Polish slave labor camp survivor reflects on WWII and the current violence in Ukraine

Sofia Davidson, a survivor of a Polish slave labor camp in World War II reflected on the similarities between that war and Putins war with Ukraine. [Putin and Hitler] want to be in charge, they don’t want to let other people or countries do what they want, Davidson said.

Ioanna Tsompanellis

Sofia Davidson, a survivor of a Polish slave labor camp in World War II reflected on the similarities between that war and Putin’s war with Ukraine. “[Putin and Hitler] want to be in charge, they don’t want to let other people or countries do what they want,” Davidson said.

By Chloe Cuesta and Sophie Kolax

(Editor’s Note: Sofia Davidson is Staff Writer Chloe Cuesta’s grandmother. She was in a Polish slave labor camp during World War II. She shared her story as well as her opinions on the current violence in Ukraine.) 

As Putin’s war with Ukraine continues to grow, there are glaring similarities between Putin’s tactics and the plan Hitler devised at the beginning of World War II that have become evident, especially for people who experienced both wars.

Sofia Davidson is pictured above. She survived a Polish slave labor camp during World War II.

Sofia Davidson experienced World War II first hand and is currently watching from the US as Putin takes over Ukraine. This current world event brings back feelings of heartache, nostalgia and rushing memories. 

Davidson recounted her experience during World War II as a Polish citizen who managed to escape the Holocaust with her family. 

She was sent on a train to a small camp after being separated from her father during World War II. She was by her mother’s side through it all, but her family separation was heartbreaking and emotional. 

“The camps were run by German [military] men,” Davidson said. “The Polish people had to work in the factory all day and were given no money.”  

Women and small children were separated from men, according to Davidson. 

“It was not as bad as a camp for Jewish people, but the camp was still traumatic and we were not treated as individuals,” Davidson said. 

Davidson said there was fear of being bombed. Every time a siren went off signaling that the Americans were flying over the camp, everybody had to run into the forest in case they bombed the buildings. 

“One time my mother refused to leave the building because I had a cold and she wouldn’t leave my side,” Davidson said. “She knew America wouldn’t bomb us, we were on a small piece of land.” 

Polish individuals had to do slave labor, but the soldiers in charge of the camp would delegate jobs based on this bias. When German soldiers found out somebody had German heritage, they gave them an “easier” job. 

According to Davidson, an easier job was watching the children in the camp. When the soldiers found out someone had any German heritage, they were given a job like that.

After some time in the camp, Davidson and her mother were eventually able to reunite with her father after being transferred to a different camp. They later settled in Park Ridge, NJ after escaping Europe, and she currently lives in Passaic County, NJ. 

Chloe Cuesta

World War II occurred when Hitler began as chancellor of Germany because he abused his power to take over Poland and surrounding countries with force and manipulation. 

Hitler’s ambitions destroyed lives, incited genocide and changed the course of history. 

Hitler gained internal support through his lack of transparency and his lies to the German people–– similar to Putin’s actions today.

Putin has managed to create the same lack of transparency in today’s world, censoring news outlets and trying to control people’s opinions. 

Many Europeans, including Russians, acknowledge Putin’s actions are unjustified, and they are protesting for the war to end, according to ABC. Additionally, according to the New York Times, the Russian news and information sources are censored to prevent the spread of truth and create propaganda justifying the military action.

Hitler and the Nazis massacred about 16,315,000 people, according to NaziGenocide, although Putin has not killed as many people, he is actively slaughtering an alarming amount of innocent Ukrainians. 

Both dictators sought power and control over ‘their’ country. 

“Putin and Hitler are very similar,” Davidson said. “They want to be in charge, they don’t want to let other people or countries do what they want. Putin right now is killing individuals and he is not affected by it. They do not have feelings nor care about others.”

Similar to the events in World War II, individuals in Ukraine are abandoning lives and escaping by hopping on trains or buses or walking miles to flee their country according to Reuters.

“Initially, Hitler invaded Poland, and as time passed he conquered other countries,” Davidson said. “Putin currently wants to take over Ukraine and he will probably never be satisfied.” 

Davidson explained that the two individuals are similar in their tactics but the two wars are incomparable. 

“We can’t compare the wars, because America is not fighting now. [US citizens] are just sitting back and watching the disastrous events,” Davidson said. 

World War II was a global war; meanwhile, Putin’s war directly involves Ukraine and Russia. The two countries are rapidly building support with international alliances such as NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization].

NATO is an alliance of countries from Europe and North America, according to NATO. The alliance was originally created in 1949 during the Cold War to create a united front against the Soviet Union (now Russia). 

NATO creates alliances where countries share outlets, troops and offer support to allied countries involved in wars and military operations.

While the violence in Ukraine is reminiscent of previous wars, this outbreak has just started and it is possible that this will not escalate to the massive scale of destruction that was World War II.

This story was originally published on The Smoke Signal on April 14, 2022.