Bernard (Berl) Schuster

I was born May 17, 1928, in Jasionowka, Poland, the youngest of eight children. Many of my paternal relatives lived in the same town along with my parents, Sara Maretzki and Jacob Schuster. When I was three or four, my father bought a tannery near the center of town. The family lived there until the Nazi regime took control. The Germans divided up Poland leaving my family on the Russian side. Later the Germans took control of Poland, and the town of Jasionowka was to be liquidated. The family was aware that Jews were being murdered, so we hid in a place we built above the tannery. But we could not stay there indefinitely. While trying to escape, my mother and sister were shot and killed. My father and I escaped into the forest where I watched with horror as my father froze to death in my arms.

After that, I went back into town so the Germans would shoot me, because I didn't want to freeze to death. A Polish woman recognized me and agreed to hide me even though her husband was an anti-Semite. I lived in her barn for several months and then in the forest along with three other boys. In 1944, we were liberated, and I went back to the town of Jasionowka. There I discovered two of my sisters, one brother and several cousins who had also survived. There we made a home for ourselves until we were forced to flee because a group of Poles formed an organization dedicated to killing off the Jewish people who were still alive in the area.

I found my way to Italy where I worked for the Israeli underground to help bring other Jewish people out of danger. There I was shot and wounded. An aunt who was living in Rochester found out I was alive and brought me to America. After finishing high school, I attended the University of Rochester and then graduated from Harvard Law School. I was married in July 1955, and now have three children and twelve grandchildren.

Since my experiences during the Holocaust, I have written a book and often speak in classrooms on Holocaust education. I have recorded an oral history for Stephen Spielberg's Shoah Project, served as chairman of the local Jewish Community Federation's Center for Holocaust Awareness and Information, co-chaired the Auschwitz exhibit at Monroe Community College in 1987, and still work with Monroe Community College's Holocaust Genocide Studies Project. There is still genocide, brutality and inhumanity in the world. I would like to see the generations of today and tomorrow learn to live peacefully together and prevent another Holocaust from happening.

Biography from the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Project, Monroe Community College
Photograph by Louis Ouzer