Sanford and Michael Asher

Nationality: American
Location: Germany • Missouri • St. Louis • United States of America
Experience During Holocaust: Born in Displaced Persons Camp • Lived in a Displaced Persons camp • Second Generation History

Mapping Sanford and Michael's Life

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“[T]o our parents, life was very dangerous, very threatening and everybody was out to do you damage, whether they were going to cheat you in the store or whether they were going to attack you and hurt you... there was a lot of anxiety that the world was a very dangerous place that could suddenly inflict a lot of harm on you without a lot of reason.” - Sanford and Michael Asher

Read Sanford and Michael's Oral History Transcripts

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Tape 1 - Side 1

Vida: Today is November 19, 2006 and it is Sunday and my name is Vida “Sister” Prince and I’m interviewing Pearl Asher’s children, adult children, sons, Sandy Asher and Mike Asher, Sanford and Michael. We are going to talk about their mother and father and just what it was to grow up in St. Louis with their parents. Thank you. (pause) I guess instead of worrying too much about how we start, we just start and if you said you had one memory, what would you say?
Michael: Well, I guess the memory was that things were falling apart in my mother’s house. Our little brother was schizophrenic and she’d been making sure he was taking his medication and the house was falling apart and we got a phone call alerting us that there was some sort of a serious problem. We came into St. Louis and found that my mother was not getting out of bed and we were getting professional help. In the interim we’d discovered that some days before she’d broken her hip. The reason she was not getting out of bed was that she was in severe pain and we thought we were _________.
Sanford: We didn’t know she had broken her hip. We known she’d been spending a lot of time in bed, sort of in a dreamland, because of the Alzheimers of  her decline. When we got there we had some people come in and evaluate her and they basically said call an ambulance or something. So I got on the phone, dialed, what……
Michael: 911, got an ambulance
Sanford: Dialed 911, got an ambulance to come over. They came in, looked at her, took one look at the way her body was positioned and said ___________. The guy saw it right away, just the way that her feet were – he’d seen enough.
Michael: And so they bundled her up and started to take her away. They had her then, transported her downstairs to the outside. She looked at the guy and said, “I’m gonna knock your teeth out.”
Sanford: I more remember, I more remember it that they had to get her on the gurney to get her out the door. So they had to do sort of a, the ambulance people have to lift you – they put their arms under one part of your body and as he’s bending down to get hold of mom, she raises up a fist and looks him in the eye and says, “I’m gonna knock your teeth out.”
(Michael and Sanford laughter)
Michael: She didn’t want to go
Sanford: And she’d didn’t want to go, that was reason, like we said, our mother was a tough bird.
Vida: Yeah.
Sanford: Our mother’s a short little barely five-foot woman,
Michael: Big guy
Sanford: Big. You know, I’m gonna knock your teeth out. It was almost hilarious because she almost bared her teeth like a cat would.
Vida: She used to fight, she said, physically fight, with some of these
Sanford: Polish _______
Vida: Polish kids, kids, and she just wouldn’t take anything.
Sanford: So the being able to fight back emotionally or physically, I mean I think when it comes down to it the, I think the really gentle people in Europe all died. I look at it as a natural selection process so you put Darwin ________. Only the more paranoid ones, the more anxious ones, how did people survive? The ones that were anxious and were worried about the tigers saw the tigers coming and they didn’t get eaten. I look at our parents as sort of the more anxious, the more while everybody else saying
Michael: It’ll be okay…
Sanford: We’ll be okay, God will protect us, they went out the back door. They found mechanisms to survive. Those that didn’t, didn’t survive.
Vida: Well, she jumped off the train on the way to Treblinka.
Sanford: Yeah.
Vida: That’s probably, she hurt something, and she said to this day, it hurts. Could have been her hip.
Sanford: She said she hurt her back or her hip, you know. Our parents and medical issues, hard to tell. There is a Polish psychosis in going to see a doctor before it’s a crisis, so whether that was the instance of her back or whether that was the reason in her mind her back was a problem.
Vida: So what you’re saying – they don’t go.
Michael: They don’t go.
Sanford: They don’t go, unless, unless. My parents, I don’t know about other. I don’t want to generalize, but our parents had a habit of not dealing with medical situations till they were a crisis.
Vida: Yeah. Would you like to start with, just, what I was saying before. How did you learn or when did you learn what it was that was going on in your lives that you had not been aware of or that you wondered about. How did you learn who you were?
Sanford: Well, I’m the oldest and so I knew something was very different in my family. My parents moved to St. Louis from a D.P. camp in Germany and when we came to St. Louis it ended up that we had moved into the worst part of St. Louis down on South Broadway, an area, which, a slum, and I grew up there. My parents did their very best to keep me inside the house. Having friends was not considered a good idea, and I went to school, but so much paranoia in the house all the time.
Vida: How did it manifest itself?
Sanford: As a kid, you want to play with other kids. Their need was to keep you inside because you, you know, you might get killed if you are outside.
Vida: Did you know that was the reason?
Sanford: No, I figured it out later on but I really knew that there was something really wrong. My family just didn’t act like other families. Although I didn’t know other families, but we didn’t have television. Boy, certainly, my family certainly was different than what was going on on television. (Laughter)
Vida: What year was this?
Sanford: This was early 50s.
Vida: Early 50s.
Sanford: Yeah, and it continued, let’s see, my parents moved to U. City in the loop when I was 13. (pause) I told a very different….Also, they were constantly telling me about all the bad things that could happen, that I had to be careful about – making me suspicious of everyone and everything all the time.
Michael: And I remember that we did say ________ to our parents, life was very dangerous, very threatening and everybody was out to do you damage, whether they were going to cheat you in the store or whether they were going to attack you and hurt you. There was a very, there was a lot of anxiety that the world was a very dangerous place that could suddenly inflict a lot of harm on you without a lot of reason.
Sanford: Right, and you know, so I want to say that I _________ at some point as we grew up and got a little bit more context in my life, thought, those are the most paranoid people on earth, that there was a lot wrong with it. But as you reflect back, and after we going to Sokolow…
(Michael’s laughter)
Sanford: We finally realized
Michael: It’s appropriate…
Sanford: That that was an appropriate response for what they lived through and it inflicted a certain amount of damage that they could never __________, but they, they had made that judgment based on lots of realities.
Michael: They did the experiment and that’s what they measured.
Sanford: And they generalized it to everything, and maybe too much, but life had really done them very bad wrongs, killed off their family, some of them, for no reason, or a reason that they could explain in their mind, and when they got to America without a lot of skills, you know, people were willing to – well I won’t say cheat them at every event, but
Michael: But they did move into a very problematic neighborhood, where….People are just different in the slums, I mean. People who lived down there who are born in the United States end up down there because they can’t prosper in society and so…
Sanford: I don’t know that the slums were that much different than Poland in a weird way. It was very much like rural Poland. You had your people that had drinking and well ________ states more drugs, but they weren’t what you’d call well-established middle class like in the U.S.
Michael: Right.
Michael: And then you had that same sort of set in rural Poland and very much you lived a defensive life to keep those folks good.
Sanford: Yeah, people were very surviving. What was interesting, in St. Louis, in the slums, we started living in an area in which there was really segregation, in St. Louis, and we lived on the white side of the line and so up until the third grade I went to the white school, very poor, lots of trouble. I remember lots of fighting, and then the border changed, so I ended up going to the all black school.
Vida: What year was this?
Sanford: This is in 19…
Vida: When did you go to kindergarten?
Sanford: I was in kindergarten in ’52.
Vida: So you were going…
Sanford: In Germany in the D.P. Camp…
Vida: Oh, you were…
Sanford: Yeah.
Vida: When did they come?
Sanford: ’49, ’49. And so when I was in third grade, this is in ’56, they kept moving the line, so I went to the all black school. My parents were scared to death that they couldn’t do anything about it. And I thought it was a great school. I have very fond memories of having friends in school. No problem. I have no negative memory. At that time black people were seriously mistreated but they weren’t thinking about it. And so _________.
Vida: That’s right. They weren’t. Absolutely, they were just considered with getting through their day – which is what you were considered with, too. (Laughter)
Vida: And I’m talking to the tape – that was Sandy and this is Michael.
Michael: In my memories, while I was born on Broadway, they moved to University City when I was two or three probably, so I only remember suburbia. I always remember living in much prosperous surroundings. Although in University City I think we were on the low end side of University City.
Sanford: Oh, sure, sure.
Michael: So being in the loop at that time, you know, how do you say? There were Loop Jews and western University City Jews, so we were on the lower end of economics. But for me it was prosperous. I had a good school, Delmar-Harvard, University City schools.
Vida: There were quite a few Holocaust survivors in the Loop.
Michael: Right and we finally discovered the reason they moved to Broadway and even the Loop. When we went to Poland, and we went to the city they were in after World War II,
Sanford: Lodz –
Michael: Lodz, L-O-D-Z
Sanford: It was identical!
Michael: A city, you know, a factory city, looked like South St. Louis. I mean where we would look it and say, Oh my God, who would want to live here because we were thinking Chesterfield, Olivette. It looked identical to South Broadway, so it probably looked very comfortable to them as far as what they were used to.
Vida: What school did you go to, Sandy?
Sanford: I don’t remember the name of the first school. It’s still there. It’s…__Flynn?_____?
Vida: Well, ______ would have been out in University City.
Sanford: No, no, then it’s not the name. It’s still there, South Broadway, five or six blocks from our house, apartment. 1804 is where we lived.
Vida: 1804.
Sanford: South Broadway. So the black school I went to is no longer there. That’s ___Delosi?_____.
Vida: ____Delosi?___.
Sanford: And that no longer exists.
Vida: So did you walk to school and did they allow you to walk to school?
Sanford: Actually, that’s quite interesting. They paid a little girl to walk with me.
Vida: This was at your first school.
Sanford: My first school. And she was supposed to get me there alive and get me back alive.
(Laughter)
Vida: You are smiling but it had to have been very difficult.
Sanford: Oh it was difficult because this girl was not a very nice person, and she and her friends teased me. They were older and so I didn’t like having to walk with…
Vida: So maybe your friends teased you when they saw you walking with her?
Sanford: I don’t remember that, but…
Vida: So how did it affect you, your schoolwork, you know, what you were doing in school, how did it effect?
Sanford: I don’t know, I was sort of anomalous because I did well in school and so the teachers, I think, liked me.
Vida: So where would you like to go with what we are talking about? Do you want to tell me how you learned that your parents were survivors of something? What did they tell you about at that point?
Sanford: They didn’t tell us anything, at least, they didn’t tell me anything. Up until I became an adult, they didn’t talk about things.
Vida: But did you know? What did you know?
Sanford: I always knew. That sense, the fact that they were Holocaust survivors and they came from Germany and their relatives had been killed. I always seemed to know that.
Michael: Yeah, I seemed to know that, too.
Vida: She came from Poland.
Michael: Right, by way of Germany.
Vida: Oh, right.
Sanford: So the fact that they had been through the Holocaust, that they had survived under difficult circumstances that were almost too horrible to talk about, I always seemed, I think I knew that before I was born.
Michael: Right. But never spoken of.
Vida: You knew, too? Michael?
Michael: It was never spoken of – their friends were all, ________. I knew that they were all in general all Holocaust survivors, and I knew the group of the them, and I knew Sokolow, that they were from Sokolow, Poland. But the detail, the detail, of exactly what happened, you couldn’t get that. I knew that __________ had seen my dad. Teenager, he would wake up crying. I knew,
Sanford: You could get the sense there was trauma back then.
Michael: And you knew there were big secrets. Actually there was big secret, a giant secret, that we only learned about two years ago. We didn’t, I always knew there was a giant secret and I didn’t know what the secret was. And two or three years ago, my wife and I came to visit and were walking down the street of Delmar and we saw a guy we knew, ___________, from Poland, we think, and he recognized me and he (pause). Last time I’d seen him was four years previous at my father’s funeral, and he and my father had grown up together and they used to fight all the time. They were friends here. He said, well your father’s now dead, so I’m going to tell you some things about him that you don’t know.
Vida: Were you together?
Sanford: No.
Michael: I said oh, okay. He said, you know your father had a family before…yeah. Well, it’s amazing. So he was telling me about (pause) he had a wife and son. And that they were killed by the Germans. And so you know, death (pause) I knew there was a big secret and this sounded like this was it. Why it was a secret is hard to understand. He also told me that my father was sort of a hero in the Jewish community because he had killed one of the Poles that had beating up a brother and he went, and took care of him. (Pause)
Vida: And lived to tell it.
Michael: And lived to tell about it.
Vida: You told me on the phone about this, this, what happened on the street and you said that he went out to sell some __cattle?___ or something?
Sanford: Well, it turns out that we came here to talk to this guy, to get more information. That’s the major origin of our trip, because he’s not getting any younger. And so we’ve I think learned a little more to that story — that it’s not so simple. We don’t understand it.
Michael: We don’t. When we started to get down, ask about it again, it became difficult (pause). The Polish guy who was the focus of this beats, really beats some body up and was, I don’t know, torturing, really harassing somebody. I can’t now figure out from Yankel really who that person was.
Sanford: No, but she’s asking a different question. The question she’s asking was why was dad not with his family.
Vida: You said he was out selling cattle and when.
Michael: That’s an unknown quantity.
Sanford: That got much more complicated.
Michael: That’s the good side of that story. The worser side of that story that we got from Yankel, the potential for it, at some point when it was all liquidating, everyone was running this way, that way, and he maybe went to save himself and they were left at the mercy of the Germans. It’s hard to tell now. It’s not, it doesn’t have a nice wrapped up end that they were out getting food. That sounds like the story you’d like, you’d want to hear.
Sanford: Yankel would not answer direct questions.
Vida: Well maybe he didn’t know the answers.
Michael: Yankel was also tied back to his story, which was at some point, he saw some things, _______ in a hand basket
Sanford: He took off.  He may not know
Michael:          So the story may not be as clean. But the end result is the same, is that his wife and child were rounded up. We don’t know the specific circumstances. I had heard before he was in an action. He was _______ the action and they rounded up so many Jews. Did they march him off to Treblinka? We don’t know. Did they shoot him right there and kill them with shovels like they did in Sokolow.
Sanford: We met a guy who told us in Sokolow, he was there, he saw it happen.
Michael: They lined them all up, shot them.
Sanford: Right there.
Michael: Shot them right there. My mom tells me that lots of her relatives were killed with shovels in front of her. See that’s what — Also, my interest as I read this transcript, the rest of this transcript I’m trying to say okay this is what I’ve finally got out of the story, how accurate it is. And I’ve always, I’ve always told myself, you know, it isn’t important that the details are perfect.
Vida: Right.
Michael: What’s important is…is… I don’t know, the context of the event, and the larger –
Vida: Yeah.
Michael: Cause you know, part of my mom’s story, which is here, there’s a child involved in it somewhere, hiding a child. And that’s another big secret.
Vida: A nephew.
Sanford: Yes.
Michael: Okay, well now you say it’s a nephew.
Vida: Well, I think that’s…
Sanford: I know part of the story.
Michael: Okay, a nephew that he’s named after. The child’s name was ___Sonah?_________.
Sanford: Oh, I didn’t know that.
Michael: (Laughter) I took notes. So, at least in my notes, that child’s name was __Sonah____.
Sanford: She told me that that was (pause) father’s.
Michael: That may be true also. So I don’t know. So again there was a child. I’ve gotten the story that __________ the child was her sister’s son. I think that’s accurate from what I have. But I don’t know if that’s how I had it explained the first time because I never got all the detail at one time. So, so. And I couldn’t get the detail of whether the child got killed in front of her or the child got taken away and sent to ______________. So all of that detail – there are still lots of gaps.
Vida: How important and what is the importance and how do you deal with trying to find out these things?
Michael: I only tried to find them out as I started to do my own like, family book.  And actually, I would start to go back home and take a scanner and my laptop with me, copy the pictures, and then I would start to ask questions, and it was hard to get it out of her. You know, they were torn. Mom was torn. She didn’t want to talk about it all, and at the same time she really did want to talk about it, so she was conflicted about, about it, so you would get so much and then you’d get a “leave it alone.”
Vida: And what about your father?
(Laughter)
Sanford: He was a hard cookie to get anything out of.
Vida: Let’s, pull your chair up.
Sanford: He would act like at times like he didn’t remember. He really didn’t want to talk about it.
Michael: But that changed so in the last few years, he couldn’t stop talking about it.
Sanford: But I never –
Michael: But no details, just.
Sanford: I got a lot out of him as far as how he survived through the war. But the family before – never talked about. Or living in the house with his parents, never talked about it.
Michael: Never talked about it.
Vida: Oh, he didn’t talk about the early times?
Sanford: He didn’t talk about the early times.
Vida: Maybe, I was thinking about, when I was trying to think about you all today, I was thinking that maybe your mother, because I think in the transcript there is something about, I said to her something about, well on the drive over here, we, you said such and such which meant that we weren’t at her house, and I don’t know if that was the first time I interviewed her or what. But you asked me did I go to your house.
Michael: Yes.
Vida: And I don’t know if I did that or not. I don’t remember. But we did drive somewhere because I think you’ll find in the transcript
Vida: Because I must have said on the drive over, maybe, a lot of times, we don’t, I don’t like to interview somebody if there is somebody else in the house, because…
Sanford: You won’t get as much.
Vida: You don’t know. And then maybe they decide to come and sit down. And maybe, you know, so, maybe she preferred to talk (pause) was she the boss?
Sanford: Oh yes. (Laughter). Absolutely. Absolutely. And she would tell you she was the boss.
Michael: And he would say she’s the boss. (Laughter)
Sanford: At some point she might not have necessarily cared whether she was still the boss, but she still wanted you to recognize that you still weren’t the boss. (Laughter)
Vida: So let’s go back to you all. You always knew that this was there, but you were first and, so when did you learn that. They also had very thick accents.
Sanford: Well.
Vida: Did that matter? In school, did that matter?
Michael: It didn’t matter to me. They spoke several languages in the house, and we learned, we quickly grew to understand Yiddish, ‘cause that was really their language. We never learned Polish. Polish was their language of secrecy, I would say.
Sanford: Right.
Michael: I would learn what, some expletives.
(Laughter)
Michael: But it wasn’t a problem for me. I think friends would be surprised when they would call our house and somebody would answer the phone that they could sometimes barely understand, so.
Sanford: Well for me, it wasn’t the accent that was the problem. It’s that they were just out of touch with what I thought was reality. I mean, I always knew. Also, in addition to being paranoid and things like that, they were also crazy. I mean, my father had an anxiety disorder and I grew up always confused, realizing there’s something really wrong here and having a feeling that whatever opinion they had, I needed to just reverse it and that would be right. So they were always guaranteed to be wrong. And I…
Michael: My thing was, when I was growing up, middle years and junior high, they were having such difficulty dealing with my one brother who is schizophrenic and Sandy was married, there were issues that he had a kid early. They were so caught up in trying to deal with, cope with all those issues, and work, and make a living, that, you know, I’m not saying I didn’t – I kind of got left alone. And my big thing was, okay, I don’t necessarily need to be the perfect child, but whatever I do not perfect, don’t do it loudly.
(Laughter)
Michael: So I was pretty, pretty independent and where he got a lot of trauma for saying I’m going out tonight in the car, I had my own car at sixteen and a motorcycle.
Vida: Yeah.
Michael: I mean I was working
Vida: I think Sandy told me there’s ten years difference?
Michael: Nine years difference.
Vida: Nine years, that’s a lot.
Michael: So in some sense by me, they sort of had given up on that tight control. And that was almost a problem in some sense because I didn’t get a lot of, I didn’t get a lot of “you’re screwing up, you need to get in line.” I didn’t get a lot of direction and that was bad and good because I could have gotten, in trouble. I ran with the kids, not the awful kids, but kids that were smoking pot. I could have used a little more discipline. I didn’t turn out bad, so bad; I’m not that concerned. But I would tell you, I am a lot more stricter with my children than my parents.

Tape 1 - Side 2

Vida: Okay, Michael go ahead.
Michael: Yeah, so I mean I think, so I think, Sandy and I probably all started to think through it too much. I think that we play a lot with the why. I think they were more concerned with survival and right now we are more concerned with _____________ and maintaining out philosophical.  They were like, is there going to be food on the table. Are you going to get killed if you go out. I’m not sure the things that we’re worried about ________ control and they’re worried about the world. It would allow us to be ________. They would look you in the face and say, ______________.
Sanford: Who cares about that?
Michael: Who cares about that?
Vida: Yeah, yeah.
Michael: Is somebody going to come and hit you over the head with a shovel? So it was really…. I think their context in America…they never really understood the American dream. They just knew it was a place you could work, you could make a living. ________ the golden land. And they wouldn’t kill you. Generally.
(laughter)
Vida: But wouldn’t they have moved where the moved, the lower part of the city, either because they didn’t ask anyone what to do or because they didn’t have the money?
Sanford: No. I think there was probably more help available for them if they had known how to play the ropes. I could be wrong. They didn’t seem to get their relatives to help them. There was probably welfare money available for them.
Vida: Sure.
Sanford: …if they had known…
Michael: Well, I think that there were problems.
Vida: Excuse me, but I don’t think the Jewish community at that time, was so in tune in the 1950s, to be involved with…that’s what I hear.
Sanford: I think that’s right. I think they moved to Broadway because they had no money. And they…they spent the rest of their lives accumulating money and not spending it. They…saved…
Vida: Just in case.
Sanford: Just in case. And they spent zero money on anything, I mean it was amazing.
Michael: But you have to also understand they were used to not having any money in Poland. So living in hardscrabble, an existence lifestyle, it was probably something they were fairly used to. This was not a, you know, we’re at the death, I mean, life’s tough. Life was always tough in Poland. I think them accumulating a lot of wealth and not spending it made them happy, made them feel secure.
Sanford: Right, but it was a lifestyle. I mean, I remember growing up. I mean I guess we sometimes got presents but not very much. I would go over occasionally to other kids houses and it looked like everyone had everything and somehow, uh, we had a minimum of everything.
Vida: Did you ever ask for anything?
Sanford: I was…you know, of course, you ask, but boy you knew ahead of time you shouldn’t, that if you were asking for things it was just not right. That you didn’t deserve it. You didn’t need it.
Vida: Because they would tell you this?
Sanford: No.
Vida: No, you just…?
Sanford: You just knew it.
Vida: You just knew it.
Sanford: Yeah, I mean these are all superfluous things that are really unimportant. The important things are stay at home, close the window shades, be very quiet.
Vida: It sounds as though they isolated themselves and you, and that was the only safe thing that they could do. I was kind of wondering why I never had them on a list, you know, I have a big folder at home, from doing this for 25 years and I thought, oh, I was going to be kind of embarrassed in front of you all because I should have known them better or….
Sanford: They spent their entire time making sure that couldn’t happen.
Vida: Okay. It shouldn’t…
Michael: I don’t. I think you’re accurate.
Vida: It’s just, to me, you know, yesterday, or Friday, before I came out, I thought, oh my gosh, you know, it’s interesting that she did do a history.
Michael: Yeah, well I wonder how normative that is with the other Holocaust survivors in Poland. Is that unusual? Were others more involved in…
Vida: Well, um, it sort of depends. It runs the gamut, but I think that, when we started this, you know, really, there were just not many people doing it in the ‘70s. That sounds like it’s late for the Holocaust, but um…there were a handful of people in the country. And then it got to be a big thing. Then it got to be, you know, where, and the interviews are different than we did in the early days because there wasn’t a lot of interviewing going on. They hadn’t interviewed before. Now they’re interviewed here; they’re interviewed at SHOAH. They are interviewed somewhere else. And these I think are rather more primitive really. But I went into a person, you may even know him. He had a shoe shop on Delmar. I can’t remember his name. If I had the list, I could. But, but, I went in their and I heard he had been a Sondercommando, you know. And so I walked into his shop and he, and I told him who I was and what I wanted. And he took my arm, very gently, and walked me out the door. And I stood out there on the bright sunny day and I thought, I felt so badly that I had made his day…that if he hadn’t thought about his memories already, I had certainly made him think about it.
Michael: Ohhhh. Ohhh. My body sort of chills now, because I remember walking with my father on Delmar and he pointed to that shop and said something really bad about that place.
Vida: Oh really.
Michael: Yeah. I don’t remember the details but I just remember.
Vida: Oh how interesting, because um…
Sanford: I don’t know what commando….
Vida: Sondercommando, they did the bodies after they were killed.
Michael: At the concentration camp.
Vida: After they were gassed then they would put them in the ovens. They would take them. And they didn’t last long. It was hearsay, but I went…
Michael: Probably __________ told you that.
Vida: I don’t know that. I mean, I don’t. I just don’t know that.
Michael: You know ___________?
Vida: I know he is. I  know Simon.
Michael: He was a…that’s what I was always told, whether that’s true or not.
Vida: Well, um.
Michael: In Auschwitz, I believe.
Vida: So you asked me. So people began to want to do this. I think they wanted somebody. They felt like they needed to do this. This was something that, you know, they were a witness and, that’s why they survived. Many different reasons. Some believed in God; some stopped believing in God. It ran the gamut.
Michael: Well, I think, our parents ____________ isolated. I think it had gotten worse as they got older. I think it ____________ Sandy, because my brother, my middle brother. The middle brother, the schizophrenic brother, got worse and maybe ________ would have gotten good when you got older and when I got out of high school, but life still is tough, life was tough in another way.
Vida: It’s very tough to have a…
Michael: Because they have a sick child. Dealing with schizophrenia really. And Sandy, you will laugh (laughter) , you won’t understand the context of this, but schizophrenia, they didn’t have schizophrenia in Poland.
Sanford: No one was ever schizophrenic.
Michael: A lot of things, we would get into diseases where, somebody would have asthma. They didn’t have asthma in Poland. What they would do is in Poland is they would just let you die or they shot you if you acted crazy. But they couldn’t. Things, diseases, problems that existed in America, I heard Yankel say this,
Sanford: Yes.
Michael: That was a common trait of this group. “Only in America would you have X.”
Sanford: Right. They are faking; they’re not really sick.
Vida: They’re not really sick.
Sanford: They didn’t have this in Poland.
Vida: Well, it is rather trivial compared to…I don’t know your father’s history. Can you give me a thumbnail.
Sanford: Um, my dad born in Sokolow, apparently, had four brothers and sisters.
Michael: Five. He had five.
Sanford: Okay. Grew up in a household, you know, father, mother. Got out of the household. I don’t know a lot of their early history.
Vida: What was his Holocaust history?
Sanford: His Holocaust history is at some point, when it was all coming down, he went out the back door. He and another Jewish guy knew a farmer and the farmer his them under his barn and kept them fed, brought food for them for what, three years or so….
Vida: Was that with a big group of people?
Sanford:   Those two.
Vida: Oh, okay.
Sanford: My understanding is it was those two. Now if there were other people, I don’t know about them. I had heard…
Michael: Only two…
Sanford: Only two.
Vida: Okay, cause it, there was another, Mendel-Rosenberg, no not Mendel. Anyway, somebody else…
Sanford: Well, okay. So this. We don’t understand this much.
Vida: Oh this larger issue, of survivors, you’re talking about?
Sanford: There are some things, allusions to this, but I know that I don’t understand this.
Michael: So let’s just, okay, so dad and this other guy are in this hollowed out thing under this barn and then when the Russians and the Germans, you know, the Russians starting to push on the Germans in this area of Poland. The Russians are winning and pushing them out. Right at that end, my understanding is dad and this fellow are in this hollowed out section and it became full of water. They’re underneath it and it’s up, almost up to their necks. They finally say, they got to get out or they’re going to drown. They get out. Immediately get caught by the Germans, okay. And the Germans say, who are you, where are you going and, and, this is the story. How accurate, I don’t know. My dad says me and my friend were in the hospital, it just got bombed, we have cholera. And the guy backed off…
Sanford: I heard syphilis…
Michael: Whatever.
(laughter)
Vida: They didn’t have syphilis in Poland.
(laughter)
Michael: So the guy didn’t take him. Immediately the lines changed. The Russians were now in control and they weren’t in imminent danger of being killed because the Russians took over. So that’s how, that’s how, that was in ’44.
Sanford: Yeah.
Michael: So that’s how, in a sense, they survived, how he survived with that friend. And then there’s a process where they came back to Sokolow to see who is left and there wasn’t a lot left. You know, a little bit of this, a little bit of that. And then, I think, met mom.
Sanford: Yeah.
Michael: Back there. They ended up in D.P. camps. They were also told to get out of Sokolow by the Polish people. If you don’t leave, we’re going to kill you.
(laughter)
Michael: Was sort of _______. We don’t want any more Jews, so get out of here.
Vida: Do you think your mother knew that he had a family before?
Michael: Oh, I absolutely…
Sanford: Absolutely…
Michael: Absolutely.
Sanford: I even asked her.
Vida: You’re saying, absolutely, yes?
Michael: Yeah, absolutely yes. I would say, I couldn’t see how she wouldn’t have.
Sanford: No, it was something that I would think that she didn’t want to talk about. In fact, we asked Yankel yesterday. In the sense, he didn’t say a lot about it but he said that she was embarrassed by it.
Vida: But that was so…there was more of that…I mean, I told Sandy on the phone that, you know, we have other people who have lost families and were married.
Michael: Was there any of that in there, in the tape? Did my mom talk about my dad at all?
Vida: Not yet. I have only listened to the three tapes. The fourth tape. I mean, I haven’t listened to it. No, I haven’t listened, no. Only the first tapes.
Sanford: You know I think the embarrassing…
Vida: I mean, I’ve read the three tape transcripts but there’s a fourth.
Sanford: I mean as I think about this, the big secret. I think the big secret probably has to do with, he was there, his family was there, he could save himself, but he couldn’t, didn’t, wasn’t able to save them. And…
Michael: I think the embarrassment is over what happened there at the end.
Sanford: Yeah.
Michael: Over what he, what he could have done, what he should have done.
Sanford: Right.
Michael: So it wasn’t something that, there’s probably a lot of guilt over that. But we don’t, we don’t have the detail over that.
Vida: But he didn’t know they were coming to kill, I mean…
Michael: We don’t have any of the detail there. I haven’t had any of the conversations. I think Yankel yesterday _____________ a time when it was every man for himself.
Vida: _________ Yankel.
Michael: So I don’t know.
Vida: Yeah.
Michael: We don’t know. Like I said. Sometimes you go get the detail in these situations and you have to generalize the larger context.
Sanford: Yeah, and you know.
Michael: It would have been the right thing to do. Okay, let’s say he could have stayed with them and gotten killed.
(Laughter).
Michael: Was that the right thing? I’m not going to pass that judgment.
Vida: Maybe he went to see about his parents.
Michael: Yeah, who knows?
Sanford: Who knows?
Vida: I mean, I think you…
Michael:   So maybe the Germans are rounding up, and he went out the back door. Is that wrong. I don’t know. I can’t judge that. I’m not going to try and judge that. Well, he was tortured by it his whole life. I mean, I’m not judging.
Sanford: Yep. And so they met up in Sokolow and then moved to the D.P. camp in Germany. I think they went to ___Lodz?_____ and then the D.P. camp. I don’t know the details. And then we had an aunt in St. Louis that agreed to sponsor them. That’s why he ended up in St. Louis. Oh, another thing that’s important to know, I guess, is that when I caught scarlet fever in the D.P. camp, and got in a _____________, so they had to really smuggle me in to the United States cause I would have not normally have been allowed to come in because I was seriously ill. And, uh, and so, I was, uh, very sick as a child. Um, with ____________. And it cleared up. So that was…
Vida: But they did it. That’s extraordinary, you know, that they were able to pass you through.
Sanford: Right.
Vida: Tell me about how you lived in the home, where….you’re frowning so maybe I shouldn’t ask…
Sanford: No, I frowned because it was always a struggle. It was always a struggle. Everything was a struggle.
Vida: I was going to ask you about Jewish holidays. Was there?
Sanford: Ohh.
Michael: Well, you know, Jew… They had very mixed feelings about being Jewish.
Vida: I’m just going to…okay…now we’re going to talk louder and sit on top of it.  Okay.
Michael: So they had mixed feelings about being Jewish and celebrating Jewish holidays. They actually really didn’t celebrate Jewish holidays very much. On the high holy days, they wouldn’t. My father went to shul, but that was about it. I ended up going to Hebrew school, uh. But…it was…it was just very strange. It was…uh…it was not a real celebration and it was also, don’t talk about being Jewish. Keep it a secret. Uh, it was weird.
(laughter).
Michael: I was, uh…and I asked this question of Yankel yesterday, but it appeared to me that my parents weren’t very religious. But they were…being Jewish was the essence of themselves. They were proud. They had mixed feelings about it. They were proud and they were worried about being Jewish at the same time, so it’s hard to explain. As far as how they practiced, when I grew up, they kept kosher in the house. They bought kosher meat. I wouldn’t say they were the most….
Sanford: Not when I was growing up.
Michael: Not when you grew up but when I grew up, when we moved to University City and they started to buy kosher meat.
Vida: It’s more expensive, isn’t it?
Michael: Right. However, they weren’t really picky about…. I don’t remember them having separate dishes.
Sanford: No, they did, for Passover. Not milk and meat.
Michael: For Passover, but not for milk and meat. So they weren’t, I wouldn’t say their practice was orthodox. When they went to temple, they went to an orthodox temple because that’s what they grew up in and that’s what they felt comfortable in. They didn’t, um, I don’t ever remember being taken to a Sabbath service just to be their for Sabbath services. They would go if it was an event, you know, like a ____________ society event that was a bar mitzvah. They generally didn’t take their kids. We went to high holy day services, Yom Kipper, Rosh Hashanah services. They, and… Passover was a big deal at our house. Passover was the one Jewish holiday that was a big deal and in later years I found out it was a big deal, I think to my father, maybe because that’s what they did at his house. But that was really it. And as I got older and as I had kids, and I practiced, I started to practice more, I had to reinvent a lot of these things in my household because they never got done in my parents’ household. So I sort of learned by reading books and going to temple and practicing because I wanted. I felt that if I was going to send my kids to school, they had to see it. They had to see their parents practice it. So I sort of went the opposite way. At some point, my mother told me that I was being religious crazy.
(laughter)
Michael: So she sort of, she sort of, I told her that I went to temple every week with my kids. It was sort of, you’re nuts. (Laughter). You know, so I think part of that was having lost some of the faith. And you know, and I think also part of that was being isolationist. They kept walls up with the world. If you went to temple, you might make a friend that might come over.
Vida: That’s funny.
Michael: You know, so I think part of it was that, too, that you stayed out of situations that would give other people hooks into you.
Vida: Yeah. Do you think, was one of them more so than the other? I mean, would one of them have been probably more able to, um, mix with people and then the other one was kept from doing that? No?
Sanford: They were well matched.
Vida: They were well matched.
(laughter)
Vida: Okay, well, you know, I really want to thank you, for doing this. It’s very…if I said interesting that sounds trite. But it gives me so much of a deeper understanding. I often think of these people who….I’m not their child so it’s a whole different ball of wax…but never, never to get away from it. I mean, it’s just….but you know this. You know this. Was there ever joy ever?
Sanford: No.
Vida: No. No joy in your home.
Sanford: No.
Michael: The big deal with them….
Vida: There’s ten years difference, right?
Sanford: Right.
Vida: And that’s a lot of…
Michael: But I still think, my sense was – was there joy. The big deal was, are you okay? Are you safe?
Sanford: Yeah.
Michael: And you could say if there was any joy, the fact that everybody was okay and doing well and they didn’t have any huge ___________, going on. To them, that was great.
Sanford: That was great.
Vida: But they didn’t say it, though, did they?
Michael: No.
Vida: No.
Michael: No. There was always contentment. Was there any let’s go out and have some fun, some joy?
Sanford: (Laughter). Never. Never, never.
Michael: In fact, people that do that are foolish.
Sanford: Right….They were not paying attention.
Michael: So okay, one of us, and again he’s older than I, one of us would say, “I’m going to Europe on vacation.” Why would you want to do that? Who would want to do that?
Vida: Who would want to go to Europe?
Michael: Well, okay.
Sanford: She went nuts when we told her we were going to Sokolow.
Vida: Oh, she was?
Sanford: She went berserk on the phone.
Vida: I mean, really?
Sanford: Yeah.
Michael: And then didn’t want to talk about it when we got back.
Sanford: Right.
Michael: Ignored us.
Sanford: Ignored us. And uh, she said something would probably kill us if we went there.
Michael: And we really had someone try to do that, as well. I mean, they…
Vida: Were they ever physical?
Michael: (laughter) Poland?
Vida: No.
Michael: My parents?
Sanford: You mean, in Sokolow?
Vida: No, I meant were they ever physical. Well, two questions, were they physical with each other or did they show any…?
Sanford: A little bit. Not a lot. No.
Vida: I mean, were you kissed?
Michael: I was. I mean, I remember lots of warm touching.
Vida: You do?
Michael: By my mother, my mother. Never my father.
Sanford: I don’t remember the family doing lots of things together.
Michael: Never.
Sanford: Very, very, very occasional.
Vida: So did you ever get to be in the position to have a friend over?
Sanford: I had friends over, but they didn’t like it.
Vida: Your folks didn’t like it?
Sanford: No.
Vida: Well, can you think of something that you would like me to ask you? Or, I would. It would be something that you might want someone else to gain something from.
Sanford: Well the only thing is that I think that, in my case, the impact of what happened to my parents was gigantic for them and carried on to their children, Mike and I. I think I was much more affected than Mike.
Vida: Well you got the worst of it.
Sanford: I got the brunt of it. So, uh, all in all, I mean, I’m a fairly normal person.
Michael: I don’t know.
(Laughter)
Vida: It’s really, it’s really extraordinary.
Sanford: But I’m tightly controlled. And I, have…so it’s interesting the way things turned out.
Vida: How did you feel when she died?
Sanford: Well, actually she went, she had such a bad time at the end as far as the Alzheimer’s and the _____ stroke. It was almost a relief. You know, you have to understand that when we went to deal with the ___________, everything was always a crisis. So you didn’t have time. You didn’t have time to deal with emotions. So like everything else, emotions got delayed. In some sense, mom’s final passing was very quiet.
Michael: Yeah.
Sanford: So, you know, and again I was kind of perturbed and I didn’t cry and I wasn’t really upset till I got to the cemetery and then I gushed quite a bit. You know, there’s a ….I still think this think. I don’t want to say this is always true because certainly we got mad and screamed at each other and ___________. But you did control your emotions. There was a certain amount of – always – control. I think. Wouldn’t you agree with that?
Michael: Yeah, I mean, but, yeah. Silent _________.
Sanford: And there was a certain amount of, things are bad but get over it.
Michael: Right. You know, just cause your arm is cut off, that’s not really that…
Sanford: You only think it hurts.
Michael: Well, it’s really not very important. You prioritize lots of ___________.
Sanford: Well you get the sense that there were things a lot more painful than you might have had to have done…so in the range of how big a tragedy it is, it’s all tragedy.
Vida: Doesn’t it seep out though? I mean, how much can you put under a rug?
Sanford: A lot. A lot.
Michael: You’d be amazed.
Sanford: I don’t know about us. I mean, my dad had his family killed, my mother saw her family, friends and family tortured and ___________ killed ____________ her friends. They kept a lot under the rug. So how much did we keep under the rug, maybe very small compared to what they did.
Vida: Yeah. A lot of people will say that they would notice that they didn’t have a aunt or an uncle and so they would ask. Or somebody else would come in and take that place.
Sanford: One of the things I was always confused about it what are aunts and uncles and nephews and cousins. I didn’t know the definitions of those things probably until I was a teenager. It took me a while. I remember always being confused about those things because I didn’t know what those words meant.
Vida: That’s really interesting.
Michael: Yeah, and to me it was always normal, it was normal that we didn’t have relatives. You knew that you didn’t have any relatives because of _________. Not the Holocaust, but. Another thing, the relatives you did have, they were always mad at them for some reason.
Vida: I still haven’t gotten. I’ll try again and maybe I didn’t get it. When did you learn? When did it dawn on you that they were survivors? When? I mean, was there a moment?
Sanford: No. I always knew.
Vida: You always knew.
Sanford: Yeah. I always knew.
Vida: Well, you know, well, how about this question. So you always knew, but when did you know that it mattered?
Sanford: I always knew.
Vida: That it made a difference in your life.
Sanford: I always knew. I mean, it was the defining issue in the family.
Vida: Right. I understand that but I. But somebody had to tell you. Holocaust survivor.
Michael: No.
Vida: Did you know what that meant?
Sanford: Okay, so Holocaust survivor is a modern term for what….
Vida: Okay, what was it then? What was it then?
Sanford: Uh….
Vida: Help me out here.
Sanford: We’re family they have been trying to kill for a long time, and did a pretty good job. A couple people were missed. There’s still time.
Vida: The Germans.
Sanford: Right, there’s still time.
Vida: Did they call them Germans or..Nazis?
Sanford: Yeah. But generalized to the whole world was the Germans were the ones doing the work but this time…

Tape 2 - Side 1

Vida: Okay, this time.
Sanford: Okay so the Germans were doing work this time, but the feeling was that they were always under threat. They were always victims. Their turn was coming up and the right strategy was to do what was necessary to avoid being one of the people killed.
Michael: I asked Sandy in the car on the way here, the question of, so this generation’s dying out. There’s not a lot of them left. Your list is getting pretty short, I would imagine.
Vida: Right.
Michael: So, in fifty years, you know, I mean, for us it means something because it defines us. For our next generation, our kids, it’s a much shallower memory, you know. You hear a lot of “never again;” well that’s never been true for the Jewish people, so, you know, so I’m not so sure, I mean. What happens to all the Holocaust centers fifty years from now? This Holocaust centers going to be here fifty years from now? I doubt it.
Vida: Why do you doubt it – because nobody will care?
Michael: Well why will it be important? Why would it get the donations? I would imagine there will be several large Holocaust centers that will take the information, collect it from all these and put them together. But why will every community want to have one fifty years from now? They have —
Vida: If there are no survivors.
Michael: Right, ‘cause they have no survivors. Usually, because it’s the survivors that are, sort of, aging, and saying it’s important to record this — and their children – that made this happen. When we’re not here, it’s another tragedy in the Jewish people’s history. Which I’m not saying is not important, I mean, maybe Yom Hashoah will be a holiday. I’m sure you are familiar with the holiday of Tisha B’Av, so why isn’t this modern day, I mean. I’m not making light of it. Don’t misunderstand me.
Vida: No, no, I think you have a really strong point and I think anybody who, who, doesn’t – you know, I mean, I think you’re right.
Michael: It’s another – you know, Sandy, what was your comment just a minute ago when I asked this question, why is it, why will this one be important and your comment was, well, it depends what happens in Iran.
Sanford: Right.
Michael: If they nuke Israel, then we get, then we’ll have another tragedy to document.
Sanford: It’s sort of a march in history. I don’t want to make light of it. I think what the Nazis did was nuts. What the Polish people did, it’s sort of amazing to me that human beings can be that inhumane to each other. It happens all the time.
Vida: Darfur.
Sanford: Darfur. I mean, I took an upper-level graduate course in, what, eastern central Europeans, Croatia, the Serbs, and when the Berlin wall came down, my wife was telling me how wonderful. I said, no it isn’t. And she said why? I said well the Russians have been in control of all the people all these years. The minute they’re not in control anymore, they’re going to start killing each other again, what they’ve always done.
Michael: Yeah.
Sanford: And you said how do we always know this. We know this because we know this history, how people can be evil to each other. It doesn’t surprise me that, what’s happening in Darfur.
Michael: No, it’s standard operating procedure.
Vida: It really is.
Michael: I mean, I think the only people. People don’t know this because they choose not to know history.
Sanford: Americans don’t know this.
Michael: Well, people in general don’t know this. These are inconvenient truths.
Vida: They don’t think about it. It’s not part of their life.
Michael: They believe, the normal way, the normal way is people getting along – which is just the opposite.
Sanford: I disagree with you there, because I think this is normative for most human societies. This is what our society did to the Indians.
Michael: Right.
Sanford: It’s what Europeans did to each other. It’s what the Christians did to the Muslims in the crusades – but you write it out of history.
Michael: Right.
Sanford: You win, and it’s you won because they were trying to kill you, and you know, that ethnic cleansing, you know, I think is – I won’t call it a normal part of human society, but has certainly been a prevalent mode of operation. And you know, now, in our culture, we don’t believe it’s right. I mean I think American society says all men were created equal, and we try to live that and, and, believe it. I don’t think it’s necessarily true, but if you, if you’re are racist in our society, you feel guilty about it. You’re not gonna say it out loud. In Croatia…
(Michael’s laughter)
Sanford:   You know, you know, it’s out loud. In Poland, it’s, “there’s a Jew, kill them.”
Michael: It’s out loud.
Vida: Yeah.
Michael: Still now. Today.
Sanford: Still now. In Lodz, it was really entertaining
Vida: Tell me about the trip, yeah.
Sanford:   In Lodz it was really entertaining to walk down. There’s lots of graffiti on buildings and one of the nicer graffitis is a Jewish star, of David, in a hangman’s noose.
Vida: Yeah.
Michael: And it would say, “__Rouse?__ Jews.” Go hate Jews. There’s no Jews left. There’s no Jews left.
(Michael and Sandy’s laughter)
Michael: You know it’s like, we had to come over to be able to, I mean it’s like there were all these anti-Semitic statements and about doing these to Jews. They have no Jews in Poland. How can, why would, you know, the anti-Semitism stayed; there are no Jews.
Vida: And they’re still doing it without a Jew.
(Laughter)

Vida: So you see this graffiti on the wall.
Michael: Everywhere.
Sanford and Michael: Everywhere.
Michael: And uh – _______ is chased.
Vida: What year? When did you go?
Sanford: Four or five years ago.
Vida: You were chased?
Sanford: A guy with a big stick and a nail through it – he chased him down the street…
Michael: So, so, so Sokolow, we our whole lives had heard from our parents –  I would ask them questions like
Vida: So your parents were right!
Michael: They were right! They were right! They were right. They were absolutely right. So now I’ll put that into context. I would ask my parents, well, my mother, the way I understand the story and I’ll confirm it was that she got some help from one of her Polish neighbors that took her in, to a town north of Sokolow _Ostro?________, something or other I forget, took her there, so I would ask my dad or her the question, well, why didn’t you, you know, write to those folks, thank them, sent them a…. My dad would say things like if people knew that farmer had saved my life, they’d kill him today. And I’d say that can’t be true
Sanford: That can’t be true. Come on, there’s my paranoid anxious sort of kind of whacko parents and so we go to Sokolow, and we’re looking around. Now first thing you’ve got to realize, we get into town square and there are all these people who are going, they take one look at that little red beard and see a guy walking around  and it’s innate – there’s a Jew!
Michael: Right. Immediately.
Sanford: Immediately. The Jews are back.
Michael: The Jews are back.
Sanford: The Jews are back. They’re Jews.
Vida: (laughing) And they’re going to bring their friends.
Sanford: Jews are here, okay.
Vida: You could feel it?
Michael: Aw, you could feel it.
Sanford: As a matter of fact, you had people coming to you trying to get information, saying, you know, in their broken English mainly, you know, that, oh, they’re, they love Jews.
Michael: They try to be your — I want to be your guide, you’ve got questions —
Vida: Or you got money
Michael: You got money, and there’s a lot of alcoholism there. So we immediately, immediately we walk into town we have a guide – we have our own guide that we hired – but we have a, in the square we have in the square somebody walks up and starts to tell us what do you want to know, where do you want to go and starts to walk us around town and we start to ask questions. You know I ask, okay, we kind of want to, where was the Jewish synagogue and the cemetery, ‘cause we had heard stories about it. So we get led to this area of town. And our cousin, who was with us who speaks Polish, he was _________ in my father’s household as it all broke out.
Vida: Was he, did he go with you or is he from…
Michael: He went with us. He went with us. And so we get to this sort of like, park, and this is where we were told, this is where the Jewish cemetery used to be and the synagogue. Well the people in the community had you know, they’d gotten rid of the graves. They built an indoor community swimming pool on the cemetery. Seems kind of spooky to me, but what do I know? So we’re in there and there are these park rangers or workers raking leaves so our cousin walks up to them and asks them and says, _________, and says, we’re trying to find out is this where the Jewish cemetery used to be? One guy looks at him in Polish and says, Are you, Are you a Jew?
Vida: Like that, threatening him?
Michael: Threatening him. Jew, get out of here. We don’t want you here.
Vida: He said that?
Michael: Yeah, right away, right away, first thing he said. So we’re trying to find out where my parents’ neighborhood is and I’m actually asking questions because I have some information, finding the name of the family that saved my mother, is there anybody left in that family, is there somebody that we could talk to. So we’ve got this kind of, what I’d call schleppy guy that we don’t know if he’s telling us the truth or not, so he’s asking people on, where, is there a family by this family’s name and he goes, and they sent us to go to this woman’s house. There’s an old woman who lives here. She was alive during that…She might know. Go ask her that. So we go to this house that is right in the neighborhood of where my, I believe, my parents’ family lived. We don’t know if it was the, I can’t tell you it was the house. I don’t think it was the house. But so I’m with the guide and I’ve got my camera with me over my shoulder. My guide’s asking me questions about we were told to come here, there’s this old lady, there’s a guy there standing there basically talking to us looks like he just got up, he’s saying he doesn’t know, he doesn’t know this lady, we must have been sent here wrong, boom boom boom. The guy is maybe sixty, maybe fifties. So I’m sitting there, I’m an American tourist, I’m saying I’m here interviewing, let me take a picture, let me just take a picture. I pick up my camera – and I’m not doing it with any intent thinking this guy is doing any wrong – or thinking I’m anywhere but at some Polish guy’s house we are asking questions of, pick up the camera, go to take a picture, the guy flips out. Starts to call me a _________…
Vida: What?
Michael: One Polish word I learned from my parents, it’s a whore, and picks up a log about four feet long and starts to chase me down the driveway.
Sanford: And he can really run. (Laughter)
Michael: And meanwhile everyone’s watching this and freaking out. What happened? So this happened and Sandy comes up and starts being a little threatening back and the guy starts screaming epithets and finally backs off and we walk on and we’re like, what just happened?
(Sanford’s laughter)
Michael: We’re all looking at each other. And I figured it out. Okay, do I know this for sure? Could I sign on a documented line? No. But what we had just done is we had walked up to somebody who was squatting in a house that had formally been a Jewish person’s forty years ago.  And the Jews just showed up and they’re asking questions.
(Sanford’s laughter)
Vida: You wanted…
Michael: And I’m going to take a picture of him in this doorway.
(Sanford’s laughter)
Michael: So you can imagine. The biggest deal in this town is their fear that the Jews want their property back, because in Poland that’s a big political issue right now, because there is some pressure back to get control of cemeteries, what were formally Jewish institutions, and it’s bad enough to think they’re going to come back and live here, but they want their property back.
Sanford: Twelve thousand people lived in that town before the war.
Michael: A third.
Sanford:   Five thousand were Jews.
Michael: You know, I don’t know if that number is accurate; that’s what my mom said. A third, several thousand were Jews.
Sanford: So maybe they owned one or two houses. So…
Vida: That’s just.. horrendous.
Michael: A further story, as we were looking…
Vida: Well were they calling you Jewish names? I mean, is that what they were yelling?
Sanford: Nothing nice. (Laughter)
Michael: I’ll give you, well they weren’t screaming Jewish. They were screaming other expletive. But the other thing is we ended up going to the document center and looking for records. We found some birth certificates.
Sanford: Oh tell the story about…
Michael: The mayor?
Sanford: The mayor.
Michael: Oh I’m going to tell about the mayor. So we get some records that say such and such Asher was born, my dad’s brother or something, some minor record. We’re still trying to find his records. The people in that place tell us to go to city hall. So we go to city hall and we start to ask is there any more information. Can we look through the records X, Y, Z, and a woman tell us, oh okay, wait here wait here wait here, we don’t know what we’re waiting for. We get ushered into the vice mayor’s office. He says hi, I’m glad to have you here. He puts, do you want something to drink?
Sanford: Coffee.
Michael: Coffee, very nice, the guy’s treating us really nicely. So our cousin starts to ask questions and he says, he brings out a picture of the old mikvah. You know what a mikvah is.  Would you like a copy of this? And we said oh, no. And so my cousin starts to ask, tell me about, there was a family that we were friends with, the Miller family, the family that basically ground the grain, a very wealthy family from what we – very wealthy except for ________ Poland. Who knows how wealthy wealthy is? Wealthy is, probably
Sanford: They ate every day.
Michael: They ate every day. Okay so he says oh yes I knew that family very well, yes, yes, hold on a second. He goes into the other part of the office comes back with a document that says he owns their property. And they sold it to him.
Sanford: In 1943 – probably got a pretty good price.
(Laughter)
Michael: So here is the issue with ________, Poland. _______ Poland is exactly what my parents told us.
Sanford: Exactly. Exactly.
Michael: It is a small, rural town, not rural, it’s a town that has blood on their hands and they know it. And here we are, how dare us remind them of that.
Sanford: And the people in the street that were acting menacing.
Michael: Yeah, everybody was looking at us.
Vida: Okay.
Sanford: Yeah there were people, people in the town look menacing.
Michael: Right.
Sanford: So it was very spooky and we got led around by our guide but we also got led around by what I would call alcoholic guy who was looking for a tip of some sort.
Michael: No, no, he was not just alcoholic, he was crazy.
Sanford: He was slightly crazy.
Michael: And he. And he had done this for other Jews before I’m sure. And that was a common thing. See the issue right now is Jews are coming back because, because, they’re getting toward their elder years – let’s go back take one look at Poland. So I think Holocaust survivors and their children have done a little bit of traipsing through this area and even in Warsaw where we went, you would go to stores where there’d be little Jewish tourist figures, you’d go to antique stores where they would have, what they were selling was antique torah mantels.
Vida: Oh so they could – for the tourists to buy, make money.
Michael: The tourists – there was a tourist trade. But you know honestly for me, you go into an antique store, and you see a torah shield, so you are saying okay, is this a torah shield out of a Polish temple that got burnt? It’s kind of spooky.
Vida: Yeah.
Michael: You know, so, the one thing that I got, and I’m being tangential right now. When we were in Warsaw, and there was the one synagogue left in they said there were hundreds of synagogues before the war, but the one synagogue that’s still standing, the Lauder Foundation runs it?
Vida: Yeah.
Michael: And so I was asking the guy behind the counter, what I was missing, I said well where are the Lubavitch Jews? Wherever you go there’s always a Lubavitch center. And he looked at me and says there are no Lubavitcher Jews, because Rabbi, Rabbi Schneerson – you know who Rabbi
Vida: Yeah
Michael: So Schneerson said you can’t live in Poland. Poland is a cemetery. It’s against Jewish law to live in a cemetery. And he’s absolutely right. He’s a very – that’s wisdom. Poland is a cemetery. It’s ghosts; there’s a lot of blood on the ground. And, you know, do the people feel guilty? They feel guilty enough, but my parents said — would they do it again, I don’t disa…
Sanford: In a second (Laughter)
Michael: In a second.
Vida:   Well, so, how did you feel then that you’d been hearing this all your life and your parents acted the way they did and so
Michael: I…
Sanford: It was a revelation.
Vida: Yeah, and here you go there and so?
Sanford: And so I’ve had very few…
Vida: I want to be sure your getting on this — there’s a noise here with the air conditioner and you have a very soft voice.
Sanford: My wife doesn’t agree with that. I’ve had very few moments in my life where I’ve gotten out of control. Maybe three or four times where I’ve gotten so upset that I’ve lost rational thought. Actually the most recent is when that guy chased my brother. I was already pretty pissed off with the episode of these guys in the park telling Shaul they didn’t want Jews in Poland. So I was pretty irritated already. And I lost my cool. And so I was ready to kill this guy and my wife saved him or me.
Vida: Oh your wife was along?
Sanford: Oh yeah.
Vida: Oh okay. Are you talking about you were really angry at the guy in the park? Who told you – is that the one you’re talking about?
Sanford: Well I was already, I mean, the level, I’d been, since we arrived in this town, the interactions with people on the street, and there were many, many unusual things that happened and the menacing interactions with people across the street,  and the guys at the park, so my, all my neurons were firing…
Vida: Lit…
Sanford: They were lit. And then this guy came charging with his big stick with a nail in it.  And that was it – I lost it. My wife, you know, said, are you nuts? You know, cause I was going to take this guy on. So she wouldn’t let go of me. And I, I calmed down.
Vida: But how did you feel because you’d been hearing this and what your parents – spoke the truth?
Sanford: They’re absolutely right! This is another reality, this is another planet.
Michael: It was very affirming in a lot of ways.
(Sanford’s laughter)
Sanford: Affirming?
Michael: It was very affirming.
Sanford: Affirming?
Michael: Well, I don’t know how to say it – that some of the insanity that our parents had wasn’t quite insanity.
Sanford: Right.
Michael: That there was a maybe rational basis for the insanity.
(Laughter)
Vida: Exactly. That’s what I, yeah.
Sanford: That’s exactly right.
Vida: You know, this is amazing. This is really, I’m so glad that you all did this.
Michael: Let me give you an example. We got set up for this and before we got to Sokołów, it sort of was like a crescendo. We get to the town of __Cvengros?___.
Sanford: I think that’s right.
Michael: And so there’s a square and in the middle, the end of the ______ square,  is a beautiful Catholic church. We know that the Catholic church was managed _______. So we go, we are are going to look at this Catholic church. We’re just walking around the square,
Sanford: Tourists
Michael: Tourists, we’re being tourists
Sanford: He’s got that red beard.
(Laughter)
Vida: The red beard is Jewish?
Michael: In Poland it was.
Sanford: In Poland it was.
Michael: We walk in…
Vida: What color are their beards?
Sanford: They don’t have beards.
Michael: We walk into, you think I’m exaggerating but we walk into the church.
Sanford: We did walk in the church.
Michael: We walked in the front door.
Sanford: The front door.
Michael: And we asked, we said can we go in and look at the church. We’ve all been tourists in Europe; you visit churches. How many churches do you see when you’re in Rome? So we ask the lady standing there can we go in and look at the inside of the church. Without any more discussion, she looks at us and says, “the priest doesn’t allow Jews in the church.”
(Pause)
Michael: Who told her we were Jewish?
(Sanford’s laughter)
Michael: Sandy, did you tell her? It’s that red beard! So I want to tell you in Poland,
Vida: Not a red mustache.
Michael: In America, I can walk around and I can say people generally don’t look at me unless they know me and know Mike Asher’s Jewish. In Poland without telling them, they know Mike Asher’s Jewish. You tell me how they know that.
Sanford: ‘Cause they all look the same. They all look Polish. Now maybe I could pass a little bit.
Vida: I guess if you hate somebody enough…
Sanford: Right, my mother could pass; that’s how she survived. He couldn’t pass!
Michael: I could not pass.
Sanford: Right? Looking like that…
Vida: Could I pass?
Sanford: Yeah.
Vida: I don’t think so. Some people have told me I look Jewish.
Sanford: But see, there is a different. Poland is a homogenous society. They all look the same. They really do.
Vida: They’re sharp-featured. They’re, they’re…
Sanford: Yeah, but you know they look Nordic and they look the same. They are basically one tribe. There are two minorities there, used to be three minorities. The two minorities were the Jews, the gypsies and the Germans.  They all looked different.
Michael: And they’re also very attuned to those differences.
Sanford: It’s all about the differences.
Michael: So we went and we’ll give one last part of the story and this will be enough. We, one of the other things we wanted to do. Shaul, and his mother, were saved a farmer landowner that hid a large number, a larger number of Jews. Whether that was eight Jews, ten Jews, I don’t know the exact number but it was out in a small town, Ciechanów, or something further out, much more rural. So we’re out there, we’re going to try to find it. We go out to try to find it. And we get to this area and we can’t find it. We don’t know. Are we in the right place? Shaul thinks we’re close but can’t figure it out. We’re actually within sight of the place but we don’t know it. And so we stop, there was a…
Sanford: A church
Michael: And rectory where the priests lived. We go to ask questions and oh, could you, was somebody cold to us, oh man – to the door, he took one look at us. He wasn’t nasty in words, but tone is a lot so we got the feeling we weren’t really welcome. We weren’t going to get any answers. We walked out of there and there was a guy on a bicycle, an old man…
Sanford: But he, this guy was bicycling past and the priest pointed at this guy – nice guy…
Michael: Nice guy. Really nice guy. You know, knows about it and he points at a house about a block away in the middle of a field, that’s the house. Everybody in the community knew they were hiding Jews. And we start talking to him. We end up actually going to the house where there was some young couple, maybe in their early twenties, had a baby and they said yes, this was the place. They knew the stories. Other Jews had _________.
Sanford: Found a secret room.
Michael: Found the secret room.
Sanford: They didn’t want to show it to us.
Michael: They didn’t want to show, okay. But they were happy to talk to us.  And they weren’t menacing.
Sanford: No.
Michael: They were very nice. Then we back up and we find a farmer that was actually the little boy that had brought them food in the night.
Vida: Oh.
Michael: And we’re talking, remembered each other, and one of, his sister who had helped him bring food over, she had died recently.
Sanford: I thought it was his daughter.
Michael: His daughter, or his sister. So we talked, and he was very nice.
Sanford: Yeah.
Michael: So okay _________. We say they would kill us today. However, here’s somebody that had a hand in saving Jews that if the Nazis had known, would die. So there were I think the Jewish people, the righteous gentile, there were righteous people, there were righteous people that also got paid for it, too. But there were a lot of, there were a lot of evil people, too – so very interesting, very enlightening. So a lot of the things our parents only hinted at I would say we learned in fact. And I can’t, anybody that tells these stories thinks I’m exaggerating.
Vida: Did you go home and say anything to your parents?
Michael: Talked ________ to our mom about it. She didn’t want to talk about it.
Sanford: She was so angry about the fact that we went there.
Vida: And why do you suppose she was so angry? What?
Michael: You had to be crazy to go back to Sokołow.  Who in their normal mind would go back to Sokołow?
Vida: Was she afraid that somebody would hurt you?
Michael: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Vida: So that’s what she was…
Sanford: But I –
Vida: And you worried her.
Michael: And we stirred the pot. My guess is she felt threatened as well. You know, she escaped. Do they know she escaped? Do they know where she is? You know, we went and stirred the pot.
Vida: Yeah.
Michael: And that probably was not a good idea.
Vida: This is remarkable, really is remarkable.
(BREAK IN TAPE)
Sanford: There was a certain point where her and one of her brothers (pause) and maybe even a sister…
Vida: No, I’m just repeating this ‘cause it wasn’t – when the town got liquidated…
Sanford: That they, at least for a period of time, escaped and went into the woods and were hiding. But they all got killed eventually except for her because it was my understanding that she was the only one of her family in Sokolow that survived.
Vida: She went on to be a forced laborer.
Sanford: Forced laborer, yeah, ____________.
Vida: That’s what I know. Well, I need you, do you want to stop? Do you want to say more? Do you have something to finish it up?
Michael: I think that visit to Poland pretty much ________.
Sanford: Yeah, I think that was a very important event, I think that was a very important event in my life that explained a lot of things that clarified a huge amount of my family’s situation.
Vida: Did your dad have anything to say about it?
Sanford: He was dead by that time.
Vida: He was dead by then.
Sanford: And again, you couldn’t get a lot out of my dad about the situation or his family. You could get only brief little snatches and saying but he would never really tell you history. Very difficult.
Michael: Right.
Vida: Okay, guys. Well it’s been a pleasure to meet you and I’m so glad that you talked with me and I appreciate it. Not an easy thing for you guys, not an easy thing.
Sanford: No.

Listen to Sanford and Michael's Story