Book Release for Iowa Auschwitz Survivor
On April 16, 2015, it was a great honor to have a new A BOOK by ME book released in Iowa's capital. A Lucky Lie by Sydney Pearl is the story of Jewish Survivor David Wolnerman, a survivor of Auschwitz death camp. The Yom Hashoah Holocaust Remembrance event was held at The Caspe Terrace in Waukee, Iowa. Our keynote speaker was Major General Timothy Orr of the Iowa National Guard.
A Lucky Lie has been distributed to all schools in Iowa through the local AEA offices thanks to the generosity of the Jewish Federation of Greater Des Moines. If you would like to purchase a copy of A Lucky Lie, order online on Amazon.
David Wolnerman was born in 1927 in Modrzejow, Poland. The small, poor village had one road, one doctor, and one vehicle. Hannah, David's mother, gave birth to David on the kitchen floor of a two room home lit by one kerosene lamp. David's father, Pinchus, gathered burlap bags from businesses and sold them around the village to make an income for the family. Abraham, David's brother, and his sisters, Bluma and Gertrude, enjoyed playing soccer with a ball made from their old socks. The people in the village co-existed, both Jews and non-Jews, until war broke out and Hitler's power changed everything.
As the war started and progressed, life got more and more difficult. David's father died three months before the war started. Anti-Semitism was becoming an increasing problem. Soon, Jews were not allowed to talk with others in public or go outside their homes. There was fear in the small village. The soldiers came often and, with each visit, the violence increased. At age thirteen, David made a decision. German soldiers visited the village looking for Jewish workers. They knocked on the door of David's home. "They told me if I came to work, my family would be spared." To save his family, David went with the soldiers. He was taken to a camp called Auschwitz, just five kilometers from the village. Here David began a journey in which he experienced unimaginable conditions, and suffered from hunger and illness.
Although the camp was near to the village, David was not aware of it. When he arrived at Auschwitz, he saw a man separating the people into two lines, one to the left and one to the right. "I saw the people that went left. They were older, crippled, or with young children. I just knew that if I went left it wasn't good." David walked up to the man who was making the decisions. That man was Dr. Joseph Mengele. Dr. Mengele asked, "Wie alt bist du?" (How old are you?) David told him, "I am eighteen." What allowed David to lie about his age at that moment he doesn't know. "God told me something. I went right. If not, I would have been sent to my death," he recalls.
David was moved to as many as twelve camps that he can remember. Each camp had its own horrors. "There was nothing," David recalls. "No water, no food, no washing, no medicine, nothing." Most of his time was spent in hard labor jobs. With only a third grade education, David didn't have the knowledge for anything else. From Auschwitz he went to Birkenau. Later, as the Allies came closer, he was moved to Theresienstadt, and then to Dachau, among others. He worked in the crematoriums and the gas chambers. He loaded and unloaded cement from trucks. The labor was backbreaking and, as the war raged on, conditions got even worse. "We didn't think about anything in the camp. We had minds like a cow. We only thought about bread. You got two slices of black bread each day. Bread was life," David recalls.
As time passed, David became weak and was infested with lice. An illness called typhus took hold of him. The Jews in the camps suffered from this disease due to the poor, unsanitary conditions. Typhus is not transmitted from person to person like the flu. Lice breed typhus. If it goes untreated, you will die. After David contracted typhus, he was put in a makeshift infirmary. There was no food, no water, and no medicine. The chances of survival were very slim but David recovered. "I got better. It had to be God. Without faith I would not have survived."
On Sunday, April 29, 1945, just one week before the end of World War II, David was liberated by American soldiers. The soldiers, seeing this suffering, handed over their rations. "We ate them. It was too fast. Our stomachs were not used to food. Some people died after liberation because of the food." The Allied troops arrived to help the survivors and, on the day of liberation, the survivors left the camp. "I just kind of looked around. It just happened", recalled David. The Jewish prisoners were moved to Displaced Persons (DP) camps. The survivors were suffering from severe malnutrition and illness. As the Red Cross came in, a plan was put in place to help the survivors gain strength. David was excited and very impressed when the Supreme Commander, General Dwight Eisenhower, visited the DP camp on the Jewish holiday called Yom Kipper. "He was a good man. He understood because he was there to see us," David remembers.
For David, it was two years before he was back to normal weight and health. David went to a DP camp to begin his recovery. This is where he met his wife Janka Najer. Jennie Wolnerman was her American name later. They married in 1949.
After the war, David discovered the fate of his family by talking to surviving neighbors. A few days after he went with the soldiers to save his family, the soldiers went back for any remaining Jews in the village. His mother was sent to Auschwitz and died in the gas chambers upon arrival. David's brother Abraham also died in the concentration camp. His sister, Gertrude, died in Auschwitz of pneumonia in the final days before liberation. David's youngest sister, Bluma, survived and eventually immigrated to America and settled in Gary, Indiana.
While still in a DP camp, David gained his strength back and went looking for work. He contacted a friend for a job at a printing press. David knew that he would need a trade to move to America. He was hired as a pressman for the newspaper where he would put the plates of articles together and print the paper. When he came to America in 1950, he joined the Press Union and worked in the printing industry. Then David and Jennie moved to Gary, Indiana to be closer to Bluma and her husband, Josef. David and Josef became business partners. They opened a super market and ran it together. David and Jennie raised their two sons, Allan and Michael, in Gary.
The couple moved to Des Moines, Iowa after David experienced some heart problems. They sold the grocery store and moved closer to their children. Their two sons had come to Iowa for college. As they got older, David and Jennie lived in Miami, Florida for many years. But today David and Jennie live back in Des Moines near their children and grandchildren. David raised his family to know that you have to make the right choices in life and that is not always easy. He shares his story with children and various groups in the community. "You must forgive, but you should never forget. For me, it is over. That is why I am going to talk to people. Never forget."