Scrapbookpages Blog

July 21, 2013

The three sisters of Franz Kafka perished in the Nazi gas chambers

The title of my blog post comes from a sentence in an article which you can read in full here.  Franz Kafka died in 1924.  He died a very painful death, but at least he was not gassed.

Franz Kafka Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Franz Kafka Photo Credit: Wikipedia

This quote is from the article cited above:

Born in Prague in 1883 into a German-speaking Jewish family, Kafka lived a life of quite exemplary tedium as an insurance clerk, rarely travelling (sic) beyond his home or that of his parents. [Primo] Levi saw similar constrictions in his own life as an assimilated Jew in bourgeois Turin. Moreover, Kafka’s three sisters had all perished in the Nazi gas chambers – victims of the grotesque bureaucracy foretold by their brother two decades earlier in The Trial. Kafka must have had a seer-like sensibility, Levi thought, to have looked so accurately into the future.

House where Franz Kafka lived in Prague

House where Franz Kafka lived in Prague

I have been unable to find any more information about exactly where the sisters of Franz Kafka “perished in the Nazi gas chambers.”  Jews from Prague were initially sent to the nearby Theresienstadt camp (now the town of Terezin) from where they were transferred to Auschwitz and placed in a “family camp.”  I wrote about the Czech Family Camp on my blog here.

I previously blogged about Primo Levi, who was a prisoner in the Auschwitz III camp, aka Monowitz.

Franz Kafka was born in this building in Prague Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Franz Kafka was born in this building in Prague Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Statue of Franz Kafka in Prague

Statue of Franz Kafka in Prague

This quote is from the Wikipedia page on Franz Kafka:

Kafka was born near the Old Town Square in Prague, then located in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His family were middle-class Ashkenazi Jews. His father, Hermann Kafka (1852–1931), was the fourth child of Jakob Kafka,[5][6] a shochet or ritual slaughterer in Osek, a Czech village with a large Jewish population located near Strakonice in southern Bohemia.[7] Hermann brought the Kafka family to Prague.

[…]

Hermann and Julie [Kafka] had six children, of whom Franz was he eldest.  Franz’s two brothers, Georg and Heinrich, died in infancy before Franz was seven; his three sisters were Gabriele (“Ellie”) (1889-1944), Valerie (“Valli”) (1892- 1943) and Ottilie (“Ottila”) 1892 – 1943.  They all died during the Holocaust of World War II. Valli was deported to the Lodz ghetto in Poland in 1942, but that is the last documentation of her.

Note that “Ellie” died in 1944, at the time that the Czech Family Camp Jews were sent to the gas chamber.   Valli was sent to the Lodz ghetto where many of the Jews remained until the last days of World War II.  However, Valli died in 1943, which means she was sent to the Chelmno death camp, according to the statistics on the JewishGen website.

House where Einstein played the violin for Franz Kafka

House where Einstein played the violin for Franz Kafka

In the photo above, the house on the right is called the House of the Stone Ram.  The House of the Stone Ram is where Albert Einstein played his violin for Franz Kafka when Einstein was a professor at Prague German University from 1911 to 1912. On the left, in the photo, is the House at the Stone Madonna, also called the Storch house; it has a painting of St. Wenceslas on horseback.

This quote about Franz Kafka is from Wikipedia:

Kafka grew up in Prague as a German-speaking Jew.[106] He was deeply fascinated by the Jews of Eastern Europe, who (sic) he thought possessed an intensity of spiritual life that was absent from Jews in the West. His diary is full of references to Yiddish writers.[107] Yet he was at times alienated from Judaism and Jewish life: “What have I in common with Jews? I have hardly anything in common with myself and should stand very quietly in a corner, content that I can breathe”.[108] In his adolescent years, Kafka had declared himself an atheist.[109]

Hawes suggests that Kafka, though very aware of his own Jewishness, did not incorporate it into his work, which, according to Hawes, lacks Jewish characters, scenes or themes.[110][111][112] In the opinion of literary critic Harold Bloom, although Kafka was uneasy with his Jewish heritage, he was the quintessential Jewish writer.[113]

Franz Kafka attended the Old-New Synagogue in Prague

Franz Kafka attended the Old-New Synagogue in Prague

The photo above shows the Old-New synagogue which Franz Kafka attended when he lived in Prague; His bar mitzvah was held in the Old-New Synagogue.

On the west wall of the main hall in the Synagogue, there is a glass case shaped like the two stone tablets on which Moses chiseled the ten commandants. The case is filled with tiny light bulbs which light up on the anniversary of someone’s death if the relatives have paid for this feature. One of the lights is for Franz Kafka.

This synagogue got its strange name, Altneuschul, which is German for old-new-school because at the time that it was completed in 1275, it was the Neuschul or New Synagogue, but by the 16th century when other new synagogues were built in Prague, it became the Altneuschul or Old-New Synagogue.

Tourists flock to this street in Prague

Tourists flock to Hrbitova street in Prague

On the right in the photo above, tourists are shown crowding around the street vendors’ stalls on Hrbitova Street, looking for souvenirs of their visit. This picture is the view looking east toward the intersection of Maiselova and Hrbitova, taken from the entrance to the Klausen Synagogue which is at the other end of this street, behind the camera. On the left side of the picture, you see tourists looking at the windows of the souvenir shops. In the the center of the photo, a tour group is shown, listening as their guide tells them about the Old Town Hall, the pink building in front of them.

March 8, 2013

The amazing journey of William Schick — from the Nazi death camps to the good life in America

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , , — furtherglory @ 9:39 am

You can read the tale of William Schick on Don Moore’s War Tales website here. Schick died on New Year’s Eve in 2010, at the age of 90, in Gloucester, MA in the USA.  Schick is shown below in his back yard at his winter home in Venice, Florida. (Photo credit: Don Moore)

WilliamSchick

William Schick was a young Jew, living in Prague, Czechoslovakia, innocently minding his own business, when he was sent, as one of the first prisoners, to the concentration camp formerly known as Theresienstadt.  After spending time in Theresienstadt, which Schick called a “show camp,” he was sent in 1941 to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp where prisoners were expected to live for only three months, according to the War Tales article.

At Auschwitz-Birkenau, Schick was put into the Czech family camp, where men, women and children lived together; this section of Auschwitz-Birkenau was called B11b or B2B. You can read about the Czech family camp and the selections for the gas chamber on my website here.

This quote is from the article about William Schick on the War Tales website:

After three months at Auschwitz, a prisoner’s time was up.

“They told everyone in Camp B2B we were going to be sent to Germany as slave laborers, but we had to clean up and shower first and we’d be issued new uniforms,” he said. “When we reached what the guards said were the ‘showers’ there was a commotion going on. I could speak a little German and I heard the guards say something was ‘kaput.’”

He learned later the apparatus that filled the showers with poison gas was ‘kaput.’ The prisoners from B2B had escaped death. They were marched back to their barracks. Three days later they were marched back to the gas chambers to die.

“We were just about to go into the gas chambers once more and there was another commotion out front.

“A train with 10,000 Jews from Hungry had just arrived. They had no place to put them. We were sent back to our barracks once again. They marched all 10,000 Hungarian Jews into the three gas chambers at Auschwitz and killed them all in 24 hours.”

[…]

The third call-up for Schick and the other Jews in B2B was ordered by Dr. Josef Mengele, the notorious “Angel of Death.” He checked them out to determine if they lived or died.

“When Dr. Mengele came to our camp, we had to stand before him completely naked. We were nothing but skin and bones,” Schick said.

“He was dressed to kill,” no pun intended. “He was unbelievable in his tailor-made uniform and handcrafted boots. I could see myself in his shiny, black boots as I stood for 10 or 15 seconds before him while he looked me over.”

He signaled with one thumb that Schick was to join those in the right line. Those in Schick’s line looked healthier. The less healthy prisoners in the left line would be sent to the gas chambers.

Dr. Josef Mengele who selected prisoners for the gas chamber at Auschwitz

Dr. Josef Mengele who selected prisoners for the gas chamber at Auschwitz

William Schick was saved from the Nazi gas chambers THREE times; what are the odds of that?  Actually, it was not at all unusual for Jews to escape the gas chamber multiple times. Every Holocaust survivor has a story to tell about how he or she survived the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Some survivors were saved from the gas chamber as many as six times.  What a sloppy way to conduct a genocide!  Hitler would be turning over in his grave, if he had a grave.

February 25, 2013

Nazis set up a Family Camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau to fool the Red Cross

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , , — furtherglory @ 8:49 am

Most people know about the famous visit by the Red Cross to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in June 1944 where the Nazis fooled Red Cross representatives into thinking that the prisoners were being treated well.  You can read about it on my previous blog post here.

What I didn’t know, until just recently, is that the Czech Family Camp was set up at Auschwitz-Birkenau, in order to fool the Red Cross again, in case Red Cross representatives decided to make a visit to the famous Auschwitz II death camp to see how the Czechs were being treated. The Czech Family Camp was in existence for six months before the Nazis carried out their real plan, which was to murder all the prisoners who had been sent from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz.

One of the survivors of the Czech Family Camp was Otto Dov Kulka (born in 1933) who has written a book entitled Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death. I will get to him later.  Otto’s father was also a survivor of the Family Camp.  You can read about him here.

This quote, regarding the Family Camp, is from this website:

It is still not altogether clear why the organisers (sic) of the final solution created the family camp, with its unusual privileges, only to liquidate it several months later. All that seems clear is that this remarkable activity was connected with the Nazis’ attempts to hide the genocide of the Jews to the outside world, and with the visit of the International Committee of the Red Cross to Terezín, for which Terezín’s SS command ordered the ghetto to be specially embellished. The Terezín SS command then showed the Red Cross delegates a Potemkin village, which had very little in common with Terezín’s cruel reality. A few days before they were murdered, the prisoners of the family camp were ordered to write post-dated postcards to their Terezín relations from the labour camp at Birkenau. The Terezín prisoners were thus meant to gain the false idea, ahead of the Red Cross commissioner’s visit, that their parents, childrens and siblings in Birkenau were all right, and above all alive. Some historians also believe that the family camp was meant to be the target of a similarly-manipulated visit by the International Committee of the Red Cross, this time to Auschwitz.

Map of Auschwitz-Birkeanau

Map of Auschwitz-Birkeanau

But I am getting ahead of the story. The map of Birkenau, in the photo above, shows the Family Camp in section BIIb (B2B) on the left side. Click on the map to see it in a larger size. The main camp road is shown on the map, dividing the Family Camp from the women’s camp and the buildings where disinfection chambers and shower rooms were located. The Krema II and Krema III gas chamber buildings are shown in red on the map.

The article from the website cited above starts out with this quote:

In September 1943 five thousand prisoners were deported from the Terezín ghetto [Theresienstadt] to Auschwitz-Birkenau in two transports.Unlike previous transports, they received unusual privileges: on arriving at the camp they did not undergo the usual selections, and families were also not divided up into various sections in the camp – hence the family camp. The privileges also included the fact that the Terezín prisoners were not subjected to the humiliating ritual of having their heads shaved on arrival, and that children were allowed to spend daytimes in a children’s block. In December 1943 and May 1944, further large transports from Terezín brought a further 12,500 prisoners, who were placed in the family camp. While the first transports consisted exclusively of prisoners who had come to Terezín from the Czech lands, almost half the prisoners on later transports were Jews who had initially been deported from Germany, Austria and the Netherlands.

In the family camp, labelled section BIIb in Birkenau, the prisoners had to live in a narrow, muddy strip surrounded by an electric fence. They suffered from hunger, cold, exhaustion, illnesses and poor sanitation. The mortality rate was no lower here than in the rest of Auschwitz. The children were allowed to spend the day in the children’s block, where teachers led by the charismatic Fredy Hirsch engaged them in improvised lessons and games.

The unusual privileges given to the prisoners in the family camp were a complete mystery to the members of the Auschwitz resistance movement. After a while, however, they managed to find out that the prisoners’ personal papers contained the abbreviation SB and the period six months. SB – Sonderbehandlung, or special treatment – was code in Nazi jargon for execution without verdict, in Auschwitz usually death in the gas chambers.

After exactly six months, all the still-living prisoners who had been deported to Auschwitz in September 1943 were told that they would be transferred to the Heydebreck labour camp. Instead of going to this fictitious camp, however, the lorries of prisoners headed to the Auschwitz gas chambers, where on the night of 8 March they were murdered without selection. According to several eyewitnesses, before going to their deaths in the Auschwitz gas chambers they sang, as a sign of resistance, the Czechoslovak anthem, the Jewish anthem Hatikva and the Internationale. Members of the Auschwitz resistance organisation (sic) had warned Fredy Hirsch and other prisoners in the family camp that they were shortly to be murdered, and had appealed to them to rebel – however, there was not enough time to prepare and organise (sic) armed revolt. Fredy Hirsch, who had been expected to lead the rebellion, then died of an overdose of tranquillisers (sic) — it is probable that he committed suicide.

From that point on, the remaining prisoners in the family camp lived in permanent fear that after six months they would meet the same fate. At the beginning of July 1944 these fears were confirmed: unlike in March, however, the prisoners underwent selections, and some of them were sent to work in other concentration camps. By chance, Mengele was persuaded to carry out a selection of the boys from the children’s block, which meant that some of them managed to survive until liberation. Approximately 6-7,000 prisoners remained in the family camp, and were then murdered over the course of two nights, from 10 to 12 July 1944. Of the 17,500 prisoners sent to the family camp, only 1,294 survived.

It is still not altogether clear why the organisers (sic) of the final solution created the family camp, with its unusual privileges, only to liquidate it several months later. All that seems clear is that this remarkable activity was connected with the Nazis’ attempts to hide the genocide of the Jews to the outside world, and with the visit of the International Committee of the Red Cross to Terezín, for which Terezín’s SS command ordered the ghetto to be specially embellished. The Terezín SS command then showed the Red Cross delegates a Potemkin village, which had very little in common with Terezín’s cruel reality. A few days before they were murdered, the prisoners of the family camp were ordered to write post-dated postcards to their Terezín relations from the labour camp at Birkenau. The Terezín prisoners were thus meant to gain the false idea, ahead of the Red Cross commissioner’s visit, that their parents, childrens and siblings in Birkenau were all right, and above all alive. Some historians also believe that the family camp was meant to be the target of a similarly-manipulated visit by the International Committee of the Red Cross, this time to Auschwitz.

The liquidation of the family camp on 8 March and 10-12 July 1944 was the largest mass murder of Czechoslovak citizens during the Second World War.

This quote is from this website, which gives a review of a new book, entitled Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death, written by Otto Dov Kulka, a survivor of the Czech Family Camp:

[Otto] and his mother were part of a unique transport of Jews from Theresienstadt who were housed together in a specially designated “Family Camp”, and allowed to continue some semblance of normal life. He attended a makeshift school, where he and his friends put on plays and concerts, some of which were attended by camp dignitaries like Josef Mengele. They were all aware that this was highly unusual, and could not understand why they should have been singled out for such special treatment (it turned out that they were being kept as a showpiece just in case the Red Cross should visit).

Their good fortune did not last long. In March 1944, exactly six months after their arrival, the entire group was rounded up and taken to the gas chambers. There were no selections, and no possibility of escape – they were simply disposed of en masse. Their place was then taken by a new group, which was again to be granted the same privileges and the same freedoms – but only until their six months had, in turn, come to an end.

Kulka and his mother survived the first culling by a twist of fate: they both happened to be in the infirmary on the night of the liquidation. But they were under no illusion that this was anything but a temporary reprieve. Unlike the rest of Auschwitz, whose inmates might at least hold out hope of being “selected” for work duties, they knew that any future round-up would take in all of them, and that they would all be killed. It is this certainty, this “immutable Law of the Great Death”, that formed the background to Kulka’s experience of Auschwitz, and which has continued to haunt him ever since.

[…]

In later years [Otto] visited the remains of Auschwitz, and made a point of stepping through the doorway into the ruins of the crematorium where his childhood friends were all killed, in the hope that this symbolic act might somehow lay his mind to rest.

Ruins of Krema II crematorium

Ruins of Krema II crematorium

Note that Otto Dov Kulka visited “the remains of Auschwitz” and stepped “through the doorway into the ruins of the crematorium” where his childhood friends were killed.  What doorway?  Have the ruins of Krema II, shown in the photo above, been opened up so that tourists can now enter through a doorway?  If so, I think that this is a good idea.

Few people have been brave enough to climb through the hole in the roof of Krema II to see the inside of the gas chamber.  It should be opened up, with wheel chair access, so that everyone can see the inside of the gas chamber, which Fred Leuchter first entered years ago.  Seriously.  Everyone should have the opportunity to see the gas chamber evidence which Fred never  found.