I was born in Warsaw almost 80 years ago, and when I was 1 year old Hitler invaded Poland. Soon a wall was built around our neighborhood, and it became the Warsaw ghetto. I had an extended family of 12, but only my mother & I escaped the Nazis and survived the war, the Holocaust. My mother was a young attorney before the war, and after smuggling herself & me out of the ghetto she survived by luck, strength and wits, working as a French or English governess, a cook, maid, laundress. I was hidden by several Polish families, and it is because of them that I survived and am here with you today. I also survived by sheer luck. Being too young to understand anti-Semitism I showed no fear when Nazi soldiers searched the apartment of a family with whom I was living. When escaping to the countryside with another family during the Warsaw uprising I played with a live grenade and threw it away a few seconds before it exploded. My luck continued after the war: in 1949 the Polish communist government sent my mother to Paris to establish Polish bookstores for the Polish emigre community in France, and I was allowed to go with her because I was only 10 years old and there were no survivors in our family with whom she could leave me. In Paris my mother established a Polish book store, then defected, received a visa and came to America, and I followed her a few months later after I too received a visa.
A month after I arrived in America I started school, 6th grade, though I spoke no English and no one in that small southern town spoke Polish. It was difficult at first – I didn’t understand the culture, after learning English I had a strong Polish accent and I started stuttering badly, perhaps because of wartime memories. After 4 years of high school in another small farming town I lost most of my accent and most of my stuttering. Because I fell in love with airplanes when I was 4 years old hiding in an old shed in the ghetto and saw one through a hole in the roof, exactly as you see on the screen, I studied aeronautical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earned 4 degrees there, worked in American aerospace industry, got a private pilot license, crashed an airplane and walked away unharmed (luck), flew hang gliders for 25 years, crashed several times and walked away from all but the last one (luck again!), worked in foreign trade for 25 years, and now I’m a partner in a real estate development firm and give talks about my Holocaust childhood in high schools – in 2017 I gave 47 talks, of which 7 were in Poland. Why high schools? Because high school students are old enough to understand what I lived through and survived, but they are still young enough to have an open mind and to accept obvious truths without prejudice, unlike most adults.
I’m often asked why after a life of engineering and business did I start giving talks in schools about my Holocaust childhood?