The Jewish political organization was founded in Vilna in 1897. This was to jumpstart labor causes and Jewish nationalism, yet it was against Zionism.
I, Shep Zitler, was born
I was born a proud Jew on May 27, 1917, during World War I, in Vilna, Poland. Vilna was a strong capital of Jews in Eastern Europe, full of Jewish learning and organizations.
The government issued a 'White Paper' on Palestine that reduced Jewish emigration to only 75,000 people, including 25,000 refugees, for five years.
Drafted into the Polish Army
In February 1939, I was drafted into the Polish Army. This was the first time I was associated with Poles, who were cruel to the Jews. I was 21 years old at the time and in good health. After six months in the army, I experienced anti-semitism, that I hadn't seen in Vilna, my hometown. I found it strange to be fighting a war against the Germans with my second enemy, the Poles.
Hitler and Stalin, signed a 'non-aggression' agreement in August 1939 to possibly end their archnemesis.
War started when Germany invaded Poland
The war started when Germany invaded Poland. Poland lost the war after a brutal 16 days. My unit was captured and I was sent to a prisoner-of-war camp near Kielce, which probably saved my life. Jews were separated from the Polish soldiers. I was in various labor camps for five years and seven months.Jews were always given the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs. We were hungry and beaten, and many did not survive.With the exception of my sister, all of my family was killed.
Red Army Invasion on Poland
The Red Army invaded eastern Poland, including my hometown, Vilna.
Received letter from brother-in-law of younger sister
After the war, I received a letter from my sister's brother-in-law. Doba, my sister, had married his brother while I was at war and had had baby boys. She lived in the ghetto known as Kalis, which was to be liquidated at the very end of the war. She had a chance to be liberated if she would give up her son. Of course, my sister would never do that and she chose to die with her son.
Throughout the year of 1940, I received letters from my family via the Red Cross. I also received packages from my relatives in New Orleans. The letters eventually stopped in 1941 when the Nazis attacked the Soviet Union.
Hitler invaded the Soviet Union.
Zog Nit Keyn Mol
I spent many of my years after the Holocaust singing the partisan song, Zog Nit Keyn Mol. The creator, Hirsch Glick was born in 1922, and unfortunately was killed in 1944 as a young brilliant 22 year old.
Day of Liberation
After a long, non-stop march of 3 days, we were told to lie down and sleep. I woke up to "Give us your watches." The Russian calvary was crazy about wristwatches, however, after we told them who we were, they left us alone. Unfortunately we knew noone who had survived back home. We were 11 free Jews; no Germans. We went into the villages where there was plenty of food.So many smart Jews died during the war. We learned we were just lucky.
Hitler Commits Suicide
Hitler committed suicide. His reign lasted 12 years that included six years of building and six years of killing.
In 1948, I immigrated to New Orleans, where my two uncles lived
I married an American Jewish girl and we had a son..
Arrival in New York
On December 23, 1948, my boat landed in New York. I was glad to be back. (Well I was pretty much glad to be anywhere after that).
Later on, I took a train to New Orleans with only $32.15 in my pocket. I didn't have a job, I couldn't drive a car and I had broken English. Since it had been nine years since my last job as a dentist technician, a Jewish doctor, whom I was reccomended to converse with, suggested I take a job as a shoes saleman.
I attended the first meeting at the Jewish Community Center of 60-80 survivors and we decided to organize ourselves as a group. I was elected the first president by secret ballot.
George Lincoln Rockwell, the American Nazi, planned to come to New Orleans to demonstrate in front of the picture show "Exodus" which was showing in a theater on Baronne Street.
First World Gathering of Holocasut Survivors in Israel, organized by survivor Ernest Michel, who I had met in New York in 1977. We shared the common dream of bringing all of the Holocaust survivors to Israel for a world gathering.
We had a gathering of 18,000 Holocaust survivors, even the president, Ronald Regan, showed up. We also elected our group president in 1985, Benjamin Meed.
I lost my home to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Date of Death
December 1, 2009 I passed away at the age of 92 in my New Orleans home.