Henry Mikols: Holocaust Survivor

MAY 2004
- Was Scheduled For Cremation - When City of Lawrence retiree Henry Mikols was a teenager, he wasn't
playing sports or studying in school - he was fighting to stay alive in
Nazi concentration camps.

Mikols'
formal education ended in 1940, when, as a 14 year old boy he was
driven from his hometown to a Polish ghetto by the invading Germans.
His family managed to escape but, he was picked up on the street and
transported to a German farm to work.

After
finding a radio, which he secretly played at night, he stumbled across
an underground station, which was broadcast in Polish. When it was
discovered that he was passing war news to other prisoners, he was
severely beaten and sent to Buchenwald where he was scheduled for
cremation.

While awaiting execution,
60 young men, including Mikols, were selected for a different fate.
They were taken to German science labs, where they were infected with
typhoid in order to test a typhoid serum, which had been previously
tested only on animals. Henry was one of only six who survived.

"I
felt death coming as the sickness consumed me," he said. "The last
thing I remember before I lost consciousness was a doctor giving me a
shot in the stomach. Miraculously, I survived... I can't explain why
the others died and I didn't."

His
reward for being involved in the experiment was a march to
Bergen-Belsen, another concentration camp, where he witnessed and
suffered the atrocities depicted in today's history books.

"When
I witnessed executions, I prayed to God, 'Don't let the Nazis do
that,'" he said. "When I was tortured, that only reminded me that I was
still alive.

"In 1945 British troops invaded the camp, and we were freed. I weighed 86 pounds at the time."

With
his beloved homeland of Poland taken over by communists, Mikols decided
not to return. He found work in England as a court interpreter while
"dreaming of coming to the United States."

American Dream Realized

His
dream became a reality, thanks to a Catholic welfare organization that
sponsored war refugees who wanted to come to America. He arrived in New
York in 1952 with five British pounds in his pocket.

Henry
had several jobs before he went to work for the Public Property
Department in the City of Lawrence, from where he eventually retired
and moved to his current home in Dummer, New Hampshire.

Looking back, Henry Mikols' life since coming to America is actually a story in itself.

Although
he never saw his father again, he was reunited with his mother Joan and
his sister Mirka, whom he had never met, when he went to Poland for a
visit in 1965.

In 1968 he was able
to bring his mother to America. "She was able to work long enough to
collect a small Social Security check before moving back to Poland
where she later died," he said.

It
was during his 1968 visit that a friend returned Henry's concentration
camp jacket that he had been holding for him since 1945. Henry then
brought the jacket back to America and later donated it to the
Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

The
number stitched on the jacket was 2636, Henry's number. "The number was
given to me in Buchenwald. It was a low number and must have been first
assigned to one of the thousands that died prior to my arriving," he
said.

In 1970 he married Alma, a Guatemalan immigrant. A few years later, his daughter Angelica was born.

Alma
was diagnosed with Lupus in 1989. In 1994 she went into renal failure,
and she needed a transplant. Despite his age, the doctors at Brigham
and Women's Hospital determined that Henry was a healthy donor and went
ahead and performed a successful transplant using one of Henry's
kidneys.

Over the past 40 years,
Mikols has dedicated himself to telling the story of the Holocaust so
that the public will be aware, firsthand, of what actually took place
and that it will never happen again.

A
remarkable speaker, his venues have included numerous colleges. In
fact, he received the first honorary undergraduate degree in the
159-year history of Colby-Sawyer College in 1997. It was the same year
that daughter Angelica received her degree from Colby-Sawyer.

The
degree was awarded in recognition of the academic role he played at
Colby-Sawyer and in acknowledgement of the circumstances, which robbed
him and so many others of the possibility of a higher education.

Mikols,
a Catholic, hopes his lectures will help clear up misconceptions about
the war. "The biggest myth is that all prisoners were Jews and all
soldiers and guards were German. While it's true that the horrible mass
murder and extermination of Jews was the intent of the Nazis, the camps
contained many Russians, Poles, Czechs and even German sympathizers who
were tortured and killed," he said.

Likewise, many of the guards were not Germans, but Croatians and Turks who volunteered for the German army, according to Mikols.

Through
a lawyer, Mikols has won some money from the German Government. He
received $10,000 in 1970 and a check of $65 each month. Recently he was
awarded $5,500 for "four years of slavery," he said. "The Germans did
keep good records."

'Where veterans are present, I try to shake hands and thank each and every one of them.'

Henry Mikols

Henry
still has nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder. "I've accepted
the fact that this will always be with me. Speaking before groups does
help me to cope. People have been wonderful," he said.

Mikols
feels that America should be thankful for its many veterans. "Every
time I'm invited to speak where veterans are present, I try to shake
hands and thank each and every one of them. Please tell them how
grateful I am."

Consider it done, Henry.

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