I have been doing a lot of research on the Plaszow concentration camp, near Krakow, which was made famous by the movie Schindler’s List. This morning, I came across the story of Moishe Perlman, which is quoted below:
Submitted by his granddaughter Rivka Perlman
My grandfather, Moishe Perlman was in the concentration camp, Plaszow, for most of the Holocaust. Plaszow did not tattoo their prisoners, they simply had to memorize their numbers. One Yom Kippur, grandfather gave one of his non-Jewish workers his bread because he was fasting. As a means of thanking him, the worker made him a leather and metal bracelet with his ID number etched into it.
One night a soldier stopped my grandfather and demanded his ID number. Faced with no other choice, he slipped off his bracelet and handed it to the soldier. The next day a list of numbers were called to be shot, as a lesson to the rest of the camp. All but one person came forward. The camp ledger was checked out but the number did not exist! My grandfather looked down at his bracelet and realized that his number comprised digits that could be read upside down as well as right side up. He had given his bracelet to the soldier upside down, and the soldier dutifully copied down the wrong numbers. All the people who had been called up were killed. Thanks to a piece of leather and some crude metal I am able to have a grandfather.
It is a pretty ugly bracelet to look at, yet more precious than any other jewelry our family can own.
Apparently, Moishe Perlman’s identification number included only the numbers 1, 6, 8, 9, and 0, which read the same upside down or right side up.
My first thought was that his identification number would have been printed on a white piece of cloth and sewn to his striped prison uniform. Many of the prisoners in the concentration camps wore ordinary clothes instead of the striped uniform, but the identification number on a white piece of cloth was required.
The photo above shows two prisoners at Dachau wearing striped pants with their identification number sewn to the pants leg.
The photo above shows a Jewish prisoner, named Karp, wearing a suit, but he has a star of David and a prison number sewn to his jacket. The normal procedure was to sew the prisoner’s identification number to the striped prison uniform, as shown in the photos below.
Moishe Perlman was apparently a Jewish Kapo, who was supervising non-Jewish workers. Kapos were privileged prisoners who helped the Nazis in the concentration camps. (Note that the plural of Kapo is Kapos, which means that it is not a German word, but a word borrowed from another language.) As a Kapo, Moishe Perlman might have been able to get by without wearing his prison number on his clothes.
The photo above was scanned from the English language version of the Dachau Museum Guidebook for the Dachau Museum which was set up in 1965. The caption under the photo says “The youngest of the French prisoners.”
In the background of the photo is a barrack building of the type used at Auschwitz II, also known as Birkenau. The Dachau concentration camp did not have barracks of this type, which clearly indicates that the photo was not taken at Dachau. Note also that the prison uniform does not have a badge, like those worn on the uniforms at Dachau. A prisoner in the background is wearing a yellow star on his uniform, like those worn by the Jews at Birkenau. There is no prison identification number on a white piece of cloth, because this photo obviously shows a prisoner at Auschwitz, who would have had a tattoo on his arm for identification. Photographs displayed in the Dachau museum, that were taken in 1938, show most of the prisoners wearing a regular shirt and striped pants with their prison number worn on their pant’s leg.
According to the granddaughter of Moishe Perlman, the prisoners in the Plaszow camp had to memorize their identification numbers, since they didn’t have tattoos. This implies that the prisoners did not have their identification number on their clothing. The movie Schindler’s List shows prisoners with an ID number on a strip of white cloth on their clothing.
Moise Perlman was very lucky that an exception was made for him and he did not have to wear an identification number on his clothes at the Plaszow camp. Once again, a Jewish prisoner was able to survive the Holocaust because the Nazis were not vigilant in their administration of the camps. The clip from Schindler’s List shows how inept the Nazis were. They couldn’t do anything right.