Stories of Dachau Survivors
Six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, including the entire family of William Weiss, who was among the prisoners at Dachau when it was liberated by the US Seventh Army on April 29, 1945. Before the Nazi persecution of the Jews, the Weiss family had lived in peace and prosperity in Lwow, which at that time was a Polish city, also known by the English name Lvov. The city was originally called L'viv when it was founded in 1256 as the capital of Galicia; today the city of L'viv is in the Ukraine. From 1772 until 1919, the city was called Lemberg, after it became part of the Austrian Empire in the first partition of Poland.
According to his own account, as told to newspaper reporter Marsha Low in 2001, Weiss was a studious child who earned good grades and he expected to one day take over his father's military supply business in Lvov. When World War II started in 1939 with the invasion of Poland, the Soviet Union captured the city of Lvov on September 17, 1939, the first day that the Russians entered the war on the side of Nazi Germany. After Poland was conquered, Lvov was in the section that was occupied by the Soviet Union, as part of the pact made with the Germans prior to the joint invasion. The original population of Lvov was one third Jewish and there were an additional 100,000 Jewish refugees in the city, who had fled to the east, escaping from the Germans when they invaded Poland on September 1, 1939.
The area occupied by the Soviet Union, after September 1939, had formerly belonged to the Russians from 1795 until after World War I when the Poles finally regained their independence. After the Russians took back their lost Polish territory in September 1939, they set up a Communist government and the Soviet secret police, known as the NKVD, was put in charge of arresting any resistance fighters.
On July 2, 1941, the life of the Weiss family changed drastically, according to his account, as told to Marsha Low. On June 22, 1941, the German Army had invaded the Soviet Union and by July 2nd, they had captured the city of Lvov. The name of the city was changed back to Lemberg, the name that had been given to it by the Austrians. According to Weiss's account, the Nazis began rounding up the Jews in the city within the first month, taking them to the Brygidki and Loncki prisons on the edge of town.
Weiss told Ms. Low that by August 1941, the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police began forcing the Jews into a ghetto in Lvov, allowing them to take with them only what they could carry. Lvov became one of the five major ghettos in Poland; the other four were Warsaw, Lodz, Krakow and Lublin. Altogether, there were 356 ghettos established by the Nazis in Poland after September 1939.
The evacuation of the Lvov Jews began on March 19, 1942 and continued for one month until 15,000 Jews had been sent to the gas chambers at Belzec, one of the three Operation Reinhard extermination camps, which had been set up specifically to kill the Jews as part of the Final Solution. Between August 10 and August 23, 1942, 50,000 more Jews from the Lvov ghetto were sent to Belzec, which is north of Lvov, on the west side of the Bug river, the border between the part of Poland occupied by the Germans and the former Soviet occupied zone. Between March and December 1942, a total of 600,000 Jews were murdered in the gas chamber at Belzec.
Weiss told reporter Marsha Low that, in August 1942, his father had found a hiding place in Lvov and had planned an escape for the entire family on the evening of a day when the Lvov Jews were rounded up, but it was too late. Weiss and his mother and two sisters had already been put into the group that was assembled, ready to be sent to either Belzec or the concentration camp at Janowska. Weiss was 19 years old at that time. He told Ms. Low that his mother and two sisters were sent to Belzec, but he managed to escape certain death because, on the day that the Jews were assembled for transport, his mother told him to sneak over to the other side where able-bodied people were being sent to work at Janowska, not to be killed at Belzec.
As quoted in the newspaper article, Weiss said, "I listened to her. Now I know she knew she'd be killed. They put me on a truck and took me to the Janowska camp." Weiss said that he managed to escape from the Janowska camp that same night, running to the place where his father was hiding in Lvov, ready to escape with the whole family. When he told his father that their escape plan was too late because his mother and sisters were already on their way to Belzec, his father cried, the first time that Weiss had ever seen his father cry. After a week in hiding in Lvov, Weiss said that he and his father were captured and sent to Loncki prison. Another 5,000 Jews from Lvov were evacuated in November 1942, and sent to either Belzec or Janowska, but Weiss and his father remained for a year in the Loncki prison until the Soviet Army arrived in 1943.
Weiss and his father were among 30 prisoners who were evacuated from the Loncki prison before Russian troops captured Lvov; they were sent to the Auschwitz death camp, where both managed to survive. In his interview with Marsha Low, Weiss said that he still dreams of naked bodies being herded into the gas chambers at Auschwitz.
As the Soviet Army advanced further into Poland, Auschwitz was evacuated in January 1945. In the dead of winter, through knee-deep snow, the starving prisoners were forced to march 50 kilometers to Gleiwitz near the border of Germany. Weiss said that his 42-year-old father died of starvation on the forced march. After a few weeks in Gleiwitz, Weiss was transported by train to the Dachau concentration camp. When Dachau was liberated by American troops, 22-year-old William Weiss, who was 5 foot 7 inches tall, weighed only 75 pounds and he was suffering from typhus. He had survived nearly three years of imprisonment by the Nazis. He said that he was sent to a hospital in Munich, where he met his future wife, Regina, who was also a survivor. They were married on March 13, 1946 in the city hall in Munich.
William Weiss and Regina emigrated to America where they settled near Detroit in West Bloomfield, Michigan. In 2001, Weiss was retired from the clothing business, and was working as a volunteer at least once a week at the Holocaust Memorial Center in West Bloomfield, telling his story to a new generation, so that the horrors of the Nazi regime will never be forgotten.