by Harry Lazarus (Tenafly, NJ)
interviewed by Bruce Black
When I was growing up, I used to love listening to my grandfather, Harry Lazarus, z”l, retell stories about his childhood in Zharnov, a small village near Lodz and not far from Warsaw, and how he made his way to America. He was a baker, with bright blue eyes above a thick nose, a warm smile, and broad, strong shoulders, and he spoke with the thick Eastern European Yiddish accent of his youth. Before his death a number of years ago, I recorded one of our story-telling sessions in his apartment in Tenafly, NJ. In this segment, he shares scenes from his life in Vienna.
BB: You were involved with the Black Market while you were in Vienna?
HL: I don’t want to say anything about it.
BB: Why not?
HL: I don’t want to talk about it, that’s all. But I made a lot of money, and I used to go dancing, and I had a nice girl and I had a very good time. I used to go to operas and I used to go to shows. I had a very good time in Vienna.
And I figured a little later, I was already about 18 years old, I was already about four years in Vienna, and I knew everything and I spoke beautiful German and I wrote beautiful German and everything was nice. And I figured I’m going to buy myself a little business there and get married and stay there in Vienna.
And then when Hitler started to talk, Hitler, he was in Austria, you know? Hitler, he started to talk about Jews and all that stuff and right away there was a lot of trouble in Vienna, you know? The government was a socialist government, and there was a Communist Party and they marched to the Parliament, and I marched, too.
BB: You were a Communist?
HL: I marched with the Communist party. I marched. And when we came there, they threw fire, you know, the things that fire, they threw on the Parliament. As soon as the marchers did that, the soldiers came out with machine guns and they started to shoot and everybody ran. And I ran, too. But somebody pushed me up to a tree and I was hurt.
I went to the doctor the next day and I told him. He said, “What the hell? Why did you march? Who told you to march?”
I said, “Nu, I marched.”
And that was the end of my time in Vienna when I had money in my pocket.
BB: So what’d you do?
HL: I figured that I would go back to Zharnov. I used to have in Zharnov my uncle and a nice girl that I left there, a girlfriend. And I wanted to see them. And I went back to Poland.
When I came back home, I was over 17 years old, so they wanted to take me for a soldier. They wanted to take me for a soldier. But I didn’t want to go to be a soldier for the Pollacks.
When I went home, the soldiers on the train, when they saw a Jew with a beard, they grabbed his beard and they did all kinds of trouble to the Jewish people. So I should go to be a soldier to fight with them? I didn’t want to.
I said to my uncle, “I want to run, to go back to Vienna.”
So I went back, I tried to smuggle myself over to Germany, and it wasn’t easy. When I came to Breslau, I was sitting on the train by a German officer, and I told him I wanted to go to Vienna. And he said, “You better hide yourself. The Polish detective is going to be here. They’ll take you off.”
So I hid myself in the toilet and I didn’t let anybody in. And I was laying there in the toilet. I was laying for a long time there and I was so tired already from laying there that I came out and I said “Can I go out already?”
And the German officer said, “No, not yet.”
And I had to go back again until I came to Berlin and the Polish inspector couldn’t take me off no more.
So I came to Berlin and I went over to the police and asked, “Where’s the Jewish street?” And he told me which street car to take to go to the Jewish section.
Next: From Berlin to New York