In January 1942, when Stan Minkinow was ten years old, he and his parents were forced to become residents of the Lodz Ghetto in Poland.
Approximately 160,000 Jews, more than a third of the city’s population, were forced into the ghetto, the largest in the Polish-occupied territory. Barbed-wire fencing isolated the ghetto from the rest of the city. Using Jewish residents for forced labor, the Lodz Ghetto soon became a major Nazi production center. Living conditions were horrendous. Lack of running water and sewer systems, along with overcrowding, hard labor, and starvation, reduced the ghetto by more than 20 percent.
“Even before we were sent to the ghetto, I began to adapt,” he shares. “Jewish children weren’t allowed to attend school, so boredom and curiosity tempted me out onto the streets.” Those streets became his classroom where he witnessed the unusual becoming the ordinary. From carts carrying corpses to finely dressed people pocketing rotten potatoes, he watched as the daily events of his life changed.
“I stood on the street corner near my grandparent’s apartment and watched as Jews filed through the gate,” he recalls. “I saw young people, old people, some pushing baby carriages, some arriving on foot or by horse-drawn taxis, other getting out of fancy cars.”
Inside the Lodz Ghetto, the living quarters for his family consisted of one room with a stove, one bed for his parents, and one couch where young Stan slept. Food was scarce; their main staple was yellow beets; even their bread was made from beets. The family considered it a feast when they were able to acquire horse meat.
“At night I often thought, ‘I hope I wake up as a German tomorrow so that I will have enough to eat.’ “
Stan and his parents bribed their way from the Lodz Ghetto to the Warsaw Ghetto. Less than a year later, his family made a daring escape. His father distracted a German policeman while his mother bribed a Polish officer.
“If the Polish officer had been doing his job, he would have shot us,” he says.
What started in the ghetto with a young boy’s curiosity and thirst for adventure played out in Stan’s life. In 1951, he saw a U.S. Army recruiting film in Munich. He enlisted and became a member of the elite, newly-created Special Forces, later becoming an American Cold Warrior and a Green Beret. He completed Officer Candidate School and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Infantry. A tour of duty in Korea was followed by two tours in Vietnam. Among his numerous medals are the Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, and the Air Medal. He retired as a Major in 1979.
“I am what you would call an adventurer,” he says with a smile.