Stories of Dachau survivors

Jack Adler

Jack Adler was born in 1929 in the small town of Pabianice, near the city of Lodz, in the part of Poland that had been in the German state of Prussia between 1795 and the end of World War I, when this territory was given back to the new independent country of Poland. His family owned a textile factory in Lodz.

When Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, Adler's home town was captured during the first week. According to an article written by Karla Pomeroy, and published on January 31, 2007 in the Laramie Boomerang, Adler told an audience at the University of Wyoming on January 29, 2007 that when the occupation of Poland first started, he watched with the excitement of any 10-year-old boy as people brought flowers, food and drink to the Nazi soldiers.

It was the ethnic Germans, whose families had lived in this part of Poland for centuries, that welcomed the German soldiers as liberators. For the Jews, the German occupation was a disaster. Adler said that hours after the occupation began, notices were posted that said Jewish residents were not allowed outside their homes unless they had a yellow Star of David displayed on the front and back of their clothes. Jewish children were no longer able to attend public school. Almost immediately, the beatings and the torture of the Jews began in the town square of Pabianice, according to Adler's speech at the University of Wyoming.

The Jews in Pabianice and the other surrounding villages were soon isolated in a ghetto, dependent upon the Germans for food. Adler's mother and his older brother died in the ghetto, but Adler, his father and two sisters survived.

On May 10, 1942, the able-bodied Jews were moved into a ghetto in Lodz, where they were put to work in the textile factories, making uniforms for German soldiers. According to Adler, the old, the sick and the young were taken to another ghetto, from where they were later sent to the gas chamber. He was able to save his younger sister by sneaking her out of the group destined for the gas chamber and getting her into the work group.

The Lodz ghetto remained open long after the other ghettos in Poland were liquidated and the prisoners were sent to other camps or to the gas chamber. In August 1944, when the Russian Army was already occupying part of Poland, most of the Jews in the Lodz ghetto were finally sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, including Adler, his father and his two sisters. Adler said that his two sisters were immediately sent to a gas chamber, disguised as a shower room, at Birkenau.

According to the article by Karla Pomeroy, Adler told the audience at the University of Wyoming that "mothers with infants had their children ripped from their arms when they refused to give them up. Adler said that the babies were thrown up in the air and used as target practice."

The photo below shows a train that has just arrived in the Birkenau camp on May 26, 1944; a German officer directs a mother carrying a baby to the left, towards the gas chamber in Crematorium II, a few yards from the railroad track. In the background is the "gate of death" into the Birkenau camp. In the foreground are prisoners, wearing striped uniforms, who are assisting the Germans.

Mother & baby are directed by German officer to gas chamber at Birkenau

During the selection process at Birkenau, Jack Adler and his father were directed to the right, but were not registered in the camp. They were held in quarantine at Birkenau for a few weeks, and were then sent to work in one of the eleven Kaufering sub-camps of Dachau near Munich, Germany.

Shortly before Dachau was liberated, the prisoners in the Kaufering sub-camps were marched to the main camp. Three days before the American Seventh Army arrived to liberate the Dachau prisoners, thousands of Jews were marched out of the camp, toward the South Tyrol, where Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler intended to use them as hostages in negotiations with the Allies. Adler was liberated from the march by American soldiers on May 1, 1945; he was sixteen years old, and had survived six years in German captivity.

The following is a quote from the article by Karla Pomeroy in the Laramie Boomerang:

Adler was the only member of his immediate family to survive the camps. Out of 83 total members of his family, four others survived.

Adler moved to Chicago a year later as a war orphan. He learned English, graduated high school and went to college. He met his future wife in 1952, and they have two children. He has returned to Germany but has never returned to his home country of Poland.

Adler associated with a small group of Jewish refugees in his new home of Skokie, Ill., but rarely discussed his wartime experiences with anyone, including his children. It wasn't until his children had grown and had children of their own that he began to open up about his past.

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