This is Carol Shkolnik, a volunteer for the Columbus Jewish Historical
Society Oral History Project and I’m here to interview Harry Topolosky. This
is January 20, 1997, and we’re meeting in Harry’s dining room at 64 Edgevale.
I need to state that this is a retake of Part I of a two-part interview that was
originally done in October of ’96, and it ended up that the sound quality was
not good enough for posterity so we’re repeating this interview. There is a
second tape with interviews that is being turned in at the same time as this
one. Okay Harry, I’ve had a lot of time to think about this. Let’s start
briefly, what is the farthest back that you know about your parents, both sides?
Topolosky: Well my grandparents, Jacob and Harriet Topolosky, they landed in
the United States approximately from Poland, it was in 1894. They didn’t come
through Ellis Island. They came through Bangor, Maine. At that time, my father
and my grand- father came by themselves. It is a Homestead Act and they got
jobs. The first job they had was, making a living, they were sent to Alliance,
New Jersey, working for President Benjamin Harrison on his sweet potato farm
which was in Alliance, New Jersey. They were making a living and then they moved
to Philadelphia where cousins sent for them and they later came to Circleville.
Afterwards, after they got situated there, they sent for my grandmother and my
mother and there was three brothers that came at that time.
Interviewer: Okay. Before we go further, for the record, could you tell me
your grandfather and your grandmother’s name?
Topolosky: My grandfather was Jacob and my grandmother was Harriet, Jacob and
Interviewer: Okay. And your father’s name?
Topolosky: My father was Isaac Topolosky and my mother is Roseann Topolosky.
Interviewer: And her maiden name, you say?
Topolosky: Her maiden name was Clebone.
Topolosky: My father comes from sort of a large family. There was seven-eight
brothers and one girl.
Interviewer: That’s a big family.
Topolosky: My father was Isaac Topolosky. He married my mother and in our
family we had two daughters first, two girls, Frances who is Mrs. Benis at this
time. She was born in 1904, November. My sister Mary, she was born on July 4,
1906. And my sister Inez was born in 1909 in January. That was the three girls.
Interviewer: Now before you get to the brothers, when you say Inez, was that
I-N- . . . .
Topolosky: I-N-E-Z. Inez.
Topolosky: And then we had, there was five brothers, Alan A. Topy whose wife
was Roz. Then Maurice K. Topson who was born in 1914. I was born in 1920. And my
brother Myron Topson, his wife is Blanca. Mike was born in May, 1917. Then
myself, and my wife’s named Mildred and was born in 1920. And then there was
Joe, who goes by now as J. Topson, December 27, 1922. His wife is named
Interviewer: Who was the first person to change Topolosky to Topson?
Topolosky: My brother Maurice. He was killed in World War II, December 13,
1943. He was buried in Cambridge Cemetery in Cambridge, England. At the time we
were on our way to bring the body back and the rabbis thought it was the best
thing to do was to let it remain in the Army cemetery. We were there . . . .
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Topolosky: And my other brothers decided to take, well Topson’s derivative
is “the son of Topolosky” actually.
Interviewer: Yeah. Is there any other story about why they tried to change
their name and for example, you didn’t?
Topolosky: Well no. Well my brother was an attorney, a prominent attorney
here in Colum- bus, and he started shortening it a little bit. He thought it
looked a little better. And Mike went along with him. My brother Al changed his
name to Topy which a lot of them did in the family, from Topolosky to Topy. But
I, if it was good enough for my father, it was good enough for me.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Topolosky: That’s the way I look at it.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Topolosky: Myself, I have one son, Dr. Maury J. Topolosky and his wife is
Janis and he has two daughters, Sara Elizabeth Topolosky and Jennifer Roseanne
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Topolosky: My daughter Phyllis, Phyllis Solove, and her husband is Jeff and
they have three children, Jason Brad Solove, Rachel Corinne Solove and the
little one Jonathan Chad Solove. And he’s the last, to be Bar Mitzvahed
in a couple years.
Interviewer: I see.
Topolosky: Eleven years old now.
Interviewer: Oh that’s exciting.
Topolosky: We’re looking forward to it.
Interviewer: Oh that’s wondrful. Tell me what you remember about your
Topolosky: Well we had a, I was born in Circleville and we moved here
permanently in 1930.
Interviewer: When you say “here,” do you mean Columbus?
Topolosky: Columbus. Mother moved before then because my sisters were going
to college here and when they graduated from college, they more or less got jobs
here in Columbus so my parents moved here with the rest of us.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Now were all of your brothers and sisters born in
Circleville or were any of them born here?
Topolosky: No Frances was born, I would say most of them, yeah, they all were
born in Circleville. Yeah all of them were born in Circleville. Yeah.
Interviewer: Okay. And what kind of memories could you share about your
family life and maybe even the Jewish community in Circleville?
Topolosky: The Jewish community in Circleville was a very nice community. We
had our own synagogue. On the first floor was the City of Circleville’s City
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Topolosky: Second floor was the library and the third floor was our shul.
Interviewer: I see.
Topolosky: There was approximately 60 families there.
Topolosky: Yeah, at that time. They mostly were, like the Rothmans, they were
in the men’s furnishings business. You had the Friedmans who were in the
ladies’ millinery. You had the Polsters. You had the Schlezingers. Let’s
see, who else? One of our famous ones from Circleville, of course everybody
knows him as Ted Lewis, that’s Polly Callif’s uncle.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Topolosky: And we had a nice life there. We had the Gordons. They were in the
junk business like we were. And quite a few came later on like David Block the
father. They had a shoe business there. And we had a, you remember when they
used to come into town, to Columbus, on the interurban, to buy their meats and
maybe two or three would come in and bring them back for everybody else, with
the lists and all.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Topolosky: And we used to have a shochet come in once a week to kill
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Topolosky: And what we called a melamad, we had a teacher came in
three times a week to study with the kids.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Topolosky: At that time it was Leon Berman, alav hasholom. He was the
Interviewer: I see. So was there no Sunday School, just Bar and Bat
Topolosky: Just Bar Mitzvah preparations in all. And I was Bar
Mitzvahed here in Columbus.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Topolosky: My father was one of the oldest members, I mean you know, he was
part of the shul when the shul started and more or less we would
either have the services in Columbus. For Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur we had
our own services. We had a rabbi come in and, or we always, you know, Saturdays
after shul, we’d sit around and we’d kibbitz and study with
whoever was there at the time. And . . . . was fun. And we got along, I mean,
‘course there was a lot of hardships at that time with the Depression and all.
Everybody got along with everybody else. Never worried about locked doors or
anything like that. Everybody was very friendly and everybody worked together
and did what they could.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Is your voice okay? Do you need some water?
Topolosky: Yeah I’m all right. I’m okay. I’m a little hoarse.
Interviewer: So, now I lost my train of thought. You moved to, you said you
were Bar Mitzvahed here so you went to, where, did you go to high school?
Topolosky: Oh I was in the third grade when we moved here and I went to
Fulton Street School and then when we moved on 18th Street, I went to Livingston
Avenue School and then from there Roosevelt Junior High School. Graduated South
High School and then college.
Interviewer: Uh huh. And when did you graduate from South?
Topolosky: I graduated from South in 1938.
Interviewer: And you went to Ohio State?
Topolosky: Ohio State.
Interviewer: And studied?
Topolosky: Well I was in Arts and Science. I was prepared for Pre-Med
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Topolosky: And something happened and I couldn’t get into med school and
got kind of distraught and I made the best of what I could. I went into Franklin
University and I took Business Management for a couple of years.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Topolosky: But then I went back to Ohio State and then when the war broke
out, I decided to go in.
Interviewer: I see. Tell me about what went into your decision and how that
affected your family.
Topolosky: Well the family didn’t like it, of course, but I had to do what
I had to do. I mean we were left to our own decisions more or less but we still
had to get approval of our parents and at that time it seemed to me it was the
best for me to do and I never regretted it.
Interviewer: I know it made a major impact on your life.
Topolosky: That’s right. I mean it was rough for Jewish boys to get into
med school at all and the ones where I wanted to go to, I couldn’t get in. So
that’s the way I felt. And I went into the Army. I did my part. But God was
with me the whole time. I went through a lot of, I went through a lot. But of
course there was a lot, anyone who went overseas, did combat, they done a lot
and a lot of my friends didn’t come back. They were unlucky and they didn’t
come back. But I felt that I was lucky.
Interviewer: Yes you were.
Topolosky: And I had it in my mind to stay alive no matter what happened and
I’ve been very active in the community doing what I have to do. Now I’ve
been to the type where I’m going to have to learn to say “No” a
Interviewer: I see.
Topolosky: I don’t know how.
Interviewer: I know there are a lot of things about your war experience that
you can talk about and a lot you can’t. Could you talk what the significant
events of your war exper- ience were that you’d like to share with your family
and with the Jewish commu- nity?
Topolosky: Well there was recently an article in November’s issue, in the Bexley
News that I was interviewed for the paper. I have that. If you want to
look through that, I’ll give you that.
Interviewer: Sure I would.
Topolosky: Just hold on a minute.
Interviewer: Okay Harry. You just brought me out, and also for the record, I’m
going to put with this transcript a newspaper clipping from Bexley This Week
that appeared some time in November of ’96.
Topolosky: In honor of this Veterans’ Day.
Interviewer: Okay. But now Harry’s going to say, you know, say what he’d
like for the record about his war experiences.
Topolosky: Well it would be, at first I was in Special Forces coming up
through Africa and all . . . .
Interviewer: Okay, we’re resuming after this little break.
Topolosky: Go through Italy and the main part was that we . . . . the 45th
Division. We, our Division, the 45th Division, was the first to hit Anzio
Beachhead and . . . .
Interviewer: And where is Anzio Beach?
Topolosky: Anzio Beach is in Italy. It’s part of Italy. And we had to hold
it at all costs which we did. And we were sent out to hold it at all costs and
we had about, our com- pany was sent out and there was about, only had one tank,
one 105 Howitzer with us and our job was to hold it at all costs which we done
to the best of our ability and we had about 24 casualties already and about 15
or 20 of us left and at that time we were running out of ammunition. We had
enough for maybe 96 rounds of ammunition and we had three hand grenades apiece.
And I was the noncom in charge and the men said, “What should we do?”
and I, we had two alternatives: either surrender or fix bayonets and charge but
I would not do that command unless we were all in agreement.
Interviewer: You mean either one?
Topolosky: Either one, whatever we agreed to. And they said, “What is my
alternative?” And I said, “There’s only one way for me to go and
that’s fix bayonets and let’s go.” So, “We’re with you.”
And we went and we were wounded and captured at that time and . . . .
Interviewer: What were your injuries? How were you wounded?
Topolosky: I was bayonetted at that time and captured.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Topolosky: But before I passed out I took off my dog tags and I threw them
Interviewer: Uh huh. Because?
Topolosky: I had Jewish “J” written on them. which gave me the
religion, Hebrew “H”. And before I passed out, I took those off and I
threw them and it landed on another dead body and I put on one with no religion.
I had two sets of dog tags with no religion. And we were captured. I woke up and
I was in the hospital and my folks got a telegram that I was missing in action.
And when the Burial Squad went by and found the tag on another soldier, why they
sent them, because the Red Cross hadn’t come into, I was in the hospital and
the Red Cross hadn’t come through or anything been identified. And they sent a
telegram that I was killed in action.
Interviewer: Did you know that was likely to happen, your parents get
Topolosky: No I didn’t know that. Well we knew that, but you never knew.
Some of them didn’t come through for six or eight months. They always send
“missing in action” ’till they can find the body. But, and I was
brought near Rome in a hospital and I, well we escaped twice from that place but
we were recaptured and . . . .
Interviewer: You said what, you were . . . .
Topolosky: Were recaptured.
Interviewer: Now how did you get out?
Topolosky: Well we found a place that wasn’t guarded too carefully, there
was a hole in the fence. And we took off, we knew in the area, or close to the
area or something like that, there was always people working, the Underground
you might say, turning you back over to the Americans. But the one this time was
a double guy and he hid us but one of the boys that were with me was Italian and
he understood Italian and he didn’t like the way things were going and he
says, “I’m going to sneak upstairs and see what’s happening.” And
he snuck up and he heard the guy telling them that he has American soldiers here
that he’s holding. And he come down and he told me what happened and he says,
“You know what I gotta do don’t you?” And I says, “You do
Interviewer: And so he then did?
Topolosky: He did. He killed the guy and we took off.
Interviewer: Now I’m not sure I heard you say what kind of wound did you
have? What was your injury?
Interviewer: Bayonetted where?
Topolosky: In the stomach.
Interviewer: Oh wow! That’s pretty serious.
Topolosky: Yeah. Yes.
Interviewer: Did you have surgery?
Topolosky: Oh yeah, whatever, you know. ‘Till they got me in, we had some,
in these hospi- tals they had Americans that were captured, you know, with other
troops and they were doctors and they either offered to help or whatever they
could do. Because they were actually not allowed to aid the enemy in any way but
when it came to an American soldier, they stepped out of line a little bit and
helped whenever they could.
Interviewer: How long were you in the hospital?
Topolosky: Oh I was about three weeks.
Interviewer: That’s pretty short for a wound like that.
Topolosky: Well you know, but you know, you’re in a field hospital. You’re
not in a regular hospital you see.
Topolosky: And there’s more important people that were wounded with worse
wounds than that.
Topolosky: And we got back, you know, do whatever you could do and went back
into it and then they moved us into Furstenberg, Germany, Stalag three, I think
it was 3-B. No, it was 7-A.
Interviewer: What was that?
Topolosky: That was Stalag 7-A in Furstenberg and that was the first of the
three German POW camps in which we were interned.
Interviewer: Now this was the result of your having been recaptured when you
were . . . .
Topolosky: Yeah we were recaptured and well, as more troops were captured and
all, they moved you up further into Germany, you know.
Interviewer: Uh huh. ‘Cause they knew that they were still going to win the
war. About that time, you know, they didn’t know, they were still the big
shots and they were going to win the war. And we were there. We were lucky to
have a guard that was, he was from World War I, a soldier, and he didn’t
believe in the Nazi business at all. He helped us whatever he, he tried getting
us extra rations for us or he took us for walks, you know, to keep our mind
occupied. And when we got our Red Cross parcels, we would give him cigarettes or
candy for his kids or for himself.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Interviewer: Now about, ’cause I’m curious and maybe someone who will
listen to this will be, were you, was there any retaliation after recaptured
because you had escaped?
Topolosky: Well we got beat up pretty good and say, “Not do it
again.” Within about two weeks again, we tried it again. Went out through
the same place. They never did find the place, and got recaptured again. That’s
when they permanently sent us up north, you may say. And we had, well I don’t
know if it was an American soldier but he was doing a lot of dirty work like
spying on us and . . . .
Topolosky: and telling them what we were doing and everything. Well he
disappeared one time but at the time I was an interpreter and . . . .
Interviewer: How did that come to be?
Topolosky: I spoke German.
Interviewer: And how did that happen?
Topolosky: And I felt, you know, they asked questions and all, you know. At
first I didn’t want to say that I did because they, you know, would listen to
what they were doing more and they didn’t think anybody understood them, you
know. This hap- pened quite a few, there was quite a few people who were talked,
who spoke in German and everything. But you know, we’d sit and listen and we
found out certain things which we tried to get out of the camp through, to get
to head- quarters and stuff, whatever we could. And I, I think I showed this to
you. I’m not sure.
Interviewer: Uh huh. This is . . . .
Topolosky: This is what I stole out of the files.
Interviewer: About yourself?
Interviewer: And then how did you keep it from being taken from you?
Topolosky: I folded it up and I used it as in my shoe. I never took my shoes
Interviewer: And so this is your document to identify you as a prisoner.
Topolosky: And then later on they found out. This guy squealed. But before he
could get to the Camp Commandant, I, being in the office, stole this.
Interviewer: You took great risks to steal that, didn’t you?
Topolosky: Yes, right. Well if they ever found out I wouldn’t know what
happened ’cause we did have some guys that disappeared and we didn’t know
what happened to them. I don’t know to this day what happened to them.
Interviewer: What was your motivation for wanting to get that document?
Topolosky: I had a tip-off that this guy was turning in information and when
I was left in the office one day by myself, I went through the files and I tried
to destroy whatever I could. But it was never let on or anything that they knew
what I was doing you see because they had no proof. I was only in there
whenever, you know, I could get in there to do any type of work ’cause I
refused to do any work other than serving . . . . to the Geneva Convention . . .
. the American Army. You’re not allowed to work for the enemy in any way. But
I felt, acted as an interpreter, I could.
Interviewer: You mean help your . . . .
Topolosky: I’d help our guys but I mean I wasn’t, there was officers and
all that, which I confronted with the deal and they says, “Go ahead and we’ll
back you up if any- thing ever comes up, repercussions and everything.”
Well nothing ever did come up so it was okay. And when I come home, I weighed 68
Interviewer: How did that happen? In the POW camp?
Topolosky: Yeah, you had six men on a loaf of bread. We more or less, they
didn’t feed us. They’d give us one meal a day which was more or less
rutabaga soup or cabbage soup and that’s all you ever got.
Interviewer: What was it like to be, let’s put it this way, maybe I’m
assuming but I would imagine you were hungry all the time?
Topolosky: We never thought of food.
Interviewer: You never did?
Topolosky: Because you tried to ration yourself out with what you got. Some
of the stuff you didn’t like from the Red Cross, you could trade it off for
something else. Trade it with somebody else that didn’t like something, so you
traded it off. And some- times you talked about food, sometimes you didn’t. I
mean, you know, you just, you know you had to live the best way you could.
Interviewer: Could you feel yourself losing strength?
Topolosky: No because we tried to exercise and everything else.
Interviewer: I see. That’s amazing. That’s amazing.
Topolosky: And it’s mind over matter actually.
Interviewer: Can you talk about, well first of all, when were you actually
sent overseas? What year?
Topolosky: I was sent overseas in 19–, let’s see, when was it? 19–, I’ll
tell you . . . . 1942.
Interviewer: 1942? And you went first to where?
Topolosky: We were in Special, well after I’d done my training you know, we
were Special Services, was sent to Africa.
Interviewer: Okay. Okay. I understand there was a little bit of a, if I
recall, there is kind of a story about your liberation. But there may be more
you want to say before we get to that.
Topolosky: No, I think that’s in the second . . . .
Interviewer: I’m not sure. I thought we did all your wartime experience on
the fitst, I thought.
Topolosky: I got to run this off.
Interviewer: I didn’t think you could even understand it.
Topolosky: Well some of it I can understand.
Topolosky: I don’t know what happened. And some of it’s real garbled up.
I don’t know.
Interviewer: Yeah, that’s why we’re . . . .
Topolosky: I’m trying to remember what I’m saying on this. I don t know,
Interviewer: I’m pretty sure that we, that your complete war experiences
were on the first tape and you might have gone to a few things you forgot on the
second one because I think we kind of like stopped when we realized we weren’t
going to get to your community experience.
Topolosky: . . . . I don’t know.
Topolosky: I can put this in. I got a . . . .
Interviewer: Well it might be just more expedient, if it’s okay with you,
just to, you know, if there’s part of it you want to keep or if there are
things you can hear, and you know, feel free to . . . . copies of these.
Interviewer: But I’m pretty sure that the bulk of it was on the first tape.
Interviewer: I want to make sure we don’t miss anything here.
Topolosky: Okay. What else you want to know?
Interviewer: Well what were some of the other milestones, you know, of your
being a prisoner. For example, I thought you had told me a little bit about the
story of the liberation.
Topolosky: Oh yeah. We were liberated by, well we were sent to this last camp
was Stalag 3-B. And this is where we had this one guard who was with us all this
time and this was I think about the end of February. And they fell us out, which
they give a count every morning at a fall-out-day account and the Commandant
came down and he says, “Today or tomorrow we’re giving you baths to clean
you up.” And I says, “Fine”. But meanwhile that afternoon, the
guard come over and he says, “Don’t take the baths.” So I says,
“Why?” He says, “I can’t talk. Don’t take the baths.” So
the next morning, they called us out again. We were counted and the colonel
says: “After all these months that you’ve been prisoners . . . .” We’d
never had a bath in 16 months. We had one fountain for the whole area there.
There were about 1500 of us which was Americans, New Zealanders, Australian,
English, Indians from the English Army and the Allied Armies. And the next
morning we fall out and he says, “We have a surprise. We’re going to give
you baths. Haven’t had baths for a long time. We’re going to give you a
bath. So I says, told him plain, I says, “This time we feel that we don’t
need a bath. We haven’t had a bath for 16 months and we’ve gotten used to
it. Besides, this is cold weather now, into February.” It was about 15
above zero where we were, and “we don’t want to take a bath.” He
says, “Oh yes you will.” And I says, “No”. So he says,
“I’ll give you until tomorrow morning to tell these men that you’re
going to be given a bath.” And I said, “Or what?” I said,
“We’re not taking baths.” So they fell out the next morning and he
says to me to give them the order to take and I says, “No we’re not
taking baths.” He pulls out his pistol and shoots it around my feet. He
says, “You’re lucky this time. Give the order and I’ll want you to take
baths.” I says, “No, we’re not.” That was, like I said, 15
degrees and he calls up to the soldiers and stripped me to the waist. And he
takes a cat-o-nine- tails with lead weights on it and he beats me across the
back about three times and he had me tied up, dismissed everybody, and he left
me out there and every 15 minutes for three hours he’d come out and they’d
rub salt on my back. And I was out there for three hours like that. Then they
cut me down and put me back in the barracks.
Interviewer: What were you thinking all that time you were out there?
Topolosky: . . . . thinking I’d done the right thing. Not am I doing the
right thing. If I can save 1499 lives, my life and what I’ve been through and
everything, then God was with me. He would try His best I think . . . . more I
think of it now and I felt that I would pull out of it pretty good even though I
was scarred up.
Interviewer: Why do you think you got even sent back to the barracks instead
of . . . .
Topolosky: Well that’s what I think. ‘Cause he give me one more chance to
change my mind to give these guys. Well that night we started getting a lot of
shells around, firing around and everything. And in the morning, same thing. He
come up and he says, “We’re giving you baths.” And I said, “No
you’re not.” And he done the same thing that day and that night all of a
sudden, around the camp we hear a lot of shell firing and everything else. When
we were fixed up into groups, in case anything should happen and the Allies take
over, before they get here if we can arm ourselves, we can. You take this
section, we take this section, you take, in other words we all headed . . . .
But I said, “There’s one place I go. None of you go. This was to the Camp
Commandant’s office. Well that night, lo and behold, they came through. It was
the Russian Women’s Tank Corps that liberated us.
Interviewer: Russian Women’s Tank Corps?
Topolosky: And they armed us. And we headed for our, where we had to go. I
was headed for the Camp Commandant’s office and when I burst into the door, he
had his gun out already and he was fixing to fire. I shot from the hip right
between the eyes and on his desk there were the papers: “When they take the
showers, don’t turn on the water. Turn on gas.” So I picked up all these
papers and I took them with me and I turned them over to the War Crimes
Commission. And they done the job of looking up the guards and everything else.
But this one guard, he says, “Please take me with you wherever you
go.” And we did.
Interviewer: Now which guard was this?
Topolosky: The one that . . . . and all. He was with us most of the time.
Interviewer: Uh huh. Amazing.
Topolosky: And we took him with us and we told the War Crimes Commission,
“You help him in every way. He is not a prisoner. Take care of his family.
He done a lot for us. He tipped us off what was going on and everything. And we
corresponded after the war for a while but then he passed away about two years
after the war was over.
Interviewer: He was German?
Topolosky: He was German but he had a son that was captured in Africa. The
son was sent to the United States as a Prisoner of War. In Texas they had a
Prisoner of War Camp. Well some of these guys didn’t want to go back home and
they applied for, you know, they tried to get immunity. Some of them did and
some of them didn’t. And he wanted to stay but he wanted to see his parents.
And from what I under- stand, he did eventually come back but I never got in
contact . . . . He went back to Texas somewhere ’cause he liked the climate
and everything. I never did hear from him, only through his father. And his
parents . . . . didn’t hear from him.
Interviewer: Now what was the name of the camp where you were, Prisoner of
War Camp in Germany?
Topolosky: This was near Buchenwald.
Interviewer: Near Buchenwald? So it fed into Buchenwald probably.
Topolosky: Yeah while we were, the Allied were way off, I mean, but you
smelled the bodies burning and everything else.
Interviewer: Had you gotten wind of concentration camps before you were up
Topolosky: No. Well we knew about prisoners being captured and everything,
Interviewer: Did you know what they were doing?
Topolosky: But we didn’t know. But yeah we got, we got, we knew what was
going on ’cause we got tips of what was going on, you know, about being moved
and this and that. In fact when we were in Italy, a lot of the Italians were not
with the group and there was a lot of resistance with all this and the
Underground work and all. But it’s just one of those things. It wasn’t
enough to do the right job. And the Italians didn’t trust the Germans and the
Germans didn’t trust the Italians. And it was just, well it was just one of
those things. And it’s just something you don’t forget. Some, you try not to
forget. You see what’s going on now, you don’t know what’s going on
Interviewer: I would imagine there might be some things you wanted to forget.
Topolosky: Oh yes there is some things but you can’t. It comes back to you.
It comes back to you.
Interviewer: So you got back to, when did you get backs to the States and
then what happened?
Topolosky: We got back June 17, 1945, it was.
Interviewer: So you were gone three years?
Topolosky: Yeah. And they couldn’t find any hospitals available for the
time and they sent us home. And we, so far, they gave us 30 days to go home and
we, they would notify you when you had to leave. So when I come back home to the
Union Station, I walked right by my parents.
Interviewer: They didn’t recognize you?
Topolosky: They didn’t recognize me. I weighed 68 pounds.
Interviewer: Tell me about, how long did they, was it after they heard you
were missing in action that they heard you were alive?
Topolosky: Well after that, it had been about a period of about six months,
Interviewer: Wow! And did you say that during that time they, any time
notified them that you had died or not?
Topolosky: Well they got the telegram that I was killed in action but then
that was a mistake. That was, they sent a telegram that I was alive and in a
Interviewer: And how long after was that, do you know?
Topolosky: Well that was more or less after I got into, well they were
allowed two letters a month to send and this was sent, this was one of the few
of them I saved. This was from Mildred at the time.
Interviewer: I was going to ask you if you and Mildred wrote.
Topolosky: Well yes. That’s how we met more or less, by through writing.
Interviewer: I thought you had met her before.
Topolosky: Well we wrote while I was, you know, home but I mean in the camp
but . . . . Oh I can’t get that out of there.
Interviewer: Would you like me to try or do you think it’s stuck?
Topolosky: No I think it’s stuck in there.
Interviewer: Okay. I’m wondering Harry if maybe the next time you go over
to the Historical Society, you might want them to xerox those things.
Topolosky: They have these already.
Interviewer: Do they? Okay.
Topolosky: I turned this over when we . . . .
Topolosky: well you know I was in the, I fixed the, when they had the
veterans that time.
Interviewer: Uh huh. The display?
Topolosky: We did that . . . . display.
Interviewer: . . . . say something about this for the tape. Harry’s talking
about a couple of his memorabilia that he . . . .
Topolosky: Eventually you’ll get them.
Interviewer: The Historical Society he says already had some of this. One of
those is the docu- ment he took out of the files when he was in the prison camp
in Germany. And this other one is a post card he got, is that from Mildred?
Topolosky: That’s a letter.
Interviewer: A letter from Mildred and his picture when he was in the Army.
Looks pretty good Harry. Looked pretty good.
Topolosky: That’s when I first went in and I was a young kid.
Interviewer: Well you were young, you did look young. So how did you bring
yourself back to health? Was it just by resting and good eating?
Topolosky: Well resting and good eating and doing things which I hadn’t
done for a while. But after we got, when I first come home, I couldn’t sleep
in a bed. I had to sleep on the ground ’cause that’s all we had was straw to
lay on the ground. And ’till I got used to it why I’d go to bed but I’d
wake up in the morning and I’d be sleeping on the floor.
Interviewer: And at what point Harry did you find out that your brother had
Topolosky: Yes I knew that he was, had been killed, yeah.
Interviewer: When did you, how did you find that out and how long after? You
were already over there obviously.
Topolosky: Well I got it through, you know, correspondence with the family .
. . .
Interviewer: Could you have gone home then after they knew your brother was
Interviewer: Did they do anything like that?
Topolosky: No, no. Not from overseas they didn’t.
Interviewer: Uh huh.
Topolosky: Just in the States they did something like that. But we, my sister
was over there when we went to England. We were there when we went to England.
We went to Cambridge. It’s a beautiful cemetery. I have pictures and all which
I turned over. I have them but I turned, they had a display of it up on the,
when we had it here at the Center, when they had a display of all that and all
this. You got up there and you’d tell who you are and who you want to see and
they pull out a great big book, take you right to the line where it is. You walk
out of this . . . . The man in charge takes you out. He has a bucket of sand. It’s
a special silicon sand. And they do, they take this sand and rub it all over the
stone and the lettering comes right out and you can see the lettering just like
it was chiseled in there right now. Just like that and then he took pictures of
it if you wanted it and . . . .
Interviewer: And did you do that?
Topolosky: Yeah I got pictures of it. We’re standing next to it and you can
see the Mogen David and you can see the crosses and the exact . .
. . in row so and so and plot so and so and you just walk right up there, right
to it and the hillside is very beautiful. When we were there, which was in the
Spring, it was, and the flowers were just coming up and they have a building
there that’s a combination chapel for Chris- tians and a Jewish chapel and the
book is laid out there and exactly where the name is chiseled in the stone
there, all those who lost their lives. And then we went to, over in England, we
went to Westminster Abbey and they have a place there in Westminster Abbey. It’s
like a chapel. And there is the book, another book of all the veterans, American
veterans, who had lost their lives in World War II up to that time, ’till
after World War II. And it’s a thick book, it’s really a thick book. There’s
quite a few Jewish boys who have lost their lives here from Colum- bus. The
first one I think is Sanford Lakin. And I think it was Nate Rinkov and the
Soomsky boy and . . . .
Interviewer: Is that Marion’s brother maybe?
Topolosky: Yeah. And, oh I forget, you know. I got a list of all those
because we decorate the graves every Memorial Day, what we have here and we call
the whole list of names out at memorial services which we have Memorial Day. And
the Jewish War Veterans, they take care of the cemeteries of the deceased and
there is a plaque on each one designating that he served in World War II at the
time and we also now put them on any veteran that passes away at this time, on
their graves. And we put a flag out every Memorial Day at all the cemeteries
that, just added Greenlawn over here, Forest Lawn, wherever it is, Agudas Achim,
Beth Jacob, Tifereth Israel, Ahavas Sholom. And there is a few cemeteries that
have Jewish boys in them like Glen Rest and all.
Interviewer: Glen Rest, where’s that?
Topolosky: That’s over in Reynoldsburg there.
Topolosky: They, usually the American Legion, we have a meeting about a month
ahead of time and everybody has lists and, put new, you know, if they don’t
have the name, we have the names and they take care of them.
Interviewer: Okay. Did you want to say a little bit about how you and Mildred
got together? That was probably the most next significant thing.
Topolosky: Well my brother-in-law Cy Benis and his . . . . Cantonia and he .
. . .
Interviewer: Meaning from Canton, Ohio?
Topolosky: From Canton, Ohio, and they were very good friends with Mildred’s
mother and my nephew Stuart Benis, and Alice says, “We got a nice looking
girl for you. We want you to start writing to her. So we started to write and
Interviewer: This was before you went overseas?
Topolosky: Yeah and when I told her, I said, I was going overseas and I don’t
know, be lucky to come back or not and should wait. If you feel you want to
wait, okay. If not you should . . . . Well she said she was going to wait. So
she did and we kept correspondence. She wrote letters and we wrote to one
another and then when I come back, called her up that I was back in the United
States and, “I’m coming to Canton.” At that time we didn’t have no
car or anything so you had to go by bus. So I spent about a couple of weeks
there and then I got my orders to report back. I had to go to, from there I went
to Hot Springs, Arkansas, for recuperation. And they said you couldn’t bring
any wives or anything and when we got there, the commander said, “Where’s
your wife?” And I said, “I’m not married and they told us we couldn’t
bring our wife so I didn’t want to get married.” So he said, “Well
they try not to discourage you from doing that because you don’t know how long
you’re going to be here.” So I was there. We had to go to the hospital
for only three or four hours a day and the rest of the day was ours ’cause
they had to run up check-outs and check up . . . . blood and stuff like this and
your wounds and all. And one day I got a call down to the office and they
said,”Where do you want to be discharged from?” And I said, “Any
place in the Fifth Corps area.” Fifth Corps area being Ohio, Kentucky, West
Virginia, Michigan, Illinois. So I, he said, “Oh you’ll get it.” I
said, “Fine”. About two days later at 3:45 in the morning, I heard a
knock on the door: “Prepare to move out. Here’s your orders.” Stuck
it under the door. And I’m happy. Opened them up. “Be ready to move out
in one hour. Being shipped to Lawton, Fort Lawton in Seattle, Washington.”
Topolosky: So I was there for about three months, four months and finally we
were, they were coming back from Japan and Hawaii and places. We had, our job
was to give them their uniforms and get tickets for them and take their records
and everything and then ship them out home. And finally we, our bunch was called
in and says, “You’re moving out tomorrow.” So . . . . I think
November something, November 3rd or 5th or something like that. We got our
papers, they give me a train ticket and they said, “You’re out. Go
home.” So that was it.
Interviewer: And then how soon after that did you and Mildred get married?
Topolosky: Well we got married in 1946, May 19th. We just celebrated our 50th
anniversary on May 19th, the exact date. Came on Sunday.
Interviewer: That’s wonderful. But how long after you got back to Columbus?
Topolosky: Well we got married in 1946. I was back in Columbus , oh about
December or January. About December of ’45.
Interviewer: Several months?
Topolosky: But we corresponded.
Interviewer: That’s good. Well remembering that we’ve actually got the
conclusion of your story about, on the other tape, is there anything else you
want to add about your war experiences or childhood?
Voice: This concludes the recording of Tape Number 1. Tape Number 1 was
originally recorded at a much earlier date. However, due to a malfunction of the
tape, it was rerecorded at a later date. Tape Number 2, the conclusion of the
interview with Harry Topolosky was recorded October 29, 1996, and is also in the
files at the Columbus Jewish Historical Society. Thank you very much.
* * *
Transcribed by Honey Abramson