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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.


  1. Stefan Jerzy Zweig was indeed at Buchenwald; his father, also at the camp, provided to Yad Vashem a report of his imprisonment and rescue there. The deportation list to Auschwitz from which Stefan was crossed off exists. A copy of it is on display at Buchenwald Memorial Site.

    Comment by Bill Niven — December 12, 2013 @ 2:54 pm

    • The Museum at the Buchenwald Memorial Site has changed since I first saw it in 1999. I am very surprised that the Memorial Site is now saying that there were two four-year-old boys in the camp. I blogged about this controversy at

      (Read the comments on the blog post, cited above, for more information on the two four-year-old boys at Buchenwald.)

      Strangely, the two four-year-old boys looked exactly alike, and both were SNEAKED into the camp by their fathers.

      Comment by furtherglory — December 13, 2013 @ 8:17 am

    • Are you the Bill Niven who wrote The Buchenwald Child: Truth, Fiction, and Propaganda (Studies in German Literature Linguistics and Culture) by Bill Niven (8 Apr 2007)?

      I went online and used the Search Inside feature to read part of your book. I did not see any mention of Josef Scheifstein, who was a four-year-old boy at Buchenwald, according to Wikipedia:

      Comment by furtherglory — December 13, 2013 @ 8:22 am

      • Hi there, sorry I am replying so late to this, but yes, I am that Bill Niven, and I mention Schleifstein in my book. However, my book came out before it emerged that there may have been a confusion of photographs of Zweig with those of Schleifstein. Zweig really was at Buchenwald, as was his father. As I said, the father provided a report of their time there – and their previous incarceration in Plaszow camp – to Yad Vashem. Zweig was also interviewed shortly after liberation. I can’t quite see why there would be any sense in trying to claim they were not there. What the communists made of the story is another matter…

        Comment by Bill Niven — April 14, 2014 @ 3:05 pm

  2. If you’re equipped with Vuze, you may watch the movie Naked Among The Wolves using this torrent.

    Comment by Eager for Answers — July 30, 2012 @ 8:11 am

  3. Thank you for linking, in the first paragraph, to my article at Elie Wiesel Cons The World. A minor, maybe picky, correction: you write “[Wiesel] was not quite 17 years old when the camp was liberated.” Buchenwald was “liberated” in April; Wiesel’s birthday is the end of September — so it was 5 months before his 17th birthday. I wouldn’t call that “not quite” but more like “not yet.” A small point, but when Wiesel’s birth date plays such an important role in the facts vs falsehoods contained in his story, added to the confusion that is accepted in the mainstream when it comes to dates and times therein, I think it is important to be very precise.

    Your generally careful work is appreciated. 🙂

    Comment by Carolyn Yeager — July 29, 2012 @ 9:12 am

    • You are absolutely right. I wrote this blog post quickly and I was too lazy to look up his exact age, but I knew he was not yet 17. I will change it to “not yet 17.” I wanted to point out that there are many “Holocaust novels,” that people accept as true stories. I am not a Talmud scholar, so I don’t accept any story that is not 100% true.

      Comment by furtherglory — July 29, 2012 @ 9:47 am

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