Hero—Albert Leonard Wittenberg

I had planned to write a post on the victims of Buchenwald that died shortly after liberation, I was sidetracked by stumbling across the story of Albert Leonard Wittenberg.

Albert was born on 14 April 1909, in Paramaribo, Surinam. Surinam was a Dutch colony in South America. Like many of his fellow countrymen and women, he moved to the Netherlands. He got a job as a firefighter in Amsterdam.

Before the war, he was an active member of the Communist Party of the Netherlands (CPN) and the left-wing Union of Surinamese Workers. During the war, Wittenberg was a member of the resistance. When the parents of their Jewish neighbour Betty Sarlui had to go to the camp in early 1943, Albert and his wife Janna took the six-week-old baby into their family as their child.

Betty is ‘registered’ via detours in the marriage record of this non-Jewish couple. Janna said she had cheated because her father, Albert, was dark and of Surinamese descent.

Betty said in an interview in 2020:

“Albert walked as proud as a peacock with me down the street in the pram. There, I lay, without the Star of David on my jacket—like a happy baby. I lived with them for two and a half years. When Albert—who worked for the resistance—was arrested, I stayed with Janna, and I really had a very loving start in the middle of Amsterdam.”

Wittenberg was arrested (during the summer of 1944), and at the beginning of September, he arrived at Camp Vught. When that camp was closed, he left with the last transport to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, to be transported from there via Camp Neuengamme to the underground V2 factory Dora-Mittelbau. The train never arrived instead they were stranded at a small station along the way.

On Friday, the 13th of April, 1,016 concentration camp prisoners were herded inside a grain barn, piled knee-high with straw, which, had been previously doused with gasoline. According to the accounts of survivors, the barn was then deliberately set on fire by German SS and Luftwaffe soldiers and boys from the Hitler Youth. Prisoners who tried to escape the fire were machine-gunned to death by the Germans guarding the barn, including the teenage boys from the Hitler Youth. Albert Leonard Wittenberg was one of 1,016 murdered at the Gardelegen Massacre.

On Saturday, 14 April 1945, the 9th Army of the United States arrives in Gardelegen, a village in East Germany. The soldiers encounter a gruesome sight—hundreds of burnt bodies lie in the barn of the Isenschnibbe estate. The Allied soldiers saw that the fire had just been extinguished. They’re just too late.

Russian and Jewish prisoners eluded their guards, in the vicinity of Estedt, Germany, while marching to the notorious Gardelegen concentration camp four miles to the South. Farmers turned over the escapees to the Nazis, who marched them to a remote spot, dug graves and shot them in cold blood. The U.S. Military Government ordered German civilians to exhume the bodies and provide decent burial. In the foreground is a 15-year-old boy, the son of one of the farmers who helped turn the victims over to the Nazis.

Albert’s wife and children, including Betty, survived the war.

On 7 November 2011, Albert and Janna posthumously awarded the Yad Vashem—Righteous Among the Nations Award. It was presented to relatives of their family. The city council in Amsterdam adopted the name of this park on 28 January 2020.

Betty Mock was the girl taken in by the Wittenberg family. She was the initiator and has thus ensured a lasting memory of Albert Wittenberg.

What’s so poignant about this story is that Albert was an economic emigrant and moved for a better life. He saved a child’s life, fought Nazis, and consequently was murdered for it. Just think of his story in the context of immigrants.






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