I’ve been reading a book by Robert Fisk, entitled The Great War for Civilization, published in 2006. On page 370, I read that “Josef Kleinman is no ordinary Jewish Holocaust survivor.” Besides the fact that “Jewish Holocaust survivor” is redundant, the author’s observation is an understatement.
I learned on page 369 of the book by Robert Fisk that Josef had told the author that he “was freed from Landsberg on April twenty-seventh, 1945.”
(There were 11 sub-camps of Dachau located near Landsberg am Lech; the camps were all named Kaufering and numbered I through XI.)
Then I read on page 371 that Kleinman was one “Of the twenty-nine thousand Jews brought to Dachau from other camps…”
I put these two facts together and deduced that Josef Kleinman was one of the Jewish survivors of Auschwitz, who were marched out of the camp on January 18, 1945 and taken to concentration camps in Germany. Around twenty-nine thousand of these survivors were brought to Dachau and gassed, according to the official American army report, written by the American liberators of Dachau.
After Dachau was liberated on April 29, 1945, the official report of the US Seventh Army was printed as a book entitled Dachau Liberated: The Official Report by The U.S. Seventh Army, Released Within Days of the Camp’s Liberation by Elements of the 42nd and 45th Divisions.
The Official Report was based on two days of interviewing 20 prominent political prisoners at Dachau; these prisoners told the Americans that both the shower room and the four disinfection chambers at Dachau had been used as homicidal gas chambers. In The Official Report, it was claimed that “29,138 Jews had been brought to Dachau and murdered in five gas chambers between June 20, 1944 and November 23, 1944.”
It was later learned that these twenty-nine thousand Jews had been sent to the eleven Kaufering sub-camps of Dachau, near Landsberg am Lech, after taking a shower at the Dachau main camp. Kleinman was one of these twenty-nine thousand prisoners and he was liberated from Landsberg in 1945, so Fisk got that part right.
The Dachau camp records show that there were 28,838 Jews brought from Auschwitz to the Dachau main camp between June 18, 1944 and March 9, 1945. Before being transferred to the 11 Kaufering sub-camps near Landsberg, they were kept in quarantine, at the Dachau main camp, for two weeks in an effort to prevent the spread of disease.
All incoming prisoners at Dachau were first dipped in a tub of disinfectant, then given a shower and issued clean clothes that had been disinfected with Zyklon-B to kill the lice that spread typhus. The German word for a clothing disinfection chamber is Gaskammer, which means gas chamber in English. It is easy to see where the political prisoners, who gave information to the American Army investigators, made their mistake.
In his book, Fisk mentions that Josef Kleinman had kept his “Blue and White” uniform from his days as a prisoner at Dachau; he points out that blue and white are the colors of the Israeli flag. This is significant: I have never thought of the colors of the uniforms in that context. Maybe it never occurred to me because the concentration camp uniforms were actually blue and light gray and the non-Jewish prisoners wore the same blue and gray uniforms.
Fisk wrote that Kleinman was the youngest survivor of Auschwitz and that he testified at the trial of Adolf Eichmann, head of the special “Jewish Section” of the SS, who ran the Nazi program to murder the Jews of Europe.
After reading that, I knew that the author had not done much research on the Holocaust, or he would have known that, at the age of 14, Kleinman could not have been “the youngest survivor of Auschwitz.” The youngest survivors of Auschwitz were babies who were carried out of the camp in the arms of their mothers when the camp was liberated by Soviet soldiers on January 27, 1945.
Here is the full quote from page 370 of the book:
Mr. Kleinman is no ordinary Holocaust survivor. He was the youngest survivor of Auschwitz and he testified at the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the head of Hitler’s programme to murder the Jews of Europe. Indeed, Mr. Kleinman saw Dr. Mengele, the “Angel of Death,” who chose children, women, the old and the sick for the gas chambers. At the age of just 14, he watched one day as Mengele arrived on a bicycle and ordered a boy to hammer a plank of wood to a post. Here, for the record, is part of Kleinman’s testimony at the Eichmann trial:
“We weren’t told what was to happen. We knew. The boys who couldn’t pass under the plank would be spared. Those boys whose heads did not reach the plank would be sent to the gas chambers. We all tried to stretch ourselves upwards, to make ourselves taller. But I gave up. I saw that taller boys than me failed to touch the plank with their heads. My brother told me, ‘Do you want to live? Yes? Then do something.’ My head began to work. I saw some stones. I put them in my shoes, and this made me taller. But I couldn’t stand at attention on the stones, they were killing me.”
Mr. Kleinman’s brother, Shlomo, tore his hat in half and Josef stuffed part of it into his shoes. He was still too short. But he managed to “infiltrate” into the group who had passed the test. The remainder of the boys – a thousand in all – were gassed. Mengele, Josef Kleinman remembers, chose Jewish holidays for the mass killing of Jewish children. Mr. Kleinman’s parents, Meir and Rachel, and his sister had been sent directly to the gas chambers when the family arrived at Auschwitz from the Carpathian mountains, in what is now Ukraine. He survived, along with his brother – who today, a carpenter like Josef, lives a few hundred yards away in the same suburb of Givat Shaul/Deir Yassin. Josef survived Dachau and the grueling labour of building a massive bunker for Hitler’s secret factory, constructed for the production of Germany’s new Messerschmitt ME262 jet fighter aircraft.
After his liberation by the Americans, Josef Kleinman made his way to Italy and then to a small boat which put him aboard a ship for Palestine, carrying illegal Jewish immigrants who were to try to enter the territory of the dying British mandate. He could carry only a few possessions. He chose to put his Dachau uniform in his bag – he would not forget what happened to him.