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Waldemar Ginsburg

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
October 1948
Interview number:


Dr Rosalyn Livshin

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Waldemar Ginsburg was born in 1922 in Riga. His father, Michael Ginsburg, came from a secular Jewish family from Vilna. He became a sailor and sailed the world. He was based in Marseilles. His mother Pauline Strom, came from an Orthodox family in Kovno but she turned away from religion on attending University to study accountancy. She married Michael in 1919 and they went to live in Marseilles, where Michael worked as a clerk to a shipping company. Waldemar lived for 6 years in Marseilles but his parents separated and he and his mother came back to her parents in Kovno. Waldemar attended a German School there. He had no trouble at school until Hitler came to power in Germany and attitudes changed. The Jewish pupils left and he was sent to a Lithuanian School. So he spoke French, Yiddish to his grandparents, German, Lithuanian and later Russian. His mother remarried a man from Russia called Samuel Garzon and they lived together with her parents. Waldemar went to University after school but found a great deal of antisemitism amongst certain students there. He suffered verbal abuse. 

In the summer of 1940 the Russians invaded. Property was confiscated, businesses nationalized and the middle class bourgeoisie were earmarked for deportation to Siberia. Waldemar remained at university and suffered less from anti-Semitism since the pro- Nazis went into hiding. His step-father remained in business but this was temporary. Just as transportation started to Siberia the following year, the Germans invaded on 22 June 1941. The family debated fleeing east but opted to stay. Life quickly deteriorated. The Germans introduced anti Jewish laws and on 15 Aug 1941 forced the Jews into a ghetto in the Slabodka district of the town. They shared a little house with 3 families. Food rations were meagre and the ghetto was run by the Jewish Council and Jewish police. The able bodied were sent to work and this enabled people to barter and obtain more food. Waldemar worked first in the airport, then for an army construction unit repairing buildings and then as a plumber’s mate. This was the best job. On 4 Oct 1941 the hospital  in the ghetto was burnt down and all those inside killed. On 28 Oct 1941 there was a big action and 10,000 Jews were deported from the ghetto and shot into a mass grave at a nearby fortification at Ninesfort. This reduced the numbers from 28,000 to 18,000. Many women and children were taken including a number of Waldemar’s family. 

Life continued more normally after this with groups going out to work and a ghetto infrastructure operating as best it could. People did not die of starvation but more of natural causes such as his grandmother. This changed in the Autumn of 1943 when the SS took over from the SM. The ghetto was renamed a concentration camp and work groups were taken out to other camps. Waldemar went to work for Heeresbau in Sanciai, a suburb of Kovno. He was there when the terrible Kinderaktion took place on 28 March 1944. This happened in all the camps. Children under 14, the elderly, weak and infirm were deported and killed. Those remaining became very despondent. In July 1944 Waldemar was transported to Stutthoff, where he was separated from his mother and sent on to Dachau Camp no 1. He worked as a plumber and then when camp 1 was quarantined, he was transferred to Camp 3, where he had to work constructing underground bunkers for the firm Moll. This was much harder work but those in charge of the camp were not as strict. In the Spring of 1945 they returned to Camp 1 and back to plumbing. He was then lucky to become a store keeper and did not have to leave the camp for work. He would read newspapers and they knew what was happening. 

In April 1945 they were taken on a death march in groups of 100. They marched for a week and then were abandoned. They were liberated by the allies. Waldemar by now had contracted an infectious disease and was hospitalized for 6 months near Munich. He was the only member of his family to survive. He met Ibolya from Hungary and they married in 1946. Waldemar took a course in radio technology for 1 year and then became an assistant teacher on the course until Oct 1948. They lived in an apartment near Munich. In the meantime cousins in England had tracked him down and they sent a work permit for him to come to work in their textile mill in Elland, Yorkshire. This was Thornton Textiles. They came and stayed with the family until 1950 when they moved into their own home. Waldemar became a manager at the mill and was warmly welcomed by the workers. He later moved to Kagan textile mill until he retired. 


Full Interview


22nd June 1941. The Red Army was taken by surprise and they fled. Lithuania was occupied by the German Wehrmacht. On the first day of the hostilities, there was a chance for us to escape. We could have packed our luggage and tried to escape. We had to make that big decision what to do: stay put or escape and survive under Russian control. On that day, 14 members of our immediate family gathered to take that fatal decision and decided to stay put. It would be easier to survive under the Nazis than escape to Russia and finish up in a slave labour camp. Well, out of the 14 members I was the only one to survive, because they all perished.

There was a silence which lasted many years until- until, my children became old enough to be told about it. They kept asking certain questions, you know, “Why do you talk with a funny accent?” and, “Why don’t we have grandparents and family like the other children?” So we had to tell them something.

[10,000 Lithuanian Jews] were taken in batches of 100 [to Ninesfort fortress] & pushed into a deep pit & machine gunned. Eliminated in batches of 100. It took the whole day to push them in. They started covering them with soil. Anybody who was still alive, still moving, they were still shooting. That was witnessed by Lithuanian people who lived not far from this fortification. The soil they say was heaving for a night & a day from the people who were still alive.

One boy aged 14 or 15 managed to crawl out at night. He managed to move the dead bodies & hid until daylight. Then he marched into the ghetto, covered with lime. He told the ghetto council what was happening, was sworn to secrecy. They told him not to tell anybody what happened, because there might be a panic in the ghetto & people might refuse to work. They said that would be the end of the ghetto, they would kill everybody, so he kept silent.

Now, our biggest shock was the loss of our loved ones & families but what also compounded our horror was the fact that our killers, the people who pulled the trigger, were our own Lithuanian neighbours, thousands of young men who had volunteered to help the Nazis. 80% of the killing machine was non German. There were Ukrainians, there were Hungarians, Rumanians, Croats, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians. It would have been of some comfort to us if we could have identified our killers as sadists, as misfits, if we could have removed them from the human race, but they were part of the human race, they were like you & me. They were not much different & yet they could be brainwashed to murder innocent people. This shook, this shattered my belief in a progressive & benevolent humanity. Our concept of evil was wrong, we realised the line separating good from evil was a lot thinner than we imagined.

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