Max Safir


Max Safir was born in 1925 in Bodzentyn, Poland. Max doesn't know exactly when he was born, that's why he has decided that his cousin's birthday and birth year is the date he himself was born. 

When his parents' mill in Bodzentyn burnt down the family moved to Kielce where his father owned a sawmill. Max grew up there with his parents and siblings. Max was especially close to his uncles in Bodzentyn and his aunt in Kielce.

In Kielce Max used to go to the movies or to football matches. He was also a member of a scout movement. Max used to dream about leaving Poland and emigrating to Israel once he was older. Max remembers that there was a lot of antisemitism in Kielce even before the war, for example people used to throw stones at their house after church on Sundays. 


Max experienced several incidents of antisemitism before the war. But when the Germans occupied Poland, the situation changes dramatically. After the German invasion a Volksdeutsche arrives and demands that Max's father must give up his sawmill. When his father asks for some saw dust to warm his family and survive the winter, he is threatened by the man who is now running the mill.

The conditions are hard, and Jews are no longer allowed to walk everywhere. They must wear special armbands with symbols showing that they are Jewish. One day Germans arrive and take Max and his big brother Feivl away. They are deported to a work camp close to Cieszanow where working conditions are very hard and many die. Max misses his mother very much, but luckily has his brother Feivl for company. One day Feivl has an accident and Max is now all alone. 


Max is sent back to Kielce when the anti-tank ditches are completed. In Kielce the conditions in the ghetto are horrible. The family has been forced to move and there is a severe food shortage. Max decides to give his ration card to his parents so they can get his food and he escapes to his brother in Starachowice.

When Max comes to Starachowice he is forced by the police to work for the Germans at an ammunition factory. When the Germans finally decide to close the ghetto in Starachowice the Jews are divided in two groups. The ones working are in one group and women, elderly and children in the other. Several of Max's cousins are in the camp, but they end up in different groups. Max's cousin, his favourite cousin, who saved Max from drowning when he was a baby, has had an accident and can no longer work for the Germans.


Max continues to work in the ammunition factory. Sometimes he succeeds in organising some food for himself and his prison mates. One day Max and the others are deported not knowing where they are going. Eventually they arrive in Auschwitz-Birkenau. In Auschwitz Max works with other people and becomes pretty good at understanding how to behave in the different work groups. But once he is caught by the capo for having stolen bread, and he is severely beaten.

Max realises that if he is going to survive, he needs to get out of Auschwitz. One day he is forced on a death march to the concentration camp Mauthausen in Austria. The prisoners walk several miles at a time and only travel by train short distances. From Mauthausen he is placed in the work camp Ebensee. At the camp he and the other prisoners have to work very hard and are not given enough nourishment. Max feels his strength running out and he is getting too weak to work. 

1945 and Postwar Experiences

In May 1945 the work camp in Ebensee is liberated by US and British troops. Max is so week from malnutrition that he is in a makeshift hospital in the camp. Eventually Max gets better and comes via Germany to Italy where he ends up in a displaced persons camp for former prisoners. When he realises that nobody in his large family has survived, he decides to follow his childhood dream and move to Israel (then the British mandate Palestine).

In Israel Max gets married. His wife wants to move to Sweden where her sister is living. That is why Max and his wife, and two children move to Sweden. He works and tries to become a part of the Swedish society. Max works hard but soon realises that there is antisemitism in Sweden as well.