The man pictured in the exhibit with a concentration camp number tattooed on his arm is Henry Wyrobnik. Henry was born in Lodz, Poland. He, his parents, siblings and many other family members were put into the Lodz Ghetto by the Nazis until August of 1944, when they were sent to Auschwitz. As the Allied armies approached, he and thousands of others were taken on a Death March beginning on January 15, 1945. They were given only small amounts of bread. They marched for two weeks, day and night. If someone lagged behind or walked out of line, they were shot immediately by the German soldiers. They were put on open coal trains, other cars were hooked on, and they spent two more weeks on the train. They had nothing to eat but snow.
In Czechoslovakia, people threw food to the trains as they went through the countryside, but Czech people were shot by the SS if they were caught throwing food. One hundred and eight people were on Henry’s train, “packed like sardines,” and at the end only 35 remained alive. The train finally took them to Mauthausen. There they were forced to bury bodies in mass graves. In Mauthausen, they had no clothes, no food, and were housed in crowded barracks. At the end of three or four weeks, they were sent to Gunzkirchen, a subcamp of Mauthausen.
At the end, Henry says, they “spent three weeks without water to drink, living in woods with mud so deep if you stepped into it, you would sink in.” Many people from other countries were also imprisoned there.
On May 5, 1945, Gunzkirchen was liberated and Henry was freed and eventually sent to a hospital to recuperate. He had lost his whole family, including parents, one brother and two sisters. Henry met his wife, Dora, also a survivor, in a Displaced Persons (DP) Camp at Feldafing, Germany. They came to the United States in 1949 and he worked for Shillito’s in Cincinnati. Later he owned his own business and came to Dayton, where he now makes his home. The Wyrobniks have three children and seven grandsons.
Mauthausen is in Austria, near Linz on the Danube. Life there was particularly hard because inmates were forced to work under terrible conditions in a stone quarry. The death rate was very high, and Mauthausen was one of the last camps liberated on May 5. About 120,000 died there. It was also one of the starting points for the ‘death marches,’ the forced treks that occurred at the end of the war when the Nazis tried to move prisoners away from the Allied advance.
Before World War II, the largest single population of Jews resided in Poland. During the war years 2.9 million Jews died in camps or ghettos – 88% of all Polish Jews. Most families had been there for centuries, driven out of western European nations or Russia during the Middle Ages. It is believed that they numbered three million in the 1930s. Today there are virtually none. Most were rounded up and sent to camps when Germany occupied Poland in late 1939, and systematic extermination began early in 1941. Three million Polish Catholics also died in the Holocaust.
The Lodz Ghetto was one of the largest Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Europe (205,000 Jewish inhabitants before the war). Lodz is in northern Poland, and at times has been under Russian or Lithuanian control. The ethnic mix is very diverse. The German occupation forces established the ghetto as a vast prison in 1940, herding into it thousands of Jews from all over northern Poland and later from western Europe. During the war years it was a source of slave labor. An unrecorded number of Jews were killed there or died of disease or starvation.