It is a great honor to spend this time with you today, Mr. Dynin, as we discuss aspects of your thought-provoking book, “Aryan Papers.” I so appreciate your willingness to share your story with the generations that have followed in the years since WWII and it is my hope that those who read this book will take pause and reflect on that period of history that changed the lives of so many forever.
In the Preface of “Aryan Papers,” you wrote of a vow that you had made during WWII; would you please expand upon this as we look to opening up our discussion? What was your age when you first penned your journal?
“I began to write these memoirs in the last months of 1946 in Tel-Aviv under the British mandate. It was a fulfillment of a vow I had made during the war: I had promised God that I would write a book-memoir in which I would depict the war experiences of my family. This book will teach you that whatever you decide can be achieved even if your enemies are stronger than you. We must learn about the Holocaust, not only to cry but to eliminate it from happening in our future generations. The Jewish people did not have their own country and there was no one who could come and help and there was no place to run away to.
The most important part of this book is the Preface because the child like me is an introduction to somebody who will survive. Have you ever seen a child who is 11 or 12 years old stand in the middle of a car in Poland and make faces and gestures like Hitler? If there is somebody like this, it means that this one will survive the war! I would tell my chauffeur to go into the area where the Germans were living, because in Lodz, there was a big population of German people and they very much loved Hitler. Do you know what kind of car it was? It was a Mercedes Benz, one with an open roof.
Sir Martin Gilbert, historian, author and official biographer of Winston Churchill, provided a very nice Introduction for this book. He wrote about suffering, courage, escape, rescue, resistance. We were in close touch for many years; we would talk to each other; I do miss him.”
As you set the stage for the reader in your Prologue, you reflect upon an idyllic life that spoke of peace and prosperity. What was your first memory that your world of comfort was changing?
“This Prologue gave some understanding to my character. My world changed immediately on the first day of the war, September 1, 1939 because I absolutely didn’t expect it; at one time during the day, the first bomb from German planes that fell on Poland fell on the house on the other side of our house. When I looked out the window, I saw that part of the house was ruined. My life changed immediately at this point, from a peaceful and great life. The people from the other house came to our basement because their house was in ruin and this is when I saw the first blood from the war; some of the people had been injured.
We knew we would have to assimilate so I was going to church regularly, every Sunday, and one of my best friends during the holocaust was a priest and he was sure I was a Pole. He always asked me to help him during the mass. He was an extremely nice guy and when it was holidays for Christians he would always say ‘Come with a cart and horse and bring some villagers and we will collect some food.’ He’d give us all kinds of food and this was a nice tradition. The sad story is that I saw exactly when they came to arrest him in 1944, a time that they were arresting a lot of Polish people; I was looking out through the window. I was shaking. I was preparing mentally in case they came for me; I was prepared to fight. I thought I will kill one or two of them; they usually came in two to arrest. When they came close to my door I was ready to attack.”
The juxtaposition of a young teenage boy growing up in the middle of WWII reveals to the reader that you were trying to juggle a sense of normalcy in a chaotic world. As a former teacher, I marvel at the fact you were able to complete your education during this tumultuous time. What were your initial thoughts in those early days in Poland when you started witnessing your world unraveling?
“At this time of life, boys are sexually ready yet I figured I must sacrifice something so I said that I would not have sex with a girl if I would be saved. It was very difficult; I lost a number of opportunities. There was one particular girl, she was the daughter of the organist at the church; she was unbelievably beautiful, just like from a painting. She was in love with me; nothing happened but do you know how she paid me back? She started to date a top German officer, a Nazi; he was in charge of a big battalion. This was unbelievable payment.”
You introduce the reader to a wide variety of people, snapshots in time. You spoke of a very dear friend named Tadek; what are some of your memories of him?
“Tadek’s family helped us to get our name changed from Dynin to Dunin. The early Polish aristocracy was Dunin. The difference between Dynin and Dunin was just one letter and we needed to change the “y” to a “u.” I look very Polish; my Polish friends would always say my Polish was much better than Poles. I never had any problem to pretend to be Polish but I didn’t have proper documents in case I was ever asked. For Heaven’s sake, I was never checked at any time by anyone during the war. Still, I had to have these papers for identification and protection from my true identity.
I was with Tadek in the first year of school in Vilna; I went to high school in Vilna for two years. After the Germans occupied Vilna, we had been in one place not far from his parents and they helped us to get these documents. There was a specialist who changed the letter to a “u.” We had some golden chains so we gave them to him; he did a good job. Even though I never used my documents, my mother did use her documents.
My mother spoke German just like a German; she went to a high school where she had a teacher who was from Germany. My mother had an incredible accent. She went to a German officer and he was so happy to meet someone who could speak German like he, that he asked her if she would like to be a translator. This is how we started to pretend to be Poles and it just so happened that I joined this underground and then my mother joined this underground because of me. I saved 17 or 18 Jewish people and two Poles.
After the war was over, I went with Tadek to a Polish high school, this was in free Poland. I stayed in contact with Tadek for some time; he was living in Canada. I lost him; he passed away. I was the youngest in the class.”
There were items of barter that your family carried throughout your journey but would you please speak about your mother’s butterfly brooch?
“For me, the butterfly brooch was just like the survival of the holocaust. We kept it just in case we needed to pay some bribe in order to survive. When the Russian army was coming closer to our location, there was an evacuation. For us, it was an evacuation to paradise. Throughout our journeys of the war, I would dig holes in the dirt wherever we were in order to hide the brooch and keep it safe and prevent it from being stolen by the enemy. It is still with me after all of these years and it is saved in a bank.”
Your mother was so courageous and resourceful and extremely strong; what words of encouragement did she share with you and your sister?
“You know, she was courageous but without her, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now. She was still like many people who were very optimistic; somehow we will survive, we will go to the ghetto, she would say. The kid that was riding around in the car pretending to be Hitler, I was not like this. I told her, ‘No way, I’m not going to any ghetto, no! We will survive, and somehow, we will do it.’ And we did! But then she changed and she played the game. We needed to fit in and not be seen as being Jewish but she had some problems with traditions in the church. I caught on very fast but it took her a longer time and I remember that I looked up during mass one time and people were looking at her like she was strange. It took her a long time to accommodate.
There were two altar boys that would stand on either side of the priest and I was one of them. I made some mistakes at first and I wasn’t sure if I was late; I’d look on to the other guy when he would start to swing the incense, and then I did it but somehow nobody paid attention to this. I helped the priest many times because the other boy wasn’t always available. The priest would go out in front of church to see if some young boys would help with the mass. He knew he could always count on me.
He had a cook and she was always inviting me to eat and she’d ask if I’d like to take some food to take home with me but I always managed somehow with food. I figured the Germans should pay for my food. I had a job at this time; I worked in the woods with cutting the forest and gathering wood; it was a great idea of my mother, not to be viewed too much so that people wouldn’t talk about us. I was managing three different places. To get about, I’d either walk or ride by horse. I was to sell to Germans but sold wood to local people and got some food in exchange.”
You spoke of how some Jews viewed the ghetto and wrote “Our innate Jewish optimism pushed away any thought of danger that loomed there.” When did your family receive word of the atrocities of the ghettos and the concentration camps?
“The matter of Jewish optimism was very bad. I knew the date from my mother, who at that time was working as a translator, when they were going to be killed. I was telling people you should run away to the woods for tomorrow they will come and kill you. And do you know what they told me? Oh everybody’s afraid to go to the woods because there’s nothing to eat there. There were about 18 people who listened to me. I was realistic. This is how the ones that had been like me, they saved their own lives.”
When the Russian soldiers liberated your family, it served as a sharp contrast to the few days and nights leading up to that event. When you hid among the wood piles in the forest, what thoughts were racing through your head?
“When the Germans started to run away from the Russian offensive, we were mulling over whether to stay in the city or not, since before they left, they were killing as many as they could. We were told they were heading to Warsaw and we figured that was going to be close to our city geographically. I knew geography from the Polish high school and this would play a part in the future. We decided to run away in their same direction so we got a cart but didn’t realize at first that there were guns and ammunition under the straw. I looked up the direction we were going and this was not the direction to Warsaw but instead to cities where the populations were mostly German.
There was a church on the left side of the road, I even remember how it looks like in my mind, so I left my mother and sister and went to the local priest and said, ‘We are a Polish family and we must go to our city;’ I said Warsaw, because if I said Lodz he might know we were Jewish. He said I’ll give you the exact direction and a letter to someone who can keep you, the head of a Polish village.
We knew we had to break away from the caravan we were in; they had a suspicion about us. As we pulled away, they put two horsemen, one was Belarusian and the other was German, on either side of our cart. We couldn’t run away. When we came to this intersection, I wanted to make a left. I realized that one of the soldiers wasn’t by our cart and the other was still there. I looked over, and saw that the other soldier was sleeping on his horse so I turned the horse to the left side and went to the road of the person who would help us and then our horse ran like crazy! I don’t know how he knew it but he knew he should run. The problem was that there was a big German camp just up the road and I figured out that they would see us running away and would come after us but somehow this horse was so fast that they must have figured that we’d be far ahead. We met with the man who was to help us and we gave him the letter.
As days passed, we were encamped in the woods. For safety, we had dug a big hole to hide in under a protective covering of brush. Lying down at night, I’d see the boots of Germans who were leaving; I could touch the boots as they walked next to me, a maximum of ten inches. They couldn’t see me as it was deep night and I had to stay so very still.
Early one morning I went to collect some berries for us to eat and all of a sudden I heard someone calling me in Russian, ‘Come here, come here.’ I didn’t know who they were but I needed to stop or they would shoot me. One guy came from the woods on a bicycle and the other guy on horseback and then they started talking to me in Russian. I looked at their uniforms and realized that they were actually Russian uniforms and not German so I was so happy. At that time, to us, Russians were like angels. How many years ago, and I still remember their names: Zdanov and Madzianov. For me, it was the end of the war. I am free; they are not going to kill me! How important it was!”
How did your family return to a “normal” life in Tel Aviv? Was there a period of awkward adjustment?
“We had been working. After I was free and had successfully run away from the Germans, the Polish part was still under occupation so we stayed for a while in Vilna, under the Russian Communists and I went to work in a bakery. It was very heavy work. There was nothing to eat in Vilna but in the bakery I had plenty of bread and some that I could sell quietly. I worked for 12 hours at a time and sometimes I’d work at night; it was very physical work. Today, a bakery has machines to do the work but for Heaven’s sake, I did everything by hand. I mixed the bread by hand, it was so difficult. And my mother was working too, in an office. So the war was still going on but not to the same extent as before. We were under Russian occupation but were eventually able to go back to the Polish areas. We came back to Lodz. When we had earned enough money, we traveled to Tel Aviv to be reunited with my father.
I speak Hebrew very well, not because of the religion, but because I was in Israel. I was 3 ½ years in the military in Israel. I was in the War of Independence and the Sinai War. The Sinai War was actually more dangerous because the Egyptians put mines all over under the sand and nobody could see it. Cars would drive over the sand and would blow up and you’d have nothing. Thank God I survived. Between WWII, the War of Independence and the Sinai War, for seven years I was in different wars. It was very dangerous.”
Do you believe that there will be another holocaust?
“I don’t believe so because there is Israel now.”
What would you like your reader to take away from the reading of “Aryan Papers?”
“This book will teach you that whatever you decide can be achieved even if your enemies are stronger than you. Don’t give up! Just fight! Also, learn about the holocaust, not only to cry, but to eliminate it from happening in our future generations.”
Thank you so much for sharing your insights with me today. I’m so inspired by how strong both you and your family were and united in your resolve to survive that horrific period of history. May your willingness to share these stories touch your reading audience and plant seeds of hope, peace and encouragement for generations to come.
George Dynin studied economics at Tel Aviv University, Israel and currently resides in Athens, Ga. He is fluent in English, Polish, Hebrew, Russian and German. He has served in the Israeli army during the War of Independence. He moved to the United States in 1958 and eventually started his own import and export company, American Foreign Trade, Inc.
by George Dynin