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Name: Israel Wolnerman (1922 – )

Birth Place: Zawiercie, Poland

Arrived in Wisconsin: 1953, Milwaukee

Israel Wolnerman. Israel Wolnerman.
Israel Wolnerman
We mostly existed by instinct, just to survive.

Israel Wolnerman


Israel Wolnerman was born in Zawiercie, Poland, on March 16, 1922, and orphaned at 13. When Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, 17-year-old Israel was in Zawiercie actively participating in Zionist activities.

In an attempt to spare his older brother, the head of the family, Israel volunteered to work for the Germans. What he expected to be a three-month period of labor became a five-and-a-half year odyssey through 10 German labor and concentration camps.

The last camp in which he was incarcerated was Staltach, a Dachau satellite camp. He was among thousands of prisoners from Staltach on their way to annihilation in the Austrian Tirol when the train was bombed by the Allies and the prisoners liberated by the U.S. Army.

Israel spent two years at the Feldafing displaced persons camp and married in 1949. The Wolnermans moved to Dorfenmarkt, near Munich, where Israel worked in a tailor shop. Then they immigrated to St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1949. In 1953 they moved to Milwaukee, where they purchased Edgewood Tailors and Furriers and raised three children. Israel was deeply involved with the New American Club (NAC). It was established in 1950 as an organization for Holocaust survivors. The majority of NAC members are from Poland.

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 Israel's testimony and view transcript

Tape 1, Side 1
  • Family history, immigration to the U.S.
  • Settling in St. Paul and Milwaukee
  • Receiving help from local Jewish organizations
  • Americans' attitudes toward the Holocaust

Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 25.1 MB)

View Transcript Page (PDF, 489 KB)

Tape 1, Side 2
  • Reception in St. Paul by Jewish Family Service
  • American attitudes toward Nazis
  • Organizations that helped survivors
  • Israel's wife and children

Download Audio (MP3, 27 minutes, 24.4 MB)

View Transcript Page (PDF, 489 KB)

Tape 2, Side 1 (no Side 2)
  • Being a survivor in the U.S.
  • Milwaukee's New American Club (survivors' organization)
  • Lives of the children of survivors he knows

Download Audio (MP3, 29 minutes, 26.0 MB)

View Transcript Page (PDF, 489 KB)

Tape 3, Side 1 (no Side 2)
  • More on the New American Club (survivors' organization)
  • American-born Jews
  • Marches by American Nazis
  • Anti-Semitism in Milwaukee
  • Intermarriage

Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 25.2 MB)

View Transcript Page (PDF, 489 KB)

Tape 4, Side 1
  • Israel's children and family life
  • Religious practices in Milwaukee
  • Milwaukee's Jewish community
  • Israel's reading habits
  • Depictions of the Holocaust in U.S. media

Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 24.6 MB)

View Transcript Page (PDF, 489 KB)

Tape 4, Side 2
  • Reactions to Holocaust depictions in media
  • Impressions of Wisconsin
  • Milwaukee Jewish community and gratitude to U.S.

Download Audio (MP3, 26 minutes, 23.4 MB)

View Transcript Page (PDF, 489 KB)

Tape 5, Side 1
  • More on Nazi marches
  • Israel's attitudes about the political climate in Milwaukee
  • Anti-Semitism
  • Jews in America

Download Audio (MP3, 29 minutes, 25.7 MB)

View Transcript Page (PDF, 489 KB)

Tape 5, Side 2
  • More on Jews in America
  • American government and politics
  • Thoughts on contemporary Germany
  • Visits to Poland and Israel

Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 24.8 MB)

View Transcript Page (PDF, 489 KB)

Tape 6, Side 1
  • Israel's thoughts on the place of the Holocaust in American culture
  • Israel's family and childhood in Poland
  • Leaving home to work at age 13
  • Life in the cities of Zawiercie and Lodz

Download Audio (MP3, 29 minutes, 25.7 MB)

View Transcript Page (PDF, 489 KB)

Tape 6, Side 2
  • Israel's religious life and education as a young child
  • Early Jewish immigration to Israel
  • Traditional Jewish life in Poland

Download Audio (MP3, 20 minutes, 18.3 MB)

View Transcript Page (PDF, 489 KB)

Tape 7, Side 1
  • Israel's siblings and early life
  • Memories of growing anti-Semitism
  • Jewish life in Poland in the 1930s
  • 1939 German invasion

Download Audio (MP3, 29 minutes, 26.0 MB)

View Transcript Page (PDF, 489 KB)

Tape 7, Side 2
  • Life under the Germans
  • Israel's years in the Nazi labor camps: Auenrode, Johannsdorf, Grossmasselwitz, Neukirch, and Markstaedt

Download Audio (MP3, 27 minutes, 24.6 MB)

View Transcript Page (PDF, 489 KB)

Tape 8, Side 1
  • The Funfteichen and Gross Rosen labor camps
  • Transfers to Buchenwald, Bisingen and Staltach concentration camps
  • Concentration camp living conditions, beatings, contact with women and guards
  • Psychological effects of camp life

Download Audio (MP3, 27 minutes, 24.8 MB)

View Transcript Page (PDF, 489 KB)

Tape 8, Side 2
  • Transport by train to extermination camp
  • Rescue by Allied troops
  • The Feldafing displaced persons camp
  • Unpleasant visit to his hometown
  • Marriage
  • Postwar life in Germany

Download Audio (MP3, 27 minutes, 24.7 MB)

View Transcript Page (PDF, 489 KB)

Tape 9, Side 1 (no Side 2)
  • Israel's business life near Munich, 1947-1949
  • Preparing for emigration
  • First impressions of the U.S.

Download Audio (MP3, 14 minutes, 12.7 MB)

View Transcript Page (PDF, 489 KB)

About the Interview Process

  • The interview was conducted by archivist Jean Loeb Lettofsky in Wolnerman's shop on March 9 and 16, August 11, and November 18, 1980. The four sessions totaled eight hours. The interview does not proceed in chronological order because the archivist first asked questions about specific subjects for a presentation that spring and summer.

Audio and Transcript Details

  • Interview Dates: Mar 9, 1980; Mar 16, 1980; Aug 11, 1980; Nov 18, 1980
  • Interview Location: Wolnerman's business, Edgewood Tailors and Furriers, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Interviewer: Archivist Jean Loeb Lettofsky
  • Original Sound Recording Format: 9 qty. 60-minute audio cassette tapes
  • Length of Interviews: 4 interviews, total approximately 8 hours
  • Transcript Length: 98 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.


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