Stories of Dachau survivors
Harold Gordon was born Hirshel Grodzienski in Grodno, Poland. The members of his family were among the 25,000 Jews who lived in this city of 65,000 residents, located in the northeast corner of Poland near the border of Lithuania. Hirshel's father was a barber and his mother was a housewife. When Poland was conquered by the combined forces of Hitler and Stalin in September 1939, Hirshel was 8 years old. Grodno was in the part of Poland that was given to the Soviet Union by prior agreement, so the Grodzienski family was safe from the Nazis until June 1941 when Germany invaded the Soviet Union. The Soviet zone of Poland was quickly conquered by the Nazis and it wasn't long before Hirshel and his family were herded into a walled ghetto in Grodno. When the ghetto was liquidated, the Jews were marched 8 kilometers to Kelbasin, where Hirshel and his 37-year-old father managed to escape. Kelbasin was a transit camp for Jews who were to be sent to the Treblinka death camp. Hirshel's mother and his brother, who was 18 months younger, were taken to the Treblinka death camp and were never seen again. Hirshel and his father went back to the Grodno ghetto, but it was now deserted.
Having nowhere else to go, father and son walked 70 miles to the Bialystok ghetto where there were 85,000 Jews confined. When the liquidation of the Bialystok ghetto began in October 1942, Hirshel and his father were sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp where they both worked as barbers, shaving the heads of incoming inmates as part of the Nazi effort to control the lice that spreads typhus. After 9 months in Buchenwald, Hirshel and his father were sent on a transport to the Auschwitz death camp in 1943. According to a book that Hirshel wrote and self-published, entitled "The Last Sunset," everyone on the transport was gassed and burned at Auschwitz-Birkenau that same day, except for 12-year-old Hirshel, his father and 10 others who were inexplicably pulled out of the line that was marching toward the gas chambers while an orchestra was playing. They were assigned to work in a crematorium where the bodies of the Jews were burned after gassing.
Hirshel and his father survived the death camp at Auschwitz and were then sent to a factory in the town of Oranienburg, a sub-camp of the Sachsenhausen camp near Berlin. When the underground Messerschmitt factory in Oranienburg was bombed, Hirshel and his father were sent, in May 1944, to Dachau to work in a factory. After the order was given to evacuate the Dachau camp, Hirshel was among the 6,887 Jewish and Russian prisoners who were sent on a sixty-mile death march to the South Tyrol. According to Hirshel's book, when the column of marchers was strafed by Allied planes, he and his father managed to run into the nearby woods and escape. The main group of marchers was liberated by American troops on May 2, 1945. Hirshel, his father and a few others who had escaped were liberated by American soldiers on May 5, 1945, three days before the war ended.
After spending time in a Displaced Persons camp after the war, Hirshel emigrated to America in December 1946 at the age of 15. He settled in Salinas, California.