Just another day on the job-Felix Landau diaries

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Felix Landau (May 21, 1910, Vienna, Austria – April 4, 1983), was a SS Hauptscharführer, a member of an Einsatzkommando , based first in Lwów, Poland (today Lviv, Ukraine), and later in Drohobycz. He was a “central figure in the Nazi program of the extermination of Galician Jews”.He is known for his daily diary and for temporarily sparing the life of the Jewish artist Bruno Schulz in 1942.

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Landau liked Schulz’s art and supplied him with protection and extra food. In return, he ordered the artist to paint a set of murals for his young son’s bedroom, depicting scenes from the Brothers Grimm fairy tale.

In June 1941, Felix Landau volunteered for Einsatzkommando service. He began his diary in July 1941, interspersing sentimental letters to his fiancée with detailed records of his participation in atrocities of what later came to be known as the Holocaust. He describes “shooting exercises” and “wild actions”, shooting sprees wherein he and his men would pick off random Jews who worked nearby or passed by on the street. In one such event in November 1942, Landau killed the personal dentist of a fellow officer, Karl Günther. In revenge, Günther caught up with Bruno Schulz, then under the protection of Landau, and shot him twice in the head. Later, Günther told Landau: “You killed my Jew – I killed yours.

Below are some excerpts from Felix Landau’s diaries.

“At 4.00 pm on 2 July 1941 we arrived in Lemberg. First impression: Warsaw harmless in comparison. Shortly after our arrival the first Jews were shot by us. As usual a few of the new officers became megalomaniacs; they really enter into the role wholeheartedly. We took over another military school in the Bolshevik quarter.

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Here the Russians must have been caught in their sleep. We quickly gathered together the bare essentials. At midnight after the Jews had cleaned the building, we went to bed.

July 4 1941,

One of the Poles tried to put up some resistance. He tried to snatch the carbine out of the hands of one of the men but did not succeed. A few seconds later there was a crack of gunfire and it was all over. A few minutes later after a short interrogation a second one was finished off. I was just taking over the watch when a Kommando reported that just a few streets away from us a guard from the Wehrmacht had been discovered shot dead.

One hour later, at 5 in the morning, a further thirty-two Poles, members of the intelligentsia and the Resistance, were shot about two hundred meters from our quarters after they had dug their own grave. One of them simply would not die. The first layer of sand had already been thrown on the first group when a hand emerged from out of the sand, waved and pointed to a place, presumably his heart. A couple more shots ran out, then someone shouted — in fact the Pole himself — “shoot faster” What is a human being? […]

July 6 1941.

found a lovely big traveling bag for only 3.80 reichmarks.

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Friend and Foe- The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.

Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact

Bad as World War II and all its horrors were it could have been a lot worse if the Germans didn’t break the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.

The impact it would have had if Hitler and Stalin had remained “friends”would have been unfathomable. In all likelihood it might have saved a lot of Soviet and German lives but the outcome for the citizens of the other  European nations would have probably been more devastating.

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Japan probably would not have allied themselves with Germany and may not have attacked Pearl Harbor.

These of course are speculations stemming from a “what if ?” scenario, the fact is that Germany and the Soviet Union were allies at the start of the war. at a high cost for Poland.

Following are some impression on how that Soviet -German friendship looked like.

Soviet and German officials having a friendly conversation in the newly captured Polish city of Brest, September 1939.

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German–Soviet military parade in Brest-Litovsk on September 22, 1939

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Rolling Soviet tanks and German motorcyclists.

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Common parade of Wehrmacht and Red Army in Brest at the end of the Invasion of Poland. At the center Major General Heinz Guderian and Brigadier Semyon Krivoshein

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German and Soviet personnel amid parade display material.

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Soviet and German soldiers in Lublin.

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Polish hostages being blindfolded during preparations for their mass execution in Palmiry, 1940.

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Ribbentrop taking leave of Molotov in Berlin, November 1940

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Germany terminated the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact at 03:15 on 22 June 1941 by launching a massive attack on the Soviet positions in eastern Poland which marked the beginning of the invasion of the Soviet Union known as Operation Barbarossa.

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It’s the beauty that killed the beast:The bravery of Franceska Mann.

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Franceska Mann   (February 4, 1917 – October 23, 1943)

Franciszka Mann was a young dancer residing in Warsaw before the Second World War. She studied dance in the dance school of Irena Prusicka. Her friends at that time included Wiera Gran and Stefania Grodzieńska. In 1939 she placed 4th during the international dance competition in Brussels among 125 other young ballet dancers.She was considered one of the most beautiful and promising dancers of her generation in Poland both in classical and modern repertoire.

 

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At the beginning of the Second World War she was a performer at the Melody Palace nightclub in Warsaw. She was a prisoner of Warsaw Ghetto.

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After  Nazi Germany had invaded and occupied Poland she escaped the ghetto and went into hiding on the “Aryan” site of Warsaw.
In spring 1943 the Germans declaired that all Polish Jews, who possessed visas of the neutral South American counties would be sent there.
Ms. Mann obtained (or forged) one of those visas and then sought refuge in “Hotel Polski”, transformed by the Nazis into the transit camp.

However, the allegedly neutral South American states that admitted numerous Nazi War criminals after 1945 did not lift a finger to rescue their victims, who were deported from “Hotel Polski” first to Bergen-Belsen and then (on October 23, 1943) to Auschwitz.
After the train arrived at the death camp the Jews were told that they were to be “disinfected” before crossing the Swiss border. While some began to comply with the SS orders to undress and enter the gas chamber, others hesitated, unwilling to take off clothes which contained their precious travel documents. As they delayed, the SS assumed more menacing stances, threatening the Jews with guns and finally beating them mercilessly with sticks.
Franceska Mann was a girl of striking beauty and had not lost it completely despite all suffering.

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Thus she attracted the attention of the SS man Schillinger, who ogled her as she undressed.
Suddenly she threw an article of clothing at Schillinger, hitting him in the head. As he opened his holster, Franceska Mann grabbed his pistol and shot twice mortally wounding him; the third shot wounded a second SS man, Emmerich, who later recovered, but was disabled.
Inspired by her courage the fellow prisoners attacked the SS guards and severely injured two of them, but could not do anything against the machine guns and were within minutes shot or driven into the gas chamber.

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Vasily Blokhin-Stalin’s butcher

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Born to a Russian peasant family in 1895, as a young man he quickly earned a reputation for “chernaya rabota”, or “black work”, while serving in the Tsarist army during World War I- gaining recognition from Stalin himself for his covert assassinations, torture, and executions. Blokhin quickly rose through the ranks of Russia’s secret police at the time—the NKVD—eventually becoming the head of the Kommandatura department.

Vasily Blokhin is recorded as having executed tens of thousands of prisoners by his own hand, including his killing of about 7,000 Polish prisoners of war during the Katyn massacre in spring 1940, making him the most prolific official executioner in recorded world history. He was the NKVD major in charge of executing the Polish officers from the Ostashkov camp, and he believed in personally doing the killing that his superiors had ordered him to supervise.

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Born in 1885, he was known as the NKVD’s chief executioner, having been hand-picked for this position by Joseph Stalin himself.

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Blokhin personally killed tens of thousand of men and women during Stalin’s Great Purges of the 1930s, so it was only natural that the NKVD would turn to him when it came time to dispatch the officers held in the Soviet prison camps. Along with a team of about thirty NKVD men from Moscow, mainly drivers and prison guards, Blokhin arrived at the NKVD prison in Kalinin (Tver) and set himself up in a sound-proofed cellar room that had a sloping floor for drainage.

Tver Execution room of Polish soldiers buried later at Mednoye- Photograph Katyn Museum

He then put on his special uniform, consisting of a leather cap, long leather apron, and elbow-length gloves. On a table next to him was a briefcase filled with his own personal Walther PPK pistols, for Blokhin, a true artist at his trade, would use no one else’s tools but his own.

After the prisoner’s identity was verified, he was brought handcuffed into the cellar room where Blokhin awaited in his long apron, like some horrible butcher. One guard later testified: “The men held [the prisoner’s] arms and [Blokhin] shot him in the base of the skull…that’s all”. Blokhin worked fast and efficiently, killing an average of one men every three minutes during the course of ten-hour nights – the killings were always done at night, so that the bodies could be disposed of in darkness.

Although this has never been completely proven, historians suspect that Blokhin shot 7,000 men over a period of twenty-eight days, which would make him one of the most prolific murderers of all time. However many people he killed, Blokhin was consistently promoted by his superiors for performing “special tasks”. He lost his job after Stalin died. The cause of Blokhin’s death, in 1955, was listed as suicide.

Katyn massacre
The Katyn massacre, also known as the Katyn Forest massacre was a mass execution of Polish nationals carried out by the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), the Soviet secret police, in April and May 1940. The massacre was prompted by NKVD chief Lavrentiy Beria’s proposal to execute all captive members of the Polish Officer Corps, dated 5 March 1940. This official document was approved and signed by the Soviet Politburo, including its leader, Joseph Stalin. The number of victims is estimated at about 22,000.

 

Corporal Wojtek reporting for duty.

 

_56736853_wojtek-feedingDuring World War II, the 22nd Artillery Supply Company of the 2nd Polish Corps had an unusual soldier among its ranks, a 440-pound Syrian bear named Wojtek.

Wojtek first came to the company as a cub, but over the course of the war he matured and was given the rank of corporal in the Polish army.

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.Amid a long journey to join forces with the British Army in World War Two, one unit of the Polish II Corps stumbled upon an unlikely, and invaluable, comrade: A Syrian brown bear.

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Poland bore a bulk of World War Two-related traumas. After the Nazis invaded Poland on September 1, 1939 — only to be followed by the subsequent Soviet invasion on the 17th — the country had only experienced a couple of decades of independence before it found itself under occupation once again.

Following the invasions, Stalin and Hitler agreed to a nonaggression treaty, which effectively divided Poland in two. Hitler broke that pact on June 22, 1941, when he ordered an invasion of the USSR.

In what came to be known as the Sikorski-Mayski Agreement, Stalin declared all previous pacts between the USSR and Poland to be null and void.

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Among other things, this allowed Poles to create their own army, despite technically being on Soviet soil. That they did, and the army became the Polish II Corps led by Lieutenant General Władysław Anders.

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In the spring of 1942, the newly-formed army left the USSR for Iran, along with the thousands of Polish civilians released from Soviet gulags. On the way to Tehran, the traveling Poles encountered an Iranian boy in the town of Hamadan who had found an orphaned bear cub. Irena Bokiewicz, one of the civilians, was so enamored with the cub that one of the lieutenants purchased him in exchange for a few tins of food.

The cub became a part of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company, and soon received its own Polish name, Wojtek (pronounced voy-tek), which translates to “joyous soldier.” Wojtek traveled with the company through the Middle East, as the unit made its way to join forces with the 3rd Carpathian Division of the British Army in Palestine.

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Growing up with soldiers, Wojtek adopted some rather curious habits. Indeed, reports say that the bear would drink milk from an old vodka bottle, imbibe beer and wine, and smoke (and eat) cigarettes with his army buddies, just as any soldier would.

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Wojtek quickly became a source of light in the midst of war. He would often wrestle with his fellow fighters, and even learned to salute when greeted by his company men.

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Wojtek’s fate with the company fell on uncertain times in 1943, when the unit prepared to board a ship and join the Allied campaign against Italy in Naples. Officials at the Alexandria, Egypt port refused to let the bear on as he was not officially part of the army.

In a quick, if not bizarre, workaround, soldiers made Wojtek a private of the Polish II Corps, and gave him a rank, service number, and pay book to legitimate his status. It worked, and Wojtek joined his comrades onto the Italy-bound vessel, this time as a legal member of the army.

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By the time the united arrived in Italy, Wojtek had grown significantly from cub to a 6 ft tall, 485 lb. adult Syrian brown bear. Making good use of his size and strength, the company taught Wojtek how to carry crates of mortar rounds, which he reportedly did without fail during the bloody battle of Monte Cassino.

Wojtek not only survived the conflict — soon after, he achieved immortality. Indeed, following Wojtek’s valiant performance, Polish high command made Wojtek the official emblem of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company.

When the war came to a close in 1945, Wojtek retired from army life and traveled to Scotland with his fellow soldiers. Unlike his fellow veterans, Wojtek retired to the Edinburgh Zoo.

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Berthold von Stauffenberg- The Brother of Claus.

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Most people will have heard of Claus von Stauffenberg, one of the main conspirators of the 20th of July assassination plot. Many books have been written about him and several movies were made about him, one the most recent ones ‘Valkyrie’ with Tom Cruise in the title role.

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But there was another von Stauffenberg involved in the 20th July plot,Berthold Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg.

I am not going to go to deep into his early life but will focus more on his last days and will also go in to the question of how heroic the von Stauffenberg brothers really were.

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Berthold was the oldest of four brothers (the second being Berthold’s twin Alexander Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg) born into an old and distinguished aristocratic South German Catholic family. His parents were the last Oberhofmarschall of the Kingdom of Württemberg.

In 1939, he joined the German Navy, working in the High Command as a staff judge and advisor for international law.

Berthold’s apartment at Tristanstraße in Berlin, where his brother Claus also lived for some time, was a meeting place for the 20 July conspirators, including their cousin Peter Yorck von Wartenburg. As Claus had access to the inner circle around Hitler, he was assigned to plant a bomb at the Führers briefing hut at the military high command in Rastenburg, East Prussia, on 20 July 1944. Claus then flew to Rangsdorf airfield south of Berlin where he met with Berthold. They went together to Bendlerstraße, which the coup leaders intended to utilize as the centre of their operations in Berlin.

Hitler survived the bomb blast and the coup failed.

Hitler-Attentat, 20. Juli 1944

Berthold and his brother were arrested at Bendlerstraße the same night. Claus was executed by firing squad shortly afterwards.

After his arrest, Stauffenberg was questioned by the Gestapo about his views about the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”. Stauffenberg told the Gestapo that “he and his brother had basically approved of the racial principle of National Socialism, but considered it to be ‘exaggerated’ and ‘excessive’” Stauffenberg went on to state.

“The racial idea has been grossly betrayed in this war in that the best German blood is being irrevocably sacrificed, while simultaneously Germany is populated by millions of foreign workers, who certainly cannot be described as of high racial quality”

Berthold was tried in the Volksgerichtshof (“People’s Court”) by Roland Freisler on 10 August and was one of eight conspirators executed by strangulation, hanged in Plötzensee Prison, Berlin, later that day. Before he was killed Berthold was strangled and then revived multiple times.The entire execution and multiple resuscitations were filmed for Hitler to view at his leisure.

Berlin, Berthold Schenk Graf v. Stauffenberg

Although their acts could be seen as heroic but both of the brothers had signed to the idea of the Nazi regime, and it was clear from the outset what that regime’s policies were.

Claus von Stauffenberg and his regiment took part in the attack on Poland. He supported the occupation of Poland and its handling by the Nazi regime and the use of Poles as slave workers to achieve German prosperity as well as German colonization and exploitation of Poland. The deeply rooted belief common in the German aristocracy was that the Eastern territories, populated predominantly by Poles and partly absorbed by Prussia in partitions of Poland, but taken from the German Empire after World War I, should be colonized as the Teutonic Knights had done in the Middle Ages. Stauffenberg said, “It is essential that we begin a systemic colonization in Poland. But I have no fear that this will not occur”.

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By July 1944 it was pretty clear that the Germans were going to lose the war. And I wonder if it had been different, would the von Stauffenbergs (or any of the other conspirators)have been such willing participants in an assassination plot?

Chelmno Extermination camp

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To say that Chelmno is a forgotten extermination camp would be an overstatement,however there are many people who have never heard of this camp.

Many think there were only a few concentration camps but in fact there were hundreds.

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Chelmno was the first Nazi camp where gassing was used to murder Jews on a large scale. The site was chosen due to the village’s position in the Warthegau region (previously an area of Western Poland, but now part of Nazi Germany). It was 47 kilometres to the west of the Lodz ghetto where many of the victims came from.

A total of 320,000 people were murdered at Chelmno. These included Jews from the Lodz ghetto and throughout the area, in addition to 5,000 Roma who had been previously sent to the ghetto.

Chelmno consisted of two sites, just two and a half miles apart. The first was located in a large manor house, known as ‘The Palace’.

As there was no railway running through the village of Chelmno, the victims were taken by train to a nearby station. They then walked or were loaded onto trucks to the Chelmno camp reception area.

 

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The first group of victims arrived at Chelmno on 7 December 1941. The following day the first exterminations took place. The killings continued throughout 1942. By March 1943 the camp was dismantled because all the Jews in the area had been murdered, except those in Lodz.

On arrival at the Palace camp, the victims were addressed by the camp commandant or one of his deputies, who was disguised as the squire of the estate, wearing a feather hat, jackboots and smoking a pipe.

chelmno SS Kommandatur

The Jews were told that they would be fairly treated and receive good food in return for working on the estate, in Austria or in the East.

To put insult to injury they   were held in a  synagogue at Kolo near Chelmno before being murdered by the Nazis

They were then told that they needed to shower to become clean and that their clothes had to be disinfected. This was a huge lie. They were led to the undressing room, where they gave up their valuables and clothes. But, having been led up steps to the ‘washrooms’, they in fact found themselves in a gas van. The doors were closed and locked.

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The driver then drove into the forest. After 10 minutes the gas fumes had suffocated all those inside the van. The victims were buried in mass graves.

The possessions of those brought to Chelmno were given or sold to Germans living in the region.

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In April 1944 the Nazis planned to liquidate the Lodz ghetto, so they reopened Chelmno. Those who had previously worked at the camp were brought back to resume their work and carry out the killings. Between 23 June and mid-July 1944, more than 7,000 Jews were murdered and disposed of in the newly-erected crematorium. The camp was then closed as the killings were moved to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The Nazis destroyed Chelmno in September 1944. They tried to erase all evidence of mass murder. They ordered the digging up and cremation of all of the bodies from the mass graves.

On 17 January 1945, the Nazis murdered 45 of the last 48 Jewish prisoners as the Soviet army edged closer to the camp. These last few Jews at the camp had fought against the fleeing Nazis, but only three of them succeeded in escaping.

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The start of deportation to Treblinka

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On this day in 1942, the systematic deportation of Jews from the Warsaw ghetto begins, as thousands are rounded up daily and transported to a newly constructed concentration/extermination camp at Treblinka, in Poland.

On July 17, Heinrich Himmler, head of the Nazi SS, arrived at Auschwitz, the concentration camp in eastern Poland, in time to watch the arrival of more than 2,000 Dutch Jews and the gassing of almost 500 of them, mostly the elderly, sick and very young.

Kinderen met Jodenster

The next day, Himmler promoted the camp commandant, Rudolph Hoess, to SS major and ordered that the Warsaw ghetto (the Jewish quarter constructed by the Nazis upon the occupation of Poland, enclosed first by barbed wire and then by brick walls), be depopulated–a “total cleansing,” as he described it–and the inhabitants transported to what was to become a second extermination camp constructed at the railway village of Treblinka, 62 miles northeast of Warsaw.

Treblinka was an extermination camp,built and operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland during World War II.It was located in a forest north-east of Warsaw, 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) south of the Treblinka train station in what is now the Masovian Voivodeship.

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The camp operated between 23 July 1942 and 19 October 1943 as part of Operation Reinhard, the deadliest phase of the Final Solution. During this time, it is estimated that between 700,000 and 900,000 Jews were killed in its gas chambers,along with 2,000 Romani people.More Jews were killed at Treblinka than at any other Nazi extermination camp apart from Auschwitz.

Within the first seven weeks of Himmler’s order, more than 250,000 Jews were taken to Treblinka by rail and gassed to death, marking the largest single act of destruction of any population group, Jewish or non-Jewish, civilian or military, in the war. Upon arrival at “T. II,” as this second camp at Treblinka was called, prisoners were separated by sex, stripped, and marched into what were described as “bathhouses,” but were in fact gas chambers. T. II’s first commandant was Dr. Irmfried Eberl, age 32, the man who had headed up the euthanasia program of 1940 and had much experience with the gassing of victims, especially children.

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He compelled several hundred Ukrainian and about 1,500 Jewish prisoners to assist him. They removed gold teeth from victims before hauling the bodies to mass graves. Eberl was relieved of his duties for “inefficiency.” It seems that he and his workers could not remove the corpses quickly enough, and panic was occurring within the railway cars of newly arrived prisoners.

In 1944 he joined the Wehrmacht for the remainder of the war. After the war ended, Eberl continued to practise medicine in Blaubeuren. He found himself a widower following his second wife’s death. Eberl was arrested in January 1948, and hanged himself the following month to avoid trial.

Escape from Auschwitz

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Four Poles, Kazimierz Piechowski, Stanislaw Gustaw Jaster, Józef Lempart, and Eugeniusz Bendera, escaped on June 20, 1942 after breaking into an SS storeroom and stealing uniforms and weapons. In disguise, they drove away in a vehicle that they stole from the SS motor pool, and reached the General Government. Jaster carried a report that Witold Pilecki had written for AK headquarters.

On the Saturday morning of 20 June 1942, exactly two years after his arrival, Piechowski escaped from Auschwitz I along with two other Poles, Stanisław Gustaw Jaster ,

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veteran of Invasion of Poland in rank of first lieutenant from Warsaw; Józef Lempart ,a priest from Wadowice; and Eugeniusz Bendera , a car mechanic from Czortków, now Ukraine. Piechowski had the best knowledge of the German language within the group, and held the command of the party.

They left through the main Auschwitz camp through the Arbeit Macht Frei gate. They had taken a cart and passed themselves off as a Rollwagenkommando—”haulage detail”—a work group which consisted of between four and twelve inmates pulling a freight cart instead of horses.

Bendera went to the motorpool; Piechowski, Lempart, and Jaster went to the warehouse in which the uniforms and weapons were stored. They entered via a coal bunker which Piechowski had helped fill. He had removed a bolt from the lid so it wouldn’t self latch when closed.

Once in the building they broke into the room containing the uniforms and weapons, arming themselves with four machine-guns and eight grenades. Bendera arrived in a Steyr 220 sedan (saloon) car belonging to SS-Hauptsturmführer Paul Kreuzmann, As a mechanic he was often allowed to test drive cars around the camp.

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He entered the building and changed into SS uniform like the others. They then all entered the car: Bendera driving; Piechowski in the front passenger seat; Lempart and Jaster in the back. Bendera drove toward the main gate. Jaster carried a report that Witold Pilecki (deliberately imprisoned in Auschwitz to prepare intelligence about the Holocaust and who would not escape until 1943) had written for Armia Krajowa’s headquarters.

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https://dirkdeklein.net/2016/03/30/forgotten-history-witold-pitecki-the-man-who-sneaked-into-and-out-of-auschwitz/

When they approached the gate they became nervous as it had not opened. Lempart hit Piechowski in the back and told him to do something. With the car stopped, he opened the door and leaned out enough for the guard to see his rank insignia and yelled at him to open the gate. The gate opened and the four drove off.

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Keeping away from the main roads to evade capture, they drove on forest roads for two hours, heading for the town of Wadowice. There they abandoned the Steyr and continued on foot, sleeping in the forest and taking turns to keep watch. . Kazimierz Piechowski eventually made his way to Ukraine, but was unable to find refuge there due to anti-Polish sentiment.

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Forging documents and a false name, he returned to Poland to live in Tczew, where he had been captured. He soon found work doing manual labor on a nearby farm, where he made contact with the Home Army and took up arms against the Nazis within the units of 2nd Lt. Adam Kusz nom de guerre Garbaty (one of the so-called “Cursed soldiers”).

His parents were arrested by the Nazis in reprisal for his escape, and died in Auschwitz; the policy of tattooing prisoners was also allegedly introduced in response to his escape. Piechowski learned after the War from his boy-scout friend Alfons Kiprowski, who remained a prisoner at Auschwitz for some three more months after his escape, that a special investigative commission arrived at Auschwitz from Berlin to answer—independently of the camp’s administration—the question as to how an escape as audacious as Piechowski’s and his companions’ was at all possible.

When Poland became a communist state in 1947, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for joining the Home Army, serving seven.

 

 

Alone in Warsaw-Władysław Szpilman & Wilm Hosenfeld

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Before Germany invaded Poland, more than a million people lived in Warsaw. When the city was liberated in January of 1945 – just four months after the Nazis crushed the city during the Warsaw Uprising – only 153,000 starving citizens had survived. Wladyslaw Szpilman was one of them.

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The pianist, whose hands would once more provide his livelihood if he survived the war, was always at risk.

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Sometimes he used his hands to cling to a roof, trying to avoid the streams of German bullets. Sometimes the people who helped him stay alive could not safely deliver meager supplies. And he was always completely alone:

“I was alone: alone not just in a single building or even a single part of a city, but alone in a whole city that only two months ago had had a population of a million and a half and was one of the richer cities of Europe”

checkpoint warsaw ghetto

As Warsaw began its final winter as a German-occupied city, Szpilman had a rare chance to see himself in a makeshift mirror:

“At first I could not believe that the dreadful sight I saw was really myself: my hair had not been cut for months, and I was unshaven and unwashed. The hair on my head was thickly matted, my face was almost covered with a growth of dark beard, quite heavy by now, and where the beard did not cover it my skin was almost black. My eyelids were reddened, and I had a crusted rash on my forehead. “

When German soldiers finally discovered his hiding place, Wladyslaw was forced to look elsewhere again. He thought he had found a safe spot in an unfamiliar building. Intently searching for food, he was shocked to hear a German voice:

“What are you doing here? Don’t you know the staff of the Warsaw fortress commando unit is moving into this building any time now? “

Szpilman had come face to face with a German Wehrmacht officer named Wilm Hosenfeld.But this was a German soldier who had helped other Jews. This was a former teacher who had grown ashamed of what his country was doing.

Wladyslaw had met the man who would save his life.

WilmHosenfield

To Szpilman’s surprise, the officer did not arrest or kill him; after discovering that the emaciated Szpilman was a pianist, Hosenfeld asked him to play something. (A piano was on the ground floor.) Szpilman played Chopin’s Nocturne in C# Minor.

Chopin_nocturne_20a

After that, the officer showed Szpilman a better place to hide and brought him bread and jam on numerous occasions. He also offered Szpilman one of his coats to keep warm in the freezing temperatures. Szpilman did not know the name of the German officer until 1951. Despite the efforts of Szpilman and the Poles to rescue Hosenfeld, he died in a Soviet prisoner of war camp in 1952.

In 1950, Szpilman learned the name of the German officer who had offered him assistance. After much soul searching, Szpilman sought the intercession of a man whom he privately considered “a bastard,” – Jakub Berman, the head of the Polish secret police.

Jakub_Berman

Several days later, Berman paid a visit to the Szpilman’s home and said that there was nothing he could do. He added, If your German were still in Poland, then we could get him out. But our comrades in the Soviet Union won’t let him go. They say your officer belonged to a detachment involved in spying – so there is nothing we can do about it as Poles, and I am powerless.

Szpilman never believed Berman’s claims of powerlessness. In an interview with Wolf Biermann, Szpilman described Berman as “all powerful by the grace of Stalin,” and lamented, “So I approached the worst rogue of the lot, and it did no good.”

Captain Wilm Hosenfeld died in a Soviet concentration camp on 13 August 1952, shortly before 10:00 in the evening, from a rupture of the thoracic aorta, possibly sustained during torture.

(letters Hosenfeld sent to his wife from the soviet camp}

Szpilman’s son, Andrzej Szpilman, had long called for Yad Vashem to recognize Wilm Hosenfeld as a Righteous Among the Nations,non-Jews who risked their lives to rescue Jew.

Andrzej_Szpilman_20100306

In June 2009, Hosenfeld was posthumously recognized in Yad Vashem (Israel’s official memorial to the victims of The Holocaust) as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.