Between 1939 and 1945, as war engulfed Europe, Bill Orlin and his family lived on the run. Sometimes, civil or military authorities forcibly resettled them. Other times, the family fled in terror.
Bill, the eldest son of Sender and Sonia Orlinski, was seven years old when German troops invaded Poland and marched into his hometown of Brok, a resort community not far from Warsaw. Like many other young men, Sender took flight immediately. The women, children and elderly townspeople who stayed behind were herded into the churchyard and watched in horror as soldiers set Brok ablaze. At first, everyone suffered equally under the Germans, but soon the Jews were singled out for abuse. Together with Brok’s other Jews, Bill, his younger brother Boris, their mother (who was six months pregnant) and their grandparents were forcibly marched to Ostrów Mazowiecki, about 50 miles northwest of Warsaw. “We walked all day,” said Bill. “Those who couldn’t make it were either shot or bayoneted on the road.” As they neared the town, Bill witnessed a scene that haunted him for the rest of his life: a young German soldier seized Bill’s grandfather and cut off the old man’s beard.
The forced march, although terrifying, traumatic and bewildering at the time, may in fact have saved the family’s lives. Soon after Germany invaded Poland from the west, the Red Army invaded from the east and Poland was divided into German and Soviet spheres of influence under the terms of a secret protocol. Once Bill and his family were in Soviet-controlled Poland, they managed to continue their eastward journey into the Soviet interior where they remained in relative safety for the rest of the war.
Their odyssey first took them to Białystok, where they were reunited with Sender and then to the Soviet republic of Belarus. Bill’s brother Felix was born there on December 26, 1939, and life resumed a semblance of normalcy. But respite was short lived. When Germany invaded the USSR in June 1941 the family “ran,” recalled Bill. “We didn’t know where we were going. We just knew we had to get out.” Eventually they made their way to Uzbekistan. Although the family was together, life was tremendously difficult for the next several years. Everyone suffered from hunger and malnutrition, particularly after a fourth son, Hymie (b. Chaim), was born in 1944.
After the war, Bill and his family lived in a camp for displaced persons in Germany. They departed for Canada in 1948 and continued on to the United States three years later, settling in Houston. Bill recalled his first impressions: “When we left Montreal it was cold, snowing. When we got [to Houston] it was sunny, 85 degrees, with pecans swaying in the wind. I decided this was the place for me.”
Bill was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War and served in Germany. He became an American citizen in 1954 in Frankfurt. The following year he was honorably discharged with the rank of corporal. Married in 1958, he and his wife had two daughters, Julie and Cindy. After Bill’s first marriage ended in divorce, he married his “soul mate,” Edith (Edie) Saunders, who brought two children of her own, Michelle and Mark, to the marriage. Bill had a successful career as an entrepreneur in the beauty supply business, and has been semi-retired since 1991. He is an active volunteer at Holocaust Museum Houston.
Sender Orlinski, survived
Sonia Weidenbaum Orlinski, survived
Boris (b. Baruch), survived
Hymie (b. Chaim), survived