This morning I was driving across town listening to the radio and heard an interview with a Boulder man who survived Auschwitz. He was quite a character. No trace of self-pity at all. Flashes of very dry humor. Matter-of-fact accounting of incredibly horrible events, such as seeing his father beaten to death with a shovel for insulting a guard. Walter Plywaski was nine when Nazi soldiers came into his father’s pharmacy in Poland and told the Jewish family they had half an hour to leave.
Walter, his adopted brother William and his father Maks ended up on the men’s side at Auschwitz while his mother was led off to the women’s side and almost immediately gassed.
Walter still remembers that he didn’t run up to her to say good-bye, an act that would probably have gotten him killed on the spot. While his father didn’t make it out of the camp Walter and William did, both ending up living in Boulder. Walter survived by means of a number of clever ruses; he posed as an American reporter for the Stars and Stripes newspaper in order to get onto the Merchant Marine ship where he stowed away to get to America.
Out of many impressive aspects of Plywaski’s story is his answer to the interviewer’s question “When did you start to feel safe after you met up with the American Army?” His answer: “Right away. I felt safe right away.” He knew that the Americans would treat him well; he still remembers the first meal they fed him: Cream of Wheat with lots of butter and honey. The US was a stronghold of freedom and integrity, and he was willing to do just about anything for a chance to come here. Plywaski ended up getting an engineering degree and living in the foothills around Boulder. He liked the area because of its mountains and also because it wasn’t very crowded; as he said, “I don’t like crowds very much.”
Plywaski lived in those Boulder foothills until 2010, when the Fourmile Canyon Fire destroyed his house. When the interviewer asked him if he felt that it was unfair that he’d had yet another loss in his life, he said, “Compared to the Shoah, the Holocaust, nothing is as serious. Nothing is awful.” He says it gave him perspective. “Not that I wanted it,” he adds.
Listen to the whole interview below by clicking on the audio in the post: