Scrapbookpages Blog

July 28, 2012

A new edition of a famous novel about Buchenwald is out

A new edition of a Holocaust novel about a young boy who survived the Buchenwald concentration camp has just been released. No, this is not about Elie Wiesel, the most famous Buchenwald survivor, who was not yet 17 years old when the camp was liberated.  This is the story of Stefan Jerzy Zweig.  You can read about Elie Wiesel in Buchenwald here.

I previously blogged about  Stefan Jerzy Zweig here.  With a lot of help from the readers of my blog, I was able to establish that Stefan Jerzy Zweig was not at Buchenwald. That’s why the book, based on his alleged stay at Buchenwald, is a novel.  His story is one of those things that never happened, but are true, as Elie Wiesel famously said.  Elie Wiesel’s book Night was also classified as a novel, until Oprah picked the book for her book club selection, when it became a true story.

The plot of the novel is somewhat like the true story of Josef Schleifstein, who was sneaked into Buchenwald on January 20, 1945 by his father who carried him into the camp inside a large sack which held his tools. In the novel, a little 3-year-old boy is carried by his father into the Buchenwald camp in a suitcase.

This quote is from an article on a German website about the alleged story of Stefan Jerzy Sweig:

It’s August 1944. A group of around 2,000 new prisoners is arriving at the Buchenwald concentration camp and marches through the gate bearing the inscription “To each his own.” Among them is three-year-old Stefan Jerzy Zweig. He walks beside his father, a Jewish lawyer from Krakow. This is unheard of in Buchenwald, a place where people do hard labor and the minimum age for prisoners is 16 years.

Children were thought of by the SS, a special unit of Nazi soldiers, as extra mouths to feed and only worthy of being left to die. Jerzy is separated from his father and taken to the smaller portion of the camp [the Little Camp]. Prisoners care for him and his father is able to come and visit.

But the child wasn’t rescued. A few weeks after arriving, he was scheduled to be sent to Auschwitz, where he would face certain death. But a communist prisoner removed his name from the deportation list, swapping it with another. Instead of a small child, a 16-year-old Roma youth was sent to his death.

In the novel, both parents were sent, along with their two children, from the Plaszow camp in Poland [the camp that is shown in Schindler’s List] to Buchenwald. The Plaszow camp was very close to Auschwitz and in real life, the women and children were sent to Auschwitz [temporarily] while the men were sent to the Gross Rosen camp when the Plaszow camp was closed.

No prisoners were ever sent from Buchenwald to Auschwitz to be killed.  It was the other way around. When the Auschwitz camp was closed, the men and young boys were sent to Buchenwald, and the women and young girls were sent to Bergen-Belsen or some other camp in Germany.

You can watch a video about the liberation of the Buchenwald camp here.  This video proves that there was only one little four-year-old boy at Buchenwald and his name was Josef Schleifstein.

This quote is from the article on the German website:

The true story turned legendary when it was retold in the novel “Naked among Wolves.” Written in the mid-1950s, it tells a story of a child arriving at the concentration camp in his father’s suitcase. Selflessly the camps prisoners hid the three-year-old – a dangerous undertaking at a time when resistance fighters were collecting weapons to liberate the camp.

A scene from the 1963 film "Naked among Wolves"  “Naked among Wolves” made it to the big screen in 1963.

This put the child at risk. So what is more important – the underground work intended to save many or compassion for a helpless three-year-old? In the novel by Bruno Apitz, which would become something of a classic in the GDR, heart and mind win over reason and communist party discipline.

The new 2012 edition has a detailed epilogue as well as additional documents highlighting the origins and historical impact of the novel. Released in 1958 with just 10,000 copies printed, it sold out immediately. Several more editions were printed, with almost two million copies being sold.

The novel was the highest selling book in the GDR. It was covered in the school curriculum and the 1962 film version was a huge success. Translations in 30 languages followed, and global sales are estimated to have reached three million copies.

The best-seller was written by a man who himself had been a prisoners (sic) in the Buchenwald concentration camp. As a communist, Bruno Apitz had been persecuted and imprisoned by the Nazis, but survived due to his artistic abilities. Self-taught, he carved wooden sculptures for the SS, drew cartoons and wrote poems and lyrics for the soldiers’ evening get-togethers, and was an emcee.

You can read the entire plot of the novel Naked Among Wolves on Wikipedia here.

This quote is from Wikipedia; the source for this information is  a book by Bill Niven entitled The Buchenwald Child: Truth, Fiction, and Propaganda. Camden House (2007):

In 1964, the East Berlin-based Berliner Zeitung am Abend located the child upon whose story the novel was based: Stefan Jerzy Zweig, who survived Buchenwald at the age of four with his father Zacharias, with the help of two prisoner functionaries: Robert Siewert and Willi Bleicher. Bleicher, a former member of the Communist Party of Germany (Opposition) and the kapo of the storage building, was the one who convinced the SS to turn a blind eye to the child. When Zweig was to be sent to Auschwitz, prisoners who were tasked with compiling the deportees’ list erased his name and replaced him with Willy Blum, a sixteen-year old Sinto boy. Zweig moved to Israel after liberation, and later studied in France. After he was discovered to be the ‘Buchenwald child’, he settled in East Germany, where he remained until 1972. Zweig received much media and the public attention in the country. Blum’s fate was only disclosed after the German reunification.[62]

The website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum does not agree that Stefan Jerzy Sweig was a prisoner at Buchenwald.  The USHMM maintains that Josef Schleifstein was the only four-year-old child at Buchenwald. The Buchenwald Memorial Site does not acknowledge that Stefan Jerzy Sweig was a prisoner there.

Antonin Kalina, the Communist prisoner at Buchenwald, who saved the orphan boys

Filed under: Buchenwald, Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , — furtherglory @ 11:27 am

Child survivors of Buchenwald from Block 66

This morning, I read a very nice article here about the “Boys of Buchenwald” who were saved in Block 66 by Antonin Kalina, a Communist prisoner in the camp. The photo above shows some of the boys, who are wearing clothes made for them out of German uniforms. Could the man in the back row be Antonin Kalina?  The boy in the center of the front row is 4-year-old Janek Szlajfaztajn (Joseph Schleifstein).

This quote is from the end of the article, which was written by Brad Rothchild:

After the war, Kalina returned to his home in Czechoslovakia and lived out the remainder of his life in obscurity. His boys began new lives in Israel, the United States, Australia and Europe; but they always remembered the Czech communist who risked his life in order to save theirs. Over the past few years, the surviving boys, along with the historian Kenneth Waltzer, have initiated a process to have Kalina recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. Providing testimonies and bearing witness for perhaps the final time, these survivors have been working to ensure that their rescuer receives the recognition that he deserves. As the decision drew near, exhaustive efforts were made on Kalina’s behalf in Israel by former Buchenwald boy and current member of the International Buchenwald Committee, Naftali Furst, and his life partner Tova Wagman.

This month, nearly 70 years after the end of the Holocaust and over 20 years since Antonin Kalina’s death, Yad Vashem granted him this honor. While there is no surviving member of the Kalina family to accept the medal that goes along with it, this honor is shared by the surviving boys of block 66, their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. May his memory be a blessing for them all.

There are a few details in Rothchild’s article which I believe are incorrect. He writes that Kalina “risked his life” in order to save the boys in Barrack 66.  This implies that the SS men at Buchenwald were trying to get their hands on these young boys, to kill them, but Kalina intervened and managed to save their lives, risking his own life in the process.

Rothchild wrote that “Thanks to Kalina’s efforts, unlike the other prisoners in Buchenwald, the boys of block 66 did not have to leave their barrack for roll call — instead of assembling with the rest of the camp twice a day no matter the conditions outside, the boys stayed inside.”

This contradicts what the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum says here about Janek Sziafaztain, which I am quoting:

Josef (Janek) Szlajfaztajn (later Joseph Schleifstein) is the son of Izrael and Esther Schleifstein. He was born on March 7, 1941 in Sandomierz, Poland during the German occupation. The family remained in Sandomierz through its existence as a ghetto, from June 1942 through January 1943. After the liquidation of the ghetto the family was moved to Czestochowa, where Israel and Esther were presumably put to work in one of the HASAG factory camps. During this period Joseph was placed in hiding in the area. Israel was sent to work for the Letzium Work Camp in the Radom District working for a firm called Ralnik from October 1942 till September 1943. He worked in Makashin, near Sandomierz, from September till December 1943; in a HASAG ammunition factory in Kielc from December 1943 to approximately November 1944; and for a short time in Czestochowa. In January 1945, when the HASAG camps were closed and their operations transferred to Germany, the Schleifsteins were deported to Germany. Esther was sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Izrael and Josef were taken to Buchenwald and arrived on January 20, 1945. Izrael successfully passed the selection process by concealing Josef in a large sack in which he carried his leather-working tools. The child could not remain concealed for long in the camp, but his life was spared, in part because the Germans valued Israel’s craftsmanship and in part because they took a liking to the child. The SS guards came to treat Joseph as a camp mascot, and even had him appear at roll calls wearing a child-sized striped uniform.

It could be that little 4-year-old Josef was the only one of the Buchenwald Boys who appeared at roll calls, since the SS guards treated him as the “camp mascot.”  However, this shows that the SS men at Buchenwald were not trying to kill the young boys in Block 66, as was implied in Rothchild’s article.

This quote is from Rothchild’s article:

Kalina, a political prisoner, had risen to a position of influence in the communist underground, which ran the day-to-day operations of the camp on behalf of the Nazi SS at Buchenwald. When the boys arrived at Buchenwald, Kalina knew that something must be done to protect them — as a true believer, Kalina saw in the boys the hope for a brighter future. He and his fellow prisoners decided to place the youths in a special barrack, far away from the main part of the camp, deep in the filthy quarantine area where the SS was loath to go. This barrack, number 66 in the “little camp” at Buchenwald, became known as the “kinderblock,” or children’s block. Antonin Kalina was the block elder. In this capacity, he went to extraordinary lengths to ensure the survival of the boys held there.

In all of the Nazi concentration camps, there was a quarantine section where all new prisoners were kept for a few weeks so as to prevent the spread of disease.  The quarantine camp at Buchenwald was called the “Little Camp.”

Every block (barrack) in all the Nazi concentration camps had a block elder, who lived in a tiny room in the barrack, and supervised the inmates.  The block elder was a Kapo (captain), a prisoner who assisted the Nazis in running the camp. This was the system in all the camps, not just at Buchenwald.

Buchenwald was one of the main camps for political prisoners, who were mainly captured Resistance fighters, aka illegal combatants.  It was not a “death camp” for Jews, although there were Jewish prisoners, especially after Auschwitz was evacuated and the surviving prisoners were brought to Germany.

Rothchild wrote about the “death march” to Buchenwald, but actually the Auschwitz prisoners were only marched as far as the German border, and then put on trains to be taken to camps in Germany. (Elie Wiesel tells about this in his book Night.)

When the Buchenwald camp was originally opened in 1937, the Nazis brought common criminals, from the Sachsenhausen camp near Berlin, to run the camp internally. But after the first Commandant, Karl Otto Koch, was relieved of his duties and sent to Majdanek, the new Commandant, Hermann Pister, allowed the Communists to take over the running of the camp.

The following quote is from Robert Abzug in his book Inside the Vicious Heart:

Meanwhile, in all this upheaval, the new commandant Hermann Pister allowed a German Communist prisoner group, some of them original inmates of the camp, to wrest power from the ‘greens.’ [The greens were common criminals who wore green triangles.] The Communist prisoners reduced the amount of black marketeering and other common corruption, cut down the amount of wanton sadism on the part of prisoner trustees (or Kapos), and made plans for the ultimate takeover of the camp in case of Nazi defeat. But in other ways the Communists merely shifted the ground of corruption to the assignment of work details, food, medical care, and ultimately life. From their takeover until the end of the war, favored treatment was often received on the basis of political loyalties. The Nazis for their part, gained from the Communist regime a more predictable work force and a greater sense of order.

In other words, the Communists at Buchenwald decided who would live and who would die.  It was not a question of which prisoners would be saved from the Nazis by the Communists.  The Nazis were not trying to kill the orphan boys of Buchenwald.

General Patton visited the Buchenwald camp on April 15, 1945, after the camp was liberated by the Communist prisoners, shortly before the arrival of American troops on April 11, 1945.
In the following quote from his autobiography, General Patton explained his understanding of the Nazi system of killing prisoners at Buchenwald, as told to him by the former inmates:

One of the most horrible points about this place was that all these executions were carried out by slaves. There was a further devilish arrangement of making the various groups select those who had to die. Each racial group had a certain number of men who represented it. These men had to select those from their group who would be killed locally, or sent to camps like Ohrdruf, which were termed “elimination camps.”

Ohrdruf was a sub-camp of Buchenwald; it was a forced labor camp, not “an elimination camp” or a death camp. It had underground factories where prisoners were forced to work in the German war industry.

The orphan boys in Block 66 were saved, by the Communists, from being sent to a sub-camp.  There were other young boys at Buchenwald, who were sent to the sub-camps to work.  I previously blogged here about Ben Helfgott, who was not an orphan when he arrived at Buchenwald; he was sent from the Buchenwald main camp to a sub-camp, but he still managed to survive.