Pet Jews

Nazis had “pet Jews”?

I am not kidding.

It was part of how Sam Goldberg survived Treblinka for 13 months.   Sam describes two Nazi SS officers who loved his eyes and wanted him to survive.

It was even hard for Sam to understand.  He saw it as a pure miracle. Here is a partial descriptions from a 1997 interview:

Sam:  I didn’t care about my life at all.  I didn’t care about staying alive.  It would come into my head, I would think at night, where are my mother and father, where are my sisters and brothers?  Why should I be here?  I wanted to be free of my life also.  The German said, “you will survive.”

Interviewer:  Why do you think the German was so good to you?

Sam:  I don’t know.  G-d in heaven sent him to me.  He and another German.  The German who chased the people into the [unknown word], he wanted to take off his uniform and give it to me that I should get out of there, that I should survive.  It was important to them that I survive.

Interviewer:  Did you ever ask them why they did that?

Sam:  I asked them (in German) “Why do you do this?”  He said, “you have to stay alive.”  They liked my blue eyes.  So I should stay alive.  He took off his own coat with anger and he ordered me that I should leave there.  I said, “no.”

Interviewer:  When did this happen?

Sam:  This happened in 1943.  I was there 13 months.

Richard Glazer, another Treblinka survivor, speculates about SS officers:

“There was an incredible rivalry amongst the ss men . . . You see, they weren’t just an amorphous mass, as people now like to imagine them; they were, after all, individual men, with individual personalities.  Some were worse, some better.  Almost every one of them had their protege amongst the prisoners, whom they played off against each other.” (Sereny at 178).

Even Franz Stengl, the first Kommandant of Sobibor and the second Kommandant of Treblinka, had a pet Jew.   Stanislaw Szmajzner (Stan) was an orthodox boy of 14.  With his parents sent to their death in the gas chamber, he found himself in Sobibor with only his talent to save him – he was a goldsmith.  Stan was saved from the gas chambers to sit and turn the gold from Jews’ teeth and wedding rings into trinkets for wives and girlfriends of the SS and the Ukranian guards.  He describes that he was treated with kindness by Stengl:

“‘Stangl seemed so friendly when they brought the gold in the afternoon,’ he told me.  ‘I felt encouraged to ask about my father.  I told him that I’d like to go and see my father.  Where is he, please? I asked.  You are much better off here, Stangl answered in a very friendly way.  This is a much better place to work.  Don’t worry about him.  He is all right. . . . Stengl was always cheerful and treated me with kindness. . . . it’s perfectly true that he seemed to like me; that he made a sort of pet of me.  Perhaps he really did want to help me (Sereny at 126-129).

Stan resettled in Brazil after the war and ironically, so did Stengl.  After Stengl was captured and sent back to Germany for trial, Stan gave interviews to the Brazilian press and testified at Stengl’s trial in 1970.  One of the thing he described was how Stengl would come to his barrack on Friday evening and offer him pork sausages.  The Court and the press understood that Stengl was taunting this young orthodox boy to eat pork on the Sabbath.

This testimony bothered Stengl.  In his conversation with Gitta Sereny, Stengl referred to this part of Stan’s testimony.

“That business with the sausage,” he said, “was deliberately misinterpreted . . .  It’s true I used to bring him food and probably there was sausages. But it wasn’t to taunt him with pork; I brought him other things too.  It was because we received our food allocations on Fridays and – there was a great deal of food in the camp much of the time – and you should have seen how the papers [in Brazil] there ate it up – they made of it – that I used to stand in front of the window of the barrack where he worked and shout tauntingly, holding up the sausage.  But I never did such a thing . . . I don’t know what the sausages – if sausages there were – were made of.    . . .”  (Sereny at 128)


  • Sereny, Gitta.  Into That Darkness: An Examination of Conscience.  New York, NY.  Random House.  1974.
  • Interview with Sam Goldberg – 1997

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