Being Jewish, you know, Hitler, he murdered six million Jews, and I felt it my duty to join up and fight the Axis Powers.
My brother is one of the greatest soldiers in Canada, Sergeant Samuel Moses Hurwitz, MM DCM. He got the Military Medal and the Distinguished Conduct Medal. He’s one of the few with [the] two medals. One of the Canadian solders. He got killed on October 24th, 1944, while I was in the Prisoner of War Camp.
I was a gunner. I was on B gun. And I was a sight-setter and the loader. Loading 35 pound shells into the breach of the gun. And that was my job, when we went into action. I told you my bunk, down below, he’d come running up on top if I was off duty, and I’d get on my position, and the shipped 35 pound shells would come out from down below and I’d put them into the breach, and the rest was – they fired all that stuff.
The first torpedo hit back aft. Everybody in the magazine were killed instantly. There were no survivors in the back. Sixty or 70 seconds later, or maybe a minute and a half later, a second torpedo came and hit us amidships. And naturally we started to sink, millions of gallons of water was pouring in, and then we got the order from the bridge to man the hose and see if we could put out the fire, which was impossible, the whole ship was ablaze. The captain said, abandon ship. So we decided – I didn’t know what to do, so I threw my big rubber boots off and I took my duffle coat off and all I had on me was my stockings, my dungarees, and my white shirt and that was it, and I dove into the water and I swam away from the ship, because I remembered reading that it you ever get torpedoed, always get away from the ship, because the suction will pull you down.
I was lucky, I got a hold of the broken masthead, and was holding onto the masthead, and next to me was Raymond Meloche, he was on the same gun as me, and there was Captain Stubbs, he was also on the masthead. We were talking and everything and I remember I said, I didn’t recognize him because he was so full of oil, you know? So I said, how are you doing, Captain Stubbs. He said, just call me John. You know why? Because once you abandon ship, there’s no rank. We were holding on, singing songs, holding up the water and discussing, you know, oh boy I’m going to get a 30 days leave and I’ll be able to get back to Montreal for 30 days. You know, things like that, and all that.
We got sunk at 4:28. How do I know that? Because my mother bought me a cheap watch. I had that watch all the time, and the minute I jumped into the water, it wasn’t waterproof. The minute I jumped into the Atlantic, the watch stopped automatically, you know.
All of a sudden we saw a big ship coming towards us, and it had the swastika flying, and also, I won’t mention the name, but the lieutenant said, uh-oh, forget about the leave. We’re going to be – see that ship coming towards us? That’s not one of ours. And the captain yelled out, who are you, and our lieutenant yelled out, we’re Canadians. Okay, sir, we’re going to pick you up. So they came closer, then they lowered – they had a few German soldiers who got into a boat and they lowered the boat into the water and they helped me into the boat, and they hoisted me up.
They gave us food soon as we got upstairs. When we got on the ship, right away they gave us water, no problem there. And then they came in and a big hot bowl, I never forget that, a big huge 10 gallon or five gallon pot, steel pot, with a pea soup, oh, but was it delicious.
I don’t want the Germans to know that I was Jewish, so I took the Z off, and I made my name, H-U-R-W-I-T-T. Harry Hurwitt. That doesn’t sound Jewish. H-U-R-W-I-T-Z sounds Jewish.
4 o’clock in the morning they got us up, and they loaded us into the trucks that were covered with the tarpaulin and they brought us to the train. And they drove us from there to Marlag und Milag Nord. That was our prison camp.
Now every night at exactly midnight, exactly midnight, the RAF would come over. 12 o’clock. We used to get on top of our mansions – we used to call them our mansions. We used to get on top of the roof, and we used to wait, five to 12, four to 12, three to 12, one to 12, there they are, 12 o’clock exactly. They’d come by, there’d be 25 bombers and 30 or 40 escort fighters, I don’t know how many there were. Escort fighters, and all of a sudden they let their bombs go and we were, Bremen, Hamburg, Kiel and Hanover. That was four cities that the Germans had oil, and they used to go over every night. Every night, on the dot exactly 12 o’clock. We used to sit on top of the roof and we used to get a first-hand look at everything.
We used to get a parcel every day.. once a week. From the Red Cross. Nobody else got it. The Americans didn’t get it, nobody, only the Canadians got it. You know why? Because the Canadians treated the Germans so good in Montreal, they were treated like kings, and so the Germans reciprocated. They told us to [skip in tape 00:07:31] they’re going to be allowed to go for a walk on a Friday afternoon, they used to pick us up at 1 o’clock and they’d – 87 of us were allowed for a walk. And naturally there was about 20 guards guarding us.
The 26th of April, three days before I was liberated, , or I don’t know, maybe the 27th, I forget now. An advanced tank came in, I don’t know how it all happened, and they said, don’t move from here, you guys, they’re going to be here in the next 48 hours. We’re only (approx.) 600 miles away, and you’ll be a free man soon. Don’t escape because we shoot first and we ask questions after.
The tanks were getting closer, 28th, and the 29th at 4 o’clock in the morning all of a sudden they were about 60 miles away, and we could hear them fighting and pushing towards us. Finally they [skip in tape 00:08:38] come down, and we weren’t in the city. We were prisoners in the country, so there was no homes, there was nothing in there, but we saw 51st Scotch Guards (2nd Battalion, Scots Guards), they come ripping down and they were marching and with the bands and the drums and everything, and the tanks and coming, and we couldn’t wait, then finally we saw them coming down the road. The German guards already had fled. They fled the day before. We were all by ourselves.
Six o’clock in the morning, all of sudden we hear the tanks, the Churchill tank coming down the road, and we couldn’t wait. And they finally came close to us, and we broke down the fences, and we jumped out, we jumped on the tanks and we hugged them and we kissed them.