Sol Urbach, who survived the Holocaust by working for Oskar Schindler, was born in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, a town outside of Krakow, Poland, in 1926. His family moved to Romania in 1928 but in 1933 moved back to Poland, to another town outside of Krakow.
In 1939, Sol, his parents, and his five siblings tried to flee Poland but were not successful. Later that year, the Germans invaded Poland. The Germans brought new laws, stopping the education of Jewish children and forcing Jews to wear arm bands. Those who refused to wear the arm bands faced a possible death penalty. At a 1994 speaking engagement at Lafayette College, Sol recalled, “The ever-changing laws made it impossible for the Jews to live.”
In 1941, all Jews in Krakow and surrounding areas were forced to move to the Krakow ghetto. An area that normally held 10,000 people was crammed with 40,000 residents. Sol and his family were assigned a basement room, where the living conditions were squalid and food was scarce.
As he told the audience at Lafayette, at the end of the summer of 1942, SS guards rounded up 100 people, including 15-year-old Sol, and trucked them to Oskar Schindler’s factory. Schindler reviewed his new labor pool and tried, unsuccessfully, to dismiss Sol and a friend because they looked younger than they were, probably from malnutrition.
Daily, for the next several months, Sol went to the factory, where he stamped out round sheet metal for pots and pans. It was because of this work that he escaped the March 1943 liquidation of the Krakow ghetto. The rest of Sol’s family did not survive the liquidation.
Into 1944, Sol was working for Schindler and living in his camp. In September 1944, Sol was shipped to Kraków Plaszow and then to Gross Rosen but Schindler managed to get Sol and other Jews sent to his camp in Brunnlitz, Czechoslovakia instead. During Sol’s time there he worked in Schindler’s textile factory.
On May 7, 1945 Schindler notified the inmates that the Germans were likely to surrender, and he provided weapons for them to defend themselves with. On May 9, 1945 the Russian army approached the camp and freed everyone. At the age of 19 Sol was no longer a prisoner.
Sol returned to Krakow, Poland to find what was left of his home and what he knew. After finding nothing left at home and due to increasing antisemitism, Sol and a friend traveled to Czechoslovakia and then moved to Bamberg, Germany. Between 1945-1949, he worked as a radio mechanic and studied for school in Germany.
In 1949, Sol moved to the United States and lived with his aunt and uncle. A year later, in 1950, Sol married Ada Birnbaum and they had three children who were born between 1952 and 1960. Sol and Ada lived in New York for a while and then eventually in 1951 they moved to Fleming, New Jersey where Sol started a successful building business with a friend. He also spoke about his history at speaking engagements and recorded his Holocaust testimony so that others can learn from his ordeal.
Sol and his family were deeply committed to the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, serving as proud members of the museum community since its establishment. His descendants and extended family are represented in the Museum’s Permanent Collection through 30 objects donated by his daughter, Barbara H. Urbach Lissner.