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October 1, 2012

A Holocaust fairy tale: Jews saved by a malfunction of the gas chambers

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust, World War II — Tags: , — furtherglory @ 8:27 am

This is a fairy tale that has been adapted from an article in the Jerusalem Post, which you can read in full here.  The article tells about the Teitlebaum family: father Tuvia Teitlebaum, mother Margit Frankfurt Teitlebaum and their son and six daughters who lived in Nyirbator, Hungary, a town in the northern great plain region of eastern Hungary.

A Holocaust Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, there was a Jewish family, named Teitlebaum, living the good life in Nyirbator, Hungary. The Teitlebaums were business owners.  The whole family was engaged in business.  As each of their children reached maturity, a new enterprise was created around his or her talents. For instance, daughter Eva was gifted at handicrafts, so she was sent for artistic training, and opened a store specializing in finely embroidered clothing and lace curtains, which she operated even after she was married. Daughter Magda ran a delivery business. Daughter Olga worked in the beer business.

After the evil Nazis came to power in Germany, the Teitlebaums knew that it would be wise for Jews to get out of Europe. So the father made arrangements for the family to emigrate to New Zealand.  He engaged tutors to teach his seven children to speak English.

But, alas, the Teitlebaum family waited too long to leave Hungary, which was an Ally of Germany.  On March 19, 1944, the evil Nazis occupied Hungary, and the Teitlebaums could not escape. The father decided that the only way to escape the Nazis was to gather the family together and give everyone a fast-acting poison.  But the mother intervened to save the family, telling the father that “Maybe one of our beautiful children will survive.”

The Teitlebaums were undoubtedly rich, since the whole family was engaged in some kind of business, and they probably had the nicest house in Nyirbator, Hungary.  The Nazis chose the Teitlebaum house for their officer’s club and the Teitlebaum family was sent in cattle cars to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.

The six daughters in the Teitlebaum family were sent on the same train, and this train was dispatched with haste to the gas chambers.  But on the day that the six young women stood together to die, the gas chambers experienced a rare malfunction.  All four of the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau had malfunctioned at the same time, a rare occurrence indeed.

At this point, the Nazis had to resort to Plan B. Instead of being gassed, the six young women in the Teitlebaum family were dispatched to a munitions factory in a labor camp near Bremen, Germany.

When the factory in Bremen was forced to close because the Nazis had run out of fuel, the six Teitlebaum daughters were assigned to chop wood in a forest.  There the Teitlebaum sisters found parachutes left by pilots who had been shot down.  The Teitlebaum sisters were resourceful and talented. Eva was an expert seamstress; she made sweaters for her sisters out of the parachutes.  She also made a Santa Claus for a Christmas party held by the German guards.  For her act of kindness, the Germans gave the six Teitlebaum sisters a blanket and extra food.

Then Nora and Alice, who shared the Teitlebaum family’s artistic talent, were recruited by the Nazis to make Christmas cards for the German officers.  And so, in the midst of the mass murder around them, these religious Jewish sisters were saved by making a Santa Claus and Christmas cards for the evil Nazis.

But the camaraderie between the Jews and the Nazis did not last long.  These same German officers, who had celebrated Christmas with the Jewish Teitlebaums, now realized that the Jews would soon be liberated and the Nazis would be held accountable for their crimes. So these same officers now invited the Teitlebaums for coffee and cheese. But Eva Teitlebaum was not fooled by this invitation.  Her instincts told her that the evil Nazis were up to no good, and she insisted that her sisters should turn down the invitation.  The food, as it turned out, had been poisoned.  The Nazis had invited the young women for coffee because they wanted to  wipe out all witnesses to their crimes.

After the plan to poison the Teitlebaum sisters failed, the Nazis locked the young women in a train and sent them to an unknown destination, without food and water, and with British planes bombing from above.  As the tracks were bombed, the Nazis let the Teitlebaum sisters out of the train, and set them to fixing the tracks.  After the resourceful and talented Teitlebaum sisters had repaired the tracks, they were locked up again in the cattle cars.

When the train reached Plauen, it could go no farther; the Nazis fled, leaving the sisters locked in the cattle cars. But there was one kind Nazi officer, who proved the exception to the rule: He unlocked the doors of the train. Half of the passengers were already dead, and the Teitlebaum sisters had to extract themselves from amid the bodies.

Once outside the ill-fated train, the sisters saw a picturesque and tranquil scene: a mountain lake with a charming guest house.  The sisters jumped into the lake for a swim, discarding their filthy clothing.

While the sisters were in the lake, other prisoners approached the guest house and were shot.  The Teitlebaum sisters were saved because they had the good sense to stay in the water all night.  Lo and behold, they were rescued by French Jewish underground soldiers the next morning.  The Jewish soldiers gave them new clothing and helped them to reach the British Displaced Persons camp in Neustadt, Germany. Fortunately, the Teitlebaum sisters could speak English because their father had hired a tutor for them.

All seven of the Teitlebaum children survived the Holocaust, although their parents were murdered at Auschwitz on a day when the gas chambers did not malfunction.

The most important information in this fairy tale

The Teitlebaum family arrived at Auschwitz-Birkeau, in the Spring of 1944, on a train that had around 3,000 Jews crowded into cattle cars.  So it was not just the Teitlebaum family that was saved that day because of the malfunction of the gas chambers. There were at least 3,000 Jews who were saved that day because all four of the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau had malfunctioned.

How does a gas chamber malfunction?  In the case of the Nazi gas chambers, the gassing procedure was very simple.  The Jews were herded inside the two underground gas chambers in Krema II and Krema III and then the Zyklon-B gas pellets were poured into the chamber through holes in the roof.  The Krema IV and Krema V gas chambers were above ground and the Zyklon-B was poured in through windows in the wall.

Opening a can of Zyklon-B for the gas chamber

So what happened on that day in May 1944 when this train full of Hungarian Jews arrived.  Were the Nazis unable to open the holes in the roof, and the holes in the wall?  Were the Zyklon-B pellets defective?

It was rare for something like this to happen, but not unknown.  There are other Holocaust survivors who claim that they were saved because the Auschwitz gas chambers “malfunctioned.”  While this was happening, the Germans were building rockets and and jet airplanes.  Did the SS men at Auschwitz put in a call to Hitler and say to him “Get some engineers over here ASAP.  We can’t figure out how to make the gas chambers functional.”

I previously blogged about the malfunction of the Auschwitz gas chambers here.