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.

February 5, 2011

Famous photo of Settela Steinbach, a Gypsy girl who was gassed at Auschwitz

I was catching up on the news about 90-year-old John Demjanjuck, who is currently on trial in Munich for alleged crimes committed during World War II, when I came across the web site of the World Jewish Congress here.  The big news, according to the WJC is that Demjanjuck will be indicted by Spain on new charges as soon as the verdict on his current trial is in, which will be some time in March, 2011.

I noticed that the WJC web site is featuring a video about the Holocaust; the video is entitled “Holocaust denial is Anti-Semitism.”  I watched the video and saw a photo of Settela Steinbach, who is the Gypsy girl in an iconic photo of the Holocaust.

Famous photo of a Gypsy girl on a train to Auschwitz

You can watch the video that shows Settela Steinbach here.  The video is about the 6 million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust, so why is there a photo of a Gypsy girl in the video?    (more…)

October 11, 2010

Were there two four-year-old boys at Buchenwald?

In doing research, several years ago, for my web site section about the Buchenwald concentration camp, I vaguely recall reading about two children who were four years old when the American liberators arrived to rescue them on April 11, 1945.  However, I could only find the name of one of the boys on the USHMM web site: Josef Schleifstein whose name at birth was Janek Szlajfaztajn.

Josef Schleifstein Army Signal Corp photo, 1945

Some of the 904 orphan boys at Buchenwald, April 1945

Today I received an e-mail telling me about a new book, which is the story of another small child who survived Buchenwald: Stefan Jerzy Zweig. The book is Tears alone are not enough by Zacharias Zweig (now deceased) and Stefan Jerzy Zweig, with closing words from Elfriede Jelinek. The Foreword was written by Heinz Strotzka.

To coincide with the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp on April 11, 1945, the first edition of the book Tears are not enough by Zacharias Zweig (posthumously) and Stefan Jerzy Zweig was privately printed in spring 2005.

The following information is from the Forward of the book:

The immediate family, consisting of Dr. Zweig, his wife Helena, their daughter Silvia (born in 1932) and their son Stefan Jerzy (born in 1941) first had to move to the Cracow Ghetto. After spending long periods in the concentration camps of Biezanov, Skarzysko-Kamienna and Plaszow, the Zweig family was put on a transport destined for Buchenwald.

From reading the book Schindler’s Ark on which the film Schindler’s List is based, I learned that the male prisoners in the Plaszow camp were sent to the Gross Rosen concentration camp and the women were sent to Auschwitz.  Schindler’s Ark is a novel, so maybe the author left out the part about some of the Plaszow prisoners being sent to Buchenwald.

Continuing the quote from the Forward of the book:

Helena Zweig and her daughter were incarcerated in a satellite camp of Buchenwald and were subsequently deported to Auschwitz, where they were murdered in the gas chambers.

This seems strange. Why weren’t the mother and daughter sent directly, along with all the other women and girls at Plaszow, to Auschwitz and gassed immediately?  Auschwitz is only about 35 miles from the location of the former Plazow camp, but Buchenwald is much farther away.

More of the quote from the Forward of the book:

Helena’s son Jerzy was only able to survive thanks to the extraordinary protectiveness of political prisoners at Buchenwald, who saw in this protection an act of resistance and wanted thereby to set an example of humanity.

So the German staff at Buchenwald was trying to get at those children, to kill them, but they were no match for the political prisoners who saved the boys as an “act of resistance”?

Finally, this quote from the Forward of the book:

As a result of the emphatic protest raised by Stefan J. Zweig against personal insinuations and attacks by the head of the memorial site, Dr. Knigge, the director ordered the removal of a wall plaque at the memorial site which provided information on Buchenwald’s youngest prisoner.

Cover of new book about the four-year-old boy rescued from Buchenwald

The  photo of the child shown on the cover of the book has a remarkable resemblance to a photo of Josef Schleifstein, shown below.

Josef Schleifstein, circa 1946 Photo Credit: USHMM, courtesy of Aviva Kempner

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the little Jewish boy in the photo above was born Janek Szlajfaztajn on March 7, 1941 in Sandomierz, Poland during the German occupation. His parents were Izrael and Esther Szlajfaztajn. The family was moved into the Sandomierz ghetto in June 1942. After the liquidation of the ghetto, the family was moved to Czestochowa, a city in Poland, where Izrael and Esther were put to work in one of the HASAG factory camps. During this period, their son was placed in hiding in the area.

The USHMM says that Izrael Szlajfaztajn was then sent to the Letzium Work Camp in the Radom District, where he worked for a firm called Ralnik from October 1942 till September 1943. He worked in Makashin, near Sandomierz, from September till December 1943 and in a HASAG ammunition factory in Kielce from December 1943 to approximately November 1944.

In January 1945, when the HASAG camps were closed and their operations transferred to Germany, the Szlajfaztajn family was deported to Germany. According to the USHMM, Esther was sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Izrael and Janek were taken to Buchenwald where they arrived on January 20, 1945. Izrael had concealed little Janek in a large sack in which he carried his leather-working tools.

The child could not remain hidden for long in the camp, but his life was spared, in part because the Germans valued Izrael’s craftsmanship and in part because they took a liking to the child. The SS guards came to treat Janek as a camp mascot, and even had him appear at roll calls wearing his child-sized striped uniform.

Despite this special treatment, Janek remembered being lined-up for execution at one point and his father intervening at the last moment to save him. He also remembered being very sick during his imprisonment and living in a hospital for a time. Soon after their liberation in Buchenwald, Izrael and Janek were taken to Switzerland for medical treatment. Some months later, they were reunited with Esther in the town of Dachau, where they lived until emigrating to the U.S. in 1947.

I searched the website of the USHMM and could not find any mention of Stefan Jerzy Zweig.   The Forward of the new book mentions that Stefan Jerzy Zweig was the youngest prisoner to pass through the gates of Buchenwald and the last, together with his father, to leave after Liberation.

So were there really two four-year-old Jewish boys at Buchenwald, or was there only one boy who went by two different names?

The child in this photo was identified as Josef Schleifstein

(Click on the photo to enlarge)

The photo above is from this website.

The same photo is identified on this German website as Stefan Jerzy Zweig.

The four-year-old boy at Buchenwald was the subject of a novel by Bruno Apitz entitled Naked among Wolves, which has been made into a film.

This quote is from the Epilogue of the book about Stefan Jerzy Zweig:

The commemoration plaque with the name of the three and a half year old Jewish child has been removed from the  Buchenwald Memorial. The name has also been removed (the worst thing of all for a Jew, a renewed expunging of a life) and replaced by a more generally formulated inscription because the naming of individuals (which is to say of life itself because life always consists of individuals) was not permitted. Those born after the fact have the final word, and they have the freedom to steer things the way they were supposed to have been: Anne Frank has already raised too many hackles with her diary. In the New Germany we can’t tolerate the idea that there were red Capos (communists, socialists of all shapes and kinds, the resistance fighter Robert Siewert and the post-War union leader Willi Bleicher symbolize all of them), red Capos who saved people.

On this website, I found an article written on 07/07/09 by Kenneth Waltzer which included this quote about the orphan boys at Buchenwald: “The two youngest boys were four years old.”  Were there two four-year-old boys at Buchenwald who looked exactly alike?