Scrapbookpages Blog

December 13, 2012

Holocaust survivor has identified himself in a famous photo taken by Margaret Bourke-White

Filed under: Buchenwald, Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 12:30 pm
Famous Buchenwald photo taken by Margaret Bourke-White

Famous Buchenwald photo taken by Margaret Bourke-White

A big THANK YOU to Tal Forkos who has identified her grandfather, Herman Forkos, in the famous photo above, which was taken by Margaret Bourke-White on April 15, 1945, the day that she arrived at the Buchenwald camp, along with General Patton. Herman Forkos is the 19-year-old man on the left, wearing a short jacket, with his hand on the barbed wire fence.

Margaret Bourke-White’s famous Buchenwald photo, captioned “Survivors at the Wire,” was published in Life magazine on December 26, 1960 in a special double-issue entitled “25 Years of LIFE.”

Tal Forkos has her own blog at http://www.tofes630.com/blog/?p=1013.

On her blog, which I translated, using Google Translate, Tal mentioned that her grandfather did not know the names of the other prisoners in the photo.

I believe that the man in the center of the photo is Simon Toncman. Three men from the Netherlands are in the famous photo: Simon Toncman, Helman Leefsma, and Max Hamburger.  All three had been sent to Buchenwald after they had been captured while fighting with the French resistance. Simon Toncman is the man in the center, who has his hand on the barbed wire.

Monument honors French Resistance fighters who were prisoners at Buchenwald

Monument honors French Resistance fighters who were prisoners at Buchenwald

The photo above was taken by Tech/5 Dan Curtain, a soldier in General George S. Patton’s Third Army, who visited the Buchenwald camp several days after it was liberated on April 11, 1945.

The monument shown in the photo is a Memorial stone that was erected by the Communist prisoners at Buchenwald on 19 April 1945 in honor of the political prisoners in the camp. The Jewish Holocaust survivors at Buchenwald were not allowed to attend the ceremonies on the day that this monument was dedicated.

The Memorial stone, shown in the photo above, was moved in 1961 to a spot called Frederic-Manhes-Platz, which is the place where the road to the camp branches off from the main road up the hill called the Ettersberg. The place where it now stands was named after a French Resistance fighter named Col. Henri Frederic Manhes. Buchenwald was one of the main camps to which captured partisans in the French Resistance were deported.

Simon Toncman is also in another famous photo taken at Buchenwald, which is shown below.

Famous photo taken in Block 56 at Buchenwald

Famous photo taken in Block 56 at Buchenwald

The famous photo above was taken at the Buchenwald concentration camp, inside  Block #56, by Private H. Miller of the Civil Affairs Branch of the U. S. Army Signal Corps on April 16, 1945, five days after the camp was liberated by the Sixth Armored Division of the US Third Army on April 11, 1945. The photo was published by the New York Times on May 6, 1945 with the caption “Crowded Bunks in the Prison Camp at Buchenwald.”
Strangely, Simon Toncman never talked about being in the most famous Holocaust photo of all time?  Was he ashamed that he had posed naked with nothing but a striped shirt hiding the lower half of his body? Notice that Toncman and several men in the photo have nicely trimmed beards, but the other prisoners are clean shaven.

Now look at the man in the center of the photo at the top of my blog post.  Is this Simon Toncman posing with a group of prisoners at Buchenwald?  Compare the two photos below.

Closeup of man in photo of Barracks No. 56

Closeup of man in photo of Barracks No. 56

Closeup of man in the center of the photo at the Buchenwald fence

Closeup of man in the center of the photo at the Buchenwald fence

Simon Toncman was not Jewish.  He was a captured Resistance fighter, who was sent to Buchenwald because it was one of the main camps for Resistance fighters.  So what is he doing in two photos of Jewish Holocaust survivors?

Notice that both Simon Toncman and Herman Forkos are wearing French berets, which were worn by the Communists who ran the camp, according to General Patton.

When the Buchenwald camp was originally opened, the Nazis brought convicted criminals from the Sachsenhausen concentration camp 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 Communist prisoners to take over the internal administration 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.

The Communists, who ran the Buchenwald camp, wore French berets to identify themselves to the other prisoners.  So why is a Jewish Holocaust survivor wearing a French beret in a famous photo taken at Buchenwald?

The Small Camp at Buchenwald

The Small Camp at Buchenwald

The Jewish prisoners were isolated at Buchenwald in a special section called the “Small Camp,” which was located at the bottom of a slope, far away from the gatehouse at the entrance to the camp. The “Small Camp” was separated from the rest of the Buchenwald camp by a barbed wire fence, which is shown in the photo above. The “Small Camp” was built where the soccer field had previously been located. It was used as a Quarantine camp for Jewish prisoners who had been evacuated from Auschwitz and other camps and brought to Buchenwald in the last months of the war.

The Communist political prisoners, who lived in the nice barracks near the gatehouse, discriminated against the Jewish prisoners and would not allow them into their nicer section unless they received a bribe. After the camp was liberated, the Jews were not even allowed to attend the celebration ceremony which was conducted by the Communist prisoners near the gatehouse.

Conditions inside the “Small Camp” were far worse than in the main part of the Buchenwald camp. The Jews were forced to live in crowded barracks and disease was rampant.

Buchenwald was primarily a camp for political prisoners. The Jewish prisoners had only arrived there after the death camps, located in what is now Poland, were closed because of the advance of the army of the Soviet Union. The Jews were immediately isolated at Buchenwald because they had to be quarantined in order to ensure that they were not carrying any diseases. In spite of this, a typhus epidemic broke out in the camp; half of all the prisoners who died at Buchenwald died during the epidemic.