I never told the children… I did not want to give them the heaviness of my heart.”

On this week’s episode of Those Who Were There: Voices from the Holocaust, the only oral history podcast dedicated to bringing the voices of Holocaust survivors out of the archives, we’re listening to the story of Abram Merczynski.

Born in Lodz, Poland in 1923, Abram Merczynski was the third of six children in a working-class, observant Jewish family. His parents sold animal feed to make a living, and the family struggled financially throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Like many Jewish children in Lodz, Abram attended a Polish public school in the morning and cheder in the afternoons. Even prior to the German invasion, Abram was exposed to pervasive antisemitism during his childhood in Lodz. He recalls being attacked with rocks on his way to school, while the local police ignored his pleas for help.

Following the Nazi invasion of Lodz in September 1939, the Jews of Lodz were forced to move into a ghetto, which was sealed in April 1940. In the Lodz Ghetto, Abram and his family managed to find shelter in a cramped apartment. They were subjected to mass food shortages and terrible hunger. The Nazis conducted mass roundups, and soon Abram’s entire family was forced to board a train to Auschwitz.

At Auschwitz, Abram saw many of his family members for the last time. After the selection process, he was sent with his father and brothers to do forced labor at Kaufering concentration camp. Like many prisoners, Abram suffered from typhus and dysentery. Although he was in the same camp as his father, they were in separate barracks, and Abram was rarely able to evade the guards to bring his father food. His father wasted away and died two months before liberation. Yet, Abram survived, along with three of his four brothers.

Post-war gathering with friends.
Post-war gathering with friends. Abram Merczynski is second from left. His brother Zysman is second from right, seated next to Pola, his future wife. At far right is Hillek Porway, a close family friend. Photo likely taken in Munich, Germany, 1946 or 1947. Courtesy of the Merczynski Family.

In Munich, after the war, Abram recalled a wish that he had made in the Lodz Ghetto. There, his brother had organized an orchestra to provide a small measure of humanity for the Jewish prisoners. Abram promised himself that, if he survived, he would learn to play the violin. He purchased a violin in Munich and found a teacher, often practicing six or seven hours a day.

Abram concludes this episode by playing a song on his violin, the same one he purchased after liberation. Be sure to listen to this special episode of Those Who Were There on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Stitcher.

Header image: Abram Merczynski playing the violin at the wedding of his daughter, Eleanor, in June 1992. Courtesy of the Merczynski Family.