Survivor recounts escape from Nazi concentration camp
How Dr. Jacob Eisenbach survived WWII despite incredible odds, and why he says he has to spread a message of tolerance.
He calls it “the story that must be told.”
Dr. Jacob Eisenbach was just 16 when the Nazis invaded Poland.
“That’s when the unimaginable nightmare began,” said Eisenbach.
Eisenbach, his older sister, two younger brothers and parents grew up in Łódź Poland.On May 1, 1940, the textile-manufacturing town became a ghetto. Nearly 350,000 of Łódź’s Jewish residents were forced into isolation.
“Any Jew found outside of the ghetto would be shot to death on the spot,” Eisenbach said.
Jews inside the ghetto were faced with complete darkness; they had no radio, no newspaper, no mail, no communication with the outside world.
“We didn’t know what was going on outside of the ghetto,” said Eisenbach.
Nazis sealed the area with barbed wire fence. Every 200 feet sat a watch tower with Nazi soldiers, armed with machine guns.
“Many Jews from my city escaped to the Russian part of Poland because the Russians did not kill Jews,” said Eisenbach.
His sister fled.
The ghetto was impossible to escape, Eisenbach said. Helpless people dropped dead in the streets from starvation and disease ran rampant. Eisenbach’s 11-year-old brother was taken to the ghetto’s hospital where he was diagnosed with typhus.
The next morning, Nazis came through the hospitals, placed patients on top of one another and drove them in cattle trucks to their deaths. Eisenbach lost his brother that day.
Soon thereafter, 600 men were taken from the ghetto and forced to haul heavy rocks. All of them, including Eisenbach’s father, were killed.
A year before the Holocaust, Eisenbach’s mother died of rheumatic fever.
“She was an angel in a human body,” Eisenbach said.
With so many of his family members taken away from him, Eisenbach kept his younger brother, Sam, close.
Eisenbach was ordered for deportation from the ghetto. Sam was not. The day Eisenbach was ordered to report, the brothers went into hiding. After hiding for a month, police found them.
“Once they found me, my brother said to me, ‘Jack, all of our family is now gone, it’s just you and me left. I am not staying here by myself,” Eisenbach recalled. “I’m going with you, no matter where you go, I go with you and whatever happens to you, happens to me.’”
The brothers rode in cattle trains for three days and three nights before arriving at the concentration camp. Working for months, Eisenbach soon got word that the Nazis liquidated the ghetto in Łódź.
“The police men who caught me were a blessing in disguise,” said Eisenbach.
All of the Jews remaining in Łódź were killed.
In 1945, the Nazi guards disappeared from their watch towers. Hitler’s regime began to decline. Eisenbach and his brother walked out of the concentration camp and were free.
A year after the war ended, Eisenbach met a woman who escaped from a ghetto in Russia. She told him that 110,000 Jews were killed with machine guns. Eisenbach learned he would never see his sister again.
Following World War II, Eisenbach enrolled in dentistry school while Sam enlisted in the Polish army.
Even after the war, anti-Semitism tore destructively through Europe. Tired, Eisenbach and his wife left Poland.
Sam remained in his home country. At the age of 22, he moved to a high position in the Polish Army and changed his name to hide his Jewish identity. Anti-Semites discovered who he was and killed Sam with a bullet to the head.
Eisenbach and a distant cousin were the only survivors in their extended family of 100 people.
Eisenbach is now 93-years-old. He retired from his career as a dentist in 2015. Now, he uses his time to spread messages of love and tolerance.
“I love what I’m doing in my retirement. It keeps me busy. I spread the story of the Holocaust, which should never be forgotten,” said Eisenbach. “If it’s forgotten, it will contribute to its repetition.”
Eisenbach travels the world to tell his story. On Thursday, he will travel to Spokane where he will speak to a crowd at the Spokane Convention Center.
“Hearing the hell he went through and how he’s rebuilt his life…they took away everything, family, respect, honor and he got up and rebuilt his life,” said Rabbi Yisroel Hahn of Chabad of Spokane County.
Eisenbach will speak about how hatred, discrimination and intolerance led to the Holocaust. He will share his ideas on what people need to do now to combat ethnically-targeted murder, torture and hate.
Those interested in hearing Eisenbach’s story can learn more about buying tickets here.
“He is not your average guy. This is a story that must be shared,” said Rabbi Hahn.