Marek’s Story

On June 22, 1941, Markey woke up to the sound of explosions. Nazi Germany had broken their pact with the Soviet Union and once again Lvov was being bombed, as the Nazis tried to advance into Soviet territory. During the bombings, the Hermans went down into the cellar for shelter, but their building was hit during the fighting. The room went dark and the cellar filled with dust. Marek’s father smashed through a window and led the family out to one of the public shelters, where they stayed until the Germans entered the city.

Aunt Hela and Uncle Moshe fled deep into the Soviet Union because they had heard that the Nazis were vicious towards Communists in the areas they occupied. Aunt Hela and Uncle Moshe asked Marek’s family to join them, but Marek’s father refused. He believed that the Germans were a civilized and cultured people, and couldn’t imagine that it was necessary to run towards an unknown future in a distant land.

The Herman family’s financial situation deteriorated again under the Nazis. Marek’s parents lost their jobs, and his father began selling his handmade hats on the street. It was now easy for the Nazis to identify Jews on the streets because they had to wear an armband with the Star of David on it. When there were German soldiers on the streets, Mr. Herman hid in the cellar so he would not be assaulted.

As for Marek, his hair was light, and people could assume that he was not a Jew, but an “Aryan .” In an act of defiance, he decided not to wear the armband, and not to report for work when called upon. Nobody could tell just from looking at Marek that he was Jewish, and this allowed him the ability to roam freely, and to help his family.

“Then 1942 began, which was a very hard year.”
—Marek Herman

The Nazis established a ghetto in Lvov in November of 1941. Marek and his brother began wandering on the “Aryan ” side, only returning to their family once a day, when they were able to bring some food. Their younger sisters were becoming very ill, and Marek felt he had to do whatever he could to help. Fortunately, Marek and Mundzio found help from a group of kind Italian soldiers. The Italians, at this point in the war, were allied with Nazi Germany through the Pact of Steel .

“The Italians had a different type of soul.”
—Marek Herman

Sneaking in and out of the ghetto was illegal, but the brothers continued despite the danger. There were other boys doing the same for their families, so Marek and Mundzio blended in among the crowd. For shelter, the brothers took refuge in an old apartment with a few other people who begged for food outside the Italian barracks .

By the spring of 1942, Nazis started rounding up groups of Jews for deportation from the Lvov Ghetto. Some of the groups of Jews were taken to Janowska, a nearby forced labor camp. Other groups were taken to the railway station, forced onto cattle cars , and never heard from again. Still others, the sick and elderly, were simply selected and shot. During all this, Marek and Mundzio continued to live on the “Aryan ” side of the city and were spared.

One day, however, the brothers came back to the ghetto with food for their family, and when they arrived they found that their mother and sisters were gone. The next day their father was gone, too. The Nazis had conducted what they called an aktion, taking people from their homes and from the streets in a massive deportation .