MUNSTER - Sol Goldstein was a 12-year-old Jewish boy in Warsaw, Poland, in
1938. Today he can count himself among the Jews who survived the Holocaust. Six
million European Jews were killed, including his family.
"I'm just like a cat. I have four more lives left," Goldstein said while
sitting in the breezeway of his brick ranch. He is reviewing photographs from
an album on the table and another album in his memory.
In this life, he is retired from Inland Steel after more than 30 years. He
is a husband. He is a father of three; a grandfather of three. He is the former
owner of a lawnmower shop in Munster that he gave up after his heart surgery
and his wife's stroke, both 10 years ago.
From this vantage point, Goldstein looks back on the life he lived during
the war and says with great sorrow and many tears, "You can't know what it's
like to see soldiers take babies away from their mothers and throw them into
the flames. This is something that people can't understand."
For Holocaust survivors, the past is a searing pain. Some have come forward
as writers, philosophers and public speakers. Foremost among them is author and
Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Weisel.
For others the past is a locked box; they are fearful of becoming vulnerable
Some refuse to tell their story saying it is a private matter. Others are
emotionally unable to discuss with outsiders what happened in Europe during
World War II.
Although it is painful for him, too, Goldstein has agreed to tell his story,
because he believes people should know and remember what happened during the
It is significant now, because on Saturday many Jews will observe Yom
Hashoah, a day set aside each year to pay tribute to those who suffered and
those who died. In Hebrew Yom Hashoah means Day of Remembrance.
This is not the first time Goldstein has spoken about the war. Recently two
Lake Central High School students videotaped him for a class in which they were
learning about the Holocaust.
"We cannot forget. A Holocaust like this should never happen. Even if it is
our enemy," he said.
His stance regarding the prosecution of people who are accused of committing
such war crimes is understandably unshakable.
"They mustn't think they can get away with it," he said. "They shouldn't be
able to sleep. Their conscience should bother them."
"Time doesn't erase the deeds they did," said his wife, Lucille.
And with that, Goldstein opens up his photograph album and takes out
pictures of his family and friends and holds them and remembers them and shares
It was a different time in 1938, when Goldstein lived with his mother,
stepfather, his older brother and a baby brother in an apartment behind their
hardware store at the base of a 10-story building.
He points to himself, a big-eyed child, in a family portrait taken before
the war. The portrait still exists because it was sent from Poland to a U.S.
relative, who gave it to Goldstein many years later.
"I was going to public school. There was a lot of anti-semitism. But, I
hadn't really heard about the war. I didn't know about politics," he said.
The following year, the year he became bar mitzvah, the Germans began to
bomb Warsaw. His normal life became a nightmare.
"It was early fall. One night I looked out the window and everything was in
flames from the bombs," he said.
A year later, 1940, his family was stripped of their home and business by
the Germans and assigned to the Warsaw Ghetto, a walled-off area in the city
where tens of thousands of Jews were forced to live.
"It was very hard. Food wasn't coming in, so I tried to run. I did go away
for the summer and worked for a Polish farmer," said the burly man, remembering
himself as a skinny teen-ager who couldn't tolerate the destitution of the
"I was pretty skinny then. I went out through a hole in the wall," he said,
explaining that "When the walls were built they were 23 feet high with barbed
wire at the top. I got out through a drainage hole."
Goldstein returned to the Ghetto by hopping on a streetcar used by non-Jews,
because by the end of the summer, guards were stationed at each wall. He
returned briefly to see his parents, who ordered him to remain.
"But when I saw the way people were laying in the streets and dying, I said,
'No, I am not going to stay.'" He got back on the streetcar and never saw his
"I was a pretty wild kid. I was on the run constantly. I never stayed in one
spot. I got caught so many times and was put in labor camps."
He walked miles across frozen rivers from one town to another seeking out
first his grandfather, then his aunt. But he learned quickly that without
proper identification papers he could not stay anywhere.
He jumped over the fence to enter a different ghetto where his aunt was
living and was immediately caught and sent to a labor camp. Goldstein said he
and the other prisoners slept on straw thrown across the floor of a synagogue.
They lived in filth and suffered from lice.
When the Germans came looking for volunteers for a work assignment somewhere
else, many, including Goldstein, volunteered.
When the Germans returned to collect the volunteers they tied everyone up
and put them on a truck and returned them to the ghetto. All of them, more than
3,500 people, were evacuated and transported to a railroad station in October
1942. They thought they were going to work.
They were loaded into railroad cars and transported for several days unaware
they were among the first Polish Jews condemned to Auschwitz, a Nazi
Goldstein recalls that when the train stopped and the doors opened they were
blinded by the bright lights on high poles.
"We didn't know we were at Auschwitz," he said. "They (guards) were shouting
at us to separate into lines. Women and children in one line. Young men in
another line. Old men in another. All we could see were people in striped
suits, who took our luggage off the boxcars. They didn't say anything to us."
When Goldstein found himself in line with the old men, he decided to switch
lines. A guard stopped him, but Goldstein was able to convince him that he was
16 years old - old enough to work.
"Only 500 (of the 3,500) people were selected. All the rest, including my
aunt, were gassed," he said.
Only two months earlier his brother and his uncle had been brought into the
camp. They had been beaten to death before Goldstein arrived.
The following year he was sent from Auschwitz to work in a coal mine for 18
months and then returned to the camp.
When the Russians began moving closer to Poland, the Germans moved the
prisoners out of the camp and loaded them on open cattle cars without food and
"People walking by on the overpasses would throw down their lunches to us as
we passed," he said. He recalled how he once managed to grab a bucket of water.
So many people wanted a drink, there was a scramble for it. "In the end, no one
had any. It spilled all over."
They traveled in the cattle cars for 11 days from Auschwitz to Gliewitz, a
city near Krakow. From there, the prisoners were marched from city to city.
"There were four of us who held together," Goldstein said. "It was in April,
one day we were resting and we were watching a guard who was eating his lunch.
We motioned to him that we wanted to go into the woods and he turned his back
to us. When we got to the woods, we felt like free birds."
They heard gunshots behind them, but they didn't stop.
A few weeks later the Americans arrived and liberation was at hand.
Goldstein's album also includes many black and white photos taken after
liberation. The pictures are of laughing young men on the brink of new lives.
He looks at the tattoo on his forearm, 77325.n and presents a color
photograph of himself with two friends. They are three middle-age men standing
close and smiling for the camera. They are holding up their forearms to show
their numbers: 77322, 77323 and 77325.
One lives in Detroit now and the other in Philadelphia.
The rational person can't comprehend how an individual can survive through
"Everytime I tried to talk to the 'man upstairs,' he was always on
vacation," Goldstein says. "I had faith in myself to live and I survived by
looking at each day as maybe, today, I'll be free."