Henry Slucki was born in Paris, France on July 12, 1934. While his parents came from religious homes in Warsaw, Poland, they made new lives for themselves in France where they were active in secular Yiddish activities. After the Nazis came to power in Germany and war seemed imminent, Henry and his family lived in constant fear. Frequent air raids, which required everyone to find shelter and wear gas masks, left everyone in a state of terror. Henry watched the city prepare for war as sandbags were piled around the city, windows were covered with tape to prevent shattered glass from causing injury, and food was rationed and sparse. Henry and his fellow Parisians stood on sidewalks as the German army marched into Paris and by the next day swastikas were all around the city.
After the occupation, Henry and his parents resettled in Montauban, southern France, where Henry had a relatively normal life after what he experienced in Paris. He was able to attend school, learn to play the violin, and was even given a bicycle for his sixth birthday. However, rumors were always circulating and eventually rumors became true as Jews started to be rounded up and deported. Early in the morning on August 26, 1942 Henry and his parents woke to loud knocking on the front door. Henry was told by his parents to keep very still and silent as they pretended no one was home. After about an hour and a half the knocking stopped. As this was the beginning of round-ups in France and orders remained unclear, forced entry did not take place. Henry’s parents knew that the situation would only get worse and they started to plan their escape.
The German army marched into Montauban on November 11, 1942 and on November 26th Henry and his parents crossed the Pyrenees on foot over the course of five days and nights. The crossing was illegal and they were helped by three Spanish Republicans in exile as well as mountain villagers. The escape to Spain, rather than Switzerland, was intentional as Henry’s parents wanted access to the Atlantic Ocean, as part of their plan to get to Mexico City where relatives were already located. Once in Barcelona Henry and his parents were helped by the family of one of their guides as well as by the American Join Distribution Committee.
Eventually, Henry was sent to the United States as part of the 1,000 visas Eleanor Roosevelt fought for in her attempt to save European Jews. Henry’s parents were hesitant at first to send him away alone, but in the end decided it must be done. Henry crossed the Atlantic Ocean on the Portuguese ship, the Serpa Pinto. He lived in Manhattan with his maternal great-uncle and his wife. Henry was reunited with his parents when they arrived in New York City on April 20, 1946 and the family moved to Los Angeles in 1949.
Surviving the Holocaust: Stories of Life
An ongoing project of KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles
and Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust in Pan Pacific Park