Arnold Shay (Arnold Szyjowicz) was born February 16, 1922 to a poor family in Będzin. His childhood home was about two miles from the Dombrowa coalmine. At the age of six, Arnold began attending Hebrew School named Talmud Torah. A year later he left Talmud Torah and went to a Polish public school. He also tutored wealthy students to earn money for himself and his family. Overall, Arnold gained a good education growing up.
In 1940, Arnold and his family had to move to a six-by-ten feet cubicle in Gordonia, a district within the Będzin ghetto. Like other Jewish families living in the ghetto, they were required to register with the Gestapo and the Jewish Council for ration cards. Unlike others, Arnold refused to pick up his ration card as an act of resisting these new requirements. In an effort to help gain money for his family while living in the ghetto, Arnold sold potato cakes despite the harassment by the patrolling SS-guards. Eventually, Arnold decided to escape the ghetto and join an underground resistance movement.
When Arnold returned to his family in the summer of 1941, he discovered that his sister Lola had been deported to a labor camp in Czechoslovakia. Lola would be there until liberation in 1945. In 1939, Arnold’s brother Izaak and his sister Sophie got out of the ghetto as well by obtaining forged Aryan identification papers. Arnold’s brother Bernard was deported to a labor camp in March 1942. Luckily, Arnold was able to keep in touch with his brother by providing luxuries and counterfeit ration cards for an SS-officer. This left Arnold as the only one to help his parents. The three of them, along with all the other Jewish refugees, eventually had to gather their belongings and move to the Szrodula ghetto.
Arnold grew restless and attempted to join an underground Polish partisan group in the Carpathian Mountains, but was denied because he was Jewish. Life in the Szrodula ghetto deteriorated with many dying of disease. On April 20, 1942, the Einsatzgruppen entered Arnold’s family’s living quarters to take his father to the police station. Arnold’s father was severely beaten and died four days later. Less than a month later, on August 12, while hiding in a subbasement, a Einsatzgruppen unit dragged Arnold’s mother away to be deported for extermination. With his parents gone, Arnold decided to no longer stay in the ghetto.
Arnold made another attempt to join a Polish partisan group, only to be robbed by them and abandoned at night. He later was able to join a Jewish partisan group, where he met Fela Friedman. Together they did anything they could to cause problems for the Germans, by attacking armament plants and supporting partisan groups. Arnold and Fela were arrested on August 9, 1943, sent to Auschwitz and separated upon arrival.
In Auschwitz, Arnold became one of the victims of Dr. Mengele’s medical experiments. Picked at random, Arnold was dragged to the hospital, where the German Doctor Thilo, an associate of Dr. Mengele, performed an experiment to see how Arnold’s body would react to foreign material in the wound during the healing process. Up until 1953 Arnold did not fully understand exactly what he underwent during that procedure. Afterwards, he was forced to work in a tailor shop in Auschwitz.
On the morning of January 17, 1945 Soviet troops moved close to Auschwitz. Arnold and other prisoners were called for roll call and ordered to leave the camp aboard trains to be transported to other camps. He survived the death march to several different camps, eventually arriving in Dachau. From Dachau, Arnold and other Jewish prisoners were transferred to Buchberg as the Allies closed in on the area. SS-guards and other German military units began deserting, and on May 10, 1945 Arnold was liberated by U.S. troops.
After liberation, Arnold resided in a Displaced Person camp where he met his wife Bala Saionz. He worked as a tailor while waiting for permission to immigrate to the United States. Arnold was granted a visa in September 1949, allowing him and his wife to come to Dallas, Texas. Follow his path across Europe after 1944.
For more on Arnold’s life:
Arnold Shay, Hell Was My Home: The True Story of Arnold Shay Survivor of the Holocaust (with Donald Grey Brownlow)
The USC Shoah Foundation (popularly known as Spielberg foundation) interviewed Arnold, under the Int. code # 2014: