John Bradshaw - Conversation with Roman Hintz
When he retired in the United States, it was after 41 years as an educator. His life began, however, in Nazi-occupied Poland. He's Roman Hintz, I'm John Bradshaw, and this is our conversation.
John Bradshaw: Roman Hintz, thank you so much for joining me.
Roman Hintz: Thank you, glad to be here.
John Bradshaw: What a blessing to have you here. I'm thrilled to be able to dig into your life story. It's a fascinating tale that began... well, you tell me where it began.
Roman Hintz: Well, it began in Warsaw, Poland. I was born there, and it started in 1939.
John Bradshaw: Mm-hmm. In 1939... well, 1939 was significant, extraordinarily significant in the history of Poland. September 1, 1939, what began?
Roman Hintz: Well, we were a Polish family living there in Warsaw. I had a mother and a father. My brother was three years older. My sister was 6 years old, and I was just about to be born. But that's when World War II broke out...
John Bradshaw: Okay.
Roman Hintz: ...on September 1.
John Bradshaw: So your family lived through the very, the genesis of World War II. Now, I can't ask you what you remember about the beginning of World War II 'cause I suspect you don't remember much. But you were told plenty, and you would have memories of that time through the memories of others. What was it like for a family, a happy Polish family living in beautiful Poland, to suddenly discover they are in the crosshairs of a hostile power? How did your family react to that? What was that like?
Roman Hintz: You know, it happened unexpectedly, so nobody was really prepared for it. But when it happened... and we were under Nazi rule... there are a lot of regulations. For instance, religion was greatly discouraged.
John Bradshaw: And your father was a church pastor.
Roman Hintz: That's right, he was a church pastor, and he was ordered to quit his church. He was one among three pastors that refused to give up their church.
John Bradshaw: We run the risk of getting ahead of ourselves very quickly, but let's just run that risk. Your father refused to give up his church. What happened as a consequence?
Roman Hintz: Well, at some point, and I don't know exactly when, but Gestapo tried to shoot him and the gun didn't go off. It jammed, tried a second time and tried a third time, and it jammed. And so they just hit him over the head with a gun, and he was taken in, and he served a good share of the war in a prison camp, in a concentration camp.
John Bradshaw: So the children were 6, 3, and... well, one of them was not yet born. That means that your mother at the time was mid- to late-20s, right?
Roman Hintz: Actually, my mother was a bit older.
John Bradshaw: Okay.
Roman Hintz: When I was born, she was actually 41...
John Bradshaw: Oh, no kidding? Okay.
Roman Hintz: ...kind of unusual. They married later in life...
John Bradshaw: Yeah, yeah, all right.
Roman Hintz: ...and they had the children a bit later.
John Bradshaw: I guess no one will hire me as a detective based on my skills of deduction. Okay, so she's 40. Age doesn't matter a whole lot, except I was going to ask, what could it possibly be like as a young woman? So I'll ask, what could it possibly have been like for a woman to be left on her own with three little kids in Nazi-occupied Poland?
Roman Hintz: Extremely difficult, extremely difficult. And one of the problems, too, was that she had to travel a long distance with the two children while she was pregnant with me. Because what happened is the Nazis, or Germany, came in from the western part and occupied Poland. At the same time, or shortly thereafter, Russia came in from the eastern part and occupied that portion of Poland.
John Bradshaw: So Poland was divided and no longer had any autonomy, no kind of self-rule; it was totally occupied.
Roman Hintz: That's right.
John Bradshaw: Yeah.
Roman Hintz: And the problem was my mother at the time was visiting her mother in Poland, but she was on the eastern side of Poland.
John Bradshaw: Oh.
Roman Hintz: Warsaw, on the other hand, was on the western side of Poland.
John Bradshaw: Okay, so Warsaw was occupied by the Nazis.
Roman Hintz: That's right.
John Bradshaw: And Russia occupied the east. What did your mother tell you about that time when she and the rest of her family realized life was never gonna be the same again?
Roman Hintz: Well, her first thing was to try to get back home. You know, here she was on the wrong side of home. And so she walked with my brother and with my sister, and pregnant with me at the time, 'cause this was, you know, in September of '39, and she walked a long distance and ended up right by the border, and she watched the soldier going back and forth. You couldn't travel across; it was not permitted. And she was waiting for an opportunity to get across.
John Bradshaw: Which border?
Roman Hintz: This was the new border between the eastern and the western part of Poland.
John Bradshaw: So how far had she walked?
Roman Hintz: I don't know how far she walked, but she was... I know that once she crossed the border, she still had 90 miles to go, and there she was able to take a train 'cause she was in the western part that was occupied by Germany.
John Bradshaw: And she got back to Warsaw?
Roman Hintz: She did.
John Bradshaw: Okay.
Roman Hintz: However, it was not that easy because the soldier was making sure that nobody crossed over from one side to the other. He was a Russian soldier.
John Bradshaw: Okay.
Roman Hintz: And so she watched to see when she could sneak across with my brother and my sister. And as she tried to get across, he heard her or saw her and said, "Stop, you can't go there. You've gotta stay here". And she pleaded with him, said, "But my family, my husband, my home, they're on the other side". "You cannot go"! And so she prayed to God right there, "God, I've gotta get across. Please soften the soldier's heart". And so the soldier finally looked at her and said, "I can't let you go, but I can't stop what I don't see". He turned his back and walked and gave her opportunity to cross over. Mmm.
— A miracle.
— So she was able to reunite with my father for a period of time till he was gone.
— How long was that?
— I don't know, I think probably about two years...
— ...is my guess, just judging from the things that took place.
— So roughly from '41-'45, your dad was... well, where was your dad? He was in prison during that time.
— He was in prison. Part of the time he was in the Polish army; part of the time he was in prison camp.
— So he told you about those experiences, no doubt?
— Let me ask you about the prison camp experience. What did he go through, and what was that like?
— You know, it's one of those things that he just plain did not talk about.
— Is that so?
— And that says a lot in itself.
— It does. It says a little bit about the generation but more about what he went through; there was no point reliving that...
— Right. Right.
— ...and rehashing that. Well, that's interesting, isn't it? The army, did he tell you anything about his experience in the army?
— So those war years, they weren't discussed?
— Well, maybe years later I could've gotten something out of him, but he just plain didn't talk about it.
— Ooh, that's interesting, isn't it? Okay, so what was it like... I'm gonna ask you to speak on behalf of a country now. What was it like for a country to be senselessly, pointlessly, needlessly invaded by another nation and have all of its autonomy just stripped away? What does that do to a people?
— Yeah. It... so much resentment, so much resentment. The Polish people just hated the Nazi rules. There were so many rules. For instance, first of all, they took all the Jews and put 'em in a different, in the Warsaw ghetto, separated them from the rest. Life went on in Warsaw, it's not that all the Polish people were taken out, but it was all under Nazi rule. One of the rules, for instance, was if one of the Polish people were to kill a Russian soldier... I mean, a German soldier, there would be a retaliation 100 for one;
— One hundred civilians would have to die because of the one that died. They would stop a streetcar, pull everybody off the streetcar, and start counting and get to 98, 99, 100. Okay, that one's taken care of.
— And they'd just shoot 'em dead?
— They'd shoot 'em dead. When... you know, people resented it so much that they started to organize a underground and... which led to the Warsaw rebellion.
— Yeah, sure.
— And for 80... for 63 days, they battled. And so many soldiers were killed. But also, Hitler lost a lot of soldiers. He was very, very angry over that. He gave orders to destroy all of Warsaw, just destroy it, turn it into rubbles; 85% of that beautiful city was in ruins. Over 200,000 civilians lost their life there. During that time also there was great hunger. People actually ate their horses, they ate their cats, their dogs because of starvation.
— They were that hungry.
— Did you lose family members during the war? People you were close to, who died, did you experience that?
— You know, I think most of our family was protected. Most of 'em lived outside of Warsaw. Warsaw is where most of it took place. If you live in the countryside, it's not as bad.
— That was death on a grand scale, on a horrific scale, wasn't it?
— Oh, if you count all the Jews that were killed, over six million were killed, lost their lives.
— Let me ask you about that. Because Poland... Jews in Poland were slaughtered... wasn't Poland alone, but the slaughter was horrendous. Were non-Jews in Warsaw or anywhere else in Poland, to your knowledge, were they aware of what was happening to the Jews?
— Yes, they were very, very aware because Jews ran the shops, and so many of the shops are run by them. But, you know, there's also a concept... people think that Hitler was just after the Jews.
— No, not right.
— In one of his speeches, he talks about that he wanted to kill every Polish-born man, woman, and child. He said he wanted to totally depopulate Poland and have Poland as a country to no longer exist. The borders would be changed, and what was Poland would now be part of Germany, and Germans would occupy the land that was Polish. So that was his goal. So we were, even though we weren't Jewish, we were in danger. Now, the Jews had it the worst, and they got picked off first.
— They were taken by the train load to Auschwitz and other death camps and put to death in huge numbers.
— And people were aware that that was going on?
— Yes, they were. Well...yes and no, to some degree. There, for a while they were actually fooled, they were told, the Jewish people were told, "We're gonna take you to a place where you can be reestablished, where you can have work, where you can be free". In fact, the sign over Auschwitz says...
— "Arbeit macht frei".
— That's right: "Work shall set you free". But instead, they were put there, and many of 'em were gassed immediately. They were told they're gonna take a shower, to take off their clothes. First of all, the Germans did a very clever thing, said, "Pack up your most valuable belongings".
— That way they wouldn't have to look for 'em. Here they are. "Bring your most valuable belongings with you". They were put in these chambers, and instead of shower, it became gas...
— Zyklon B. Yeah.
— ...and they were killed. And others were put to work. But many of 'em died just from starvation, from exposure, because it was cold... I mean, the winters are cold... and from disease and also just from overwork, from exhaustion.
— Have you been to Auschwitz?
— I have, yes.
— Tell me how that impacted you.
— I've been there twice.
— It's a day you can go without smiling.
— That's right.
— It just so sad when you see the experimentation on humans, the bodies you see, piles of glasses, piles of limbs and things that... it's just sad.
— I remember being there, and my wife Melissa was taking a photo of the shoes.
— And she stopped. I looked over, there were tears running down her face, and I said, "What's wrong"? And she said, "I'm just realizing this. I'm focusing on children's shoes".
— I'm gonna ask you a question now that I should probably wait till later, but I'll ask you now. So you're Polish in Poland. You were... you are Polish; you were Polish in Poland. Germans came and unleashed hell. German people did this to your people. Now, that had to be tough. How did you... or do you... reconcile that in your mind without descending into hate?
— And did you for a while?
— No, I didn't.
— You didn't?
— Are you telling me the truth?
— I'm telling the truth.
— I believe you.
— You know, it's a different generation.
— The people that are now alive had nothing to do with it...
— That's right.
— ...nothing whatsoever...
— Of course.
— ...don't blame them a bit. I love Germany. I would love to go tour there some more. I've been there a number of times or a few times anyway. And they're not the guilty parties.
— Besides, a lot of these people that took part in this were actually fooled. They thought they were doing the right thing.
— So even at the time, you, your family didn't harbor hatred towards the oppressors?
— Now, that was different.
— For my folks, they knew a life of freedom, and they lost that freedom, and they knew why they lost it. To me, I was born into it; this was life; this is the way it was. I spent my first five years in the war zone, you know?
— That's all I knew. And then the next four years I spent in a refugee camp, DP camp. So that's all I knew. So I really didn't have a resentment because that's the way life was.
— Let's go back to your mother. Your mother crossed over back into now-German-occupied Poland, reunited with your dad for a while. What was life like for your mother? I mean, is that an obvious question? I imagine it must have been unimaginably difficult.
Roman Hintz: It had to be so very difficult having three small children and having to travel alone, make reservations and all this thing on the trains. I remember when we were going from Poland to Germany, I remember riding in backs of trucks. I remember riding in box cars. Somehow I tend to remember a little bit of that. We ended up in Hamburg, but she was trying to get away from Warsaw because of all that was taking place in Warsaw.
John Bradshaw: Yeah.
Roman Hintz: And we did it in time. God was so good to us, preserved us over and over.
John Bradshaw: What do you mean you "did it in time"?
Roman Hintz: Before things got so bad in Warsaw. We left Warsaw before it was destroyed, before that 85% of destruction took place before the 200,000 that were killed.
John Bradshaw: Did your family have a sense that it was going to get that bad? Did they seem to have any understanding of that? Did they just think, "We've been occupied, and that's that"? What I'm saying is, did your mother understand, for example, things are really gonna get bad? Could they have known that?
Roman Hintz: Actually there was hope, and this is why the Polish people set up the underground and organized themselves, and for 63 days they battled. They did it because they thought they could win, they could drive out the Nazis, and they almost succeeded. They were expecting some help, which never came. And so, actually there was hope; they did not expect it to get as bad as it did. Now, the Nazis would set fires to the apartment buildings, and as the people would jump out of the windows for safety, they would shoot them on the way down. They took all the patients from the hospital out and shot them, killed them all. They were just ruthless, all under the dictatorship of Hitler. He told them, "Just destroy it all".
John Bradshaw: Yeah, that's really something, isn't it? That's really something. Okay, so in a moment we're gonna talk about... pretty obviously, your family got out of Poland, went to Germany, you mentioned a moment ago, got out of Germany as well. It's a tremendous story; we'll talk about that and where life led you after that as well. Thanks for joining us. This is "Conversations," brought to you by It Is Written. My very special guest is Roman Hintz. We'll be back with more in just a moment.
John Bradshaw: Welcome back to "Conversations," brought to you by It Is Written. My guest is Roman Hintz. We are discussing his life, particularly right now his early life as a Polish kid in what was Nazi-occupied Poland. Now, we mentioned a moment ago that your mother... did we mention? Your mother got out of there, got outta Poland and went to Germany. Now, why in the world would she do that?
Roman Hintz: Well, you know, because she was half-German, she could do that. She was allowed to do that. Germany was winning the war. What safer place could you be?
John Bradshaw: Right, right. So, rather than stay in Poland as it gets demolished around you, you go to the place where it's a little safer. Did she have family there, being half-German?
Roman Hintz: I don't know. I know that originally, yes, but I'm not sure who we stayed with when we got there if it was a family member or if it was just a friend or somebody that took us in.
John Bradshaw: What do you remember about Hamburg? I know you went to the big industrial northern city of Hamburg. What do you remember?
Roman Hintz: Well, I remember very well the sirens going off. See, Hamburg got bombed by the Allies... not to destroy the people but to destroy all the factories that were producing the war machinery... the tanks, the ammunition, the bombs... and that's where the radar installation was. That's where the oil refinery was and the oil storage tanks. And by this time, Germany had already taken over Denmark and Norway and France and Greece. And in order to stop the German... they had to do something. The Allies had to do something to stop the production of the machinery and the distribution of the war machinery.
John Bradshaw: So you were hiding in air raid shelters or something like that.
Roman Hintz: It ended up the basement of the place that we were staying, the family that we were staying with.
John Bradshaw: So you were a little kid. Was it terribly frightening as a little boy? Do you remember it being terribly frightening?
Roman Hintz: Well, the thing that I remember is that it interfered with our play. My brother and I would be playing outdoors and all of a sudden... we were taught: you hear that air raid sirens... you head for the house. We'd all go down to the basement, and we would pray.
John Bradshaw: Mm, you'd pray.
Roman Hintz: And we would pray. My mother was very spiritual, very close to God, really, really prayed.
John Bradshaw: Okay, I wanna ask this question on behalf of someone who I know is thinking... your dad was a pastor.
Roman Hintz: Yes.
John Bradshaw: Your mother was a woman of faith.
Roman Hintz: Yes.
John Bradshaw: And yet your lives were in jeopardy. Your country had been split by two parties, powers. You could have died a thousand times over. What did this do to your faith or to your parents' faith? Your dad was imprisoned and then forced into the army. How did that impact their picture of God? They were living a nightmare. How did that impact their view of God?
Roman Hintz: Well, I think the whole time we recognized, my folks recognized, we begin to recognize, like in Jeremiah 29, where God says, "I know the [plans]...I [have for] you"... "plans," plural... and the plans are not for evil but for good.
John Bradshaw: For good, that's right.
Roman Hintz: Now, that doesn't mean there's not gonna be some evil along the way, but the plan is for good, and that there would be "hope" and "a future". And so in spite of what's taking place, you have that hope, and you know that there's gonna be a future. So there was a never-give-up attitude.
John Bradshaw: So that was real faith, real faith under fire.
Roman Hintz: Yes.
John Bradshaw: What do you remember about your mother during those years? How did it impact her? Or what did she exude or demonstrate before the children?
Roman Hintz: During this time, she had to be not only our mother, but she also had to be, in a way, our father. She was our protector; she was our provider. This is who we went to. For instance, when we were in Hamburg... and Hamburg was being bombed; 69 missions were flown over Hamburg, over 3,000 airplanes were flying over, dropping bombs, 10,000 tons... not pounds but tons... of bombs were blown. Well, my mother, we would always run to her. And I remember we were taught, "When you hear the siren, you run in". And there was a carriage outside, the horse-and-carriage type thing; it had some upholstery. And my brother took his finger, and he touched one of the upholstery buttons. At the very time he touched that button, the air raid siren went off. And you were asking about my mother? That's the first person I ran to. I said, "Mother, mother! George did that. He pressed the button, and now the airplanes are gonna come and bomb us". So, mother was always the comfort, the person to run to. She was everything to us; that's what we had. We had our mother.
John Bradshaw: What a special gift. What a special gift. So this went on until... well, the war ended in '45, but...
Roman Hintz: That's right.
John Bradshaw: ...where were you when the war ended?
Roman Hintz: We were right there at that house. Now, next door, the house was in rubbles. This is... the bombs that were... they weren't smart bombs like today's bombs...
John Bradshaw: Yeah.
Roman Hintz: ...you know, so the airplanes would fly over and drop them and hope you hit the target, you know, hope you hit the factory that you're after, but there were carpet bombings sort of dropping. So not only were the factories... over 4,000 factories... were destroyed but the civilian homes, over 250,000 civilian homes were destroyed. Over 80,000 civilians were either killed or injured during that time.
— And you said the house next door to you was destroyed.
— That's right.
— My brother and I... I remember this very well... we would climb on top of the rubble on the bricks, and I still remember, to this day, I found a bar of soap. I was so happy I found a new bar of soap playing in that rubble of that house.
— Our house was not hit, but the one next door was.
— I spent some time living in north London, and somewhere along the line it dawned on me, wait, London was hammered, during the Blitz particularly.
— So I looked on a map, I found the apartment I stayed in on a map, and it plotted where the bombs had hit...
— ...in Stoke Newington, north London in Hackney borough. Just over this way... oh, I don't wanna get it wrong... but about 200 yards a bomb fell and killed 80 or so people who were in a basement bomb shelter.
— About 50 yards away from where I lived, a house was destroyed by a bomb. Even though this happened, oh, 46-47 years before I was there... and I may have that wrong in my haste... it filled me with a little bit of, like, "Wait a minute". I was...
— ...I was living the... had I been living in a previous era, bombs would've been raining down beside me. You lived through that. What do you remember?
— Let me ask you; tell me what you remember about the sound of a bomb falling through the air and hitting the ground and exploding? I have no frame of reference for that. I've never witnessed it. You have. What do you remember?
— Yes. The whistling sound... actually, first, you hear the sirens. Secondly, you hear the airplanes, when you have many airplanes flying once, and there were 3,000 taking part in this. You hear the sound of all those airplanes. The next thing is you hear the whistling of a bomb falling and then an explosion. The building is shaking because the ground is shaking because they were just dropping so many. I mean, 10,000 tons of bombs were dropped in that short period of time. It was just horrific. But then it would be over, and we'd go outside and we'd play again. It didn't have the same level of fear as you would have... as my folks had...
— ...because they had lived during a peaceful time, and now the contrast. For us, for the children, we grew up with this; this was the norm.
— Mm, mm-hmm. You were reunited with your dad at the end of the war?
— That's right.
— Where? Where?
— This is after we were in the DP camp, displaced persons camp, which is a refugee camp.
— Yeah, okay, let's talk about the transition to that. So there you were living in the midst of the maelstrom. The war ended?
— The war ended in, yes...
— ...in 1945, in May of 1945. Unconditional surrender, it was over.
— How did that feel to...
— ...to you or to the adults?
— To the adults, especially. To us, okay, there's not gonna be any more bombs falling, you know. But we were then... that was the end of that... and we then were taken and put into a camp. This was a friendly camp; this was run by the British. But the people in this camp, it's a sad story because, you know, here we had 800 of us, but these are broken people, people that suffered...
— ...people that were, some that were persecuted, some that came from prison camps. All of them lost their homes, their country; lot of them lost their loved ones, just, so, you know, they had suffered from depression, they were suffering from malnutrition, health issues, all kinds of issues, 800 of us in this camp, and they were trying to nurse us back to health and bring us back, teach us things. I had, my first three years of schooling were there in that camp.
— Was there ever any fear, like, at the beginning? Was there distrust of the people running this camp, or right from the beginning you knew this was a safe haven?
— Well, you know, there was a distrust of any authority because up until that time, authority were, they were the people that were shooting people, killing people, they were destroying property, and so there was a distrust. And I would imagine that we as children had a little bit of that, too, because we had experienced it and taught that a bit, but...
— You mentioned broken people. How did your parents do? I mean, what effects did they suffer or carry with them as a result? I would just imagine if you are living in a place, and if you're a target and bombs are falling around you, that would have to be very difficult. But then they had to... your parents were separated; your mother was responsible for providing for you children. What kind of shape were your mom and dad in when the war ended?
— You know, I think, under normal circumstances, a person would be, like I say, broken. For my mother and for my dad, because of the faith in God, their faith in God is what brought them through. And they came through remarkably well; considering what they went through, they came through remarkably well. And they were able to be good parents to us. My father right there in that camp set up... they gave him a room... and he set up a chapel, a church. And we had, you know, a congregation of a number of people. There in that congregation, we worshiped.
— Fantastic. Now, so there are 800 of you in that camp, and how long were you there?
— Four years.
— Okay, so... wow, that's like a village, a town, a small town of people.
— Are these people that you got to know and kept in touch with over the years?
— Some of 'em, yes.
— The Adventist people, the people that we associated with most closely, yes. There were, you know, there's... I don't know if I should mention names... but the Klutz family and Heiser... well, she ended up Heiser, but anyway, and we have the Kuzma family. One came here and became a doctor. Another one is a statistician that married a wife that's a famous author, Kay Kuzma. But Yana Kuzma was one of the young people that my brother and I associated with. So we had, in our little church group, we had a number of young people. And with them, we stayed in contact, yes. In fact, when we, later in the story, we're talking about coming to the United States, one of the Adventist families that was there in camp with us ended up being sponsored by the same doctor that sponsored us.
— Different farm but same place.
— Okay, we're gonna get to that in a second. I wanna ask you this. You think of the war, and if you were to tell the story of World War II from the perspective of a Polish family, it was... it's a story of... it's a story of what? You tell me; give me some words to describe to me what the story of the war was like for Polish families. It was a story of...?
— Well, it's a story of greed, as far as Hitler and Stalin was.
— Right, greed.
— For us, it was a very sad story of having... it's like having something stolen from you.
— Not only property but your home, your livelihood, your loved ones in many cases, and in many ways, a portion of your life was stolen.
— Because during those times, you weren't able to do what you would like to do. You were not at freedom to go to school, for instance, during the war or continue in your occupation.
— Yeah. You've been back to Poland?
— Yes, I've been there twice.
— It's a beautiful country, isn't it?
— It is, and I'll tell you something about it. The two times that I was there, one time was while it was still under communism and the second time after Poland was freed, after the breakup of the Soviet Union. What a contrast between those two.
— Oh yeah. You know, I never visited eastern Europe during the time of eastern European communism. What was Poland like during that time?
— It was tough. First of all, they lost a lot of individuals that were very smart...
— ...very well educated. At one time, Russia said, "We wanna discuss democracy with you. Send us your 3,000 most educated, most brilliant people". And they were sent to Russia. And when they got there, all 3,000 were slaughtered; they were killed. They were the threat to communism. They had to be done away with, as far as Russia was concerned. But Poland suffered so much in that sense.
— Not only that, but they were so anti-Christianity. Poland is mostly Catholic.
— Yeah, strongly Catholic.
— And so the communists imprisoned most of the priests. Now, they didn't bother with the other churches so much because there were weaker churches, but they were tough on the Catholics, very tough. I think it was 1956 when the priests were finally freed and were able to continue. Also, the farmers, I mean, Russia decided, "We're gonna take all the farmland away, and we're gonna do collective farming".
— And it's kind of like "you do the farming, and we do the collecting" type of a thing. Well, again, the Polish people rebelled against that, and after two years of attempting that, they kinda gave it up. But living under communism was not a fun thing. There's a little statement that I heard once. You ask a person living under communism, "How is it under communism for you today"? And the answer was, "Oh, not so good, but at least it's better than tomorrow".
— Yeah, that's... yeah, okay, sure. Then communism came to an end. When you learned that, by then you were living in the United States; you'd been here many years. How did that make you feel? I mean, as a Polish person, you hadn't lived in Poland since you were very little boy. How did you feel about the end of communism in your mother country?
John Bradshaw: Well, it was wonderful to see the difference between 1977 when it was under communism when we visited there, and we returned back in 2008.
Roman Hintz: Yeah.
John Bradshaw: We had some evangelistic meeting there.
Roman Hintz: But when you got the news in the early '90s, was it celebrating in your household?
John Bradshaw: Yes, there was.
Roman Hintz: Yeah. Yeah, that was great news to hear, that Poland... see, I have a cousin there still. I knew what conditions they were living under.
John Bradshaw: Ahh.
Roman Hintz: I don't know if you'd call him my cousin or second cousin, but anyway, he still lived there, we visited him in 1977, haven't seen him since 2008, now, but I knew that he was now able to live a life. He's actually a very good capitalist. He's a real businessman.
John Bradshaw: How about that.
Roman Hintz: He does very, very well. But that was not possible under communism.
John Bradshaw: Right, things changed. Okay, so in a moment, we've got to talk about how you got to the United States and how things took off from there. Thanks for being part of this. I'm with Roman Hintz. This is "Conversations," brought to you by It Is Written.
John Bradshaw: Welcome back to "Conversations," brought to you by It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. My guest is Roman Hintz. Roman, a minute ago, we were getting you out of Germany on the way to the United States, but before we do that... you were born in Poland. Poland was occupied, divided in two between Germany and Russia early in World War II, late 1930s, early 1940s. Your mother managed to get you and the three children into Germany because she was half-German. Why go to Germany? A whole lot safer to be there than in an occupied country.
Roman Hintz: Mm-hmm.
John Bradshaw: Your dad was in prison. Then you, after the war, in a displaced persons camp... tell me a little bit more about that camp and what the experiences you had were like then.
Roman Hintz: You know, it was a friendly camp. There were no more bombs being dropped. There was no more fighting of that type. And they tried to nurse us back to health. One of the things that they use so much is to kill the lice in your hair; they would put stuff in you and get in your clothes and all that. For the children, they tried to nourish them back. And so every day we would line up with our cup for milk. But before you could have your milk, they would first give you cod liver oil.
John Bradshaw: Oh. Lucky you.
Roman Hintz: And so there would be somebody pour it, same spoon for everybody, and if you drank your cod liver oil, you could have your milk. And so they took care of us. We had school there. They actually had a driver training for older people. My father learned to drive, if you could say that he learned to drive. They had a truck there in camp. They were trying to get the people reestablished in some kind of work and all that because this was not to be permanent. The idea was that this would be a temporary place that you would be until you returned back to Poland or to some other country. A lot of people went back to Poland, but by this time, Poland was no longer occupied by Germany but totally occupied by communist Russia. And my father said, you know, "I don't trust. I'm not gonna go back. We're gonna try to find something else". And that's why we were there for four years, trying to get a place to go.
John Bradshaw: Four years in displaced persons camp?
Roman Hintz: Four years there.
John Bradshaw: How many of those 800 people that we spoke of a few moments ago would've been there for as long as you were?
Roman Hintz: Huh. I would... I don't know. But it seemed like there were some changes because people were changing from one camp to another.
John Bradshaw: Ah, sure.
Roman Hintz: Families, part of a family may have originally started in one camp while their other part of the family was in another camp. We initially started in Eckernförde, a different camp, and then we were transferred to Wentorf, where we met up with my father through the Red Cross. I remember also in camp receiving care package from C-A-R-E, and it had dried fruit and nuts and some candies and toiletries and things like this. It was such a wonderful thing opening the package. This was our whole group we shared along with us; it was a wonderful thing.
— Okay, you left Germany, came to the United States but I make it sound so simple. How did that, how did it work out that you were able to come to the United States? And first, why the United States?
— Could have chosen to go anywhere, I suppose.
— And we almost did.
— We had, we wanted... of course, everybody would wanna come to America, everybody. But coming to America was not that easy. In fact, I have a cartoon that shows... they got this from the Bible... it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a refugee to be able to immigrate to the United States.
— First of all, you had to be in good health. A lot of the people weren't. You had to be of good character. Not only that but you had to have a sponsor, somebody that would pay your way, not only pay your way but also guarantee three years of work or upkeep either way.
— So how could the average Pole, someone from Wroclaw or Warsaw or wherever, how could you find... how do you find a sponsor?
— For most people, they never got it. However, there are kind, fine people that sometimes take it upon themselves to do the Christian thing and to find and to help somebody in that situation.
— For us, my father had been an employee of the Adventist church. The General Conference in Tacoma Park, Maryland, the Washington, DC area, was working on a plan, and they were able, with contract with Dr. Joe Oliver in Rockwell, North Carolina, to sponsor us. And so, one year later, this was in 1946, year after the war ended, they wrote a letter, the General Conference wrote a letter to the American consulate saying, "We believe that we have met the requirements. Could you provide the visas for the Hintz family to come to America"? They would guarantee the three years of work.
— And this is where your story and my family or my wife's family intersect because my wife's family...
— ...knew Dr. Joe Oliver, which is really interesting.
— That is such a amazing thing.
— And when my wife's parents lived in Rockwell, North Carolina, they lived next to a farm that had been owned by or was still owned by the Olivers.
— So that's a little interesting, isn't it?
— That is just amazing, yes.
— Yeah, how about that. And the Olivers were a wonderful family. I knew Mrs. Oliver.
— I didn't know Dr. Joe Sr. What a fantastic family they were. So, what was it... why did... how did they get involved in all of this?
— Through the contact of the General Conference.
— Did the church ask them, or did they volunteer?
— They probably volunteered. I would imagine that this was announced in their churches, for kind-hearted people that were willing to do such a thing, that could afford to do such a thing. But, you know, even after that letter, one year passed, nothing from the U.S. government.
— Two years passed, nothing from the U.S. government. It wasn't until the third year, partway through the third year, that we finally got our first letter, and this came from the U.S. government, and it said... makes me emotional... "We have made our selections, and you have been chosen".
— Oh, how wonderful. So what was it like for the family to get that news?
— Absolutely wonderful, unbelievable. You know, for a while it looked like we might go to Australia. That fell through. For a while it looked like we may go to Paraguay in South America; that fell through. This one came through. So not only were we happy that we were going somewhere, but America? America? Wow.
— You won the lottery there. Or, should I say, that was the greatest blessing God could have given you.
— So you got the news. There had to be celebrations and...
— ...prayers of thanksgiving.
— We didn't have a lot of packing to do.
— I bet you didn't.
— We just had one, one crate.
— So the five of us, six months later, we were boarding the Gen. SS Stewart and aboard on the way to the United States of America.
— Wow, wow. Where did the boat land? Where did you... what port did you come into in the United States?
— We came in on Ellis Island.
— Ah, how about that.
— And the date we came in was October the 2nd, Columbus Day. So Columbus discovered America October 2nd, and so did we.
— Oh, how fantastic.
— So we couldn't disembark that day because it was a holiday.
— You're stuck on the boat another day?
— We're stuck on the boat another day. But what a view.
— It was the Statue of Liberty, the skyline of New York City. Wow, we couldn't hardly wait to get off. Next day on the 13th, I said... yeah, it was the 12th we came on. So the first 2nd is when we boarded the ship, we were on the ship for 10 days...
— ...stormy days...
— Oh wow. Yeah.
— ...rough water, was not a fun time most of the time, but we were okay.
— We were on our way to America, so who cares.
— Yeah, right. So you got to New York City, and then you were transported to North Carolina.
— That's right, we were put on a train. This was all prearranged by the Olivers. They met us at the train station in Salisbury, North Carolina.
— I can see that train station on my mind. My wife and I used to live in Salisbury, North Carolina.
— Yeah, that's amazing.
— I've walked that same platform where you disembarked. How about that.
— So then...
— And then off you went to Rockwell, which is out there, still in Rowan County.
— On acres of land...
— Oooh, so...
— ...we were on a farm.
— So three weeks before, you were in a displaced persons camp. Before-before, you were, I mean, you were...
— ...your bombs were raining down.
— And now you're living on a farm in rural North Carolina.
— Yeah. It was just fantastic. It was just fanta... we lived in a real house. You know, before, we're in the barracks with multiple families, no plumbing, it was outdoor toilet thing, pit and all this thing, no water, no running water in the barracks at all; we had to go to another building. Here we had water in the house. We had walls that were actual walls, electrical outlets in every room. We had a kitchen with a stove and an oven that mother could bake bread in. And we had all the milk and all the eggs...
— Yeah, you would've.
— ...we wanted to have 'cause it was a chicken farm and a dairy farm. And you know what? I didn't have to do the cod liver oil before I drank the milk.
— Things had really changed, hadn't they?
— Right, and we made butter, I remember a two-quart jar, shaking... have you ever made butter that way?
— I have not.
— Yeah, we made butter that way. Mother baked the bread, we'd have bread, butter on bread, and it was wonderful.
— So you were little kids at the time, and that was tough for kids. Had to have been so hard for a woman in her 40s...
— ...to be going through this, to have her life snatched away, everything she knew... and your dad, too... everything she knew, crushed. She was separated from her family.
— Now she's in this new land, with... the land flowing with eggs and butter.
— It was absolutely wonderful. And, you know, we got to go to school. By the way, we got bicycles. We had a wagon.
— Oh yeah.
— We had a dog. And I loved the cows. I loved teaching the calves to drink. You know, they suck on your finger...
— Yeah, yeah.
— ...then you lower your finger into the bucket of their milk and pretty soon you pull the fingers out. Taking care of the chickens... we loved working on the farm.
— I bet you did. And you went to school at the Salisbury church school?
— In Salisbury church school.
— Yeah, my wife...
— Two-teacher school.
— ...my wife went to that same school, you know.
— They have a new... well, the new school is not new anymore, but that's the old school over there in the old part of town, and I visited that church after they'd moved. In fact, I was there the day a man was there dismantling the church, pulling it down. I guess he was the new owner or something that probably replaced the thing with other buildings. And that's where you went to school.
— That's where I went to school; that's where I was baptized, September 15th, 1951...
— Fantastic, yeah.
— ...at church. But, you know, even going to school 10 miles in a car, that was a treat.
— I had ridden in a car one time in my life prior to that time.
— I got to ride 10 miles there and 10 miles back every day. And the kids, they were just so much fun. They were trying to teach us English. And you know how English language, two words can sound very similar...
— Oh yeah.
— ...but have different meanings? Give you an example, I have a friend that came from Spain recently. She was at a doctor's house for lunch, and she looked across the table to the doctor, said, "Are you retarded"? He looked at her like you're looking, and so she repeated, "Are you retarded"? And he said, "What do you mean"? She said, "You know, like, don't working anymore". He said, "Oh, you mean 'retired'"? "Yes, I'm retired".
— There you go.
— So the kids would laugh when we'd use the wrong word in the right situation or mispronounce a word.
— Were the kids accepting of you?
— Oh, very, very much.
— I don't know if it was the teacher that prepared them for our coming, but we were the interesting thing for them, you know, and had two teachers, and they would laugh and talk and laugh and talk. I had good friends there.
— There wouldn't have been too many Polish kids in Salisbury, North Carolina, at that time.
— We don't have a lot of time left. I want to ask you about the Olivers. When you think of this family who made it possible for your family to leave behind a broken life, no future, great uncertainty, and something moved in their heart to say, "Don't know who these people are", I don't even know if Dr. Oliver had met a Polish person in his life. But something moved on his heart, and you received a...
— ...just a new life. When you think of people who do that, I mean, what does that do for you?
— Oh, it's something you can never repay to them but you can to others. And, you know, in still talking about that Jeremiah 29, verses 12-13, it was all in God's plan. God knew the heart of the Olivers. They knew our need. He was able to get the two together, those that have and those that need, get the two together in such a beautiful way, and that's still from Jeremiah 29, the hope and the future came through this.
— Today or later in life, how have those early experiences molded you, framed you? Undoubtedly, there are people who came through that, and they were broken. Their life was never the same, and they were never fully functional again.
— What has stuck with you from those early years? Clearly you remember them very, very well. How have those years, those early formative years, living in a literal war zone, affected you and made you the person you are today?
— You know, the appreciation that I have for everything is a result of not having. A lot of times you have to lose something in order to appreciate what you had. For me, I didn't have it, and then I got it. And I will forever be thankful to this country for taking us in, forever thankful to the Olivers for the sacrifice that they made, for paying our way, for providing work for us, for bringing us here. And I'll forever be thankful to Jesus 'cause He sponsored us, too.
— Yes, He did.
— He had the plan, and He also paid the way. And He didn't guarantee just three years, but everlasting life, and that's part of the journey. He has that plan, and He has had that plan all along the way for us, and he's got it for everybody.
— I wish we had more time; I really do. I'm very, very grateful that you've taken your time, Roman, thank you so much for this. And...your story is a story... I mean, there's your dad's story and your own and you and your siblings, but ultimately, it's a story, isn't it, even in tragedy, of the goodness of God...
— ...and the faithfulness of God. We are mindful many people suffered, suffered, suffered terribly, but God was there, wasn't He?
— God was there.
— Yes. I had opportunities in this country that I would've never had had we stayed in Poland under Russian communism. The Christian education that I was able to get, the value of that alone is so much, yes.
— Yeah. Well, God bless you. Thank you very much. I know we didn't talk about your years as an educator, your years volunteering, and being of service, but I dunno, maybe we'll get a chance to do that some other time. Thank you and God bless you. Thank you so much.
— Thank you, John.
— And thank you for joining us, this has been a great deal of fun. Hope you've been blessed and you've been encouraged, and I hope that you have learned that you can see God, the faithfulness of God, even in difficult times. He's Roman Hintz. I'm John Bradshaw. This has been our conversation.