Wilhelm Bachner, his wife and his parents led a happy life in Warsaw, when Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. The family's feelings of security collapsed, when the family was herded into the Warsaw Ghetto and the brutality of the Nazis accelerated with murder, violence and terror.
The Warsaw Ghetto
Speaking fluent German and possessing an engineering degree from a German university, Bachner used his distinctively non-Jewish appearance, camouflaged his Jewish identity and managed to get a job with a German engineering company.
Wilhelm Bachner was heading a crew of construction workers, and day one on the job meant working amid an intimidating sea of swastikas, Nazi uniforms and shiny black boots. He had won the confidence of the leading German architect and convinced him that the requisite building materials for their construction project were more affordable within the ghetto, thereby justifying why he should be issued a pass.
Armed with this pass that enabled him to enter and leave the ghetto as an Aryan, he rescued more than 50 Polish Jews, supplying them with false identity papers and work permits. He assigned some to his firm's work crews, others were given office jobs, and still others he placed in hiding.
Bachner repeatedly bluffed and outwitted the Nazis - his wife was passed off as his mistress and his father was recasted as the company-cook.
But it was a dangerous, nerve-wracking game and some SS officers were suspicious. A few of the women of his Jewish staff went without his permission to public social events like the opera, attracting the attention of the officers. On top of everything he had to deal with his own father, an orthodox Jew who insisted on addressing him loudly in Hebrew while clutching a small stained prayer book, praying outdoors.
Once Wilhelm Bachner recognized his favorite uncle Fabish at a slave labor site. Accosting a Nazi officer, an Obersturmfuhrer, Bachner ordered his uncle's immediate release, accompanied by official-looking requisition forms. Denied his request and desperate, he hired a driver and managed to whisk away his uncle right under the noses of the Nazis.
Wilhelm Bachner survived the harrowing encounters with the SS. Once the Nazis barged into his office with drawn rifles accusing him of hiding Jews. He defiantly denied their accusations, even to the point of arrogantly telling his interrogators that they were wasting his time. They left ...
Wilhelm Bachner saved more than 50 Jews during the Holocaust, among them his wife and his father. His mother, brother and sister perished in the Nazi death machine.
In 1951 Bachner and his wife emigrated to California. They both died in 1991.
Another Oscar Schindler in the annals of history ..
Marilyn Silvermann - The Jewish Post of New York
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