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April 1, 2012

Wieliczka, the Nazi death camp in Poland — not the salt mine

Filed under: Holocaust, World War II — Tags: , — furtherglory @ 12:02 pm

Today I was reading the story of Holocaust survivor Nathan Taffel, which was published in the online Beloit Daily News here.  Erica Pennington, the reporter responsible for the article, wrote this:

[Nathan and his brother] “experienced the horrors of Wieliczka, a death camp just outside of Auschwitz, where they were lucky to have escaped having the letter ‘T’ for tot (dead in German) inked on their foreheads. Later they were sent to work in Flossenburg, a camp in southern Germany.”

I know about the Wieliczka salt mine that is near the Auschwitz camp; my Polish tour guide tried to get me to go there, when I visited Poland in 1998, instead of going to see the Auschwitz II camp, aka Birkenau.  I didn’t want to go down into a salt mine because I am claustrophobic.  When I read about Wieliczka the death camp, I had to google it.

I found this information here:

Wieliczka
Location: Wieliczka, Poland
This subcamp of the Krakau-Plaszow concentration camp was created in the spring of 1944 and produced Heinkel aircraft. The camp was abandoned in September 1944.

So the truth is that Nathan Taffel was not sent to a “death camp.”  He was sent to a labor camp to work in a factory that was building airplanes.  In America, during World War II, there were internment camps where Japanese-Americans and German-Americans were imprisoned, but they were not put to work in airplane factories.  In America, it was the women who went to work building the airplanes; the German women stayed at home, taking care of their six children, and the Jews were put to work for the Germans.

This quote is from the article in the online Beloit Daily News:

“The Jewish people weren’t considered a part of Poland and you would be called ‘Jew’ at school, but everything in my life was happy until 1939 when the Nazis came,” he said.

When the Germans took power in Poland that year, Taffel says that although Jewish people had never been highly-regarded in Poland, the anti-Semitic images he began to see confused him.

“Children ages 13 and over were forced to wear yellow bands on their arm with the Star of David and people would beat the Jews up,” he said. “We would ask our parents why, and they kind of ignored answering.”

Though his parents, Mindel and Avram Chaim, kept their fears quiet around the children, the Taffel family was eventually forced to move to the Tarnow ghetto to escape the violence.

I am familiar with the name Tarnow because I know that the first prisoners sent to the Auschwitz main camp were from Tarnow.  But to refresh my memory, I went to this website and copied this information:

The first transport of Polish prisoners to Auschwitz departed from the old mikveh building (ritual Jewish bath) at Boznic St. in Tarnow on 14 June 1940 (Memorial). These 728 prisoners (708 Poles and 20 Jews) from the Deutsche Strafanstalt (prison) were the first victims of the camp. On arrival they were tattooed with the numbers 31 to 758. (Numbers 1 to 30 were allocated to German prisoner functionaries brought from existing camps to assist Höß and his staff in setting up the camp).

Note that, among the first prisoners sent to the Auschwitz main camp, there were only 20 Jews.  The rest were Polish non-Jews who were in prison for some reason, possibly because they were Polish resistance fighters who were fighting as illegal combatants.  Note that there were also Germans who were sent to Auschwitz to assist in setting up the main camp.  The Auschwitz II camp was not yet in existence at that time.

At the end of the article on the Beloit Daily News website, Nathan Taffel was quoted as saying this to the students:

“Hate destroys every human being and I want these kids to know that,” he said. “Even now I don’t hate, but I won’t forget or forgive for what happened.”

I think what Nathan Taffel means is “Don’t forget or forgive what happened, and never tell the whole story — leave it up to someone else to risk 5 years in prison for telling the true story of what happened.”

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