David Waldshan


David Waldshan, ocalały z Zagłady. Fot. Brian Marcus z książki Still Here

David Waldshan, ocalały z Zagłady. Fot. Brian Marcus z książki Still Here

David Waldshan (Dawid Waldszan) - born on the 28th of February 1928 in Białowieża, son of Benjamin and Tania. He had two sisters: Hinda and Mindel. He lived on Stoczek street number 1. His parents had a confectionery and fruit store. He survived the transfer from Bialowieza to Kobryn in 1941, the ghetto in Pruzhany and then the following concentration camps: Auschwitz/Birkenau, Mauthausen, Gusen II and Gunskirchen.
After the war he went to the United States. He married Sarah Berman and has three children. He lives near Detroit,

In 2016 I went to USA to interview David Waldshan. The effects of the interview are following written story and the film  "Survivor from Białowieża", which is available on our You Tube channel. Click to see the video.

David Waldshan (originally Dawid Waldszam) was born on  February 28th, 1928 in Białowieża in the family of Benjamin Waldshan and Tania Judewicz. He had two sisters -  four years older Hinda  and two years older Mindel, both of them were born in Białowieża (in 1924 and 1926 respectively), where David's parents moved from Pruzhany, probably just before their first daughter was born.

David's father, Benjamin Waldshan, was born in Shereshov/Shereshevo (Polish Szereszów/Szereszewo), today’s Belarus, in a family of rabbis and teachers. His father and David's grandfather, Abraham Aron Waldshan, was a rabbi in Shereshov and then in Olkieniki (today’s Lithuania). Benjamin's brother, Izaak Waldshan  was also a rabbi, and the second brother, Joel Waldshan, was a teacher and then the principal of school in Shereshov. Two sisters of Benjamin got married with rabbis. Before David's father, Benjamin, arrived to Białowieża, he had been a teacher, too. It was a hard job because he was a teacher in a few schools in the nearby villages, and he had to commute to them. That’s why he rarely was at home.

On the advice of Tania's father, Herszel Judewicz, the family decided to move to Białowieża  in searching for a better life, probably around 1924. Tania Judewicz came from Pruzhany (Polish Prużana/Prużany), today’s Belarus. Before the war Bialowieza belonged to the Pruzhany district. Tania's father was an owner of a small factory producing turpentine in Pruzhany. He had some trade contacts with the citizens of Białowieża, where they retrieved turpentine from resin. Herszel helped Tania and Benjamin to settle down in Białowieża and to establish a grocery store there.
The store was attached to the house and it was on 1 Stoczek Street (today’s 1 Waszkiewicza St., there’s still a grocery store) and it was called: “Sklep słodycze i owoce” (“Confectionery and Fruit Store”). You could also buy there homemade ice-cream produced with ice stored in the ice house. The ice was sourced from the Narewka river, flowing through Białowieża. For one or two years Benjamin also run a gas station nearby the house, he was selling gas to a few cars and trucks existing in Białowieża back then.

Despite the fact that Benjamin didn’t work as a teacher any more, the house was full of books in Polish, Yiddish as well as in Hebrew. There was an emphasis on education in the house. David remembers that he didn't have much time to play, because he was constantly learning:  in the morning he attended public school together with Polish and Belarusian kids. Then he was doing his homework back at home and in the afternoons and on Saturdays his father was teaching him Hebrew, Torah and Tanakh. He was learning Yiddish by the way, because all the Jewish community in Białowieża was speaking Yiddish among each other. That's why David doesn't remember many games or the names of his friends, however he has memories of winter entertainment including sledging on wooden sleds, skiing on homemade wooden skis and skating on skates which were also wooden and homemade.

David’s mother, Tania Judewicz, had a brother Salomon Judewicz in Pruzhany. His wife, Lena Najdus Judewicz, was a well-known dentist in Pruzhany. Both of them were very engaged social activists, Salomon opened a special care center for poor Pruzhany children. They were also helping David’s family while their resettlement to Białowieża. Lena Judewicz left to the USA before the war to visit her family. War outbreak took her by surprise there and that’s why she survived. Salomon Judewicz died in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Tania had two brothers more: Aron lived in Pruzana and Moshe (Mitia) lived in Vilnius.

David reminds relationships between Jewish people and Polish and Belarusian citizens of Białowieża. They were warm and friendly, however he remembers two anti-Semite incidents. Nonetheless, he underlines some positive stories – saving him from drowning in a river by a Polish boy and saving a carton of luxurious soap during the war by a doctor in Białowieża. Because of it, their ghetto situation was way more favorable.

David recollects that the Jewish community in Białowieża wasn’t the most religious one. Only a few men had beards (among others, his father Benjamin had one), however they obeyed the rule of kosher and celebrated Shabbat and holy days. He remembers one wooden synagogue he attended every Saturday and on holy days.

On September, 1939, David was supposed to move to Pruzhany, to his mother cousins – Lena and Salomon Judewicz – in order to attend Jawne Hebrew school. Sadly, the war outbreak dealt a lethal blow to his plans.

When it comes to September, 1939, David remembers Polish army passing through Białowieża, running from the advancing German army. People were hiding in shut down and dark houses. 10 days later, Russian soldiers came to Białowieża. David and other kids had to attend school opened by the Russians, where the only teaching language was Russian. Living conditions weren’t that bad, his father’s store operated for a period of time, until 1940, when Benjamin was summoned to court and forced to close it. The synagogue was also closed.

During the German occupation (since June, 27th, 1941), David’s father was forced to work for the Germans. He was logging trees at the railway station near the Tsarist Palace and David helped him sometimes. All the Jews had to wear yellow patches on arms. The shop was closed but David remembers a cow his parents had, it was bought during the Russian occupation.

David’s father despite being only 45, had gray hair and gray beard which made him look older. Probably thanks to that he avoided the mass execution in the old gravel pit on the 10th of August 1941 when German soldiers exterminated 77 Jewish men and boys between the age of 16 and 45.

During the Jewish resettlement from Białowieża (August 10th, 1941), David’s family was exiled from their home, leaving everything behind but a small suitcase with belongings. The truck with a group of other Jewish people of Białowieża took him to Kobryń, where they stayed for about 6 weeks. Then, according to Judenrat’s order of resettlement to Pruzhany for the people having relatives there, they resettled to Pruzhany’s ghetto. Two brothers of David’s mother lived there – Salomon and Aron Judewicz. In Pruzhany’s ghetto, everyone had to work. David, who was 13 back then, worked as a help in a carpenter’s shop. The shop was in the building of the former Jawne Hebrew school. Living conditions were difficult, however, according to David, much better than in other ghettos, because people weren’t starving there. David’s family managed to get back two cartons of luxury soap they previously gave to the Polish doctor in Białowieża, just before they were resettled to the ghetto. It was David’s cousin, Jakub Barbel, who got the soap back. He was an electrician in Pruzhany and he was sent by the Judenrat to Białowieża by the order of Germans who needed a specialist electrician. Retrieved soaps were later exchanged for food with local farmers by David’s uncle, Aron Judewicz.

During the liquidation of Pruzhany’s ghetto by the Germans, David with his father, mother and two sisters were placed in the first of four groups transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. On January 28th, 1943, together with 2500 people they were transported on sleds by the neighborhood residents by the German order to the railway station in Linowo village (Pruzhany didn’t have any train station). They were allowed to take only a few things they were able to carry on them. They didn’t know, where the Germans were taking them. During getting on a train, David and his father were separated from his mother and sisters pushed into a different wagon. After a day and a half in cattle wagons, crowded with 100-150 other people inside the same wagon, on January 30th, 1943, they reached Auschwitz-Birkenau. Immediately at the station Germans accompanied by kapo and dogs conducted the selection. Persons between 18-45 who seemed useful for the Germans were moved to one side and the rest – to the other side, meaning they were killed the very same evening in gas chambers. David’s father, Benjamin Waldshan, was killed at that time. The fate of David’s sisters and mother remains unknown. David, guided by some kind of instinct, managed to join the group of young men without being noticed. He didn’t look his age (he was 15) because he was wearing two heavy coats. They were given to him just in case by his uncle, Salomon Judewicz, while leaving the ghetto. He advised David to wear them.

After the selection on Birkenau’s unloading ramp, David was tattooed with a camp number on his forearm – 98135 (he was entered on the list of prisoners included in Auschwitz Archives under the misspelled surname “Walczon”). David and his uncle Salomon Judewicz, who survived the selection, stayed in Birkenau for 5-6 weeks. David worked in a carpentry, Deutche Ausrüstungwerke (DAW), he helped with door and window frames production. Soon, there was another selection. Germans ordered all persons under the age of 16 to step out of the line. Salomon told David not to move from his place in the line and saved his life. However, Salomon died a few weeks later.

David was moved to the main Auschwitz camp. The only relative he had left was his cousin, Jakub Barbel, an electrician from Pruzhany. After 3-4 months in Auschwitz David survived another selection by a German doctor.

David stayed in Auschwitz until the end of January, 1945. At that time, due to approaching Russian army, Germans evacuated prisoners to other camps. David found himself in Mauthausen concentration camp, in Austria. In his opinion, Mauthausen was even worse camp that Auschwitz. He spend there a few weeks in a quarantine, afterwords he was sent to labor camp in Gusen II. There, in inhuman conditions he was digging out tunnels and carting the clay away (Germans wanted to build an underground plane factory). After a few months in Gusen II, Germans transported prisoners to a camp in Gunskirchen. There, in atrocious conditions, starving for 7-8 days, he survived until the liberation by American soldiers on May, 15th, 1945. He recollects that many people died because of sudden eating too much food. After the liberation, David and other liberated people spent several months in hospital and rehabilitation center, where he was recovering. Next, supported by the Joint Distribution, he lived and was educated by private tutors in a small town of Goisern, Austria. Until, in May, 1949, he passed final exams in Salzburg.

During that time he got in touch with his aunt Lena Judwicz, who survived the war because she left to the USA before its outbreak. With the help of the Joint, David left to the USA in January, 1950. Being supported by the Joint and HIAS organizations in America, he settled down in Worcester near Boston. At first, he worked at a mattress factory, but because of hard working conditions he was transferred to another job in tablets production in a pharmaceutical company. During all that time he continued his education, he finished high school in one year, passed final exams and graduated. He decided to move to Detroit which was the most prosperous city at that time, since they replaced munitions factories with car factories. At the beginning, he worked in a factory manufacturing car bumpers, then in another one, dealing with gearing. All that time he was learning, at first at drafting school, then he attended a local University where he studied Industrial Engineering. Then, he was hired in General Motors, where he worked in a manufacturing Engineering Department until his retirement.

In the meantime, in 1966, he met Sarah Berman, she was born in Poland just before the war ended, in the family of Jewish survivors from Kałuszyn. They got married the same year. And they have three children: Tammi, Benjamin and Alaine, and six grandchildren. At present, he lives with his wife in Farmington Hills near Detroit.

SZIH_POLProject "Survivor from Bialowieza"was realized by the Jacek Kuron Educational Foundation. The project received funding from the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland. 


On the website of the project "Still Here" by Brian Marcus, David Waldshan says: „I was miraculously pre-destined by a Higher Authority who had a purpose in His mind to save me from a living hell. The purpose is a great mystery to me. Maybe it was to bear witness and honor my towns of Bialowieza and Pruzana, Poland where 9,200 Jews, 84% of the Jewish population, perished within 4 days of the liquidation of the Pruzana ghetto

Thanks to Brian Marcus we were able to contact David Waldshan a few days before the launch of this website. After visiting David's house in USA we are in constant correspondence.





  1. Interview with David Waldshan, led by Katarzyna Winiarska, November 15-18, 2016.
  2. The "Still Here" project: http://stillherebook.com/david-waldshan/
  3. Żydzi polscy w KL Auschwitz: wykazy imienne [Polish Jews in KL Auschwitz: name list], ed. S. Mączka, M.Prokopowicz, (Żydowski Instytut Historyczny, 2004.);