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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
Sanford: You know, you know, it’s out loud. In Poland, it’s, “there’s a Jew, kill them.”
Michael: It’s out loud.
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.
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.
Vida: So you see this graffiti on the wall.
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 _________…
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?
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.
Vida: You wanted…
Michael: And I’m going to take a picture of him in this doorway.
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?
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.
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.
Sanford: Yeah there were people, people in the town look menacing.
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.
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?
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
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
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…
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.
Michael: It was very affirming.
Michael: Well, I don’t know how to say it – that some of the insanity that our parents had wasn’t quite insanity.
Michael: That there was a maybe rational basis for the insanity.
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,
Michael: Tourists, we’re being tourists
Sanford: He’s got that red beard.
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.”
Michael: Who told her we were Jewish?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.