Robert R. Mendler
b. Nowy-Targ, Poland, 1925
When the German army occupied Nowy-Targ, Poland in 1939, I was thirteen. I was assigned to work as a house boy for the Chief of the Gestapo.
I did all kinds of work for him, to the best of my ability. But no matter how hard I tried, every day when he came home from his office, he would punish me for no reason. His beatings and screaming were unbearable.
After work I went home and cried to my mother. “Why is he punishing me?” I asked. “I do my best but he's never satisfied.”
My mother tried to encourage me. “The war will be over soon, and times will be better.”
But in truth, I grew more and more bitter at this cruel and unjust man. And during the succeeding years of the war when I was sent to several concentration camps, I could never forget him. He had put a mark on me. All through the years I prayed—even when I lost my faith—that I would find him some day.
On April 25, 1949, I left Germany for the United States. The journey from Bremerhaven took ten days on a transport ship, the steamship Marine Jumper. There were three thousand displaced persons on the ship.
Three days before reaching our destination in Boston, as I was going downstairs for lunch, I saw him. It was the man I had dreamed and prayed to God to let me find some day. He was on his way up the stairs, but I couldn't reach him because there were many people between us, coming up the stairs with their food. The kitchen was below and we had to go down to get our food and carry it up to the dining facility.
The only thing I could do was scream—“A Nazi!”—and point my finger at him.
Suddenly the ship became riotous, a jungle. Everyone behind him was trying to put their hands on him, to kill a Nazi. People beat him, pulled him by the hair, pummelled him anywhere they could lay hands on him. After all, how many times did one get a chance to see and capture a Chief of the Gestapo— and on top of that, one who was escaping with us to the land of the free?
The ship's police immediately came to his rescue, or he surely would have been killed. They put him in quarantine, under guard. But we still weren't satisfied; we wanted to dump him in the ocean. The captain and crew couldn't control the crowd and their noise.