THE MARCH – 1933

Soon after Hitler came to power in 1933, discriminatory laws were enacted against the Jews of Germany and the Nazis placed a boycott on Jewish stores.  The reaction of Jews in the United States was outrage.  Huge marches were organized with a million people turning out in cities throughout the country.   Marches were held in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Newark, and even Atlantic City.  The organizers called for a boycott of German products and urged everyone to write to their legislators and to President Roosevelt asking them to act against these discriminatory actions against the Jews.  Jews in Britain also reacted with protest marches and boycotts.

David Cesarani’s new book, Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933-1949 describes these marches and the reaction to them.  “To the Nazis,” Cesarani writes, “the overseas campaign against them was proof that ‘the Jews’ were an international force.  The diplomatic initiatives on their behalf in Washington and London, however, mild, were taken as evidence that Jews controlled the governments there.” (42)

The Nazis were incensed at these protests and boycotts.  Goring told German Jewish leaders that they had to “persuade the Jews in London and New York to call off the boycotts and cut out the ‘atrocity propaganda.’” (43)  The Jewish leaders obliged and contacted leaders in the United States and Britain, asking them to exert an “energetic effort to obtain an end to demonstrations hostile to Germany.” (id)

Did these large protests in the United States and Britain help the Jews of Germany?   The Nazi government legally enact over 400 laws and decrees that led to the destruction of European Jewry.  Many happened right away in Hitler’s administration – the equivalent of the first 100 days.   Some include:

  • Enabling Act – provided legal authority for dictatorship. Hitler was given powers, for four years, to promulgate legislation without the Parliament, even if it deviated from the German Constitution (March 23, 1933);
  • Jewish judges were dismissed; Jews were prohibited from serving as prosecutors, judges, lawyers, journalists, conductors, musicians and professors in the University (March 1933);
  • Law of the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service – eliminating Jews from civil service and political opponents of the regime;
  • First boycott of Jewish businesses (April 1-3, 1933);
  • Decree defining “non-Aryan” –anyone descended from non-Aryan, especially Jewish parents or grandparents (April 11, 1933);
  • Law banning schita (Jewish ritual slaughter of animals) (April 11, 1933);
  • Law Against Overcrowding of German Schools and Institutions of Higher Learning – non-Aryan Germans were restricted. Jews to 1.5% of the admitted students to specific schools and universities and a five percent limit on the total student population (April 25, 1933);
  • Government declares the Nazi Party as the only political party in Germany (July 14, 1933);
  • Law passed to denaturalize Jews who entered Germany after November 1918 (July 14, 1933);
  • Jews prevented from going to cinemas, theaters, swimming pools and resorts. Boycotts and violence against Jews erupts in Berlin (Summer 1935);
  • Sterilization law – Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Progeny. This “established Hereditary Health Courts consisting of doctors, psychiatrists and social workers who were empowered to order the compulsory sterilization of individuals deemed mentally or physically disabled and liable to pass on their disability if they had children.”(53) (July 14, 1933);
  • Nuremberg Laws – marriage between Jew and “nationals of German kindred blood” – forbidden (Sept. 1935);

Beware:  Alternative Facts are all around and newspeak is here.

Sources:

Cesarani, David.  Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933-1949. New York, NY.  St. Martin’s Press. 2016.

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

 

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Velvel (Wolf) Schneidman and Sam Goldberg – what are the chances?

What are the chances?  Two men:

  • captured in Stoczek in June of 1942 and taken to Treblinka by truck and forced to build the camp;
  • survived Treblinka for 13 months; one working in the laundry and one as a skilled worker – a “court Jew”[1];
  • escaped during the prisoner revolt on August 2, 1943;
  • ran to the forest – towards Stoczek;
  • found each other as they were running;
  • met Esther who was hiding in the area;
  • saved by Esther, who convinced Helena Stys to hide them;
  • allowed to hide in the Stys barn long enough to escape the Nazi dragnet of the area;
  • survived until liberation;
  • are in the 1944 picture of twelve Treblinka survivors (above: Sam- top row center; Velvel – top row, far right); and
  • emigrated to New York after the war.

Thanks to Chris Webb and Michal Chocholaty, I now know that there were (at least) two Jews who were captured in June of 1942, taken to Treblinka to build the camp, who survived.  After reading book after book that stated all those that were brought to build the camp were killed, it was yet another – “I cannot believe this” moment.

I read in The Treblinka Death Camp: History, Biographies, Remembrance, that Wolf Sznajdman was captured in Stoczek in June of 1942 and taken to Treblinka, first to the penal camp (Treblinka I) and then shortly thereafter to the Death Camp (Treblinka II) where he was forced to build the camp.

Webb and Chocholaty state that Wolf Sznajdman “represents a unique exception refuting the theory that none of the Jews who built Treblinka survived throughout the entire history of the death camp.” (21)   The authors of this book were (before I contacted them) unaware of Sam Goldberg.  I thought that Sam Goldberg was the only one to build the camp and survive.  But here, I see that Wolf Sznajdman was another such survivor.

Then, I just about spit out my morning coffee.  Sznajdman – Wolf – hmmm.   Could this be Velvel Schneidman?  I called Shlomo at 7:30 AM from Berkley, where I was visiting my brother and asked:

“Is Wolf the English name for Velvel?”

“Of course,” he said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

So, these two men, Sam Goldberg and Velvel Schneidman, beat the crazy odds of survival for 13 months at Treblinka, ran away during the revolt, found each other in the woods where they met Esther. Esther, knew Velvel from Stoczek, but did not know Sam.  She saved them both by convincing Helena Stys to hide them in her barn.

Although Sam stayed and hid with Esther for the next year until liberation, Velvel left after those initial few days.  But both Sam and Velvel were reunited in 1944 for the famous Treblinka survivor photo (above).  They both emigrated to New York city and stayed friends for many years.

What are the chances?

[1] Court Jews at Treblinka included carpenters, blacksmiths, painters, and other skilled workers.  They wore yellow arm bands and had separate living quarters.  Webb & Chocholaty at 84.

SHMUEL RAJZMAN -A GIANT OF TREBLINKA

“[Shmuel Rajzman] said to me that I would survive, I will live, I will get out of there. . . .  I have a picture of this man, I carry it around with me because he was my best friend.”    Sam Goldberg July 13, 1997 Shoah Foundation Interview.

Sam spoke of Shmuel (Samuel) Rajzman as a man larger than life.  After Sam and Esther were liberated from their forest pit by the Soviet Army, it was Shmuel Rajzman that officiated at their small wedding in Stoczek. The picture of Rajzman that Sam carried in his wallet (above) was with him until the day he died.

The greatness of this man was reinforced when I read about him in a book about Hershl Sperling by Mark S. Smith.  Hershl came to Treblinka at the age of 15.  Hershl spoke of Rajzman with awe, respect and love, just like Sam.

It was the end of August, 1942 that Rajzman arrived at Treblinka just a week before Hershl.  But a week at Treblinka was an eternity.  Rajzman saw Hershl – a teenage boy – alone and scared – in the bewildering altered universe that was Treblinka.  Rajzman helped him begin his new life.  He “taught [Hershl] the crucial ‘how to look, but not look’ at the SS.  From the clothes of the dead, Rajzman also provided Hershl that day with his first cap, the most essential item a Jew could possess in Treblinka. In this perverse world, possession of a cap was a matter of life and death.  Without one, a prisoner stood out and was thus marked to die in the daily ritual of murder.”  (Smith at 96)

Rajzman was born in Wengrow, Poland in 1902, only 66 kilometers from Bagatele, Sam’s hometown.  In 1942, he was married and had a daughter and lived in the Warsaw ghetto. Before the war, he had been an accountant and translator with an import-export business, but now, he and his wife worked in a Ghetto factory.   After hearing the truth about Treblinka from an escapee, he hid his daughter, along with 19 other children, in a cellar of the factory.   Even though they were “essential workers” in the factory, Rajzman and his wife were rounded up the very next day and taken to the Umschlagplatz – the gathering square where Jews were collected to board trains to Treblinka.  After a couple of days Rajzman got away from the square and went back to the cellar to get his daughter.  But all the children were gone – the Germans had taken them.

Running back to the square, Rajzman was able to find his daughter and they went to the factory and hid there for days.  But in the end, the Germans found them and forced them on the train to Treblinka.  (Sereny at 257-58)

Rajzman described his initial arrival at Treblinka:

“Upon our arrival, we all had to hand in our valuables and get undressed.  Everybody was told to tie up his clothes in such a way that he would be able to recognize his package.  That was how the Germans fooled us into thinking that we would get our clothes back.  The women had to line up, and all their hair was clipped off.  It was destined for use in German mattresses.  Naked, they went the road of no return, into the gas chamber.   While they undressed and walked to the gas chambers, the Germans hit them very hard; many people died from the beatings alone.   Everybody was pushing to get to the gas chamber fast, because the Ukrainians and the Germans were beating them so hard.   Everyone was stampeding forward.  (Rajzman at 232)

As he was about to enter the “Road to Heaven,” the way to the gas chamber, Galewski, the Camp Elder, saw him and recognized him from Warsaw.  He pulled him out of the line and brought him to the work camp.  The Germans needed another translator, so he was saved.

According to Sam, at Treblinka Rajzman became a carpenter.  “He wasn’t really a carpenter,” explained Sam, “but he worked in the carpentry shop.”

Mark Smith describes how Hershl and Rajzman would have nightly talks and created a familial bond.  Hershl remained “human,” explains Smith, “with the help of his friend Rajzman.”  (Smith at 103)

When I read that Hershl’s son said that Rajzman was “almost like a deity to [Hershl],” (Id. at 139) I realized that Rajzman must have  been a giant among giants at Treblinka.

Not surprising, Rajzman was one of the leaders of the uprising.  Rajzman explained that there were about 50 men involved in the planning and they split up into groups of 12.  The men did not know who was involved outside of their group of 12 so that if they were tortured, they would only know the 12 in their group.  Sam was in Rajzman’s group of 12 and it seems that Hershl was also.  So, that means that Hershl and Sam surely knew each other in Treblinka.

After the uprising, Rajzman ran out into the woods. Since he was from Wengrow, only 36 kilometers from Treblinka, he knew this part of the forest and he helped others to find their way.  He was hiding with a group of escapees.  One day, he left them to go gather food.  When he returned to the hiding place in the woods, all the escapees he was with were dead.  They had been shot, presumably by the Nazis or the Ukrainians, who were out searching the forest for the escaped prisoners.

After this, Rajzman went to a local farmer and the farmer agreed to hide him.  So, like Sam and Esther, thanks to a Righteous Gentile, Rajzman hid until liberation.  Years later, Rajzman told Hershl that on a Sunday, soon after the Treblinka uprising, the farmer went to Church and the “priest there had given a sermon about Treblinka’s escaped Jews.  He told the congregation that it was their duty as Poles and Catholics not to harbor any of the ‘Christ-killers’ in their homes.  Rajzman asked him what he was going to do and the farmer responded by telling him, as related to Hershl’s son Sam, that ‘it was not a priest he had heard in his church, but the devil himself’ and he agreed to hide Rajzman.  We do not know where he was hidden or how long Rajzman stayed at the farm, amidst the random searches by the Germans, Ukrainians and Polish posses, however, it was long enough to him and the farmer to develop a close relationship.  After the war, Rajzman kept in contact with the farmer and sent him and his family gifts each year until Rajzman’s death in 1979.” (Smith at 144)

After the war, both Sam and Rajzman both appear in the famous picture of twelve Treblinka survivors.  Sam is back row center with a scarf and Rajzman is front row center with glasses.

yad-vashem-treblinka-survivors

Shmuel Rajzman emigrated to Montreal, Canada, remarried and built a successful lumber business.  Rajzman was the only Treblinka survivor to testify at Nuremberg, at the Polish Treblinka trial, and later at the Treblinka and Stangl trials in Dusseldorf.  (Sereny at 256)

My husband, Shlomo, remembers a childhood trip to Montreal to visit Shmuel Rajzman.  The bond that both Sam and Hershl had with this man, continued through their lives.

SOURCES:

THE END OF TREBLINKA, by Samuel Rajzman, in Donat, Alexander, ed. The Death Camp Treblinka: A Documentary. New York, NY.  Holocaust Library. 1979.

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

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

Interview with Sam Goldberg by Shoah Foundation – 1997.