Joseph Abraham Bolinsky’s Biography
Joseph served in the US Army as a combat engineer from 1943-1946 in France, Germany, and Czechoslovakia for about a year and a half. His duties were to build or destroy bridges and dig up mine fields. While in the army he heard of the concentration camps but never liberated any of them. In the fall of 1945, he began helping with relief efforts when he was stationed near Ansbach and Struth, at a UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) camp. That provided medical and psychiatric help, food, and re-education for young Jews who were preparing to go to Israel. He was especially drawn to this duty as an American with a Polish Jewish family background.
While working with UNRRA he went to witness one of the Nuremburg trials when Herman Goering was on the stand. Joseph also visited the city of Munich, where he was told to watch for any Jewish persons wandering around, not knowing where to go, and to direct them to the Jewish Agency. Wearing an American uniform he could go anywhere to look for these people; he could also use the Yiddish he had learned at home to communicate with the people he found, despite his not knowing the local language.
Joseph recalls that one night at the UNRRA camp a group of perhaps 50 refugee children arrived and were not admitted into the camp initially because the director did not have registration paperwork they needed to be admitted. Joseph and other soldiers took the key from the director. She was pulled away from the gate screaming as they let the children into the camp. The staff and other helpers of the camp made sure all of them had baths, beds, and food. The General was notified immediately and came to the camp and commended the soldiers for defying the director.
After he left the army Joseph visited Israel a few times where he met his uncle from his mother’s home village in Poland during a reunion for the villagers. He also met a cousin who was a part of the Jewish Brigade while in Israel. Although Joseph did so much good during his time in the army, in his postwar career as a sculpture teacher at Buffalo State College he still felt for not doing more for the people he met.
Joseph Bolinsky’s video interview with HRC Founder Toby Ticktin-Back
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