Escaping Execution, Running To Live.
As the Germans continued their invasion of Poland, prompting Russian forces to retreat, conditions became increasingly precarious for Irving and his family. He began to see that the potential for brutality from the German forces exceeded that of the Russians, as the sick, the injured and — most specifically — the Jewish were regularly rounded up and executed without warning.
Never was that more apparent than the day his 18-year-old brother was called out of his family home to help repair damage from bombing, along with several other Jewish boys. Irving saw German soldiers advancing toward their home and decided to jump out the window into their backyard with his other brother.
There, he hid and listened as the soldiers executed his mother and three sisters. Until then, he believed women were safe.
The unbridled killing continued for several days as soldiers attempted to completely extinguish Jewish life from the town altogether. Irving remained hidden, outdoors and on the run with his father.
Settling Into The Ghetto
Ghettos were established by the Germans in order to isolate Jews in confined areas where living conditions were miserable. At one point, more than 1,100 ghettos were established in occupied eastern territories. There, Jews had to wear identifying arm bands or badges and many had to participate in forced labor. A Warsaw, Poland ghetto squeezed 400,000 Jews into 1.3 square miles. Jews were kept in the ghettos for varying lengths of time until German officials decided to execute a ghetto's residents or deport them to death camps.
The Jews who survived the onslaught were rounded up and settled into ghettos by the German forces to keep them isolated and together. Irving had paid a man in town to keep him safe, but that safety only lasted so long.
He spent weeks, if not months and years, on the run — hiding in attics for weeks at a time, ducking into the woods and living off the land for long periods. Irving bounced around from the homes of friends and relatives trying to evade capture, at times by the smallest margins.
Irving once survived a raid by hiding in the space between an open door and the wall behind it, his incredibly thin frame allowing him to remain out of sight from the German soldiers — who executed a friend of Irving's instead.
More than once, his father was captured and leveraged by German soldiers as a means to lure Irving from hiding. It eventually worked, as Irving sought out his dad at a labor camp and worked alongside him — until they both were sickened with typhoid.
Irving and his dad were treated for three weeks at a hospital. When Irving left the hospital to return to the labor camp, his dad remained as he was still too weak to work.
It was the last time the men saw each other.
"We were always planning how
not to be detected."
The Ruthless Day-To-Day Commitment To Survival
Irving was relegated to a camp of about 800 Jews, small and less-guarded in comparison to other, more well-known camps in WWII. But, the environment was no less barbarous, as groups worked regardless of age or condition, with very little food, digging up stones in the forest day after day.
Irving as well as other prisoners became the subjects of wagers between German guards. The guard placed bets on how many times a Jewish prisoner-bound at the feet and hands- would bounce off the ground if pushed from the back of a moving truck. To make the wager more interesting, the guards upped the ante by factoring in different speeds.
One wager would have lifelong implications for Irving, who was thrown from the truck and suffered a devastating broken leg, which would cause him to miss work for three weeks and never heal properly.