Scrapbookpages Blog

October 11, 2010

Were there two four-year-old boys at Buchenwald?

In doing research, several years ago, for my web site section about the Buchenwald concentration camp, I vaguely recall reading about two children who were four years old when the American liberators arrived to rescue them on April 11, 1945.  However, I could only find the name of one of the boys on the USHMM web site: Josef Schleifstein whose name at birth was Janek Szlajfaztajn.

Josef Schleifstein Army Signal Corp photo, 1945

Some of the 904 orphan boys at Buchenwald, April 1945

Today I received an e-mail telling me about a new book, which is the story of another small child who survived Buchenwald: Stefan Jerzy Zweig. The book is Tears alone are not enough by Zacharias Zweig (now deceased) and Stefan Jerzy Zweig, with closing words from Elfriede Jelinek. The Foreword was written by Heinz Strotzka.

To coincide with the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp on April 11, 1945, the first edition of the book Tears are not enough by Zacharias Zweig (posthumously) and Stefan Jerzy Zweig was privately printed in spring 2005.

The following information is from the Forward of the book:

The immediate family, consisting of Dr. Zweig, his wife Helena, their daughter Silvia (born in 1932) and their son Stefan Jerzy (born in 1941) first had to move to the Cracow Ghetto. After spending long periods in the concentration camps of Biezanov, Skarzysko-Kamienna and Plaszow, the Zweig family was put on a transport destined for Buchenwald.

From reading the book Schindler’s Ark on which the film Schindler’s List is based, I learned that the male prisoners in the Plaszow camp were sent to the Gross Rosen concentration camp and the women were sent to Auschwitz.  Schindler’s Ark is a novel, so maybe the author left out the part about some of the Plaszow prisoners being sent to Buchenwald.

Continuing the quote from the Forward of the book:

Helena Zweig and her daughter were incarcerated in a satellite camp of Buchenwald and were subsequently deported to Auschwitz, where they were murdered in the gas chambers.

This seems strange. Why weren’t the mother and daughter sent directly, along with all the other women and girls at Plaszow, to Auschwitz and gassed immediately?  Auschwitz is only about 35 miles from the location of the former Plazow camp, but Buchenwald is much farther away.

More of the quote from the Forward of the book:

Helena’s son Jerzy was only able to survive thanks to the extraordinary protectiveness of political prisoners at Buchenwald, who saw in this protection an act of resistance and wanted thereby to set an example of humanity.

So the German staff at Buchenwald was trying to get at those children, to kill them, but they were no match for the political prisoners who saved the boys as an “act of resistance”?

Finally, this quote from the Forward of the book:

As a result of the emphatic protest raised by Stefan J. Zweig against personal insinuations and attacks by the head of the memorial site, Dr. Knigge, the director ordered the removal of a wall plaque at the memorial site which provided information on Buchenwald’s youngest prisoner.

Cover of new book about the four-year-old boy rescued from Buchenwald

The  photo of the child shown on the cover of the book has a remarkable resemblance to a photo of Josef Schleifstein, shown below.

Josef Schleifstein, circa 1946 Photo Credit: USHMM, courtesy of Aviva Kempner

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the little Jewish boy in the photo above was born Janek Szlajfaztajn on March 7, 1941 in Sandomierz, Poland during the German occupation. His parents were Izrael and Esther Szlajfaztajn. The family was moved into the Sandomierz ghetto in June 1942. After the liquidation of the ghetto, the family was moved to Czestochowa, a city in Poland, where Izrael and Esther were put to work in one of the HASAG factory camps. During this period, their son was placed in hiding in the area.

The USHMM says that Izrael Szlajfaztajn was then sent to the Letzium Work Camp in the Radom District, where he worked for a firm called Ralnik from October 1942 till September 1943. He worked in Makashin, near Sandomierz, from September till December 1943 and in a HASAG ammunition factory in Kielce from December 1943 to approximately November 1944.

In January 1945, when the HASAG camps were closed and their operations transferred to Germany, the Szlajfaztajn family was deported to Germany. According to the USHMM, Esther was sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Izrael and Janek were taken to Buchenwald where they arrived on January 20, 1945. Izrael had concealed little Janek in a large sack in which he carried his leather-working tools.

The child could not remain hidden for long in the camp, but his life was spared, in part because the Germans valued Izrael’s craftsmanship and in part because they took a liking to the child. The SS guards came to treat Janek as a camp mascot, and even had him appear at roll calls wearing his child-sized striped uniform.

Despite this special treatment, Janek remembered being lined-up for execution at one point and his father intervening at the last moment to save him. He also remembered being very sick during his imprisonment and living in a hospital for a time. Soon after their liberation in Buchenwald, Izrael and Janek were taken to Switzerland for medical treatment. Some months later, they were reunited with Esther in the town of Dachau, where they lived until emigrating to the U.S. in 1947.

I searched the website of the USHMM and could not find any mention of Stefan Jerzy Zweig.   The Forward of the new book mentions that Stefan Jerzy Zweig was the youngest prisoner to pass through the gates of Buchenwald and the last, together with his father, to leave after Liberation.

So were there really two four-year-old Jewish boys at Buchenwald, or was there only one boy who went by two different names?

The child in this photo was identified as Josef Schleifstein

(Click on the photo to enlarge)

The photo above is from this website.

The same photo is identified on this German website as Stefan Jerzy Zweig.

The four-year-old boy at Buchenwald was the subject of a novel by Bruno Apitz entitled Naked among Wolves, which has been made into a film.

This quote is from the Epilogue of the book about Stefan Jerzy Zweig:

The commemoration plaque with the name of the three and a half year old Jewish child has been removed from the  Buchenwald Memorial. The name has also been removed (the worst thing of all for a Jew, a renewed expunging of a life) and replaced by a more generally formulated inscription because the naming of individuals (which is to say of life itself because life always consists of individuals) was not permitted. Those born after the fact have the final word, and they have the freedom to steer things the way they were supposed to have been: Anne Frank has already raised too many hackles with her diary. In the New Germany we can’t tolerate the idea that there were red Capos (communists, socialists of all shapes and kinds, the resistance fighter Robert Siewert and the post-War union leader Willi Bleicher symbolize all of them), red Capos who saved people.

On this website, I found an article written on 07/07/09 by Kenneth Waltzer which included this quote about the orphan boys at Buchenwald: “The two youngest boys were four years old.”  Were there two four-year-old boys at Buchenwald who looked exactly alike?