MG: In two actions. I don’t remember the details actually. My cousin was particularly interested in this
MG: Yes. It’s not just himself; several people took part in it. So, some people did survive from our town you know. Various papers tell the story of two girls from the village and a peasant sort of said ‘Right you are my two daughters, you are staying with us’. So there are various people; there were people who abused the Jews and there were people who helped them. An interesting instance was a man in our town, a Pole. Ah here I must explain. There were basically three major groups in the town; Jews, Poles and today you would call them Belarussians. But the term Belarus actually was almost invented by Stalin; he created Belarus, there was no such entity ever before historically and still isn’t in some opinion. The Pole married a Jewish woman. The Jews ignored him, the Poles ignored him and they brought up a family. Now I’m told (again by my cousin probably, he got the information) that when the Jewish people were gathered in the ghetto in the town, several houses, they were the only ones who dared to try and supply food, tried to get some back. The German guard didn’t see them and they tried to bring in food and so on.
INT: So they were outside the ghetto?
INT: Oh I see because
MG: They didn’t think of her as being Jewish.
MG: Nobody mentioned it so she
INT: She kept quiet.
MG: She survived with her husband.
INT: But she still tried to help the Jews that were in the ghetto.
MG: Yes, yes. Which I thought indicates the fact that there some human beings
INT: Who are very decent? Absolutely. So taking us back to the speech of Kaganovic and your chance to get away, how did you get out of the area?
MG: Well when I got away I was told to go either direct…In the Soviet Union people didn’t choose where they went; they were told where to go. I was told that I’m to go into the Ural Mountains, a town called Magnitogorsk copper mines. Well I didn’t fancy the idea so on the way I heard from various other people released that a Polish army was forming so I just went down and I became… I was too young to be a soldier so I was a cadet.
INT: And they were pleased to have you. Did they know you were Jewish?
INT: They were pleased to have you.
INT: And they knew you were Jewish but that wasn’t a problem?
MG: How does one describe it in Poland? Formally Poland was a democracy with equal rights for everybody, formally, with anti-Semitism naturally. But on a formal basis, basically, I had a right to be there, it wasn’t a question of whether they accepted me, you know. I was entitled to be there because I was a Pole; I was Polish by nationality.
INT: This is the Polish army after they had been conquered by Germany?
MG: And Russia
INT: And Russia
MG: Because don’t forget that two weeks after the Germans invaded the Russian army moved into eastern Poland in huge numbers. And this is what basically collapsed Poland. There might have been longer resistance to the Germans. People get the impression that Poland was completely squashed – it was partly squashed. There were various pockets of resistance. In Gdansk the Polish garrison resisted for two months until they were actually killed to a man.
INT: I didn’t realise that
INT: So you were in the Polish army in 1941 in a conquered country.
INT: That’s right, and you were still fighting at that point then?
MG: No, there was nobody to fight.
INT: Exactly, so that’s what I’m trying to find out. I’m wondering what you’re doing there.
MG: We become allies of the Soviet Union theoretically.
MG: But you were allowed to be evacuated. So after several months in the Soviet Union, by a largely roundabout route because we got to the bottom of the Ural Mountains, where the first camp was, then moved to Tashkent which is virtually in the centre of central Asia, then we were taken to a port on the Caspian Sea called Kasnovodsk, from there we sailed to a port in Persia, which at that time the port was named after the Shah of Persia who was called Pahlavi, it was his family name. And I looked recently at the map and it’s no longer called Pahlavi But it was a port sat on the Caspian. From there we were taken to a suburb of Tehran because I was in the city on a few occasions.
And then we were taken by convoy, this time by Sikh drivers in the British army to what is today Iraq, and from there by some other drivers into Palestine. Then we were taken by Jewish lorry drivers to an area there where I was sort of enlisted into the army properly. And I was, certain things apply in the army, the Polish army, if you become a cavalry man you have to be a certain height. I was tall enough to be a cavalry man so…
INT: Had you ever been on a horse?
MG: Only about a couple of times in my life before.
INT: But no problem!
MG: Yeah, I’ve never been on a horse in the army. But we were sort of then taken to Suez, we accompanied on a French boat called the Mauretania, a huge French liner. We took Italian prisoners from Egypt to Durban in South Africa, then South Africa for a couple of months, basically to just feed us up because most of us were skeletons and then we took German prisoners who were unsafe to be kept in South Africa because they used to get out and disappear among the broad population. So we took them from there, we sailed from Durban, passed Africa, onto the Atlantic, hugged the South American coast and then eventually delivered them in Nova Scotia in Halifax.
INT: Why were you sent to Nova Scotia?
MG: They thought that Canada was probably a good place for German prisoners of war.
INT: They are certainly out of the way there I suppose! And they were left there in Halifax, Nova Scotia?
MG: Yeah the Germans were left in Halifax and we joined a convoy. By that time of course the United States were already a huge convoy. By convoy we got into Gourock of all places.
INT: It’s a small world certainly. You must have been somewhat confused during all of this, no?
MG: You take it all in your stride.
INT: You were very young. Were you learning English as you went along?
MG: I was sort of. There was a doctor, oh there was a unit of the British army called the Cameroons, (they are the people who pushed the Italians out of Abyssinia) and a sergeant amongst their lot for some reason took a fancy to me and talked to me in English, taught me some English.
MG: But I had to learn English once I arrived here. I had a few phrases but, you know. I could speak to people but I didn’t really have much English.
INT: So when your Polish brigade or whatever it was arrived in Gourock what happened to them then?
MG: Well we were all properly in the army and we joined with those in the Reconnaissance regiment and then
INT: But you were still a Polish regiment?
MG: Yes in Dalkeith near Edinburgh, that’s where we were stationed. There is a big parkland and somebody’s mansion in the parkland, that was sort of where the camp was. And then it was decided that armoured cars were not really very useful. Reconnaissance started to be done by aeroplanes so they didn’t need Reconnaissance regiments. So we were simply transferred to tanks and we landed in Normandy.
INT: So you landed in Normandy as part of the D- Day landings?
MG: Well, no I would say about 5 days later.
MG: They were heavy tanks. We couldn’t be landed right away.
INT: Right. But that was still part of a Polish regiment?
MG: That was still part of the Polish army yes.
MG: It was, it was one of the three regiments of the 21st Army group which was Canadian, the other two regiments were Canadian and the Polish regiment was in the 21st Army group and that was the, that was the group that went right along the coast and all the way along the French coast, eventually into Belgium and Holland.
INT: And you were still fighting then?
MG: Yes there was a bit of fighting yes.
INT: Right and were you still in Holland when the war ended?
MG: No I was in Germany when the war ended. We, in 1944 we were held up on the estuary of the Rhein which for some reason incidentally in Holland is called the Ems The Rhein changes its name when it gets into Holland. So we were on the Ems in Holland and then in ’45 we sort of crossed. In the meantime there was of course the defeat of the paratroopers who tried to cross the estuary.
INT: At Arnhem?
MG: And there was an attack by the Germans in eastern Belgium. But in ’45 we crossed and eventually we were stationed near the south of Bremen. You know where the port of Bremen Harbour is? Just south of that.
INT: That’s when the war ended?
MG: The war ended yes.
INT: How did you feel as a Jewish person going into Germany at that point?
MG: I didn’t feel anything to tell you the truth. A) We didn’t have a clear picture of what was happening. Would I have acted differently? I don’t know, probably not. When you are in the army you do things which more or less have to be done. You are told to do.