let us know when your new book comes out!
Billy S: Thank you! I shall do that! Good night.
Roger: All right, ladies and gentlemen – the Holocaust Series — I know it’s not as exciting as talking about the presidential probe, the big story of the day. But, then again, it’s necessary because we’ve got to remember! Eternal vigilance, ladies and gentlemen, is the key to freedom! We’ll be back tomorrow night, until then good night and God Bless America!
(Transcription is from MP3 file converted from original cassette with minimal editing by Chey Simonton.
Errors, if any, may be due to unintelligible sections of original 1997 audio technology. Unknown/unintelligible words are spelled phonetically.)