'We walked barefoot and in rags out of the woods when we heard the Russians had come back. We caught a lift on a lorry into our city, where our former neighbours were amazed that we were still alive and were not particularly happy to see us return.'
William Tannenzapf was born in Stanislawow in south-eastern Poland in 1911.
He came from a modern religious family and as a youngster played an active part in the community and belonged to youth organisations. Due to problems with anti-Semitism at Polish universities, he went to study engineering in Prague in Czechoslovakia. During the war the part of Poland where he lived was occupied by the Soviet army. When the Nazis invaded the city in 1941, all of its Jewish inhabitants were moved into the ghetto and the vast majority of them later murdered. William Tannenzapf managed to escape with his wife and a baby daughter just before the liquidation of the ghetto. They spent the rest of the war in hiding - first in a nearby village and later in the woods. Describing the moment of liberation, Mr. Tannenzapf recalled: 'We walked barefoot and in rags out of the woods when we heard the Russians had come back. We caught a lift on a lorry into our city, where our former neighbours were amazed that we were still alive and were not particularly happy to see us return.' The family fled Poland and moved to a DP camp in Eggenfelden in Germany. In Eggenfelden Mr.Tannenzapf started by helping organize a school for Jewish children. He recalls, 'I was aware of the housing problem but like several other like-minded residents, felt that that an even more tragic situation was the condition of the young camp population who were growing into illiteracy. There were no schools!' As soon as the opening of the school was announced, the children rushed into it. I was teaching mathematics."
In the meantime, he also realized that much of the camp population, remnants of Holocaust survivors, had no skills for gaining useful employment. He decided to do something about it. ' I contacted the district leaders of the UNRRA-supported ORT trade school system and got full support for opening a school in Eggenfelden, with myself as designated principal.'
He organised courses in tailoring, machine knitting, upholstery, auto repair, electrical, home construction, machine weaving, morse code/communication, and machine shop.
'I worked for ORT because I wanted to make a contribution to the young people for the same reason I helped to establish the school for children and taught there. I also wanted to help people to re-establish their lives by gaining useful skills and productive employment.'- recalled William Tannenzapf. Before leaving Germany, William Tannenzapf was also appointed as Director of the ORT school in Pocking, the largest ORT school in that district, which had been running into problems.
The family stayed in Eggenfelden until the camp was almost closed. As they had no relatives left in Europe, in November 1948 they went to Montreal in Canada, where Mr. Tannenzapf worked as an engineer and continued teaching at evening and weekend ORT courses. The family subsequently moved to Hamilton, Ontario, where Mr. and Mrs. Tannenzapf lived for 47 years.
Source: World ORT Archive: William Tannenzapf interviewed by Sarah Kavanaugh, December 2005