THE KAPO AT GROSSINGER’S – REVISITED

My blog readers may recall my post about the Kapo at Grossinger’s.

http://bit.ly/2hx32fe

Sam and Esther went to Grossinger’s Hotel in upstate New York for a vacation.  The maître d’ greeted them and Sam knew right away that he was a Kapo from Treblinka.  Here is an excerpt from the February 8, 2016 blog post:

“Well, when Sam saw the Kapo at Grossinger’s, he was shocked.  It had been some 20 years, but still, he recognized him immediately, as the “terrible” Kapo who “lived with maybe 10 girls.”   He said to him: “You, you’re here?”   The Kapo said to Sam: “Be quiet, don’t say anything.”  Needless to say, if it had gotten out that the manager of Grossinger’s was a Kapo at Treblinka, he would not have kept his job very long.  Sam decided not to “touch him.”  However, the Kapo, feeling the need to add some insurance to Sam’s silence, gave Sam and Esther the nicest room in the hotel and sent them a beautiful bottle of champagne and all kinds of delicious food.”

Well, I may have discovered the Kapo’s name:  Joseph Siedlecki.

I am currently reading Treblinka Survivor: The Life and Death of Hershl Sperling, by Mark S. Smith.  It is a wonderfully written book about Mr. Smith’s research and exploration of the life and unfortunate death of Hershl Sperling who arrived in Treblinka in September of 1942, at the age of fifteen.

Shmuel Rajzman, Sam’s “best friend,” took Hershl under his wing and taught him the unique Treblinka survival techniques.  Hershl made it through – all the way to the uprising. He participated in the planning and execution of the uprising, most likely with Sam, in Rajzman’s group.   He ran out to the forest, hiding in a tree during the Nazi search for escaped prisoners.   Unlike Sam, he did not stay in the local forest, but made his way back to what was left of the Warsaw ghetto.  He did not stay long, as it was thoroughly destroyed.  He was captured only seven days after his escape from Treblinka “in or near the town of Koluszki in central Poland.” (Smith at 146).  He was taken to Auschwitz.  Ultimately, he survived the war and emigrated to Scotland.  Holocaust demons tormented him until he committed suicide at the age of 62, in 1989.

I jumped out of my chair as I read Mr. Smith’s description of the Treblinka escapees hiding in the forest.  He mentions a man named Joseph Siedlecki: “Siedlecki, a former Polish Army soldier whose wife was gassed on arrival at Treblinka,” Mr. Smith writes, “ended up in Warsaw, where he managed to acquire papers and spent the rest of the war passing as a gentile Pole working with a construction firm attached to the German army.  Siedlecki, who later emigrated to America and became a maitre d’ at Grossinger’s Hotel in upstate New York, where Hershl years later visited him.” (Smith at 144)

Mr. Smith also mentions that Siedlecki was interviewed by Gitta Sereny for her 1974 book, Into That Darkness, about Franz Stangl, the Kommandant of Treblinka. I reread the section where he is interviewed.  Siedlecki does not mention that he was a Kapo and he states that he “never did harm to anyone [at Treblinka].” (Sereny at 190)

For the record, I have no proof that Mr. Siedlecki was a Kapo at Treblinka.  I have only Sam’s interview statement about meeting the manager at Grossinger’s who he recognized as the Kapo.  It is possible that the Siedlecki was the maître d’ at Grossingers and there was another Treblinka survivor who was a manager there, but it seems unlikely.  We may never find out, but Sam and Esther got an instant vacation upgrade at Grossinger’s.  Not too bad.

 

SOURCES:

Smith, Mark.  Treblinka Survivor: The Life and Death of Hershl Sperling.  Stroud. Gloucestershire.  Pellmount.  2010.

Sereny, Gitta.  Into That Darkness: An Examination of Conscience.  New York, NY.  Random House.  1974.

1997 Interview with Sam Goldberg by Shoah Foundation.

GUEST BLOGGER – SHLOMO GOLDBERG VAYESHEV – BETRAYAL

NOTE TO READER:  My husband, Shlomo Goldberg, posts an idea each week related to the Torah portion that will be read in Synagogue on the coming Sabbath.   This week’s blog post is shared here – I thought you would find it meaningful.

 

Joseph is sold by his brothers.  The text says that  the price was 20 pieces of silver.  The Midrash says that the 10 brothers each used 2 silver pieces to buy shoes with the revenue from  their brother’s sale. The allusion to shoes as the commodity that was exchanged for Joseph is picked up in the Yom Kippur poem ( Elah Ezkara, These I will remember),  The cruel king reminds the scholars that Joseph was sold for shoes.  They agree and sentence the perpetrators to death, thus sealing their own fates as the 10 martyrs.

This betrayal for shoes evokes the exhibits at holocaust sites – see above picture from Auschwitz museum.

The piles of shoes , the record of the victims.

The story evokes the betrayals of desperation.  Jews competing for work permits. the Judenrat, the Jewish Police.  Jews betraying Jews. The guilt for these acts is ambiguous, it is  the true  prisoners dilemma. When my parents talked about the holocaust, or were  silent about their lives then, I presumed that these were the ambivalent  acts  that they were hiding.  I thought: there must have been decisions that my parents  took as self preserving, at the expense of others.

The parsha presents another theme, manifest in my parents’ experience: grace, arousing kindness from others.  Joseph is sold to the chief butcher.  Chazal say he was the royal executioner.  The text wants to attach cruelty to this master.  Yet, he sees Joseph with kind eyes .  Even when Joseph is accused of trying to seduce his wife, he does not have Joseph killed, the butcher  does not do what is  easy and expected; rather he sends Joseph to prison, where the warden is charmed by him,

My father, like Joseph, survived on charisma and luck.  The Soviet army officer chose my father for survival and escape from the German POW camp. In the Treblinka death camp, the worst place in the  world, the cruelest of the overseers, the butcher of the camp, chose my father as his pet, and made him the master ( not the kappo) of the laundry (a morally clean job).

Chanukah is the longest holiday of the year. It has a theme,  the oil lasting 8 times longer than expected demonstrates  perseverance. You have no idea how much adversity you can survive. This colors my medical choices.  I try not to  underestimate how sick a person can be, and still survive.  I try not to underestimate how long  and how gravely a person can suffer before death.

Gd grants grace to the downtrodden.  Perhaps it would be better not to descend, but that is not our history

 

ARMBAND – A MARK OF CAIN

 

“I didn’t have the armband,” Sam said.  That’s right – Sam Goldberg never wore one.  He just didn’t.  He went about his business and just never wore one.  Go Sam.

The notorious armband forced onto the sleeves of the Jews of Europe during Nazi control has made a comeback in the news.  Today’s Seattle Times ran an article by Christine Hauser of the New York Times, titled: After neo-Nazi Posting, Police in Montana Town Step Up Patrols. 

The article’s lead reads:

The Daily Stormer article was filled with anti-Semitic slurs, and yellow stars reminiscent of the ones Jews were forced to wear by the Nazis were superimposed on photographs of the six: a lawyer, a real estate agent, a boy identified as their child, two rabbis and an activist.

The rest of the article can be found here:

http://bit.ly/2hUlVqU

While I believe that neo-Nazis do not deserve to be mentioned, I have come across the origins of the armband in my research and I thought I would share it with you.

Hans Frank, the governor of the German-controlled areas of Poland, issued the first armband order on November 23, 1939.  All Jewish men and women over the age of ten were required to wear “a white band, at least ten centimeters wide, with the Star of David, to be worn on the right sleeve of both inner and outer clothing.  Jews were being concentrated and identified, so that none would escape the ever-tightening meshes of German control.” (Dawidowitcz at 273)

Warsaw was under Frank’s jurisdiction and had a large concentration of Jews who would now be required to wear this armband.  The start date was December 1, 1939.  By this time, the Nazis had appointed a Warsaw Jewish Council to do their bidding and enforce their rules.  Adam Czerniakow was appointed as the first chairman of the Jewish Council.

In his Diary entry of December 3, 1939, Czerniakow noted: “In the morning, I proceeded through the streets with an armband.  In view of the rumors about the postponement of the wearing of armbands such a demonstration is necessary.’  (Friedlander at 37-38)

While Jews living under Nazi control in Poland began wearing the armband in December of 1939, it seems that the Jews of Germany did not encounter the armband until the fall of 1941.

“A few days after Goebbels received Hitler’s authorization,” writes Saul Friedlander in Nazi Germany and the Jews 1939-1945: The years of Extermination, “the marking of the Reich’s Jews with a ‘distinctive and clearly visible sign’ was launched.  A decree of September 1, 1941, issued by the Ministry of the Interior, ordered that from the nineteenth of that month all Jews of the Greater Reich and the Protectorate aged six and above should wear a yellow six-pointed star with the word Jude inscribed on it in (twisted) black letters.  The palm-size star had to be sewed to the clothes, on the left side of the breast, at the height of the heart, so as to be fully visible when a Jew was in a public place (defined as any place where people not belonging to the family circle could be encountered).” (Id. at 251)

As I thought about this very visible marking that the Jews of Europe were forced to wear to set themselves apart, I recalled the biblical mark of Cain.  In Genesis, chapter 4, Cain murders his brother, Able, presumably because he is jealous that G-d accepted Able’s sacrifice but not his own.  G-d says to Cain: ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries to Me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:10) G-d punishes Cain by cursing the ground, that “opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood.”  Further, Cain is exiled as a “fugitive and wanderer.” (Genesis 4:12)   Cain is very worried that “it will come to pass, that whoever shall find me, shall slay me.”  (Id. 4:14)

G-d responds: “Therefore whosoever slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.’ And the LORD set a sign for Cain, lest any finding him should smite him.”

It seems that the sign or mark of Cain was a protective shield – to keep people from killing him.   In contrast, the Nazi armband was a sign to persecute, torture and kill those with this mark.

During the Holocaust, so much blood was spilled.  I can only imagine how wide the earth had to open its mouth to receive it all.  I pray that vengeance will be taken sevenfold.

SOURCES:

Dawidowicz, Lucy S. The War Against the Jews: 1933-1945.  New York, NY. Bantam Books.  1975.

Friedlander, Saul. Nazi Germany and the Jews 1939-1945: The Years of Extermination.  New York, NY. Harper Collins.  2007.

1991 Interview with Sam Goldberg.

 

ESTHER’S SURVIVAL IN SLONIM – MORE MIRACULOUS THAN WE KNEW

Typhus – even the sound of the word is scary.  Typhus killed thousands during the War, including young Anne Frank in Bergen-Belsen.

In 1941, Esther Wisznia lived with her family in the crowded town of Slonim.  In May, she became ill with Typhus.   She went to the Slonim hospital and was cared for by kind doctors and nurses.   See blog post:  http://bit.ly/2gEEClj

Esther recovered.  The doctor told her to remain in the hospital, even though she was well. She could help with the patients.  The doctor knew that if she went home, she would have little or no food.

When the Nazis stormed into Slonim in late June, 1941, they shot thousands of Jews into a pit just outside of town.  Esther was not killed.  She was in hospital. The hospital was a haven.

Or so I thought.

Until yesterday, when I read the biography of Herschel Rosenblat on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website.  Herschel was born in 1916.  In 1940, Herschel fled to Slonim, like so many others, crowding into this already overstuffed city.  He found work as a house painter and one day in June of 1941, Herschel fell from a scaffold and broke his leg.  He was taken to the Slonim hospital.

Perhaps Esther was helping to care for him as he lay in his bed.

In late June, the Nazis added another victory in their war against the Jews.  Thousands, including Esther’s parents and siblings, were shot dead and buried in a mass grave outside of Slonim.  Herschel, like Esther, was in the hospital and thus escaped the mass shooting.

BUT, the last line of Herschel’s biography reads:

“Along with other hospital patients in Slonim, Herschel was shot and killed as he lay in his hospital bed.  He was 25 years old.”[1]

WHAT?  The Nazis came into the Slonim hospital and shot the patients in their beds?  I thought this was a haven.   Where was Esther?

Esther must have left the hospital between the time of the massacre outside of town and the hospital killings.  Did Esther know that her fellow hospital patients, many of whom she cared for over the previous month, had been shot in their beds ?  There is no way to know.

This added piece of information makes Esther’s survival in Slonim in June of 1941, even more miraculous.

[1] United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:  Holocaust Encyclopedia.  Herschel Rosenblat. http://bit.ly/2gWW5RV

 

PILGRIMAGE TO THE KILLING FIELDS

Uri Kaufthal of New York City, is the father of my friend and neighbor, Jon Kaufthal.  He visits Seattle periodically and on his most recent visit we discussed my research, the book, and this blog.  He told me that he is involved with Father Patrick Desbois, author of The Holocaust By Bullets.   Excitedly, he told me that he would be going with Father Desbois to the Ukraine in November to locate mass graves and interview people who witnessed the killings.  The picture above, shows Uri in the center in the blue jacket, surrounded by the team that went to Ukraine.

To refresh your memory on the important and meaningful work that Father Desbois is doing, here is a link to my blog post:

https://soyouwanttowriteaholocaustbook.wordpress.com/?s=desbois

Uri took notes each day on his trip and gave me permission to share his experience with all of you.  Click here to read his notes and see pictures of the people he interviewed.

https://1drv.ms/f/s!As-JOU-SUEx8h75Xa5AabkqQzIiO7A

Here is a video of Uri in a car driving through the Ukraine:

https://1drv.ms/f/s!As-JOU-SUEx8h75bsSQIwNItak9axg

Thank you to Uri, Father Desbois and his whole team for this most important work that you are doing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JEDWABNE AND JIM CROW SOUTH

If the opportunity to oppress or murder another human being arises and the financial incentives are clear, will most of us oppress and murder others?   Are we all hard wired, given the right set of circumstances, to engage in such base animalistic behavior?  This is the question I must ask after reading two books:

  • Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community of Jedwabne, Poland, by Jan Gross; and
  • The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, By Isabel Wilkerson

Neighbors, a book by Jan Gross describes the Poles in Jedwabne torturing and killing the entire Jewish population (1,600 human beings).  Most were forced into a barn and burned alive.   In The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson tells of life in the Jim Crow South and how, starting from WWI, many African Americans moved northward to escape a life of poverty, terror and murder.   I see two different places: Poland and the U.S. South and two different sets of peoples: Poles and Jews and Southern American Whites and African Americans.  But the refrain is the same.  One people decides that they are superior to the other and that the “other” is subhuman and does not deserve to live and has no rights.

Whites in the American South built their entire economy and life based on the enslavement of Africans.  In 1861, Alexander Hamilton Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederacy, announced the “the great truth” —  “that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery – subordination to the superior race – is his natural and normal condition.”   The new South was the first government, Stephens continued, “in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”  (Wilkerson at 59)

After the American Civil War, the white population could no longer call the Africans slaves and sell them at auction, but they could still treat them like slaves.  The Jim Crow laws of the southern States forced an almost complete separation between the two groups.  The freed slaves had to step off the sidewalk when a white person came by and they had to step out of line and wait at the ticket counter, the ice cream parlor, or anywhere else if a white person arrived.   African Americans in Jim Crow south were likely to be beaten or murdered by a white man or a mob of white men if they felt that he stepped out of line in the slightest way.  Just looking at a white woman could get a man lynched.

Wilkerson tells of many occasions in the American South where whites persecuted, tortured and murdered African Americans.  But one incident she describes reminds me of Jedwabne and so many other “events” during the Holocaust, that I have been reassessing my assumptions about the basic goodness of our species.

This happened in Florida panhandle town of Marianna, Florida, in the fall of 1934:

“That October, a twenty-three year old colored farmhand named Claude Neal was accused of the rape and the murder of a twenty-year old white woman named Lola Cannidy.  Neal had grown up across the road from Lola Cannidy’s family.  He was arrested and signed a written confession that historians have since called into question. But at the time, passions ran so high that a band of more than three hundred men armed with guns, knives, torches, and dynamite went searching for Neal in every jail within a seventy-five-mile radius of Marianna.” (Wilkerson at 60)

Because of the mob, the Sheriff moved him to a jail in Brewton, Alabama, fifty-five miles north.  The mob found out where he was and “drove several hours . . . in a thirty car caravan. .. . They stormed the jail and took Neal, his limbs bound with a plow rope, back to Marianna.” (Id.)

The group announced the lynching would be at 8 pm that night.  “The advance notice allowed word to spread by radio, teletype, and afternoon papers to the western time zones.

Well before the appointed hour, several thousand people had gathered at the lynching site.  The crowd grew so large and unruly – people having been given sufficient forewarning to come in from other states – that [the organizers], fearing a riot, took Neal to the woods by the Chipola River to wait out the crowds and torture him before the execution.

There his captors took knives and castrated him in the woods.  Then they made him eat the severed body parts ‘and say he liked it,’ a witness said. . . .

Around Neal’s neck, they tied a rope and pulled it over a limb to the point of his chocking before lowering him to take up the torture again. ‘Every now and then somebody would cut off a finger or toe,’ the witness said.  Then the men used hot irons to burn him all over his body in a ritual that went on for several hours.  . . . The crowd waiting in town never got to see Neal die.  The [organizers] finally decided to just kill him in the woods.  His nude body was then tied to the back of a car and dragged to the Cannidy house where men, women and children stabbed the corpse with sticks and knives.” (Wilkerson at 60-61)

Only a few years later, across the Atlantic, another set of human beings had similar feelings about a different subhuman group.  On December 16, 1941, Dr. Buhler, the General Secretary of the General Government, which was the areas in Poland controlled by Nazis, stated:

“Jews must be removed as quickly as possible from the General Government, because it was there in particular that the Jew, as a carrier of epidemics, constituted a great danger, and at the same time, caused constant disorder in the economic structure of the country by his continuous black-market dealings.   Furthermore, of the approximately two and a half million Jews under consideration, the majority were in any case unfit for work. . . . “  (Arad at 12-13).

General Gustav von Bechtolsheim, commander of the infantry division responsible for security in the Minsk area, provides another statement to consider:  “Jews were ‘no longer humans in the European sense of the word,’ and thus ‘must be destroyed.” (Bloodlands at 206)

These statements echo pronouncements made by Hitler, Himmler and other Nazis.  But what about the Poles of Jedwabne?  The Poles and the Jews had been living (mostly) peaceably together in Jedwabne for hundreds of years.  However, it appears that when the Germans attacked and took control of the Soviet areas of Poland on June 22, 1941, the inner Polish beast was unleashed.  All at once it seemed acceptable to openly hate the Jew and to torture and murder them.  And, by the way, after you torture and murder them, you can have all their money and belongings.  With the 1,600 Jews making up one-half the population of Jedwabne before WWII, that was plenty of wealth to go around.

Gross quotes the testimony given by Szmul Wasersztajn before the Jewish Historical Commission in Bialystok on April 5, 1945:

“On Monday evening, June 23, 1941, Germans entered the town.  And as early as the 25th local bandits, from the Polish population started an anti-Jewish pogrom. Two of those bandits, Borwoski (Borowiuk?) Wacek with his brother Mietek, walked from one Jewish dwelling to another together with other bandits playing accordion and flute to drown out the screams of Jewish women and children.  I saw with my own eyes how those murderers killed Chajcia Wasersztajn, Jakub Kac, seventy-three year old, and Elianz Krawiecki.

Jakub Kac they stoned to death with bricks, Krawiecki they knifed and then plucked his eyes and cut off his tongue.  He suffered terribly for twelve hours before he gave up his soul.” (Gross at 2-3)

July 10, 1941 is the day that the rest of Jedwabne’s Jews were burned alive.  News had spread to surrounding towns that something was happening to the Jews of Jedwabne that day.  Hundreds traveled from the surrounding towns to watch:  “Beards of old Jews were burned, newborn babies were killed at their mothers’ breast, people were beaten murderously and forced to sing and dance.” Wasersztajn explained. “In the end they proceeded to the main action – the burning.  The entire town was surrounded by guards so that nobody could escape; then Jews were ordered to line up in a column, four in a row, and the ninety-year old rabbi and the shochet [Kosher butcher] were ordered to sing and were chased into the barn.  Hooligans bestially beat them up on the way.  Near the gate a few hooligans were standing, playing various instruments in order to drown the screams of the horrified victims.  Some tried to defend themselves, but they were defenseless.  Bloodied and wounded, they were pushed into the barn.  Then the barn was doused with kerosene and lit, and the bandits went around to search Jewish homes, to look for the remaining sick and children.  The sick people they found they carried to the barn themselves, and as for the little children, they roped a few together by their legs and carried them on their backs, then put them on the pitchforks and threw them onto smoldering coals.

After the fire they used axes to knock golden teeth from still not entirely decomposed bodies and in other ways violated the corpses of the holy martyrs.”   (Id. at 5-6)

Then there is Armenia (1910’s & 1920’s), Cambodia (1970’s), Rwanda (1990’s), Bosnia (1990’s) and more.   You can see my problem.

In contrast, think of the Stys families and the millions and millions of good people on this earth.  So, I really don’t know what to believe.

 

Sources:

Snyder, Timothy. Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. New York, NY. Basic Books. 2010.

Arad, Yitzhak, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps. Bloomington and Indianapolis. Indiana University Press. 1987.

Gross, Jan.  Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community of Jedwabne, Poland. Princeton, NJ. Princeton University Press. 2012.

Wilkerson, Isabel. The Warmth of Other Suns:  The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. Vintage Publishing.  2011.

Wikipedia. List of Genocides by Death Tolls:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_genocides_by_death_toll