May 1, 2008


Note: If you missed reading the first installment of Bob Mendler’s story, click on THE HOLOCAUST STORY OF A TEENAGE VICTIM (Part 1)

What’s a Jew really? I’m no different from anybody else, just my faith, my faith is Jewish.
Before the war Mendler’s people were spread all over. His region, Podhale, was on the Czech border in the Tatra Mountains. It was the most beautiful place in Poland, he said, the site of the 1938 winter Olympics in which. Sonya Henning competed.

He lived in the valley town of Nowy-Targ, a resort town where two rivers descend and merge into one. It was his love for the mountains that encouraged him to settle in Latrobe, Pa., where he built his house with pine because everything was pine in his mountains.

There were eight to ten small Orthodox synagogues in Nowy-Targ, each with teachers and a small following.

Mendler’s maternal grandfather, Henryk Mendler, helped build Great Synagogue, the town’s large two-story synagogue where Mendler celebrated his Bar Mitzva. Everything in it—where the scrolls were kept, the holy ark—was white marble. There were stained glass windows in the back. It had comfortable seating for 800.

“Life was different before war. Remember one thing: we were persecuted always. A lot of people like the Jews and Christians were always persecuted. There was big anti-Semite (feeling) before war. Remember, though, there were many good Polish people who hid Jews.”

There are no Jews in his hometown. There is therefore no need for a synagogue. The structure became a movie theater The Germans removed the white marble and destroyed the synagogue interior. They leveled the two floors into one floor, and replaced the stained glass with brick.

His grandparents hometown, Nowy-Sancz, was treated similarly. His about 71-year old grandmother, Seiga Reibeisen (widow of Eligeh Reibeisen), was shot in her backyard.

The remains of the Olympics are also gone.

“Life was different before war. Remember one thing: we were persecuted always. A lot of people like the Jews and Christians were always persecuted. There was big anti-Semite (feeling) before war. Remember, though, there were many good Polish people who hid Jews.”

Roman Wolny lived in a big villa in Nowy-Targ before the war. He was a church organist.


“He used to come to our house before war, every day, and drank Seltza water,” Mendler said.

When the Germans arrived Wolny became chief of the Gestapo in his town. He worked under the country’s head Gestapo chief, Robert Weisman, who lived in Zakopane, about nine miles away from Nowy-Targ. Mendler and his friends used to hike there before the war.

“Weisman killed my father,” Mendler said. “After the war he received a six-year sentence for killing almost 500 people, but he was responsible for hundreds of murders. He was tried for the killing of the 500. There were witnesses. He only served two years for all the crimes. Unbelievable.”

Mendler didn’t know if Wolny was a spy or what. He wore a swastika and spoke Polish perfectly.


“He picked me to be his houseboy. I thought he would help us out. Food was rationed, etc.”


During four months on this assignment Mendler “grew up very fast from childhood.” His tasks included cleaning Wolna’s uniform and house and chopping his wood. Mendler could never satisfy Wolna and soon discovered he’d turned into “a sadist and murderer.”


“We weren’t human beings in German eyes. He picked me up by ears and beat me up. I used to cry to mother that I didn’t want to go to work. My mom (Hermina Mendler Reibeisen) couldn’t help. She said If you don’t go he would kill us all, you have to take it.’ My mom used to cry for me. She hugged and cried with me.”


Gestapo chief Wolny put a mark on Mendler that could never be repaired.

Like most of the Jews, Mendler lost his faith.


“l still doubt. I’m not a religious person like when I grew up. I should be ashamed of myself, all those years I didn’t pray anymore. I prayed if I ever survived I want to find this guy who put this mark on me I can never forget.”

Mendler’s maternal aunt, Regina Mendler, had two daughters Anda Mendler and Frieda Mendler (both were older than Mendler).

“One (Anda) was a professor. She may have taught Pope John before war. I knew his father Herr Wojtula very well.”


The women, who didn’t look like Jews, prepared an escape plan that included making themselves Aryan papers. On the fateful day the Jewish people had to leave the ghetto Mendler was at a camp. The three women escaped.


Mendler said Germans were paid five dollars for reporting Jews to the Gestapo. A childhood friend “somehow” recognized two of the escapees who were walking down a street.

“The two ran to escape, but were caught. They took them home and brought them and my other cousin to my camp and killed them. I had to bury them. It was my job. I saw (the bodies of) my aunt and two cousins. This was the worst day and time for me, seeing them.”


Mendler didn’t attempt an escape. There was no place to hide.


“If I had had someplace to hide, I know for five dollars they would have killed me and (my savior).”


Click on  THE HOLOCAUST STORY OF A TEENAGE VICTIM (Part 3) to continue reading Mendler’s story.


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1 Comment »

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