Share this article

print logo

Henry Bawnik, survivor of four concentration camps, dies at age 92

Henry Bawnik outlived concentration camps, bomb strikes and the loss of freedom and dignity as a teenager in war-torn Poland.

But after he lost his wife in December, the loneliness was unbearable, said his daughter Tammy Bawnik Basist.

Mr. Bawnik died Monday in Buffalo General Medical Center surrounded by his family. He was 92.

"He just woke up and lived every day. That's how he survived his hardships," said Basist. "He was 92. He wasn’t well anymore, and he was lonely. It was a trifecta. It was just time."

Mr. Bawnik spent four years in concentration camps during World War II, including Auschwitz, where he experienced starvation, beatings and the deaths of countless people close to him. During the final days of World War II, he lived through the bombing of three ships carrying concentration camp survivors.

Throughout his life, Mr. Bawnik shared his Holocaust memories without hesitation, said Basist. He was one of several Holocaust survivors who shared their stories with The Buffalo News in a special project titled "Survivors of the Holocaust."

Mr. Bawnik took his family to Ahrensbök, Germany, in 2005. His daughter recalled his energy, showing family members where he spent years of captivity, and where he was born in Poland.

"It was an odd thing," said Basist. "He was higher than a kite. He loved telling his stories."

In Poland, the Bawnik family operated a bakery. Mr. Bawnik was 13 when his homeland was invaded by German military forces. At 15, he was taken from the slums of Lodz and herded with thousands of Polish Jews to live in concentration camps.

The following years were defined by hunger, beatings — and the sights and sounds that created a lifetime of memories.

"He was so open about those experiences during the Holocaust. He was not bitter and angry. I don't think anyone in the community would expect that he survived this kind of trauma," said Jeremy Elias, 32, a grandson.

"I knew I was going to die, but you fought to live," Mr. Bawnik told The Buffalo News in 2015. "You work as hard as you can, so that they let you live, and then you hope they lose the war."

Mr. Bawnik's hopes were realized, but the harrowing years of internment did not end peacefully.

One night in May 1945 during a prolonged "death march" to avoid advancing liberators, Bawnik was jolted from sleep with orders to march another 13 miles to board a boat he believed was headed to Denmark. Instead, he and 5,000 other prisoners set sail on a former German luxury liner named Cap Arcona, the largest of three ships that departed from the Bay of Lubeck. Mr. Bawnik was one of 350 survivors from the ship after it was bombed by Allied forces who believed high-ranking Nazi officers were on board.

Mr. Bawnik married the former Linda Gordon on July 15, 1951. The two lived in Hartford, Conn. and Queens before settling in Buffalo, said Basist.

Mr. Bawnik and another family member owned and operated Metropolitan Cleaners on Main and Summer streets, recalled Basist.

"He wanted the American dream. When he came to America, he truly believed the streets were paved with gold. He knew he would end up an American citizen. My mother was an American. She wore rose-colored glasses. He gravitated toward her way of life," said his daughter.

"Our entire childhood my father was known for having a bagel and lox brunch every Sunday," Basist said. "He told stories every Sunday. All my friends used to say we had the best family."

The Bawniks had three daughters, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Throughout his life, Mr. Bawlik had a passion for bread and golf, said his daughter. He was most comfortable wearing jeans, sneakers, baseball cap and a Callaway golf jacket, said Basist.

In April 2014, Mr. Bawnik and his wife moved from their home in Amherst to Canterbury Woods, an assisted living facility in Amherst.

"They were so much in love. They had so much fun together," Basist said. "They held hands all the time. When my mom passed we wondered who was going to hold his hand."

There are no comments - be the first to comment