3/18/2010 1:15:00 PM
WITH ASSISTANCE from his wife Cheryl, Paul Argiewicz signs copies of his book “Number 176520,” following his presentation at Belmont High School on Thursday, March 11. His “176520” tattoo is just below his left wrist.
Holocaust survivor shares
BELMONT - From Holocaust concentration camp survivor to United States patriot. That is the long and, at times, horrific journey of Paul Argiewicz, a native of Aleksandrowice, Poland.
According to his biography, at the age of 11 Argiewicz was arrested by the German military for stealing bread, which he needed for his starving family in the ghetto. Little did he know that would be the last time he would see most of his family. Argiewicz recalled how he waved to his father who was standing in the window of the family home as he was dragged away.
The young Jewish boy would spend the next four years working in slave labor camps.
Argiewicz's journey from the depths of the Holocaust to his profound love of the United States is chronicled in the book, "Number 176520," written by Deanne Ebner.
Argiewicz, 79, recalled some of his memories during a visit to Belmont High School March 11. Students from several area schools attended the presentation.
Jim Siedenburg, Belmont district administrator, opened the event. "It's an amazing story," he said. "It's a story we have to pass on."
His wife Cheryl accompanied Argiewicz to Belmont. In addition, veteran John F. Foley, Darlington, joined Argiewicz at the front of the gymnasium.
Argiewicz began his experience behind the barbed wire at the Auschwitz concentration camp. He detailed that when he reached the front of the line upon arrival he was asked how old he was. He lied and responded that he was 18. The guard also asked him if he had any skills, to which he lied again and said he was an electrician. "I was no more an electrician than anyone here is an astronaut," Argiewicz told the audience.
Those lies likely saved his life, recounted Argiewicz, as many children his age were sent one way and he was sent another.
He was transferred to various camps during his time under Nazi rule. In order to keep hopeful, Argiewicz prayed for time and hoped to one day see his family again. He was witness to unspeakable horrors including beating, hazing, torturing and hanging, among other evils. "You can't imagine what I've seen as a child," he said, later noting that his worst memory of his time in the camps was when he witnessed his first hanging.
Argiewicz was able to survive due to a combination of quick thinking and a few helping hands along the way. During his work as an "electrician," he met a guard named Hans, who hated Adolf Hitler. Hans took Argiewicz under his wing, secretly feeding him on a daily basis. "There was not a day that went by that he didn't bring me a sandwich or apple," said Argiewicz. "He treated me almost like a son.
Hans taught Argiewicz the electrical trade, something that the young boy would make his career upon his arrival in the United States a few years later.
Near the end of the war Argiewicz and others were marched 150 miles to their final destination, Buchenwald concentration camp. Many prisoners perished along the way in the cold German winter. Argiewicz believes he was able to survive the trek given his improved physical condition, thanks to a steady diet given to him by Hans. "I was young and strong," he said.
During the death march there came a point where Argiewicz could have easily died. He fell into a frozen stream and when he emerged his clothing was wet and frozen. He surely would have died if not for another guard who gave the young boy his uniform top. Argiewicz wore the dry top under his wet clothes.
On April 11, 1945 United States soldiers arrived and liberated Buchenwald. "When we were liberated I didn't know what to do," said Argiewicz, who was 14 years old at the time. "I felt like an animal let out of a cage."
It was explained that on April 28 of 1945 Argiewicz and many other prisoners were scheduled to be executed as a gift to Hitler on his birthday.
Upon being freed, Argiewicz's next mission was to find his family. Along the way he was able to find a sister; however, the remainder of his family did not survive.
Argiewicz and his sister arrived in the United States in 1950. "When I saw the Statue of Liberty I broke down and started crying," he said.
Argiewicz was later drafted into the military, serving a stint in the U.S. Air Force. He received an honorable discharge from the military. "I'm proud to be an American," he said.
Argiewicz and his wife currently live in Chicago, Ill., while his sister lives in Sheboygan.