Survivor STORY

Born April 5, 1924, in Lodz, Poland, Pinkus was the third of six children born to Itzhak and Bluma Rosenperl Solnik. Pinkus attended cheder, (Jewish religious school) until age 13 and then continued his education at a yeshiva, as was customary for boys in his family. His paternal grandfather was a rabbi, although his own father was trained as an electrician. Pinkus and his three brothers were all apprenticed as electricians at age 13 and helped their father at work.

Although the Solnik family did not have a great deal of money, there was always room at the Shabbat table for a needy person in the community to enjoy a hot meal. Pinkus remembered German Jews crossing the border in the late 1930’s to escape the Nazi regime and Polish Jewish organizations assisting them in finding shelter and food.

On September 1, 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland. Within days, curfews were enforced, and businesses were relinquished to German control. Jews were randomly grabbed on the streets and taken to forced labor by the Nazis. One evening, Pinkus’ older brother, Barrish, 19, returned home after having been severely beaten. The next morning, the family awoke to find him dead in his bed.

On February 1, 1940, the entire family was taken from their home and moved into one room in the newly created Jewish ghetto in Lodz. Death from hunger, disease, and the numbing cold that was due to lack of coal were daily occurrences. Corpses were removed daily by wagons pulled by humans, not horses.

Work was available for those over the age of 14 and Pinkus was soon to turn 16. He and his brothers worked as electricians throughout their stay in the ghetto. Pinkus often spoke of hiding their food ration and bringing it home to their mother, who would make soup for their entire family, keeping them all alive. The family was together and would spend time in the evening singing and helping each other as needed.

In the fall of 1941, tens of thousands of Jews from other areas of the Reich were transported to the ghetto, which increased the scarcity of food. The ghetto was overpopulated, with about 300,000 Jews crowded into a small area.. Beginning in January 1942, selections for deportations became common. The Judenrat, the Jewish Council nominally in charge of the ghetto, were ordered to deliver a certain number of Jews, usually in the tens of thousands, and if they did not do so on a timely basis, the Nazis entered and performed their own selections, usually taking larger numbers and in a more brutal manner. The Solnik family was able to hide the two younger sisters in the cellar, but Pinkus’ brother Abe, then 16, was selected and placed on a wagon for transport. He somehow was able to escape from the wagon and ran back to his family in their ghetto home. Once again, the family was together.

The summer of 1944 brought many more deportations to Chelmno, a death camp. However, as the Russians were moving closer, people in the ghettos and labor camps were being transported west, mostly to Auschwitz. The Solnik family was deported by cattle car train to Auschwitz October, 1944. Upon arriving, they saw the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele making selections. Pinkus’ two younger sisters were immediately selected for death. Because the children were crying, their mother, Bluma, took them each by the hand and accompanied them to the gas chambers. Pinkus begged her to stay with him, as she had not been selected, but she glanced at him, knowing that she could not abandon her daughters at that horrid moment. They never saw them again, and were told by others to look up at the smoke of the chimney, where they too would eventually end up.

Pinkus, his father, his older brother, Sam, and his younger brother, Abe, were then taken to a sub-camp of Auschwitz, Lebiaz, for processing. They were tattooed with consecutive numbers on their left arms, B13463, B13464, B13465, and B13466, in order by age. Men and women were ordered to remove their clothes together in the same freezing room. They were given group showers with cold water and then given striped prison uniforms and wooden shoes. At this camp, they slept on the floors, woke at 5:00 a.m. to be counted, and performed slave labor the remainder of the day. They subsided on a piece of bread, watery soup, and bitter ersatz coffee. Severe beatings were common and could be fatal.

Pinkus’ father was growing increasingly weak and debilitated under these conditions. They were transported to a camp in Orenienberg by train. In February, 1945, they were taken from Orenienberg to Flossenberg, but by that time their father was not able to accompany his three sons, as he was unable to walk. They never saw their father again. On March 30, 1945, they arrived in Dachau, where they performed hard labor in the sub-camps of Nuremberg, Muldorf, and Kaufering. Pinkus recalls seeing the Nazis burning bodies and sometimes burning people alive, in an attempt to get rid of evidence.

On April 27, 1945, American soldiers liberated Dachau, including Pinkus and his two brothers, Sam and Abe. He remembered inmates kissing an American jeep. They were taken to a Displaced Person’s camp in Germany, Bad Worishofen, where they received nutritional rehabilitation. Three weeks later, he saw farmers bringing in a young blonde girl and immediately knew that she would be his future wife. Bella and Pinkus married January 28, 1946 in Bad Worishofen, had their first baby, Golda, in the DP Camp in February 1949, and eventually received a visa to immigrate to the United States on October 11, 1949.

The Solniks boarded a ship that arrived at the port of New Orleans, where told that they would be taking a train to a southern city of about 17,000 Jews: Atlanta, Georgia. There, they would be received by the local Jewish Welfare organization. Pinkus and Bella settled in Atlanta and had two more daughters: Betty in 1952, and Rosalie in 1957. Pinkus died from complications of Alzheimer’s’ Disease in 2001, and Bella continues to live in the home that she and Pinkus built in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta.

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Pinkus Solnik