Andon Kostov

I escaped from Bulgaria on Friday 13, 1985. The communists were chasing me. I am Macedonian. I was a member of O. M. O. Ilinden (Organization for a United Macedonia). I was a political refugee. I had a sponsor in Utah. When I escaped, the communists were still in power. You couldn’t say much about them. People disappeared. I was afraid I would disappear too, so I run.

I didn’t speak English. I got a job as a housekeeper at a Marriott in Salt Lake City. I became a set-up guy for events at a Hilton in Salt Lake City when my English was a little better. I became supervisor. A cousin of mine moved from Bulgaria to Chicago. They found me and I came to Chicago.

I got a job in construction. I had a problem with my lungs and started slowing down. I didn’t have the means to see a doctor. I didn’t have strength for construction any longer. I got temporary jobs—I couldn’t keep a full-time job. I was working at Blommer Chocolate but the cocoa powder made me sick. I got a job at Grant Achatz’ Next Restaurant.

I came home one day after work and found all my possessions in the alley—I had fallen behind on my rent. I became homeless. It was 2 years ago.

Somebody told me about a shelter at 10 S. Kedzie. I lived there for a month and then I heard about the Boulevard which provides shelter for people in medical recovery. I have COPD, arthritis and back pain.


We lived in Bethel Park, an upscale suburb of Pittsburgh. My brother is white—we were both adopted. A kid in school came up to us and called me a “nigger” and my brother “a nigger lover” This was the ‘90’s. Kids made me feel like because I’m black, I’m ugly. I suffer from depression and low self-esteem because of that. My dad had a paint set in the basement and I started to paint myself as white. My dad came down, saw my painting and just hugged me.

When my dad died, I married Greg, who I met in community college. We moved into Section 8 housing in Pittsburgh. Our neighbors were selling drugs. I reported them but instead of the housing authority kicking them out, they told the neighbors I reported them and I started getting death threats. I wasn’t safe; they attacked my husband, harassed our kids. We went to a shelter and decided to relocate to Chicago.

We stayed at a Salvation Army shelter. I met with Heartland Alliance and they helped with our needs. My husband has MS and started having seizures. We were in Logan Square but our landlord didn’t comply with city codes and we had to leave—we wound up homeless a second time. The New Hope Apartments through Catholic Charities paid our rent for 2 years. We moved here in Englewood 5 months ago.

We go to a bilingual Pentecostal church and I do outreach to Puerto Rican and Mexican communities. I’m just happy now. I’m working with Chicago Coalition for the Homeless helping homeless find resources.


I had a job soldering pinball machines. I was a vocalist in New York. I sang in church choir and passed my first audition. I didn’t study music; you don’t always have to. I liked school and books and studying. I miss the music and nightlife. I became homeless months ago. I live outside. It’s harsh but peaceful. Our current political climate makes homelessness harder and harder for people to understand and sympathize with. It’s easier to castigate and find disdain. Living outside in nature is harsh but nature’s forces will not judge you.

Janine Perez

I first became homeless when my mother died; then my dog died. My stepdad is an alcoholic; he’s evil. I’m a Certified Nurse’s Assistant. I told him to bring my mom to the nursing home where I worked, but he wouldn’t. She had diabetes, always helped me with money. When she died I couldn’t go back to her house, which was my grandparent’s home. I left my boyfriend—he cheated on me. I got a new job as Certified Nurse’s Assistant at Harmony Healthcare at Pulaski and Foster. The residents are elderly.

I met my fiancé last January. He knew people here in the tent city. We got here in the spring. We were living in my truck near my job in Niles. During the polar vortex we had to run the engine to keep warm until it ran out of gas. We had a lot of blankets; had to cuddle up together. It was brutal. I’m not going to stay out here next winter. My plan is to rent an apartment and get out of tent city. I want to come home to a nice warm place.

Margaret Bingham

I first became homeless in 1991, after my mother passed away. I slept in the park with my baby and didn’t have anywhere to go. We’ve been living doubled up now with different families until there’s no more room for us. Right today me and my daughter, Mariah, are homeless. My son is living with his uncle, Albert. My brother, George, was killed at work last summer. Please, can somebody help me find a home? I need a place to call my own. I stopped school at 10th grade. My kids have their high school diplomas. I recently started the G.E.D. program at Kennedy-King College. It’s free. I want to better my life and say I finished school.

Melodi Serna

I was a Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class in the U.S. Navy. I was a 5th generation veteran. My great-great-grandfather served in “Big Red One” in WWI. He was from Belleport, ND, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Tribe. He wasn’t considered a citizen. Citizenship wasn’t granted to Native Americans until 1924. My great aunt was a WAC in WWII. My great uncle served in Vietnam. I served at the tail end of Desert Storm/Desert Shield. I served in a conflict zone in Haiti in 1998. I was sexually assaulted by another corpsman at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego after being roofied. I was taken back to my room. The rape kit is pretty invasive. Everyone on the base started pointing at me—“She’s a liar! She deserved it!” I convinced them to transfer me to another base. There was an altercation at a bar and I was wrongfully charged. I was convicted and received an “other than honorable” discharge. The Innocence Project intervened and I got out in 1½ years. I got pregnant with my first son right after I got home. I stayed in San Diego 6 years after that. My husband was an abusive drunk; tried to kill me. I moved back to Chicago in 2006. I got into another abusive relationship. Since 2008 we’ve had small bouts of homelessness. I wound up staying with my abusive boyfriend. When we were homeless we stayed doubled up with friends and family. When I couldn’t stay with friends I’d call my ex and ask for help with rent, food, rides. I know I shouldn’t have called him—he beat me, stalked me; tried to kill me. I had no choice. My kids have special needs and need therapy. I finally got into the VA system last year. We got a place through Volunteers of America. I go to job fairs looking for work in management. I ran a salon. I’m also a licensed phlebotomist. I do volunteer work at my kids’ schools. I volunteer for Homeless Veterans in America Foundation. I can work from home. I don’t need a dollar, I need a job.

Simon Garcia

I enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1969. The Vietnam War was still going on. I did boot camp in San Diego. In December 1969 I was sent to Hue and did 2 tours. Our base was overrun twice. Second tour I got hit. They were firing harassment rounds. I ran towards a bunker when I got hit in both legs. They carried me out to the LZ and I was medevac-ed out by helicopter. I could see mortar rounds hitting and guys dying. I was sent to Balboa Medical Center in San Diego. I learned to walk again in 6 months. I got a hairline fracture in a truck accident and finished my tour of duty. My final assignment was Drill Sergeant. I left the Marine Corps in 1978 after 9 years. I was awarded 2 Purple Hearts. I started having PTSD.

I came back to Chicago to help my father who had injured himself. I got a job as a forklift operator. I left my girlfriend on bad terms and moved back to my old apartment. The company I worked for went bankrupt in 1993. I couldn’t pay the rent. I stayed with my father until I could get another job. My brother accused me of stealing his money; called the cops on me. They got a restraining order. I had to go to court for violating it. I found a shelter in Pilsen. Had a variety of jobs. I got a room at Lugo Hotel, an SRO in Pilsen for $42 a week. I stayed for 15 years.

One day I fell down in winter, hurt my back, went to the VA Hospital. They gave me a walker. I had a few fainting spells. I went to the Lorali Hotel another SRO, for a year. When it closed my case worker helped me find this place, the Leland Hotel. I have a fridge, air conditioning and a clean bathroom. Now I’m here and I’m gonna stay. It’s beautiful here. It’s clean; no bed bugs at all>

Vincent DiGaetano

I left New York when 9/11 happened. I wanted to see America. Went from NY to Vegas, started painting on the walls there with Magic Markers. A friend suggested I come to Venice Beach. I’ve drawn my whole life. Got into tattoos. Started to paint here in Venice. An oil painter on the boardwalk taught me painting techniques. I learned different techniques from different artists who shared brush strokes. I’ve slept everywhere from alleys to parking garages to sidewalks. I’ve stayed on friends’ sofas. The community takes care of me. They look at me as a resident who lives outside. Homeless has become a dirty word. It should be a hate crime to use that word. I don’t like the stereotype; we’re not all the same. I’m not a shitty homeless person. I’m an artist. I’ve earned that right. I have my art supplies and my bass guitar and that’s it. I don’t have piles of stuff. I’m not a hoarder. My work is fun. I like a certain depth of texture. I get canvasses donated and I just paint over them. I paint a lot of clowns. They scare the shit out of kids. Scared me when I was a kid. I sold a big painting the other day and a leather trench coat that I painted a mural of clowns on. If I had my own place I’d fill every square inch with murals because that’s what my life is: one big painting.

Stone Country

Between 1981-85, I wandered around the back roads of southern Indiana, sometimes alone, sometimes with my good friend and collaborator, author Scott Sanders. Bloomington was my new home—I’d come to teach photography at Indiana University. One doesn’t have to travel far before running into the ubiquitous presence of the limestone industry.

Stone quarrying is an extractive industry. Rolling hills are cut and sliced and chunks of it are shipped all over the country. The resulting landscape is a chaotic jumble of gaping holes and rusting steel. Quarries fill with water and become swimming holes—one quarry in Bloomington was considered among our best swimming spots until it was found to be contaminated with deadly PCB’s, dumped from the local Westinghouse plant. People drive cars into abandoned quarries and use the auto bodies for target practice. As Scott points out, the quarries are places of violent activity. I suppose I see them as a kind of elemental battleground where man wages war upon nature.

There is, however, another side to be looked at. For nearly every hole in our backyard here in the stone belt, the serpentine outcrop of building-grade limestone that stretches roughly 20 miles from Bloomington south to Bedford, there is a building or monument somewhere. It is intriguing to identify some mammoth hole in the ground as mother to the Empire State Building. I have followed blocks of Indiana ripped from the ground at Independent Limestone Co. trucked to Bybee Stone for milling and on to the National Cathedral in Washington for carving and installation.

Nature ultimately triumphs; given enough time the land begins to revert to a more natural state and man’s presence begins to disappear. The quarries become new habitats for plants and animals. I’ve seen red foxes hunting among stone piles in broad daylight.

Another aspect of the photographs included in the book concerns portraits of men who work with limestone in quarries and mills. These are blue-collar workers whose fathers and fathers’ fathers made their livings battling massive blocks of stone. I wanted to see through the eyes of my new neighbors to gain insight into their ideas about nature, labor and life.

Most of the photographs in the book were made with an 8×10” view camera—something of a fossil of a camera in our electronic age and somehow appropriate for photographing an antique industry that deals in fossils. The photographs in this book are not to be seen as objective documents. Rather they are intended as personal responses, aspiring toward the poetic, to some thoughts and feelings, some experiences I’ve had in my travels in stone country.



When Gary Dunham, Director of Indiana University Press, suggested that Scott and I consider an entirely fresh, new revised edition of Stone Country, I jumped at the chance. Collaborating with Scott was one of highlights of my career. It was tremendous fun to travel around and share our experiences and insights; and the prospect of working together and building something new was too good to pass up. Our respective careers had taken us far away from limestone in the 30 years since the publication of the original book and I was genuinely curious about what we would find now.

We began by driving to B.G. Hoadley Stone Co. to meet with Pat Fell Barker and her son, Dave Fell, who run the company. They were strong supporters of the original project and we sought their advice as we started up again. How had the industry changed in 30 years? What should we see? Who should we talk to? And were any of the stone workers who appeared in the original book still working for Hoadley? As it happened, the man in the cover photograph, “Blockmarker,” one of my favorite photographs depicting the struggle between man and nature and the massive scale of the stone industry, was still employed at Hoadley. However, the next day was to be his last—he was about to retire. 

The following day found us face to face with Larry Anderson, performing more or less the same tasks as he had three decades earlier—grading and marking chunks of limestone freshly ripped from the earth. I re-photographed him standing on a block of stone in a field of stone blocks. 

And so Scott and I were off again working on Stone Country: Then & Now, keeping the best writing and photographs from the original edition but adding new materials to bring the industry up to date and, I suppose, to show how we had changed as artists as well. Quarries and mills today are safer and quieter and more automated than they were 30 years ago. Workers are younger. Computers cut stone around the clock.

For the “Works” chapter the Empire State Building and Flatiron and Union Station and other iconic American buildings are joined by the new Yankee Stadium; the Apple Store on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile; and the Pentagon, a section of which was damaged by the attack on 9/11. Independent Limestone Co. provided the stone and Bybee the expert milling, so that the contractors could match up the repairs with the original stone as seamlessly as possible. 

I now use a medium format digital camera for my work. And Photoshop allows me to stitch panoramas and overlay images in ways that weren’t really possible in the film era. 

And it occurs to me that much of my work as a photographer addresses the element of time. The idea of “then and now,” of observing change incrementally, as only photography’s attention to minute detail allows, has been a central focus in my long term projects. It’s a way of linking past and present, of addressing memory. The limestone series was my first sustained project after moving to Indiana, so there is something fitting about revisiting it as I retire and measure how much I’ve changed in the last 35 years.

Maxica Williams

From 2012-15 I had some breast infections—I paid for my own ultrasound and mammogram. They found that I had Stage 1 breast cancer. My kids stayed with me at my step-grandmother’s apartment before the cancer. Pink Fund paid for 6 months of recovery but my step-grandmother sold her apartment building and we ended up at Olive Branch Mission Shelter. We had our own room but it had no doors.

I had been misdiagnosed—I had Stage 3 breast cancer. Three years ago I had a double mastectomy and 16 nodes removed from my left arm. I had 6 months of chemotherapy. I was in the process of buying a house (I had a credit score of 715) but had to use the money for my chemo. During that time I cared for my kids, took them to school each day.

A nun at Catholic Charities, saw how hard it was for us at Olive Branch and arranged for a different shelter. Someone had stolen my wigs, my head scarves. There was no heat. The nun brought me head scarves to keep warm. She got us into Madonna House near Wrigley Field. The staff watched out for me—we had keys and could lock our doors. My kids loved the place and the workers and had lots of friends. New Hope Apartments helped find us permanent stable housing—we’ve been here a year.

I just returned to school. I’ll be getting a degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Finance from University of Phoenix on-line. I’ll graduate in May 2019, and then go on for my Masters. I want to work with homeless and cancer survivors to help them deal with their problems and to pay back what people did for me.

David Ernest Busch

After working as an auto and bus mechanic for 20 years, 10 as a union mechanic, I returned to writing. I worked in the family business until it failed in 1992. I was 37. I started living in my car. 80% of my meals the past 20 years have come from dumpsters in part because I refuse to take money from the government because conservatives are always accusing poor people of taking handouts. So I only eat food that society throws away. I also organize 4 different “Food Not Bombs” collectives. They are a global anarchist movement. When I was a working class bus mechanic and a typical American consumer, I would go to a market and buy foods advertisers wanted us to eat and my health was not good. I wasn’t eating nutritious food and my budget didn’t allow me to buy more nutritious organic foods wealthy people could afford. But as a homeless person, I discovered eating from dumpsters of wealthy people’s markets like Whole Foods was healthier than the food marketed to the average American.

Charlene Daniels

I became homeless about 5 years ago. I’m a hillbilly. I lived in a small town in Tennessee where everyone was kin to me. My mom never did like me. I wanted to come to Venice because I knew my family wouldn’t come here. You have to watch it—the gangs and stuff. I’m here with my husband. I’ve had my dog, Sadie Mae, for a year. Got her for my birthday.

I live in a tent behind Gold’s Gym. This is the only place that can fit all my art stuff and clothes. I like decorating and drawing. What the cops don’t take I manage to keep. I’m waiting for my Section 8 voucher. I want to get off the streets like everyone else. The shelters split couples up. No pets.

We stay at the Lincoln Inn for almost a week after I get my Social Security check. The rest goes to food. We try to keep an eye on everyone. Help them out with food. Everyone comes to me. We give them snacks, money if they need it. When me and Laz have no money I’ll panhandle. I tell people exactly what I’ll use it for—I won’t lie.

It’s not fun to have people look at you like they do. One time I was just walking when a man called me “garbage.” I was really depressed.

It’s dangerous on the streets It’ll drain everything inside of you.

Betty Evans

Anything Betty needed, Betty got. I had sticky hands. I got arrested for retail theft: Two little girls’ tops, 2 pants for my girls and a lady’s top for me. I guess they had good security—“Ma’am, can you come with me.” The DA wanted a 90-day sentence but the judge gave me 9 days in Wheaton for a felony conviction. He saw I came from a domestic violence marriage.

People think the homeless are all on drugs. You can become homeless. I was messing with the wrong people. I was living at 36th and Parnell in Bridgeport with 2 kids. The landlord, Dino, started drinking. He was a beautiful landlord but he started messing with a young Czech woman and stopped paying his mortgage—he was buying her fancy clothes. Dino lost the building and the people who bought it said we had to get out in the spring. I was evicted and ended up homeless with my son. I stayed with my brother for 6 months. We had to find a shelter that would take me and my adult son, Don, who is in his 30’s and autistic. We stayed for like 7 months at Amani House until I got my own place.

Ali Al-Hassan

I been trying to figure out myself. I researched best places to be homeless. I said, “I’ll go to Venice.” I was contemplating living in an RV. On October 6, 2017, my cousin died—he was 18 years old, a swimmer. He died in practice.*

After his death I came here to figure out who I wanna be while doing what I love, which is working with my physical intelligence or gift and try to cultivate my emotional intelligence. I’m trying as hard as I can to be a better human being.

*I had my own business in Pittsburgh—prepackaged healthy foods. I booked a one-way ticket to LAX. From the time I made the decision until the flight was 6 hours. Left my house, left my business. I wanted to find myself. I’m doing what I love—working out. Researching, reading. Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations means a lot to me. He was emperor of Rome who let go of everything. The idea of stoicism. To live minimally.

I’m living in a van that I rent. When I came here I challenged myself to stop social media. It’s over a year. I use the public library and read articles. I take challenges on food—I fast for 24-48 hours. Just coffee, water, cigarettes. I still have a house in Pennsylvania. I’m still in touch with my family. My brother is a PhD electrical engineer. My mom visited last year from Saudi Arabia. They came to Pennsylvania and she had a panic attack. They bought me a ticket. I went to Pennsylvania for 10 days. My mom didn’t judge me and said, “I hope you find yourself.”

Don’t judge people. You don’t know their story. Everyone is on their own journey.

Thomas Gordon

First time I was homeless I was 14 years old. I was kicked out of the house. There were 7 of us kids—I was the oldest. My dad died when I was 6, my mom when I was 12. My mom’s brother took us in but I wouldn’t obey the rules. The choice was obey or get out. I couldn’t do it—I was tired of doing everything.

I worked at a pizza parlor. My boss helped me get an apartment in Bridgeport. I dropped out of my first year of high school; got into trouble at 16 and got locked up. I was behind bars from age 20-28. When I got out my life totally changed. I could fix anything. I got a job building houses until I got injured—6 herniated discs. I got on disability. I’ve had housing on and off since then.

On September 1, 2016, I moved back to Uptown and set up a tent under the Lawrence Avenue viaduct on Lake Shore Drive. I’d heard about Uptown Tent City and I wanted to totally get involved; got a propane stove and tank and I started cooking for the community. Set up a storage tent to keep things for survival purposes. There were about 25 of us under Lawrence viaduct and about 20 under Wilson.

I got elected mayor of Tent City. I’m always helping people. In February I bought 6 cases of propane and took it to Tent City. We had heaters. I got a fire extinguisher because we’ve had tents catch on fire.

We have couples out here. They separate couples in shelters. People want to stay with family members. We help each other. I’m homeless but I’m happy. I’m doing what I enjoy doing: helping people.

Robert Henderson

I was in the streets, a gangbanger. I was a bodyguard for a street chief. He gave me powdered cocaine, which gave me energy. I stayed up for 10 days without sleep. Years later I went to the penitentiary—I was sentenced to 10 years for robbery. I did three terms. After prison I dealt crack cocaine for 5 years. I got hooked—I thought I could break away from it, but I couldn’t. It was just a matter of time before I lost everything. That was my downward spiral over 20 years to becoming homeless.

I didn’t like the shelters. I’d ride the train all night, or stay at O’Hare Airport or in parks, depending on the weather. Sometimes I’d go to Stroger Hospital to get placed in a nursing home. You could stay up to 60 days.

I had enough sense that I was tired of doing what I was doing. I had a religious upbringing but I lost contact with God and my spiritual background. God knows the heart.

The street chief I worked for thought I was cheating him on the dope money and shot me in the head but I survived. That’s when I started to turn my life around. I still had an addiction issue at first but nine years ago I checked myself into a treatment center at Salvation Army. You ain’t gonna beat them streets—sooner or later they’re gonna catch up with you. I’ve been clean for nine years. I’m living at a senior living residence run by Chicago Housing Authority.

I hit all the bases—that’s my life story.

Richard McClarin

I started using crack after my honorable discharge from the Air Force. I felt my life was empty. I became a male prostitute and a predator for people with money off and on from 1990-2013. Crack cocaine and Jack Daniels made me feel better, gave me a feeling of usefulness. I was tired of being on the street, tired of selling my body to men and women. I had contracted HIV—I thought I was going to die from AIDS.

I finally came to the Boulevard, a shelter for homeless people with medical issues. I go to a meeting at Above & Beyond addiction treatment center every day and share my experiences, strength and hope so that others don’t have to make the same mistakes I made.

Dave Figman

“They caught one prisoner, a German Jew, and he had a can with a false bottom. This German-American SS guard was in charge of us at the camp at Budzyn and he opened the can and found gold pieces. You know what they did to this prisoner? They put an electric wire around his throat and one to his penis. And we had to kill him. Do you believe this? The Jews had to kill him. They had us wrap the wire around him, electric wire to his penis and his throat. He was spinning around and everyone got to hit himkilled him right away. It’s a shame to tell this. The Jews had to kill somebody. It’s not easy to talk about. Before this the Germans killed a couple of other prisoners who refused to cooperate. They said to us, ‘If you don’t do it, we’ll kill you too.’ …

I was liberated in Germany. I was a young man. I went to Israel and fought in two wars in 1948 and 1956. I could have come to the US straight from Germany in 1945 but I said, ‘No. I better go first to Israel and fight by the Israeli Army.’ We went from Germany to France to an army base in Marseilles. We created an army from people who survived in Russia. We were there a couple of months, maybe a year and everyone was studying how to operate a machine gun. When we got to Israel we were already an army that could fight the Arabs.

In 1948 it was a nice war, beautiful war. Our army was stretched so thin. We didn’t have enough soldiers to cover all the fronts. We didn’t have enough rifles and ammunition. There were two rifles for every ten people. We were so happy to find out the Jordanians nearby got the artillery and didn’t use it even. We went in there during the night and took everything from them while they were sleeping. And so we survived 1948 with a little army. 99% was boys from the camps, from the Holocaust.”

Hans Finke

“I was in Bergen-Belsen a few days and we could see there was no way to survive that camp. There was no work anymore. They wouldn’t actually gas you but they let you die. There was typhoid- we had lice. As it was I run into one German criminal who was in charge of one of the tents in my camp in Auschwitz III-Buna. And since he knew I was an electrician- I had to make him a heating plate one day so he could cook his own souphe said, ‘What are you doing here? You are an electrician.’

The next morning during roll call I was called out with another fellow, a Polish Jew, and we are told we should go to the place where you get rid of your lice with DDT and we were washed and told we should go to the barracks where there are tradesmen. There was a wooden cot, no straw, no nothing to sleep for us but we thought we were in a Hilton, because that was at least clean. We came to the electrician’s workshop in the morning…

We had to go every morning and check the whole camp and electrical work we had to do. We had to go to the dog kennel- the SS women had the dogs. And when they didn’t look I would steal the food from the dogs. The dogs had meat. One SS woman would come back and say, ‘Did you eat the meat?’ ‘No, I would never eat meat from the dog,’ I would say. And we would go to the different watchtowers. In those days they were already short on young soldiers so we had an old soldier, 60 years old, Wehrmacht, not an SS man. He would go with his gun behind us as we went from watchtower to watchtower that surrounded the camp. In some of the watchtowers again there were old German soldiers and since I tell you only the truth I have to tell you that in some of the watchtowers those fellows who were way up there alone would say, ‘Sit down and here you got some jam and here you got some bread.’ There were decent people left, there’s no doubt about it. And that German soldier who went around with us, he knew about that too. He saw it. So God bless him, I hope he survived….

Even after liberation 13,000 people died in that camp. We were asked by the British Army engineer to help him because we knew the wiring. So they sat me in a jeep- by that time I was down to around 80 lbs., my bones were sticking out and I could hardly sit in the jeep- just to show them where electrical power was and what had to be done. So that was my first job then and I had the satisfaction to see the camp burned down completely.”

Rena Grynblat

“I was 18 and then they closed up the ghetto—no more can’t get out. Soon after I had a baby, little baby boy and he was lost. Would you like to see his picture? We stayed in Warsaw for a while but we knew in Warsaw very few are going to survive. My husband came from a small town, Radomsko, near Czestochowa, that’s where they seen the Virgin Mary, so we went to his place for a while with the baby and we kept running; when they were closing the ghetto I took the baby and ran from one ghetto to another.

His sister lived in another town, Staszow, and her husband was a policeman so being a policeman he had a right to live, a Jewish policeman. My husband had papers that he’s a useful Jew because every morning they took him at 6 in the morning to do all kind of digging. I was not a useful Jew because I had no job except taking care of the baby… A lot of girls had kids at that time because nobody knew if they were pregnant, because when the bombs are falling we got so scared we didn’t get our monthly periods for years….I had the baby and I had it until he was about a year and a half old and he was the cutest little boy. His name was Jurek Trajman…

I took my baby and I ran away to Staszow, that’s where my sister-in-law was and her husband the policeman. ‘You leave the baby here with me,’ she said, ‘and you have to get out of here, because they came already taking away everybody here…I’ll say it’s my baby.’ So I said, ‘Okay. The minute it’s clear, I’ll come back and pick up the baby.’

I looked out the window and I saw all those cows. It was a pasture and people are leading a normal life, Polish people, and that cow has a calf and I say ‘Oh my God, why couldn’t I be a cow. I wouldn’t have to run away now and leave my baby. Nobody would be after us. Why didn’t God make me a cow?’…

I at that time went to Wasaw to get a job as a maid and I had a paper that I am not Jewish. I went back to get the baby after 2 days. Nothing. No baby, no town, no Jews. It was just hopeless. They said that they took the baby on a wagon with hundreds of people to Sandomierz to the train station and they took him to Treblinka. That’s what they said. I don’t believe it because in my heart I know that he’s around somewhere. And I still keep looking. If I see somebody that’s- he’d probably be in his 40’s, maybe more- and he has the the most beautiful navy blue eyes and I say maybe this is my baby, maybe this is my son. And I said, ‘I wish I would have seen him being taken away; I would not look for him anymore. Then I know this is it; that’s the end.’ But this way you go with a burden all through your life thinking what happened to him. Maybe he’s grown; maybe he lives next door.”

Moses Wloski

Although Polish Jewish refugees who streamed through the town of Wolkowisk told horror stories of German atrocities, the Non-Aggression Pact signed by Hitler and Stalin afforded the Jews of White Russia the illusion of peace. Then one morning the Blitzkrieg roared through and Moses Wloski found himself behind German lines. Eventually he was boarded onto a transport headed for Auschwitz with Wolkowisk’s 2500 remaining Jews. Moses was one of only 250 men and women allowed into the labor camp. The rest were gassed.

At the end of 1944, Moses was relocated from Auschwitz to Burgerhaven, outside the Polish harbor of Danzig, where the Third Reich maintained a naval base. Moses repaired U-boats for several months. And then the death march began. Roused from their barracks in the middle of one night the prisoners were marched in a long column. They received no food and were frequently beaten by SS guards. If a prisoner fell he was shot on the spot. Hundreds perished.

When the retreating German Army overtook them on the highway, the prisoners were forced to yield, jumping into trenches by the roadside. As night fell, Moses decided to crawl to a nearby woods. From there he saw a farmhouse and although still dressed in his striped prison uniform, he knocked on the door. A farmer opened up, gave Moses bread but fearing for his own life, asked Moses to leave. Too tired to continue, Moses climbed into the adjacent hay loft and collapsed as soon as his body stretched out on the soft hay.

Early next morning the farmer found Moses in the loft and offered him a deal. Moses could stay in the house if he agreed to try to prevent the advancing Russian soldiers from looting and burning the property. The man thanked Moses and fled. Shortly thereafter Germans set up a line of artillery within sight of the farm and opened fire. He found himself in the middle of a battle between the 2 armies. The door of the house suddenly swung open and a Russian officer entered; Moses was liberated. A week later he was still recuperating in the farm house when 2 Russian soldiers rode up on horseback and recruited Moses to act as a translator. The Russians were looking for girls. A horse was commandeered for him to ride. Moses could see the men were drunk; he thought to himself, “I survived the war and now here is my end.”

The three rode to a manor and approached a young man who identified himself as a French prisoner whom the Germans had sent to work for a local Polish land owner. When the owner appeared one of the Russians shot him in the head for being a capitalist. Seeing his master lying in a pool of blood the dead man’s dog let out an eerie, heartrending wail. The Russian silenced the dog with a bullet .

They rode on to another house where 4 more Russian soldiers were hiding, friends of the ones who had taken Moses. “Who is he?” one inquired pointing to Moses. “A Jew,” came the response. “Kill him,” chimed in one of the others. He was then warned by the ringleader to leave and return quickly with girls. “Otherwise I’ll do to you what I did to the land owner.”

Moses galloped away. He returned to the farmhouse where he had been staying and learned that his Russian captors were deserters. Shortly after Moses left them they were arrested by the Russian Army and executed. It was time, Moses realized, to get out of there.