Harry and Scott Lenga
June 28th, 2022
The Watchmakers by Harry Lenga and Scott Lenga is the story of brotherhood, survival, and hope during the Holocaust. Harry and his two brothers, Mailekh and Moishe, studied their father’s trade at a young age. Upon the German invasion of Poland, when the Lenga family was upended, Harry and his brothers never anticipated that the tools acquired from their father would be the key to their survival. Fixing watches for the Germans in the ghettos and brutal slave labor camps of occupied Poland and Austria bought their lives repeatedly, from Wolanow and Starachowice to Auschwitz and Ebensee. This is an honest first-person account of Harry Lenga’s life before, during, and after the war.
Elise Cooper: Why write this story?
Scott Lenga: This project has been chasing me my entire adult life. My father was a Holocaust survivor who felt compelled to tell the stories of what happened to him. I did thirty-seven hours of interviews with him in the early nineties. Those interviews sat in a cabinet in my home for more than twenty years. These were stories I grew up with. My children also heard them as well. I wrote the Holocaust as a backdrop with how the three brothers took care of each other. I made efforts to verify everything. This book is not a historical book, more like a diary, a first-hand account.
EC: There are so many Holocaust survivors that never wanted to speak of their experiences, yet your dad did. Why?
SL: In the 1960s my dad had terrible nightmares. One day by chance he ran into another Holocaust survivor, and they shared what happened to them during the war. That night he did not have a nightmare. He took that as a sign and never looked back. The tapes were arranged into a monologue, not a dialogue. I arranged everything into a chronological order.
EC: What happened to the fourth brother?
SL: He escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto and went to the Russian occupied side of Poland around 1940. The Soviets sent this population of Jewish people to Siberia. After the war was over, he went to Poland and was united with his other brothers in Germany.
EC: The role of watchmaking?
SL: My father came from a family of watchmakers. The watchmaking skills became valuable during the war. In September 1942 my grandfather received a tip from the local Polish police captain that the Germans were rounding up all the Jews and sending them away on a train. My grandfather sent his sons away to escape with a suitcase of watchmaking tools. They were literally tools of survival. They were also a physical connection to their father, giving them strength, and enabled them to stay together throughout the war.
EC: Those tools were taken away from them?
SL: Yes, while at the ramp at Auschwitz along with their hair, clothes, and even their names where the Germans used the numbers tattooed on their arms instead. My dad’s response was to find a nail, earmuffs, and a spring to make new tools. This is how he and his brothers’ fixed watches. The German soldiers pilfered watches and had the brothers fix them. There was an underground economy with shades of grey. Because of the value, the three brothers were allowed to fix watches. It carried them throughout the war, a card they could play.
EC: The Luftwaffe versus the SS versus the Jewish police?
SL: The SS were trained to kill without remorse. The Luftwaffe had military training. They did not see themselves as the ones during the dirty work. Uncle Immerglick was in the Jewish police and sometimes he exhibited compassion and other times cruelty. He was stomped to death on the way to Auschwitz by the Jewish prisoners. From the perspective of my father Immerglick was his real uncle.
EC: How would you describe your dad?
SL: He was an ordinary guy from the “old country.” His upbringing of being Hasidic in a poverty ridden small town in Poland gave him the religious discipline, like survival training, that enabled my dad and his brothers to keep their emotional balance during the most extreme circumstances. He had a skill to find the soft spot in people, a small glimmer of humanity for those who otherwise would just be a murderer. He was charming, skillful, courageous, gutsy, protective, a negotiator, and a barter.
EC: What do you want the readers to get out of the book?
SL: My father wanted to make sure that people understood what happened to him during the war so it would never happen again. I would like the readers to connect with my father’s tenacity, resilience, and initiative. There was a brotherhood between my father and his brothers as they had a single-minded focus to stay alive.