Escape from the Ghet­to: A Sto­ry of Sur­vival and Resilience in World War II

John Carr

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By – June 28, 2022

For near­ly twelve years of his life, John Carr believed his father was Catholic. On learn­ing oth­er­wise, he became curi­ous to know why Dad had lied in the first place and then kept the secret for so long.” John won­dered if it explained his lack of love for and dis­tance from me as a child,” and he felt dri­ven” to find out.

In due course, it became clear that Hen­ry Carr (an alias for Chaim Her­sz­man) was born a Pol­ish Jew. He was embar­rassed by and ashamed” that he had deceived his wife and five Catholic sons. Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion led to Chaim steadi­ly open­ing up to John, who then inter­viewed him at length over sev­er­al years, trac­ing in detail his father’s extra­or­di­nary Euro­pean experiences.

John con­cludes that while his father is not deserv­ing of a free pass exact­ly,” his father does mer­it under­stand­ing and uncon­di­tion­al accep­tance. If any­one could say their life had been shaped by events beyond their con­trol, it was Dad.” These out-of-con­trol events occurred as Chaim passed as a run­away Ger­man in Nazi-occu­pied Europe. He was des­per­ate­ly avoid­ing arrest and exe­cu­tion for hav­ing killed a Nazi ghet­to guard who had been about to shoot his dis­abled younger brother.

Chaim’s odyssey began with him bare­ly sur­viv­ing ghet­to atroc­i­ties dur­ing the Ger­man occu­pa­tion of Łódź, Poland. Poland was then the only one of twen­ty-four con­quered coun­tries where occu­piers had been autho­rized by the Third Reich to kill any­one at any time for any rea­son. Over the next three years, Chaim expe­ri­enced close calls in Poland, Ger­many, Spain, France, and the Pol­ish bor­der with Rus­sia. Chaim relied on his blond hair and blue eyes, along with a keen capac­i­ty for lan­guages and a razor-sharp mind.

Liv­ing on his wits, Chaim sur­vived as a chameleon, a shape-shifter; he often com­mit­ted pet­ty crimes ratio­nal­ized by three goals— to some­how res­cue his fam­i­ly from the Nazis, join the fight­ing rem­nant of the Pol­ish Army, and stay alive to post-war liberation.

As a fugi­tive, Chaim received unex­pect­ed crit­i­cal assis­tance from sev­er­al non-Jews. He shel­tered in a bak­ery run by a Pol­ish fam­i­ly; with an anti-Hitler Ger­man fam­i­ly head­ed by a Wehrma­cht sol­dier; and with elder­ly French farm­ers who thought of them­selves as resis­tance fight­ers.” Chaim told his son John all humans are not the same. There were pock­ets of good­ness left even in the pres­ence of over­whelm­ing evil.”

Chaim resolved to get even, and he even­tu­al­ly enlist­ed as a mem­ber of the British Army (but only after being sus­pect­ed by the British of being a Nazi spy). He fought the Ger­man troops, but was wounded.

At the war’s end Chaim searched unsuc­cess­ful­ly in lib­er­at­ed Poland for his fam­i­ly mem­bers. Post­war Pol­ish vio­lence against sur­vivors seek­ing return of their pre­war homes made him resolved to nev­er set foot there again.

Intent on becom­ing a tailor’s cut­ter in 1949 Scot­land, Chaim fell in love with a young Irish Catholic woman. When she became preg­nant, he secret­ly got him­self bap­tized Catholic, and mar­ried under the name Hen­ry Carr. The fam­i­ly resided there­after in a rel­a­tive­ly devout close­ly knit Irish Catholic com­mu­ni­ty in the north of Eng­land. In 2005 on the tenth anniver­sary of Chaim’s death, his fam­i­ly put up a plaque in his hon­or in the main ceme­tery in Łódź.

Chaim’s mem­oir unique­ly con­veys much worth know­ing about diverse par­tic­i­pants in the Holo­caust, espe­cial­ly many coura­geous upstanders, and is an art­ful­ly writ­ten account by a lov­ing son of his father’s col­or­ful life.

Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus of Soci­ol­o­gy, Pro­fes­sor Arthur B. Shostak is the author in 2017 of Stealth Altru­ism: For­bid­den Care as Jew­ish Resis­tance in the Holo­caust. Since his 2003 retire­ment from 43 years teach­ing soci­ol­o­gy he has spe­cial­ized in Holo­caust studies.

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