IN early September of 2010, Walter Plywaski
home and virtually all his
possessions in the Fourmile Canyon fire that devoured the Boulder foothills.
Walter was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1929.
By age 15, he
knew the filth of the ghetto, the stench of cattle cars and the nightmare of Auschwitz and Dachau.
On Sept. 6, Walter
was reading The New York Times online in his
Sugarloaf residence when he
started receiving reverse 911 calls to evacuate.
Sugarloaf home, located about a mile away from Walter
, did not burn down in the Fourmile fire.
This attitude helped save Walter
on numerous occasions in the ghetto and camps.
says that his
paternal grandmother, whose name he's
forgotten, influenced him profoundly.
""My grandmother lived in a very small Polish village, in a straw-roofed house with no running water.
spoke five languages and taught me to read and write when I was five.
The ghetto was erected in Baluty, an old section of Lodz that Walter
describes as "a slum even before the war.
There were no sewers, no running water."
Between 35,000-40,000 Jews and Christians lived in Baluty before 1939.
That number soared to 130,000 once the ghetto walls closed.
insists the ghetto did not frighten him.
"Not really, "he
says, "because I was with my family."
family spoke only Polish and dispensed with Yiddish, Walter
became an unsuspecting recipient of Jewish anger.
"The first real beating I got in WW II was from five Jewish kids who were mad because I couldn't speak Yiddish," he
"Believe me, I learned Yiddish after that."
The Nazis designed the Lodz ghetto as a gradual, systematic killing machine, Walter
father knew the truth.
There was no resettlement, only death.
"My father taught me how to die about a year-and-a-half before we were sent to Auschwitz," he
father and brother were ordered to stand in one line.
mother was ordered to the other.
and William spent a week in quarantine before being released into the men's camp, where their father waited beyond hope.
This was the first time a non-Jewish Pole saved Walter
It would not be the last.
"Look, a Jew could not help a Jew," he
Taking a sip of strong caffeinated tea, Walter
watched out for his
brother at Auschwitz, the labor camps that followed, and Dachau.
"Having my brother close to me helped, absolutely," he
"Protecting him gave me a mission outside of myself."
Relying on his
innate intelligence and his
father's advice - "Don't follow a crowd because they are probably doing something wrong; always look for opportunities to survive" - he
repeatedly rescued William from transports and selections.
relates a vivid memory at Auschwitz almost poetically.
father and brother were sent to Landsberg-Kaufering 4 concentration camp in mid-September, 1944.
They had been in Auschwitz less than two months - an eternity.
LANDSBERG, Kaufering and Riederloh ("They called Riederloh a 'punishment camp,' if you can believe it") operated within Dachau's nefarious network of camps scattered throughout Germany.
At Landsberg-Kaufering 4, Walter
labored in the potato fields and constructed concrete buildings for the Nazis.
The barracks "were rectangular holes in the earth with earth bunks and a roof at ground level," he
was a "runner" in Riederloh, carrying messages between the camp guards and SS
and William were deported to Dachau I in January of 1945.
The men also told Walter
was scheduled to become "a malaria guinea pig," meaning doctors would test his
body's response to injections of malaria."
The holes in his
legs began healing in two or three days.
The Kapos put a corpse in Walter's
bed and smuggled him out.
"Then I rejoined my brother in the quarantine barracks," he
wipes them away.
refused to speak any German, fearing he
would be mistaken for an escaping Nazi.
At US field headquarters, he met a Polish sergeant from Chicago.
From May of 1945 to May of 1947, Walter
accompanied the GIs to various units in Strasbourg, Aix- en-Provence and Marseille.
arrived at Ellis Island on Dec. 16, 1947.
Walter worked as a printer in Philadelphia, where he stayed for one year, and served in the US Air Force from 1948-1952.
He then enrolled at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, with every intention of majoring in English literature.
In 1962, Walter moved to Boulder to join the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration.
relocated to the foothills in 1965.
THE Germans "never asked me whether I daven," Walter says.
"They didn't ask me whether I studied Torah.
They just said you're a Jew."
negation of religion, it's an identity Walter
"I am a Jew - especially when I meet anti-Semites," he
, who has had threatening run-ins with the KKK, hurls vicious insults that send them running in the opposite direction.
Filed under Activism, History, Peace, World War II · Tagged with Andrea Jacobs, Auschwitz-Birkenau, holocaust, Judenrat, Lodz ghetto, Maks Plywaski, Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, Peace, Plywaski brothers, Racism, USAF, violence, Walter Plywaski, William Plywaski, WLADYSLAW Plywacki, Wlodzimierz Fialko