Shep Zitler

Shep Zitler – Vilnius, and the Jews of Lithuania

Zitler.Photo.A2.WEB Zitler.Photo.A1.WEBOn September 1, 1939, the war started when Germany invaded Poland.  Poland lost the war in sixteen days.  Shep belonged to the 77th Infantry Regiment of the Polish Army.  His unit was captured near Radom and he was sent to a prisoner-of-war camp near Kielce.  The Germans separated the Jews from the other Polish soldiers.  Since the Germans could not tell the Jews apart from the other Polish soldiers they depended on the Poles to tell them.

The Zitler Family

The Zitler Family, 1936

Vilna at that time was technically located in Lithuania which was not at war with Germany.  Shep was classified as one of the so-called Lithuanian Jews and not as a regular Polish soldier so he was sent to a POW labor camp which saved his life.  The other Jewish soldiers were demobilized and sent back to Poland where they faced almost certain death.

Shep was in various labor camps for five years and seven months.  They belonged to Stalag VIII A but they did not stay there.  If they had stayed in the Stalag (prisoner-of-war camp) they would have starved like the Russian POW’s they encountered because there was not enough food there.  They were sent to many different places to work.  International law required them (as Lithuanians) to be kept in humane conditions and it forbade Germany from forcing them to be slave laborers.

Among his jobs, Shep was forced to work on the Autobahn near Krems, Austria, to load coal at Ludwigsdorf.  As Jews they were singled out for “special treatment.”  At Goerlitz the Jews had to clean excrement out of the slit latrines with their hands.  The Jews were always given the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs. Their lives were threatened and they were beaten. They were always hungry, and many did not survive.

He was able to get to London, and later the US, where he settled in 1948.

 

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