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Leseprobe für das Buch From Lodz to Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Geislingen, Allach and finally, liberation
A group of Jewish women on a tortuous six-year journey through ghettos, concentration camps and slave labor von Sybille Eberhardt:
Table of contents
Chapter 1: Life in Lodz up to the beginning of World War II
Chapter 2: Beginning of the war in Lodz
Chapter 3: Life in the ghetto
Chapter 4: Conversion to a “Labor Ghetto”
Chapter 5: Dissolving the ghetto
Chapter 6: Transit camp Auschwitz-Birkenau
Chapter 7: Transit camp Bergen-Belsen
Chapter 8: Forced labor in Geislingen/Steige
- Arrival and life in camp
- Camp personnel and its hierarchy
- From the camp to the work place
- Digression into the WMF Co. during the 3. Reich
- Working conditions at the WMF Company
- Surviving in the camp
- Last phase and liquidating the camp
Chapter 9: Evacuation to Allach, further transport and liberation of the prisoners
Chapter 10: Outlook on a new phase in life
List of Polish Prisoners in Geislingen
Sources and Literature
While contemplating the commemorative copper threshold across the sidewalk in front of the factory, I seem to hear wooden shoes clattering along the street. The sound of the approaching columns of prisoners wells up and I notice a basic rhythm whipped up by the cries emanating from the guards and their barking dogs – yet not without some dissonance from those out of step – resulting either from the slippery pavement or the weakness of its wearers or the wooden shoes which are not easily managed.
I see the seemingly endless column of emaciated figures stumbling forward – their mostly shaven heads, a few perhaps showing small locks of newly-grown hair – their unseeing eyes staring at the ground under their feet or at the backs of those immediately in front of them – freezing in their inadequately thin, striped prisoner’s garb which – either too big or too small – mirror the contempt of their well-nourished warders for those having to wear them and degrading them to an indistinguishable mass – almost age- and sexless – drilled to perform jobs only …
Who are these people? Does any trace of them remain? Where did they come from? What did they go through? Are there any survivors? How can one find them? These were the questions causing me to begin my research.
The first clue was offered by a list of names in a transport document (found by the Schneider family at Yad Vashem in 2015). In this document dated April 11, 1945 approx. 800 female Jewish slave laborers from Hungary and Poland are listed, as they were being removed from Geislingen to Dachau-Allach just prior to their liberation by American troops. This list contains not only the women’s names and their prisoner’s number but also their place and date of birth. As it became clear later on, their age had in some cases been altered to conform to the one preferred by the Nazis for their slave laborers – the wrong age could easily result in immediate annihilation.
At the time of their transport leaving Geislingen the women were between 16 and 50 years old – the majority of them being about 20. Approximately one out of seven of the total of 820 of these non-German slave laborers were originally from Poland, the country which has been prominent in the research of my own family history and which therefore attracted my special attention.
Looking more closely at the place of birth of the Polish women on this list it became evident that at least two thirds of them came from the Lodz area. According to the Nazi list nobody had come from Lodz itself. 77 women had been robbed of their place of birth on this list. It was the only non-existent place among all the others. The name of a victorious German general during World War I in the vicinity of Lodz obliterated the Polish version of the city’s name and left all its inhabitants that had been born there literally without geographical roots. Germanizing the city name had not been deemed sufficient for the invaders, “Lodsch” was given the German name “Litzmannstadt” in April of 1940. Having been reduced to just a number, those individuals were cut off from their geographical and historical identity – henceforth to be regarded only as part of a work force at the indiscriminate disposal of the powers that be.
I owe my first lead to these women from Lodz who had to slave away in Geislingen to the hobby historian Hoche pointing out the video interviews of the USC which had been conducted in the 1990s in various cities in the States, Canada and South Africa (explanatory note: the interviews conducted in other languages besides English are not included in this compilation due to a lack of knowledge of those languages). By then they were far away from their country of origin but in addition to their names they had also been given a face and a voice which vividly brought to life the past of these Holocaust survivors. Eighteen accounts added up to an impressive image of a grim period in time which – while intense research has already been done – is still in need of further elucidation.
The individual biographies of Molly Ash nee Maroko, Sala Biren nee Rozenberg, Sara Blustein nee Nirenberg, Helen Bolstok nee Kempinska, Esther Brandeis nee Gerszt, Hanka Cygler nee Goldberg, Esther Davidson nee Pelman, Miriam Dressler nee Sznaiderman, Libby Erlich nee Domb, Mary Feigenblatt nee Warszawska, Ester Gordon nee Szwarzbaum, Tauba Granek nee Grosman, Rose Kohn nee Eizman, Mila Korn nee Karp, Minia Moszenberg nee Wasilkowska, Jean Kail nee Guta Olszer, Regina Stawski nee Frant, Rose Zylberberg nee Blogowska, have heretofore not been presented together. Very few of the survivors knew each other personally even though they lived in the same city – some in neighboring cities. They belong approximately to the same generation, grew up in the same region, belong to the same religious community which left its mark on them in different ways. They all speak of a happy childhood in the Lodz area – the name literally means “boat” - offering them safety and comfort in their younger years, even though now and then waves of antisemitism would rock the Polish boat.
However, when the boat was seized and had to continue under the dangerous Nazi flag, they suffered through plundering, literal removal from the boat and being dumped into the ghetto, followed by ruthless exploitation similar to the fate of galley slaves that had no chance to escape. They passed through the same or similar traumatic experiences in the various camps and regained their freedom at the same time. They aimed at starting a new life for themselves in various geographical locations which called for great efforts. Having grown older they felt the desire to reflect on their past and to share their experiences with new generations which knew nothing about what had taken place. A lot of time having elapsed between what they were telling and what had actually happened changed their original perception - aided by newly acquired information and a reassessment while looking back. Possibly, some memories were not entirely correct but this does not diminish the value of the source as a whole. The interviews are not all the same in length: the interviewers who are idealistic nonprofessionals without any specific knowledge of history adhere to an outline provided by the Shoah Foundation, without conducting the interviews along the same rigid lines. Sometimes I could have wished for the interviewer asking more follow-up questions since many of the interviewees are no longer alive and cannot be asked to elaborate. Perhaps the interviewees left out some details that would have been lost on those viewers who were so far removed in time and place from the scope of their own experiences.
A smaller number of these contemporary witnesses has testified not long after the end of the war as to the conditions for slave laborers in Geislingen, i. e. in connection with inquiries against Nazi personnel whose task was overseeing the slave laborers. This early evidence given soon after the occurrences provides valuable insights into the work conditions and the camps generally, although these, too, are not entirely free of errors. Such errors, e.g. where perpetrators – often women - were not clearly identified, prevented their conviction by a court, while revealing the appalling details of everyday life in the camps. Such details which the victims still had in their minds very vividly right after the war have disappeared from the memory of the interviewees in the decades in between but have been included in this narrative.
Use has also been made of the memories of other contemporary witnesses from the Lodz ghetto, besides the camps that these women suffered through; as well as additional archive material where available. Using published works of various aspects and periods connected to the different stages of their life’s journey, it is my intention to provide a background to this “Fugue of survivors” in which the timbre of each voice will be given play.
Some dismaying counterpoints are being placed by German bureaucrats, who as perpetrators or tag-alongs, pervert the voices of victims by their utterances. These victims’ voices appear in italics – at least those concerning the 18 Polish Jewesses.
In order to better track these survivors I have set their names in bold print at the beginning of a passage. Some content-related terms within a chapter are spaced out.
Excursions add vital background information.
Words in quotations are spelled the same way they appear in the originals (e. g. both ‘getto’ and ‘ghetto’ is used. Also, names are spelled in different ways, ‘Hollender/Hollaender’ or ‘Ewa/Eva’.).
My thanks to all whose help contributed to the realization of this work: As already mentioned, Mr. Hoche and the Schneider family, Jeremy Nesoff for helping us contact his grandmother and for permission to reprint her memorial quilt, Arno Huth from the Neckarelz Memorial for a range of information, Dr. Sommer for the matching of data, Dariusz and Dorota Dekiert for taking us on a tour of Lodz as well as providing photos and documents from the Lodz archive, Mrs. Basch for her translation from Hebrew, Ilona Walosczyk for getting us in touch with Katarzyna Bilicka and her mother, to Ms. Geissler of the ITS archives, to the archives in Ludwigsburg and Berlin, Dachau and Auschwitz, to Ms. Naegel and her colleagues at CEDIS, Ms. Thelen for support by the LpB.
My heartfelt thanks to my husband OTTO EBERHARDT for his outstanding share of this work, the arduous transcribing and translating of the interviews, his tireless support in researching, reviewing the manuscript, providing photos used and graphic layout.
LIFE IN LODZ UP TO WORLD WAR II
The majority of the women whose life story is to be traced to a certain extent in this study, was born into this bustling industrial city in the twenties of the 20th century – located in the center of the newly created Polish state after World War I: Lodz.
The young parents of these girls just being born in Lodz had been molded by the peripheral location of the city, situated on the fringe of the Russian Empire, by the dependence of the city’s textile industry on the Russian market from which they had now been cut off due to military conflict over the eastern boundaries of the new Poland, and who were now beginning to find their bearings anew. Despite the difficulties in uniting in one young but sovereign Poland the various areas that had been divided among three former Empires – Prussian, Austro-Hungarian, Russian - and their uneven state of development, the young parents saw a promising future for themselves – like many of their contemporaries – in the second largest city of the country. During these Twenties the increase in population was considerably higher in Lodz than in any other city in Poland1 thereby increasing the Jewish share in it as well. Among the newcomers was the family of Mary Warszawska who moved to Lodz from Wielun at the beginning of 1924 – not long after Mary’s birth. Exactly at what time the other Jewish families who are under consideration here arrived in Lodz is not clearly stated in the interviews. In only a few instances mention is made of grandparents who lived out in the country which would suggest that it was the parent generation who made the move to the city – most likely in the boom years 1894 to 1914 when the Lodz population tripled from approximately 160 500 to 478 000.2 Sala Rozenberg’s parents were born in small towns in the vicinity of Lodz (her father in 1899) but she herself was already born in Lodz in 1925. The father of the youngest of those survivors presented here, Mila Karp, managed several clothing stores – together with his brothers – which they had inherited from their father. It is not known since when the family owned these businesses in Lodz. Tauba Grosman tells of her mother – Lea Chabanska, born in 1897 – moving to Lodz together with her family from the surrounding countryside in order to attain a higher standard of living. Tauba’s father Mosze was born in Lodz in 1898. There is no information as to how long his family had lived in Lodz. As early as the 1820s a scattered number of Jews lived in the small town of Lodz3 according to the classification of the village as an industrial settlement by the government in 1821, which in turn resulted in several waves of German craftsmen flooding the town. These Germans represented a majority of the town’s population till the 1860s when restrictions regarding settling were removed, as well as various limitations which thereafter led to a sharp increase of Jews and Poles arriving in the city, their influx changing the structure of the population of this textile metropolis in their own favor. In the 1890s the Jewish share was bolstered by the arrival of Litwaks from the western regions of the Russian Empire who wanted to invest in the textile industry. 4 This massive increase in numbers had quite an impact on the townscape. While the German immigrants settled mostly south of the original center of the farming town creating a new town, their Jewish counterparts who had begun settling in the suburbs of Baluty and Radogoszcz now moved to the north of town, forming a highly homogeneous neighborhood. Expanding along the main north-south axis of Piotrkowska St. it extended to the town center. Here there were hardly any Germans to be found and therefore Jews had hardly any contact with Germans in this neighborhood. Because of their religious observance the more traditional Jewish families tended to seek the safety and communal spirit of a purely Jewish area, whereas those more ready to be assimilated due to economical and ideological reasons proclaimed their open-mindedness by moving out of their original neighborhood into a mixed society. Not all of those families examined here have made statements regarding their living situation. Three families lived in large apartment buildings in which only the janitors belonged to the Polish ethnic group. The Kempinski family was housed in a building with 100 apartments, the Rozenbergs lived together with 40 other renters in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, Sczwarcbaums lived at first – based on Esther’s recollections – in a six-story building on Radwajska St., later moved to another large building, finally ending up in a newly erected building on Wysoka St. The Ejzman family also lived in a multi-story building which must have been located on the fringe of the Jewish Quarter because of a Catholic church and a Polish school near them. The more affluent families such as Karp, Warszawski and Grosman preferred a mixed neighborhood or sought closeness to the city center. The Karp family, as owners of several clothing stores, occupied a spacious apartment on prestigious Plac Wolnosci (Freedom Square), the Warszawskis, as owners of a clothing factory, did not live in predominantly pious surroundings, and the Grosman family operated a small factory in their own home located in a multi ethnic area…
Camp personnel and its hierarchy
Looking at the experiences of our contemporary witnesses in camp up to now leads us to the question of who was responsible and what was the camp system like. The camp at Geislingen/Steige was a subsidiary of the central Natzweiler camp located on French soil in Alsace near Strassburg. Its administration appointed the heads of the branch camps, an SS-officer. During the Geislingen camp’s existence there was a rotation of three camp leaders. This process of appointments and re-appointments also took place in the central camp administration (Some of our witnesses were confronted with Kramer while imprisoned in Auschwitz-Birkenau, when he was head of the camp there, before being transferred to Bergen-Belsen when the Auschwitz camp was liquidated, conforming its structure to Auschwitz. Before he ever became Kommandant in Auschwitz he had held that position in Natzweiler. Kramer changed positions with Hartjenstein, the latter taking over command of Natzweiler in May ‘44. He stayed in this position all through the dissolving of the main camp and its removal to the east in September ‘44, till February ‘45. Heinrich Schwarz, who became his successor, had held a previous appointment in the Monowitz camp – a branch of Auschwitz – till the Red Army advanced and caused the dissolution of that camp). So the heads of the Geislingen camp were subordinates to the current Natzweiler Kommandant, i. e. Hartjenstein and Schwarz.
Camp commander of Geislingen in its setup phase was one Ahrens (his full rank was “Schutzhaftlagerfuehrer), as he himself testified on September 4, 1968 before a German court in the city of Bremen.1 Born in 1887 in Bremen he was on duty in the Ravensbrueck concentration camp as SS-Oberscharfuehrer (non-commissioned officer) till April 1, 1944 when he was transferred to the Natzweiler camp, and from there – no later than the end of July ‘44 to Geislingen. After some time two deputies were added to his staff – Mokros and Stojan by name – he mentions no details about them. Stojan is documented in his POW file like this: Born 1889 in Annahuette/Niederlausitz (Eastern Germany), Stojan is a little over a year younger than Ahrens. In 1946 his height is 5 ft, 7.8 in., weight 142 lb. (measured in 1946), of slender built, hair gray, eyes brown-gray. Scars on left forearm, source unknown. Trade used to be glass worker. Became a member of DAF in 1933 (Nazi organization that replaced independent trade unions), member of a veteran’s organization from 1938 to 1943. From October 1, 1944 till April 29, 1945 member of a Waffen SS unit. Camp commander Ahrens put him in charge of all the prisoners working for WMF Co. and placed the female SS-supervisors in the factory under his command. There are no documents regarding Mokros. According to female SS-supervisor Merkle he was about 30 years old at that time, was born in Upper Silesia and worked in the orderly room of the camp.2 Female SS-supervisor Ihle judges him to have been between 35 and 40 at the time, and thinks he was born in Kattowitz.3 Female SS-supervisor Rosa B. in turn estimates him being around 30, naming Hindenburg/Zabrze, near Kattowitz, as his place of birth.4 Available documents shed no light on the question when he became responsible for food provisioning in the camp. Both lieutenants of the camp head (Lagerfuehrer) kept their positions for the whole time the camp existed. The head of the camp had at his disposal a guard unit consisting of about a dozen members of the home guard, as well as some regular soldiers who were unfit for front line service. The central administration in Natzweiler assigned them5. Their duties consisted of guarding the camp against the outside round the clock and escorting the prisoners to the factory to work and back to the camp after their shift ended. For the male guards the female prisoners’ camp was off limits, as stated by one guard named Obel.6 Before the female SS-supervisors completed their training the middle of August, keeping order inside the camp was organized and left to the female Hungarian prisoners.7 With the largest group of female SS-supervisors arriving from Ravensbrueck, beginning August 16, 1944, the prisoners began working for the WMF. 8 Ahrens appointed female SS-supervisor Rosa B. first as head of the kitchen detail and then to have sway over all the female prisoners in the camp. She had female supervisor Irma Hl. as her assistant, the latter also working for Arens as a secretary. Her job description: “I was responsible for cleanliness and order in the barracks. In addition to that I had to be present at both morning and evening roll call, at which time I had to document every report … for example, when somebody was ill.” 9 She also mentions being responsible for issuing clothing and bedclothes, while Rosa B. states that Hl. was only “very rarely” in the camp.10 Obviously, Arens forced the building up of the camp. Changes were made in order to adapt to rules in other camps, e. g. the Hungarian prisoners who had kept order – the camp elder then being Ethel Engel, assisted by several heads of individual blocks - were now replaced by German Kapos. This brought about a crucial change. On October 16, 1944, six female German prisoners were dispatched from the Ravensbrueck camp to Geislingen11, to be installed as “Funktionshaeftlinge” there (they had authority to carry out certain functions). Not long after this, Arens is relieved of command over the camp. One of the newly-arrived Kapos, Gertrud Mueller, characterizes him as “ambitious and a strict disciplinarian”,12 but we don’t know if they knew him in Ravensbrueck, as there is no record what his functions were there. The six Kapos who were in fact political prisoners were assigned as block elders to the six prisoners’ blocks. G. Mueller’s first responsibility was over Block 2 but after two weeks, according to her own account, she was appointed to the kitchen as Kapo, even though – in her own words – she had no qualification for that. 13 One explanation is that female SS-supervisor Rosa B. appointed her because she herself was going to attend courses in a school in Isny, to be trained for a leading position in labor. She wanted to make sure that the kitchen and its overseeing personnel was functioning smoothly when she began her leave of absence for training which was scheduled for the middle of November. Evidently G. Mueller proved successful in this regard, at least to the SS if not to the other prisoners, as shown in the examples given. It cannot be stated precisely when Klara Pfoertsch was installed as camp elder. Perhaps camp Kommandant Arens based his decision on the fact that she had held the same position in Ravensbrueck as well as in Auschwitz, where female SS camp leader Mandel had named her camp elder, thus making her the same in the Geislingen camp. All available sources convey the impression that these two women constituted the backbone of the Kapo system in Geislingen, enabling Rosa B.’s absence of four weeks. When she returned she was promoted to head supervisor. By then camp Kommandant Arens had been transferred – October 20, 1944 – to another SS unit within the Natzweiler complex.14 As to his recall, a senior WMF engineer by name of Huth cites differences of opinion between the company and the camp administration as to the authority over the prisoners while working in the factory. Another source of friction was food distribution in the factory, as well as the food quality. Huth states that Dr. Burkhardt, one of the directors, complained to Hofmann, the top SS officer in the whole southwest. Likely Hofmann then contacted Hartjenstein.15 The day of the transfer of Arens, (October 20) his replacement was installed. The new Kommandant was Friedrich Schopp, born 1890 in Alzey. His CV provides interesting details of his career.16 After elementary school he became a locksmith’s apprentice, and upon its completion became a journeyman – literally, as was customary in those days, journeying from job to job. No more is mentioned about his trade but he enlists in the military on October 15, 1912. During World War I he is deployed on the western front, after the war ends he joins an irregular militia, retiring from military service in 1920 with the rank of a corporal. He returns home and marries. It is not clear how successful his work life is. His marriage fails in 1930. Two years later – in 1932 – he joins the Nazi party and likely the SS at the same time, because in 1938, having advanced to the rank of Rottenfuehrer (the highest rank under NCOs), he states: “Before the “Machtuebernahme”(the ascension Hitler’s to power January 1933), I was fully engaged as an SS member, committing myself as a real man to the fullest extent to our movement and still do today with all my strength.” But he is at odds with his political engagement not resulting in an adequate job position. Therefore, having remarried, he writes to his SS superiors on April 9, 1938: “I have no one to stand by me … I am the only SS or SA member sweeping streets in Worms. Nobody cares about me.” 17 The SS officer Hoffmann sends a memorandum to his superiors on May 30, 1938 18 pointing out that Schopp has been promoted to the job of gas meter reader with the city of Worms. At the outbreak of World War II, Schopp is too old for active service, but he is able to continue his career in the SS. In 1941 and again in 1944 (April 1) he is promoted, holding now the rank of Hauptscharfuehrer – the highest non-commissioned rank, as mentioned above. The Natzweiler center command appointed him Camp Commander of the Geislingen subsidiary camp, replacing Christian Arens. It seems this was a direct consequence of a visit to Geislingen by Natzweiler chief Hartjenstein, whose intention was “to see that everything was in order”. 19 It cannot be ascertained whether Hartjenstein acted on his own initiative or whether a higher SS officer – e. g. Hoffmann – or whether even the First Supervisor, who was a subordinate of Arens, were the cause of this inspection. However, he “[Hartjenstein] relieved the often violent-tempered Kommandant Arens upon the presentation of the person concerned [First Supervisor Rosa B.].” 20