Montreal, Canada

My name is Willie Glazer, and I was born in Bavaria, Germany, in 1921. I'd like to make a note, that even though I was born in Germany, I am not a German Jew, my family were Polish Jews. I was one of five children, and lived a happy childhood with my three sisters and a brother. My father worked in the toy export industry, and his job took him all around Europe.

Soon, the Hitler years arrived and it became very tough. The economy, and even our peace of mind was gone. My father worked frantically to get us out of the country. He wanted to take the whole family to England, but was unable to make it work. He managed to send one of my sisters there and then finally in 1939 he arranged for me to leave Germany. I was 17 then.

My sister and I would frequently travel from England to Belfast in Northern Ireland, which bordered the Irish free state of Eire. My father was in France, and my mother and other siblings were still in Fürth, Germany. It was hard to communicate with them, but I did what I could. The people I stayed with had family in Dublin, that could correspond with Germany. So I would send them my post cards, and they would forward them over to my mom. Every two to three weeks, she would mail me and my sister.

I'll never forget the card she sent me on my 20th birthday. She wrote, "May the Almighty protect you from all evil and bad things." I sincerely believe that this blessing put a guardian angel on my shoulder. By the end of 1941, the correspondence ceased with my mother.

In the beginning stages of the war, I was working in England at a garage. We had significant work to do after the London Blitz had destroyed so much of the city. In the shop, we repaired ambulances and other vehicles. The destruction even affected the garage, but we managed to fix the damage.

Slowly but surely, all of my friends were called up to the Army. Eventually, I was practically by myself. In that solitude, I resolved that it was my duty to join as well.

I went to the British recruiting office in Northern Ireland, where they had a bit of confusion on where to place me. The sergeant on duty told me that because I was Polish I had to see the officer on duty. He was just as unsure as to where to place me. After making some calls, he determined that because I had a Polish passport, I had to join the Polish army, which was just forming in Scotland after the Dunkirk evacuation. There was a small Polish brigade that had evacuated back to England, and that was the nucleus of the Polish Armored division.

I went to the recruiting office, and they gave me a food voucher and ticket to Scotland. Once I arrived, I reported to the Polish reception camp, where I was placed in the "White Eagle Soldier's Club". The camp had opened up because a lot of the volunteers from the United States and from South America had come there. In the midst of all these volunteers, here I was: a German-born Jewish boy. I barely knew what was going on there, as I couldn't speak a word of Polish.

Because of my inability to speak Polish, I was exempted from guard duty. That would've been a good thing if not for the cook, who told the camp commander that I wasn't pulling my weight. I was assigned as the cook's helper, and woke up every morning at 5AM while he slept in. I had to prepare the porridge and coffee for breakfast. After a while, the soldiers actually told me I made the best porridge and coffee!

After two months, I was assigned to the 6th Company (heavy machine guns) 2nd battalion, 3rd independent infantry brigade up the coast of Scotland. At that time, the British government asked the Polish government for an armored division, which replicated British military structure. I was assigned to guard the area.

When I first arrived there, the regimental chaplain introduced himself. We had a long conversation, and after excusing me from Sunday morning service, he told me he would tell the Jewish chaplain to visit me.

Soon, I met the chaplain, and he would tell us what was going on with the Jews in Poland. He received much of his information from the findings of Jan Karski, a legendary Polish resistance movement fighter. Karski was an emissary between the "Jewish underground" in Warsaw and members of the Polish government who were exiled in London. He would frequently relay information between Warsaw and London.

Karski was a brave man. In order to learn the specifics about concentration camps, he infiltrated the circles of Nazi collaborators. He told the Polish government everything he learned, and then there were a couple more steps before the information got to us.

I had a pretty slow two years at this camp. Most of my time was spent participating in military exercises and holding guard duty. I did go to Edinburgh every other weekend and attended Shabbat services at their local synagogue. I developed a friendship with one of the members of the congregation, and he began inviting me for Friday night supper and Shabbat dinner. One of the highlights of my experience in Scotland was participating in Passover and Jewish New Year events in Edinburgh.

I had developed a wonderful relationship with the people of Scotland, as did other soldiers. They loved us. The bond we shared can be seen on the emblem at the Polish HQ, which features a Polish Eagle and Scottish Lion.

We were so close that rumours spread of 2nd battalion members becoming honorary members of the Stewart clan, which entitled us to wear the Royal Stewart Kilt. I thought the rumour was true, so I wore a kilt to a dance. What did I wear under the kilt? Just gym shorts.

When I returned to camp, it turned out that the rumour was false. I was fined two weeks' pay for being "out of uniform," which was a hefty fine. I understood it though, as HQ didn't want to see soldiers walking around in kilts.

Eventually, I got a bunk in the "Balfour Club," which was a facility for Jewish soldiers. I finally found two men who, like me, were born and raised in Germany. We quickly found out how much we had in common.

One day, me and my friend Pinchas Bokser saw Winston Churchill at the Cupar Fife train station! He had two security guards in tow. We saluted him, he smiled, and began to quietly read from his newspaper. It was amazing to be in his presence, but our train soon arrived. My guess is that he was in the area inspecting a military facility.

In 1943, I was transferred to the First Polish Armored Division. The 10th Polish Mounted Rifles regiment was born, and they sought the cream of the crop. The interview process was pretty intense, but I didn't sweat it. I was just 20, and in great shape, so I was exactly what they were looking for. The sergeant major who interviewed me assigned me to the tank regiment as a radio operator, which I had reticence about. My Polish was still pretty shoddy, but the sergeant wasn't worried. He said, "Willush, if I'm not worried, why should you be?"

After that, the name Willush stuck with me. Our regiment had several reconnaissance tanks, and from that time on, we learned how to operate them. The training process was fairly arduous, but I didn't mind. We trained at various places in Scotland, including Dalkeith Castle near Edinburgh. The cold, drafty rooms of the castle are unforgettable.

In summer of 1944, bad news came about the Jewish people in Poland and other occupied territories. Here I was on my big tank, but completely powerless to directly help my family.

During that time, the war was reaching a fever pitch. Many of my friends were dying, including over 50 comrades killed in action. One of my biggest comrades, Gustav Goldstaub, was killed when his tank was struck. The driver was also killed, and the three crew members wounded.

The regiment was well aware that D-Day was coming, we were just waiting on the order. Finally, we were commanded to get our tanks ready and head to Southampton. From there, we put our tanks on the ship and set sail for Normandy.

There were so many regiments landing in Normandy, that the Allied Forces had to find a way to accommodate everyone. The Brits ended up creating concrete structures that served both as a landing space and a dock for the ships. Our ship arrived eight days after the invasion commenced.

Upon landing, we immediately proceeded inland. Our regiment was composed of what we called tank troupes. Each troupe had three tanks, with five men to a tank: commander, loader, radio operator, driver and co-driver. I served as a radio operator.

The close quarters of the tank were almost like a tight subway car. I soon learned harmony was the key! We all had each other's lives in our hands, so if the soldiers didn't click, the commanding officer would split the crew up.

Communication was key during one incident in the country side of Normandy. After entering what was previously German-occupied territory, we came across an angry German soldier. He was yelling and screaming, so we asked him what was wrong. He told us he was sick of the war, and knew of 35 seriously wounded Canadian and Polish prisoners of war nearby. It turns out this angry soldier was a sergeant medic. After we had encroached the German lines, they withdrew and left him behind with those POWs. They had been captured just a couple days earlier.

The way he spoke of the wounded soldiers, it was as if they were his family. Tellingly, he referred to me as "Du," which was generally only used for friends or family. This kind of friendliness was unheard of, but I gave him a pass because I realized he was shellshocked.

Within weeks, we were thrust into one of the biggest battles of the war, The Battle of Falaise or the famous Falaise Pocket. Over fifty thousand German soldiers were surrounded and pounced on by the British, American and Polish armies. We conquered the Germans there with a collective onslaught of fire.

Since I was a German speaker, I was given the task of interviewing the German soldiers who had survived. I learned that some of these men were officers of the 12th SS Hitler Unit, Hitler's very own bodyguard regiment. These men killed over 5,000 POWs, mostly along the Eastern front. Hitler sent them to Normandy to reinforce the German stronghold in the area.

They could terrorize no one else once we had taken them all as prisoners. One of those soldiers in particular provided a shocking experience. When I asked for his identification, his ID showed that he was from Fürth, in Bavaria! I nearly dropped the ID. I spoke to him in my Fürth dialect, asking him things only a resident of Fürth would know. He looked at me surprised, and then I told him he was being interrogated by a Jew. That admission really knocked his socks off.

After we finished interviewing the prisoners, we sent them to POW camps and soldiered on through France. Eventually we got to Belgium.

Antwerp in Belgium had been destroyed, and there was no way for our tanks to cross certain paths. In order to cross, we had to wait for bridges to be built. This would happen periodically, and leave us stranded in one part of the city or another. During one such stoppage, I walked into a nearby house and saw dozens of Jewish people who had been hiding. They were all either from Belgium, or people from Poland who migrated to Belgium. I felt terrible for them. Did they know where their families were? Did they know what happened to their mothers and fathers, their sons and daughters? True horror.

There were about 10 Jewish soldiers in my regiment, and we had an army chaplain named Major Heshel Klepfish who kept us in the loop. Whenever possible, he would do a synagogue service for us. He had holy scrolls and prayer books.

After the service, we would have a sip of coffee and discuss some of the news from Poland. He told us about the Warsaw ghetto uprising and the destruction of those areas by SS units in the spring of '43. The Warsaw uprising was the first atrocity of the Holocaust that was publicized in German papers, but we got the in-depth story.

At the same time through various channels I was trying to find out the fate of my family. Was my father still in France? Had my mother gone there? Or were they able to cross to England? These were thoughts that plagued me as we trudged along through Europe.

No matter my worries, I had to stay focused. That was the exact advice of my tank commander in August of 1944, right before the invasion of a German SS stronghold. We were tasked with taking out SS Panzer Grenadiers, and LSSAH's tanks. We reached a wooded area and began observation. The tanks fired on several farmhouses, which we thought concealed the Germans, but there was no trace of them.

The Germans called their tanks by feline names, "tiger" and "panther." As radio operator, I often spoke of these tanks as "cats" when communicating with my regiment. In this instance, I told my COS that, "the pussycat ran away or doesn't want to come out and play."

My COS had a knack for sarcasm, and replied "Willush, why don't you send the pussycat a mouse?" It was a much needed source of humor for the guys. A couple of days later, they gave me a cat who was sitting in a Waffen-SS steel helmet. For weeks afterward, I received good natured ribbing about the incident.

Another funny moment came back in Belgium, where we thought Germans had infiltrated our stronghold. There was a distinctive clicking sound coming from inside a restaurant. We had our guns at the ready, approaching this restaurant. As we flashed through the shot-out window, it turned out the clicking came from a cat who was playing with cue balls on a pool table! We felt pretty foolish.

The regiment traveled on through Holland, and then hit Germany. In Germany, we were sent to Wilhelmshaven naval port, which was surrendered to my commanding officer by the town's mayor.
While in Germany, I got in touch with my uncle Benjamin. He had emigrated to Palestine in 1935. In my heart, I felt like I would never see my family again. He was the saving grace that gave me a glimmer of hope about them.

In my quiet moments, I pondered what this entire war experience was even about. I had no idea how my old Christian playmates were capable of killing so many innocent people. At six and seven, we played at each other's houses, and were fed by each other's parents. Throughout my time as a child in Germany, everyone knew I was a Jew. It was never a problem. Not with my friends, or the firefighters who let me help clean their fire engines. All of a sudden though, war had turned them into monsters.

It was heartbreaking to think about, but I couldn't let it break me. Our naval base soon became out of bounds once all the navy ships, submarines and U-boats had begun to dock there.

At that point, we headed south to Oldenburg, Germany. My regiment was given the task of policing the occupied area. A lot of SS soldiers and high-ranking German officers were hiding among the prisoners in the extermination camps, hoping to escape apprehension by the Allied Forces. Myself and two other German-speaking soldiers were tasked with finding these officers. Into the camps we went, dressed as prisoners. We made friends, stayed observant, and sniffed out the Germans. They were placed under arrest, and from there I'm not sure what had happened to them.

Other than that, there wasn't much going on in that period. There would be the occasional gunfight, but nothing resembling the carnage of the early days. After two years in Germany, we finally got the call: the war was over!

At that time I came down with a really bad cold. I was just laying at this featherbed, you know, how they have in Germany and I remember the hausfrau at the farm giving me hot tea and nursing me back to shape when everyone else was celebrating.

Once I got back on my feet, I stuck around in Germany until we were called back to England. There, my regiment formed the Polish resettlement core. We were unarmed, and we basically did patrolling and surveying of England in its transitional period.

During this time, many of the Polish boys didn't want to go back to Poland because of the Communist regime. Some boys went back and got arrested, but I stayed in England. To their credit, the English did try hard to assimilate us Polish soldiers into the English society, but the results weren't always successful.

After a couple of months, a notice came that the Canadian government was willing to take in a couple hundred Polish vets. They would pay the expenses for us to travel over on one condition: we had to work on a farm for one year.

I was all by myself, my sister was in Belfast, and London was still stricken by destruction. Why not go to Canada? I went there, and landed at the Military College in Saint-Jean, Quebec. There we were officially demobilized.

We stayed in Saint-Jean for a few days, and then there was an event where we met the farmers we were going to be working for. They had all kinds of drinks, pastries, and sandwiches, and we got to know all the farmers. Once you sort of got friendly with the right one, you could sign papers and work for them at a certain pay rate.

I ended up working for one year on a farm in Quebec. After my contract was fulfilled, I came to Montreal, and I got very lucky and found a good job in an experimental testing laboratory. It was a summer job, but by September of that year it turned into a regular job. I worked there for a while, and even met my wife there. She worked as a bookkeeper.

Later on, I worked selling insurance, but my wife didn't like me being gone for long periods of time, so I had to do something else. Eventually, I found a job at Simpson's Department store here in Montreal, where I worked for 30 years before retiring as a manager in 1980. I made a glorious life with my wife, but she passed away seven years ago. It was a tragedy for me; she was my friend and life partner. I couldn't imagine life without her. So as not to let my sorrow consume me, I got involved in all types of things and was trying to stay busy.

After the war I tried to find my parents, but failed to do so. Years later, my interest in what happened to them led me on an expedition to find the truth. After extensive research, I was able to find out that my parents and three siblings were murdered in the Belzec concentration camp. I even found where their mass grave was. I've visited there twice.

About 20 years ago, I was able to speak with the great Jan Karski. We got him to speak at the McGill University in Montreal, and we had a great time. I spoke with him about the war, and thanked him for the job he did as a resistance fighter. My first inkling about Belzec that helped me to find out the fate of my parents actually came from him. So just like he was helping us with the information during the war, he helped me personally to find out what happened to my parents.

There are only about 10 men still alive from my regiment. I try to communicate as much as I can with them. I'm also busy with the Montreal Holocaust Center. I found a girlfriend, and we travel often. On another exciting note, I've written a novel, which will be published in May or June. Look out for it!

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