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Name: Harry Gordon (1925 – 2010)

Birth Place: Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania

Arrived in Wisconsin: 1951, Madison

So many times I was near to death and I felt like, 'This is it. This is the end.'

Harry Gordon

Map of survivor's journey in Europe.


Harry Gordon was born in Kaunas (Kovno), Lithuania, on July 15, 1925. He was the only child of an Orthodox Jewish family with deep roots in Lithuania. In the summer of 1940, after Harry's second year of high school, the Russian army occupied Kovno. A year later, Lithuania fell to the Germans.

Shortly after the Germans arrived, Harry's ailing mother was poisoned along with all other patients at the Jewish hospital in Kovno. His remaining family members were herded into a ghetto with 35,000 other Jews. Harry's father was deported. Harry was shuffled between the ghetto and forced labor camps for the next three years.

In 1944, he was deported to Dachau, where he dug ditches for the disposal of corpses. In 1945 Harry escaped from a trainload of prisoners and walked to Landsberg-am-Lech, Germany, where he was met by Allied troops. By then he weighed only 50 pounds. Harry was hospitalized for eight months and recuperated at a rehabilitation camp for displaced persons. While there, he met and married Genia Lelonek, a Polish survivor.

The Gordons immigrated to the U.S. in March 1949. They lived in Pennsylvania and New York City before arriving in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1951. Harry moved from job to job before becoming self-employed as a scrap metal dealer. The Gordons had three children before divorcing in 1969. Harry wrote a book about his Holocaust experiences, The Shadow of Death: The Holocaust in Lithuania (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1992). Harry died in 2010.

Audio and Transcript Information

Below are the highlights of each tape. They do not list all topics discussed. Recordings of only one tape side are marked: (no Side 2). Documents may be printed or downloaded at no cost. See Rights and Permissions

Listen to Harry's testimony and view transcript

Tape 1, Side 1
  • Family and religious life in Kovno
  • Anti-Semitism in Lithuania
  • Fate of family members
  • Religious and secular schooling
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 12.8 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 422 KB)
Tape 1, Side 2
  • Russian occupation, 1940
  • German invasion, 1941
  • Family hides from anti-Semitic violence
  • His mother's murder at the Jewish hospital
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 13.1 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 422 KB)
Tape 2, Side 1 (no Side 2)
  • His family's capture and incarceration in the Kovno Ghetto
  • Slobotka massacre, 25,000 Jews killed
  • Burning of Jewish hospital and patients in Kovno
  • Adolescent thoughts about life and death
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 12.7 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 422 KB)
Tape 3, Side 1
  • Brutality in labor camps
  • Liquidation of the Kovno Ghetto
  • Transport to Dachau
  • Resistance is futile at Dachau
  • Unexpectedly meeting his father at Dachau
Download Audio (MP3, 27 minutes, 12.3 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 422 KB)
Tape 3, Side 2
  • Starvation, labor and beatings at Dachau
  • Living conditions at Dachau
  • Escaping from death train as war ends
  • Rescue by American troops
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 12.9 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 422 KB)
Tape 4, Side 1
  • Conditions at Bad Worishofen rehabilitation camp
  • Attempts to find surviving family members
  • Departure to the U.S., March 1949
  • First impressions of New York
Download Audio (MP3, 26 minutes, 12.2 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 422 KB)
Tape 4, Side 2
  • Working on Pennsylvania mink farm
  • Working at New York City textile factory
  • Moving to Madison, Wisconsin, 1951
  • Early homes and jobs in Madison
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 12.8 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 422 KB)
Tape 5, Side 1
  • Maltreatment by Madison Jewish community
  • Wife's family background
  • Challenges of new immigrants
  • Their children and family life in Madison
Download Audio (MP3, 26 minutes, 12.2 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 422 KB)
Tape 5, Side 2
  • Children and family life
  • Relations with Gentiles in Wisconsin
  • American attitudes toward Holocaust
  • Encounter with a Holocaust denier
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 13.1 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 422 KB)
Tape 6, Side 1 (no Side 2)
  • Attitudes toward American culture and politics
  • Reflections on his Holocaust experiences
Download Audio (MP3, 15 minutes, 6.9 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 422 KB)

About the Interview Process

  • The interview was conducted by archivist Sara Leuchter during three sessions at Harry's apartment on August 24, October 27, and November 19, 1980. The first session lasted one and one-half hours; the second, two hours; and the third, one and one-quarter hours.

    Harry's story is especially valuable because he lived under both the Russian and German occupations and recalls them in great detail. He is also one of the few who survived the liquidation of the Kovno Ghetto in 1944. His most detailed accounts cover the early days of the war.

    Teachers should note that this interview includes several graphic descriptions of extreme brutality, which may not be suitable for younger students.

Audio and Transcript Details

  • Interview Dates: Aug 24, 1980; Oct 27, 1980; Nov 19, 1980
  • Interview Location: Gordon home, Madison, WI
  • Interviewer: Archivist Sara Leuchter
  • Original Sound Recording Format: 5 qty. 60-minute audio cassette tapes
  • Length of Interviews: 3 interviews, total approximately 4 hours
  • Transcript Length: 109 pages
  • Rights and Permissions: Any document may be printed or downloaded to a computer or portable device at no cost for nonprofit educational use by teachers, students and researchers. Nothing may be reproduced in any format for commercial purposes without prior permission.