Aage Bertelsen (1901-1980) was an educator who was the head of a school in Lyngby in eastern Denmark. He played a prominent role in organising the transport of Jews to Sweden; he was forced to make the same journey to safety himself in November 1943 to escape the Gestapo. A strong pacifist, he campaigned for nuclear disarmament in the years after the war.
Born in Branau am Inn in Austria in 1889, Hitler moved to Munich in 1913 after living as a struggling artist in Vienna for several years. Following service in the German army in the First World War, he became involved in radical nationalist politics and joined the fledgling German Workers Party (soon renamed the National Socialist German Workers Party) in 1919; he became the party’s leader in 1921. The party initially attempted to seize power by violent means but after the failure of the Munich Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, which led to a brief spell of imprisonment during which he wrote his memoir Mein Kampf, Hitler committed the party to taking power constitutionally. The dramatic upsurge in Nazi support which followed the onset of the Great Depression in 1929-30 culminated in Hitler being invited to lead a coalition government of Nazis and conservatives in January 1933. Having skilfully manipulated the other parties to establish a dictatorship, Hitler assumed the title of Führer (leader) on the death of President Paul Hindenburg in 1934. Antisemitism was at the heart of Hitler’s world-view and, despite his disdain for involvement in everyday government business, he was the key decision-maker in the evolution of the Holocaust. Hitler committed suicide in Berlin in April 1945.
An anonymous author
‘The Jewish Shtetl’ was originally written in Hebrew by an unknown author.
An unnamed Jewish nurse
The author worked as a nurse in the Jewish hospital in Lublin, whose patients were shot by the Nazis during the Aktion described in the testimony. The nurse’s report was smuggled to Warsaw where it was preserved in the Oneg Shabbat archive.
Anita Lasker was born into a musical family in Breslau in Germany in 1925. After her parents were deported to their deaths in the General Government region of Poland in 1942, Anita and her sister Renate attempted to smuggle themselves into France with forged documents. However, they were caught by the Gestapo and later sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in December 1943. In Auschwitz, Anita was selected to play the cello in the camp’s women’s orchestra, a group of prisoners who played as other inmates left and returned from work and who also performed concerts for the SS. She was transferred in October 1944 to Bergen-Belsen, where she was liberated in April 1945. After serving as an interpreter for the British army, she settled in the UK in 1946 where she achieved fame as co-founder and member of the English Chamber Orchestra. She married the musician Peter Wallfisch, a childhood friend who had fled Germany in the 1930s, in 1952.
Anne Frank was born into a middle class Jewish family in Frankfurt in 1929. Following the Nazi accession to power in 1933, the Franks emigrated to Amsterdam. Once deportations from the Netherlands began in 1942, the family went in to hiding, helped by the employees of Anne’s father Otto. They were betrayed in August 1944 and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau where Anne’s mother Edith died. Anne and her elder sister Margot were transferred to Bergen-Belsen in October 1944 where both died of typhus in the spring of 1945. The diary that Anne kept whilst in hiding was first published by Otto, who had survived Auschwitz, in Dutch in 1947.
Anthony Eden (1897-1977) was a Conservative politician who was first elected to the House of Commons in 1923. A charismatic figure, Eden rose rapidly to become the youngest Foreign Secretary in more than a century in 1935. However, he resigned in 1938, partly because of growing disillusionment with the government’s policy of appeasement. He returned as Foreign Secretary in 1940, following Churchill’s appointment as Prime Minister, and held this position for the remainder of the war. He again served as Foreign Secretary between 1951 and 1955, when he became Prime Minister. However, he resigned in 1957 due to a combination of ill-health and the repercussions of the Suez crisis.
Avraham Tory (1909-2002) was a Jewish lawyer who lived in the Lithuanian capital Kaunas. When the Nazis ordered the creation of a Jewish Council following the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Tory became its secretary. Like other members of the council, he was actively involved with resistance groups in the Kaunas Ghetto whilst his diary provided a powerful record of ghetto life and the crimes of the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators. He was able to escape with his future wife Pnina Sheinzon during the liquidation of the ghetto in 1944; after the war, the couple settled in Israel.
Chaim Herman (1901-1944) was a Jew from Warsaw who migrated to France at some point between the wars. He was deported to Auschwitz from Drancy transit camp outside Paris in March 1943 and was put to work in the Sonderkommando, in which he served for 18 months. Herman was active in the Sonderkommando resistance movement and was murdered in November 1944.
Chaim Rumkowski, born in 1877, was a pre-war businessman and social activist, who was chosen by the Nazis as the head of the Council of Elders (Jewish Council) in Łódź, in which role he became the most controversial Jewish leader of the Holocaust period. When mass murder began in 1942, Rumkowski hoped to save part of the Jewish population by creating a ‘productive’ ghetto whose inhabitants worked in essential industries. However, this meant complying with German orders for the deportation of residents not capable of work. Some have seen Rumkowski as a traitor to the Jewish people; others have argued that his strategy almost worked since Łódź survived far longer than any other ghetto. When the ghetto was liquidated in the summer of 1944, Rumkowski was deported to Auschwitz and murdered there.
Colonel T.W. White
Thomas Walter White (1888-1957) was an Australian politician. After service in the First World War, he went into business before gaining election to the Australian Parliament in 1929 as a representative of the Nationalist Party and later its successor the United Australia Party. He was appointed as Minister for Trade and Customs in 1933, in which capacity he represented Australia at the Évian Conference; he resigned this post in November 1938 for unrelated reasons. During the war, he served in the Australian Royal Air Force. He was Australian High Commissioner to the UK from 1951 to 1956.
David Graber, born in 1923, was one of the two young men – the other was Nahum Grzywacz – selected by Israel Lichtensztajn to assist in the burial of the Oneg Shabbat archive in Warsaw in the summer of 1942; both were activists of the socialist Poale Zion party and former pupils of Lichtensztajn. Little is known of Graber’s life except the biography he included along with his last testament. He died at some point between the writing of this document on 3 August 1942 and the suppression of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in May 1943.
Dr Johann Paul Kremer
Johann Paul Kramer (1883-1965) was a professor of anatomy and human genetics at Münster University. He enlisted in the German army in May 1941 before being transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he served as an SS physician from August to November 1942. Like many SS doctors, he used this position to pursue his research projects using the organs of murdered prisoners. He was arrested after the war and extradited to Poland, where he stood trial in 1947: his diary formed one of the most powerful pieces of evidence against him. Although he was given the death sentence, this was commuted to life imprisonment. He was released in 1958 and returned to Germany.
Elie Wiesel was born in 1928 in Sighet in Transylvania, a region which changed hands between Hungary and Romania several times in the first half of the twentieth century. Following the German invasion of Hungary in 1944, he and his family were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. His mother and youngest sister Tzipora were murdered on arrival; his father died in Buchenwald in January 1945 days after he and Elie had arrived in the camp following a death march. Night, which was based on a much longer earlier memoir written in Yiddish, was first published in French in 1958 and is one of the best-known and most haunting of Auschwitz testimonies. Wiesel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 as a testament to his tireless campaigning to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and to raise awareness of more recent genocides.
Little is known about the life of Elik Rivosh, although according to his diary he was a sculptor. His wife and children were shot at Rumbula forest outside Riga in December 1941; he was murdered at some point in 1942. Elik’s account was included in The Black Book, a collection of eyewitness accounts, compiled by the Russian Jewish writers Ilya Ehrenburg and Vasily Grossman in 1944, whose publication was suppressed by Stalin after the war.
Elsa (Eliszewa) Binder was born in Stanisławów in south-eastern Poland (now Ivano-Frankivsk in Ukraine) in the early 1920s. Little is known about her life except that she was a member of Hashomer Hatzair, a socialist Zionist youth movement. She was murdered at some point in 1942, either in a mass shooting locally or through deportation to Bełżec.
Little is known about Elvira Bauer’s life except that she was born in Nuremberg and qualified as a kindergarten teacher. She submitted Trust No Fox to several publishers but even the Nazi Party’s central publishing house rejected it as too unsubtle. The book was eventually published by the Nazi leader Julius Streicher who was also the founder and publisher of Der Stürmer, a Nazi newspaper which was notorious for its crude antisemitism.
Emanuel Ringelblum was born in 1900 in Buczacz in eastern Poland (now in Ukraine). After graduating from Warsaw University, he became a teacher and historian in the Polish capital. He was also an activist with the socialist Poale Zion party. Following the German occupation of Warsaw, he initiated the Oneg Shabbat project which documented Jewish life in the city and elsewhere in Poland. Ringelblum initially hoped that this would provide source material for histories of the occupation which he and others intended to write after the war. However, as the situation of Warsaw’s Jews deteriorated, he and the other Oneg Shabbat leaders increasingly saw the archive as testament to future generations which would provide material evidence of Nazi crimes and Jewish experiences. Ringelblum was also a key leader of Aleynhilf (‘Self-Help’), the major Jewish relief agency in the ghetto. He was captured by the Germans during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and deported to Trawniki forced labour camp in April 1943. He escaped in August and returned to Warsaw where he was hidden with his family and more than 30 other Jews by a Polish family, the Wolskis. However, the hiding place was discovered in March 1944 and Ringelblum, all of the other Jews and two members of the Wolski family were murdered by the Nazis.
Ernst Kaltenbrunner (1903-1946) was an Austrian Nazi who played a leading role in the party’s attempts to destabilise the Austrian republic in the 1930s; he became the leader of the SS in Austria in 1935, a time when the party was outlawed because of an attempted coup in 1934. Following the Anschluss in 1938, Kaltenbrunner rose through the ranks of the SS and police apparatus and in 1943 he was chosen by Himmler to replace Reinhard Heydrich as the head of the Security Police following the latter’s assassination in 1942. Kaltenbrunner was the most senior SS officer to be captured alive at the end of the war. He was executed in 1946 following his conviction for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Etty Hillesum was born in Middelburg in the Netherlands in 1914. She moved to Amsterdam to study in the 1930s and remained in the city when war broke out. She gained a job as a social worker with Amsterdam’s Jewish Council in 1942 which spared her from deportation in the short term. Through her work, she spent periods alternating between Amsterdam and Westerbork transit camp before being transferred to the camp permanently in June 1943. Etty and her parents, who had been arrested and sent to Westerbork, were then deported in September 1943 to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where all of them were murdered. Her account of the transport of 23 August 1943 was smuggled out of Westerbork and illegally published by a Dutch resistance group in the autumn of 1943; her complete diaries and letters were published in the 1980s.
Eva Halperin was born in Zborów in eastern Poland (now Zboriv in Ukraine), where her father was a bank manager. Her parents and two brothers were all murdered in 1941. Eva survived in the town’s ghetto until March 1943 when she was taken to a forced labour camp. She escaped from the camp in June 1943 with another family who knew Anton Sukhinski – all of them, together with a teenage girl, were hidden by Anton for more than a year until liberation by the Red Army in July 1944. After the war, Eva moved to Israel, married and took the name Adler.
Eva Lux Braun
Eva Lux Braun was born in Košice in Czechoslovakia, a city which came under Hungarian rule after the Munich agreement of 1938. Following the German invasion of Hungary in 1944, Eva was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. After surviving in the camp for several months, she was transported to Salzwedel, a subcamp of Neuengamme concentration camp, where she was liberated in 1945. She settled in the United States after the war.
Examples of laws
These four laws were issued respectively by the Education Ministry, the Interior Ministry, the Labour Ministry, and again the Interior Ministry. However, it is important to realise that behind their bureaucratic language, each of these laws was developed and written by individuals – politicians and civil servants – who thereby played an active role in the persecution of Germany’s Jewish population.
Franz Rademacher (1906-1973) was a German lawyer who joined the Nazi Party in 1933. He was appointed as a diplomat in 1937, serving in the German embassy in Uruguay, until his transfer in 1940 to the German Foreign Office’s department for Jewish affairs. It was in this capacity that he played a leading role in the development of the failed Madagascar Plan. He later worked with the SS and police to orchestrate the murder of Serbian Jews, which began in late 1941. He was transferred to the navy in 1943 as a result of infighting in the Foreign Office. Rademacher was brought to trial in 1952 but escaped and fled to Syria; he was convicted in absentia. He returned to Germany in 1966 and again stood trial. He was sentenced to five and a half years in prison but was released as the judge ruled that the sentence had already been served. Rademacher died whilst awaiting a new trial after a higher court had quashed the earlier ruling.
Freddie Knoller was born in Vienna in 1921, the youngest of three brothers. When the Anschluss was followed by even greater violence in the Kristallnacht pogrom in November 1938, Freddie’s parents decided to send all three boys abroad. In Freddie’s case, this meant Belgium where he stayed in refugee camps. After the German invasion of Belgium in May 1940, Freddie fled to France where he eventually became a member of the French Resistance. However, after being betrayed to the Gestapo by an ex-girlfriend, his Jewish identity was discovered and he was deported in October 1943 to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he was selected to work in Monowitz (also known as Auschwitz III). Freddie was evacuated from Auschwitz in January 1945 and eventually liberated at Bergen-Belsen in April. He emigrated after the war, first to the USA, where he married an Englishwoman, and then to the UK. It was only in the 1990s that Freddie discovered that his parents, who had remained in Vienna, had been murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Now in his nineties, Freddie continues to tell young people about his experiences through the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Outreach programme.
Hannah Szenes was born in Budapest in 1921. In 1939 she emigrated to what was then British Mandate Palestine. She enlisted in the British armed forces in 1943, training as a paratrooper for the Special Operations Executive. Hannah and her colleagues were parachuted in March 1944 into Yugoslavia, where they worked with local partisans. However, she was arrested on her entry into Hungary in June 1944 and executed in November of that year.
Born in Munich in 1900, Hans Frank joined the Nazi Party in 1923. A lawyer by training, he represented party members, including Hitler, in the numerous court cases which their violent activities generated in the 1920s. After holding a series of relatively minor posts following the Nazi accession to power in 1933, Frank was chosen by Hitler in 1939 to lead the General Government, the Nazi colony created out of the Polish territories not directly incorporated into Germany or the Soviet Union. As General Governor, he presided over a brutal and corrupt regime. Although he frequently clashed with the SS, which he saw as a threat to his power, Frank was heavily implicated in the persecution and murder of Jews in the General Government, which became the largest killing site of the Holocaust. Captured by the Americans in 1945, Frank was tried at Nuremberg and convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was executed in October 1946.
Born into a conservative family in Munich in 1900, Himmler joined the Nazi Party in 1923. Hitler appointed him as head of the SS in 1929 and he quickly developed this small organisation, which had been created as Hitler’s bodyguard, into a major force within the party and, from 1933, the state. Himmler progressively acquired more titles during the course of the 1930s, notably chief of the German police in 1936 and Reichskommissar for the Strengthening of Germandom, which entailed the control of racial policy in eastern Europe, in 1939. Through these positions, Himmler became the principal architect of the Holocaust. He committed suicide after being captured by the British in 1945.
Helena Katz was born in Trutnov in Czechoslovakia in 1916. Before the German invasion of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, she trained as a dancer in Prague. In 1942, Helena and her first husband Paul Hermann were deported to the Terezín Ghetto, from where they were then deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in May 1944. Helen survived Auschwitz, Stutthof and the death marches but Paul died in Schwarzheide, a subcamp of Sachsenhausen concentration camp, in spring 1945. After the war, Helen returned to Prague and married an old friend, Harry Lewis, whose family had emigrated to Northern Ireland. The couple subsequently moved to Belfast where Helen became a nationally renowned choreographer. She died in 2009.
Henryka Łazowertówna, born into a Jewish family in Warsaw in 1909, emerged in the 1930s as a major Polish poet. Following the creation of the Warsaw Ghetto in the autumn of 1940, she worked for a Jewish welfare agency which cared for orphans and homeless children. She was also recruited by the historian Emanuel Ringelblum, employing her literary talents to write appeals for charitable donations to the Aleynhilf relief organisation and to document the fate of Jewish refugees in Warsaw for the Oneg Shabbat archive. Henryka continued to write poetry; ‘The Little Smuggler’ has become her most famous work. She was deported with her mother to their deaths at Treblinka in 1942.
Hirsh Glik was born in Vilna in 1922 and began writing poetry in Yiddish in his teens. He was an active figure in the Vilna Ghetto’s cultural life and in its resistance movement. When the ghetto was liquidated in September 1943, he was initially able to escape but Hirsh was soon captured and sent to a labour camp in Estonia. He escaped from the camp as the Red Army approached in 1944 but it is believed he was recaptured and then shot by the Germans.
Israel Lichtensztajn (1904-1943) was a Warsaw teacher, writer and activist with the socialist Poale Zion party. He was recruited by his friend, the historian Emanuel Ringelblum, to work on the Oneg Shabbat project which sought to record Jewish life in occupied Warsaw. Lichtensztajn had perhaps the most important role within the Oneg Shabbat organisation as the physical guardian of the archives. When the deportations to Treblinka began in July 1942, he and two young activists buried the first cache of materials in metal boxes in the grounds of his school in Nowolipki Street. Assuming their deaths were imminent, the three men also wrote their last testaments. Lichtensztajn and his family in fact survived the Great Aktion of 1942 in hiding, enabling him to bury a second stash, in milk churns, in February 1943. However, Israel, Gela and Margalit (born 4 November 1940) died during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April to May 1943.
Born near Minsk in 1886, Itzhak Katzenelson spent most of his life in Łódź in Poland. He began publishing poetry in Yiddish before the First World War whilst also writing and performing in plays in Hebrew. Katzenelson additionally established a network of Hebrew schools in Łódź which he directed until 1939. Following the German invasion, he fled with his family to Warsaw, where he taught in an illegal school in the ghetto, contributed to the underground press, and continued to write poetry and stage dramas. His wife Hanna and his two youngest sons were deported to their deaths at Treblinka in August 1942. Itzhak and his son Zvi escaped during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in spring 1943 and lived in hiding, during which time they were able to acquire Honduran identity documents. However, they were captured and sent to Vittel, a camp for holders of neutral passports. Whilst in Vittel, Katzenelson wrote a diary in Hebrew, from which this poem is taken, as well as an epic Yiddish poem, ‘The Song of the Murdered Jewish People’, which is one of the most powerful literary responses to the Holocaust. Itzhak and Zvi were deported in May 1944 to Auschwitz-Birkenau where they were murdered.
Jankiel Wiernik (1889-1972) was a building manager in Warsaw who was deported to Treblinka in August 1942. He was amongst the small number of Jews from his transport selected to work in the camp: he was initially required to dispose of bodies but was later used as a carpenter. As one of the few skilled construction workers amongst the inmates, he was able to move between the two sections of the camp (the extermination and property-sorting areas) which led to him acting as a courier between prisoners in the planning of the uprising in August 1943. He escaped in the uprising and returned to Warsaw where his account of his experiences was published by a Polish socialist resistance group and he fought in the Warsaw Uprising of August 1944. After the war, he settled in Israel.
Josef Perl was born in 1930 in Veliky Bochkov in Czechoslovakia (now in Ukraine). Following the Munich agreement of 1938, the town was occupied by Hungary whose government subjected the Jewish community to increasing persecution, culminating in the expulsion of many families, including Josef’s, to German-occupied Poland in 1941. He was subsequently interned in several camps, including Auschwitz-Birkenau, and was liberated at Buchenwald in 1945. He settled in the UK in 1946.
Goebbels was born in Rheydt in north-western Germany in 1897. He joined the Nazis in 1924 and quickly became the leader of the party’s Berlin organisation. Following the Nazi accession to power in 1933, he was appointed as Minister of Propaganda. Goebbels organised the Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938 and was instrumental in persuading Hitler to begin the deportation of German Jews to the East in September 1941. He committed suicide in Berlin in May 1945.
Józef Zelkowicz was born in Konstantynów, a town near Łódź in central Poland, in 1897. Before the war, he worked for the Łódź branch of YIVO (Jewish Research Institute), a body established in Vilna in the 1920s to study and preserve eastern European Yiddish culture. When a ghetto was established in 1940, Zelkowicz worked as an administrator for the Jewish Council (known as the Council of Elders in Łódź). In this capacity, he was one of the authors of the Łódź Ghetto Chronicle, a compilation of daily bulletins which, despite censorship by the council’s controversial head, Chaim Rumkowski, was one of the most remarkable records of life during the Holocaust. Zelkowicz also wrote articles on ghetto life and a personal diary. When the ghetto was liquidated in August 1944, he was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau where he was murdered.
Karl Jäger was born in Switzerland in 1888 but spent his adult life in Germany. He joined the SS in 1932. In 1941 he was appointed commander of Einsatzkommando 3 (EK 3), a unit of Einsatzgruppe A which was stationed in Lithuania after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. As detailed in Jäger’s notorious report, EK 3, assisted by local nationalist militias, played a leading role in the almost complete extermination of Lithuanian Jewry. Evading capture after the war, Jäger worked as a farm hand until he was arrested in 1959; he committed suicide whilst awaiting trial.
Kitty Felix was born in 1926 in Bielsko, a town in south-western Poland on the German border. As the threat of invasion loomed in August 1939, Kitty’s family fled to Lublin but the city was soon occupied by the Germans. After spending the next few years in hiding and in the Lublin Ghetto, Kitty and her mother obtained false papers which enabled them to pose as Poles in which role they were taken to Germany as workers. However, after the Gestapo discovered that their papers were forged, Kitty and her mother were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1943 where they remained until November 1944. They were eventually liberated at Salzwedel, a subcamp of Neuengamme concentration camp in April 1945. Kitty and her mother settled with relatives in Birmingham in 1946 where she married Rudi Hart in 1949 and qualified as a nurse. Kitty is believed to have been the first survivor in the UK to publish an account of her experiences, with her 1961 memoir I Am Alive. She continues to give her testimony to thousands of students each year through the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Outreach programme.
Leyb Rozental was born in Vilna in 1916. As a teenager, he became part of the city’s thriving Yiddish literary scene, publishing his first volume of poetry at the age of 14. He was one of the most popular lyricists in the Vilna Ghetto with songs which mourned the murder of most of the city’s Jews in 1941 and commented on the realities of ghetto life; many of these songs were performed by his younger sister Khayele. When the Vilna Ghetto was liquidated in September 1943, he was deported to Klooga labour camp in Estonia. Leyb and the other prisoners were murdered by the Nazis just before the arrival of the Red Army in September 1944. Khayele survived and emigrated to South Africa after the war where she became a famous Yiddish actress.
Ludwika Fiszer was a hairdresser from Warsaw who was deported with her husband and daughter to Poniatowa forced labour camp following the liquidation of the city’s ghetto in the spring of 1943. She survived the massacre in Poniatowa on 4 November 1943 by pretending to be dead after she was shot. Little else is known about her life other than that she emigrated to America at some point after the war, remarried and took the name Chanesman.
Mihai Antonescu (1904-1946) was a lawyer and conservative Romanian politician who was appointed as Minister for Propaganda in 1940. He became one of the most trusted advisers of Prime Minister Ion Antonescu (no relation) and was promoted to become Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1941. In these roles, he was a key figure in the increasingly murderous antisemitic policies of the Romanian government. He was arrested in 1944 when King Michael of Romania dismissed the far-right government as the Red Army approached. Antonescu was tried after the war and executed in 1946.
Miklós Radnóti was born in Budapest in 1909. His surname was in fact Glatter – Radnóti was the penname he adopted when his first collection of poems was published in 1930. He established himself as one of Hungary’s leading poets in the 1930s. When Hungary joined the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Radnóti was one of thousands of Jewish men conscripted to serve in forced labour battalions which carried our activities such as mine clearance on the Ukrainian front. In 1944 he was deported to a forced labour camp at Bor in Serbia. As his unit was evacuated on foot through Hungary, he and 21 other men who were unable to continue walking were shot in November 1944 near the village of Abda.
Mordechai Anielewicz was born near Warsaw in 1919. As a teenager he became active in Hashomer Hatzair, a socialist Zionist youth movement. He became commander of the Jewish Combat Organisation (ŻOB) when it was established in 1942. He died, along with his girlfriend and many other ŻOB fighters, in a bunker during the fighting in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in May 1943.
Mordechai Gebirtig was born in 1877 into a working class family in Kraków, a city in which he spent almost his entire life. He first began to publish his poems in socialist periodicals before the First World War but it was in the interwar period that Gebirtig truly established his reputation as a popular Yiddish poet and songwriter, frequently performing his songs in Kraków. In 1940, the Nazis expelled most of the city’s Jewish population; like many Kraków Jews, Gebirtig and his family were forced to live in a nearby village. They returned in March 1942 when some of the expelled Jews were forcibly relocated to the Kraków Ghetto (which had been created in March 1941). Gebirtig was shot in the ghetto in 1942 during the mass deportations to Bełżec extermination camp.
Moses Schulstein (1911-1981) was a Holocaust survivor who settled after the war in Paris where he became a prolific Yiddish poet. Many of his poems dealt with the legacy and memory of the Holocaust.
Norman Turgel was a Jewish sergeant in the British Intelligence Corps. It was in Bergen-Belsen that he met his future bride, Gena Goldfinger, a young Jewish woman from Kraków who had survived Płaszów forced labour camp and Auschwitz-Birkenau. They married in Lübeck in October 1945. Norman died in 1995, two months before what would have been the couple’s golden wedding anniversary.
All that is known of Pavel Friedman’s life before the war is that he was born in Prague in 1921. He was deported to the Terezín Ghetto in April 1942 and from there to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he was murdered, in September 1944.
Pope Pius XII
Eugenio Pacelli (1876-1958) served as Pope Pius XII from 1939 until his death. Born in Rome into a family with a long history of service of the Vatican, he was ordained as a priest in 1899 and entered the papal administration in 1901. He established a reputation as an able diplomat and in 1930 his predecessor Pius XI appointed him as the cardinal responsible for the Vatican’s foreign policy. Pius XII’s record during the Second World War remains a source of controversy: his defenders believe that he was personally responsible for encouraging Catholic clergy to shelter Jews; his detractors argue that his historic pro-German sympathies, hatred of Communism, and – after the German occupation of Rome in 1943 – fear for his personal safety led him to adopt a timid approach which was inappropriate for the magnitude of the crimes committed by the Nazis.
Raizl Kibel was born in Warsaw in 1915; in 1929, her family emigrated to Brussels. Raizl married Meir Tabakman, a leader of the socialist Poale Zion party, in 1938. When deportations from Belgium to Auschwitz-Birkenau began in 1942, Raizl and Meir played an active role in Jewish resistance, producing anti-Nazi propaganda and arranging for the hiding of Jewish children, including their own four-year-old daughter, with Belgian Christian families. After several narrow escapes, the couple were arrested by the Gestapo in December 1943 and sent to Mechelen transit camp from where they were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in January 1944. Meir, who had already once escaped from a deportation train, was sent to the gas chambers on arrival. Raizl was selected to work in a munitions factory which was part of the Auschwitz complex. She was one of a group of Jewish women in the factory who smuggled explosives to the Sonderkommando resistance movement in Birkenau. When Auschwitz was evacuated in 1944-45, she was forced to Ravensbrück, a concentration camp for women in Germany, and subsequently transferred to Neustadt-Glewe, a subcamp of Ravensbrück, where she was liberated by the Red Army. On her return to Brussels, she was reunited with her daughter. Raizl remarried, to Süsskind Rabinovitch, in 1947. After his death in 1951, she settled in Israel.
Reinhard Heydrich (1904-1942) was a former naval officer who was recruited by Himmler as the head of the SD, the SS intelligence service, in 1932. He later also became chief of the Security Police, which gave him control over the Gestapo and criminal police. In these positions, he was at the heart of Nazi anti-Jewish policy, especially after the outbreak of the war. As Himmler’s deputy, Heydrich oversaw the development of the ‘Final Solution’ in the key 1941-42 period and chaired the Wannsee Conference. In 1941 he was also appointed as Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, which gave him personal supervision of the fate of Czech Jews. He was shot in Prague by members of the Czech resistance on 27 May 1942 and died on 4 June; Aktion Reinhard was named in his honour.
Richard Glazar was born in Prague in 1920. He was deported in September 1942 to the Terezín Ghetto, from where he was sent to Treblinka a month later. On arrival, he was one of the small number of Jews selected for work in the camp, sorting the belongings of the hundreds of thousands of people murdered there. Following the uprising in Treblinka, he survived by pretending to be a Czech forced labourer. He resumed his academic studies, which had been interrupted by the German invasion of Czechoslovakia, after the war. He moved to Switzerland in 1968 in response to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Richard committed suicide in 1997 following the death of his wife.
Roman Halter (1927-2012) was born in Chodecz in Poland, from where he was deported with his family to the Łódź Ghetto in 1940. He lost most members of his family in the next two years, through either starvation or deportation to Chełmno extermination camp, a fate which Roman himself narrowly avoided when his mother urged him to jump from the cart carrying them to the assembly point. When the ghetto was liquidated in 1944, he was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau and then, via Stutthof concentration camp, on to a metal factory in Dresden. He escaped as the Allies closed in and was sheltered by a German family until liberation. After his arrival in Britain, he became a successful architect. In later life, Roman established himself as an artist, depicting his Holocaust experiences in his paintings.
Rudolf Reder (1881-1968) was born in Dębica in southern Poland. Before the war, he managed a soap factory in Lwów. He was deported with his family from Lwów to Bełżec extermination camp in August 1942 and was one of the minority of Jewish men selected to work in the camp. He escaped in November when he was taken to Lwów to collect construction materials and his guard fell asleep. He was one of only two known survivors of Bełżec (the other, Chaim Hirszman, was murdered in 1946). Rudolf settled in Canada after the war.
Shimon Huberband was born in 1909 in Checiny in central Poland. Though trained as a rabbi, he was also a historian and poet. When the war broke out he and his family fled their home in Piotrków Trybunalski but his wife, young son and father-in-law were killed in a German air raid. Bereft, he returned to the city before moving to Warsaw in 1940. He played in an important role in the creation of the Oneg Shabbat archive in the Warsaw Ghetto, compiling materials from Jewish communities across Poland. Shimon Huberband and his second wife were deported to their deaths at Treblinka in August 1942.
Steven Mendelsson was born in Breslau in Germany in 1926. As the situation of German Jews became increasingly perilous after Kristallnacht, his parents arranged for Steven and his younger brother Walter to join the Kindertransport; they left Germany in April 1939. They stayed in a refugee hostel in Margate until the arrival of their parents on 2 September 1939. Today, Steven speaks in schools about his experiences of Nazi persecution and the Kindertransport through the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Outreach programme.
Susan Oppenheimer was born in Nuremberg in 1922, the middle of three sisters. Following the horrors of Kristallnacht, which also saw her father interned in Dachau concentration camp for a month, Susan and her elder sister were sent to stay with family friends in Britain in December 1938. Her parents and younger sister were able to raise enough money to join them in May 1939. After the war, Susan married Peter Sinclair, himself a refugee. She died in 2006.
Szmul Zygielbojm was born near Lublin in eastern Poland, then under the rule of the Russian tsars, in 1895. Like many young people of his generation in the Russian Empire, he became involved in radical politics, a commitment which continued after Poland regained its independence. He rose rapidly through the ranks of the Bund, the main Jewish socialist party in Poland, and was elected to the city council in Łódź in 1938. After serving in the defence of Warsaw in 1939, Zygielbojm escaped to Belgium. After spending time in the United States, where he tried to persuade the American government to join the war to assist Europe’s Jews, Zygielbojm finally settled in London in 1942 where he became one of two Jewish representatives on the National Council of the Polish government-in-exile. He committed suicide a year later.
Theodor Dannecker (1913-1945) joined the SS in 1934 and a year later became a member of the SD, the SS intelligence agency. In 1937 he was transferred to the SD’s Jewish affairs department and he became one of Adolf Eichmann’s key operatives, orchestrating the persecution and then deportation of the Jews of France between 1940 and 1942. He later oversaw the deportation of Jews from Italy and Hungary. Dannecker was arrested by US forces in December 1945 and committed suicide a few days later.
Werner Schwenker was born in Eisleben in Germany in 1913. He was a member of the SS and the criminal police who served in Kołomyja in Poland (now in Ukraine), where he participated in the mass shootings of Jews and deportations to Bełżec extermination camp. He stood trial in Darmstadt in West Germany in 1967 and was sentenced to three years in prison.
Wilhelm Cornides (1920-1966) was a member of the Oldenbourg publishing family. During the war, he served as a non-commissioned officer in the German army. He played an active role in the rebuilding of democratic society in West Germany after the war as a publisher and political thinker.
Władysław Szlengel (1914-1943) was a leading Polish Jewish poet who, rather unusually, wrote in Polish rather than Yiddish. When the war broke out, Szlengel was working in a theatre in Białystok (a city which was occupied by the Soviets in September 1939) but, concerned by the fate of his wife, he chose to return to Warsaw in 1940. Following the creation of the Warsaw Ghetto in November 1940, Szlengel became one of its leading cultural activists. His poems, which recorded the struggles of daily life in the ghetto, were written for a public audience and were widely performed or passed on by word of mouth. He and his wife were killed during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in the spring of 1943.
Yakov Zak was born in Kelmė, a small town in central Lithuania in 1920. Almost all of Kelmė’s Jews were murdered in mass shootings in 1941 and 1942; Zak survived when he successfully tried to escape from the very last group of Jews who were being led to their execution in August 1942.
Yehoshua Perle (1888-1943) was a pre-war Yiddish novelist. When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Perle and his family fled to the relative safety of Lwów in Soviet-occupied eastern Poland. However, when Germany then invaded the USSR in 1941, Perle returned to Warsaw. He survived the deportations to Treblinka in 1942 and escaped the ghetto in March 1943: he and his son then lived on the ‘Aryan side’ of the city under false identities. However, they were lured out of hiding by the Germans in the so-called Hotel Polski affair, in which Jews with passports from neutral countries were promised safe passage abroad, and later murdered.
Youra Livchitz was born in Kiev in Ukraine in 1917. After his parents separated in 1928, his mother emigrated with her two sons to Belgium, where Youra qualified as a doctor. He became an active member of the Belgian Resistance although the attack on the deportation train was his own initiative. He was betrayed to the Gestapo and arrested in May 1943. He managed to escape but was again arrested, with his brother Choura who was also a resistance fighter, in the following month. Both brothers were executed in February 1944.
Yoysef Vaynberg was born in 1908 in Strzyżów in southern Poland. At the outbreak of the war, he was living in the city of Lwów, which was occupied by the Soviet Union under the terms of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. Following the German invasion of the USSR, he was eventually interned in Janowska, a notoriously brutal forced labour camp in Lwów which also became one of the major killing sites of the Holocaust, and later in Auschwitz-Birkenau. He emigrated to France after the war and established himself as an important Yiddish novelist.
Zalman Gradowski (1908/9-1944) was born in Suwałki in eastern Poland. He was deported, together with his family, to Auschwitz-Birkenau from Kiełbasin transit camp in December 1942. His wife, mother, sisters, father-in-law and brother-in-law were all selected for the gas chambers. By contrast, Gradowski was selected for the Sonderkommando, those Jewish prisoners who were forced to work in and around the gas chambers and crematoria. Despite the hopelessness of their situation, which entailed almost certain death, the Sonderkommando organised a resistance movement which culminated in an uprising on 7 October 1944. This succeeded in partially destroying one of the four crematoria; Gradowski was one of the leading planners of the revolt and lost his life in it.
Zofia Kossak-Szczucka (1889-1968) was born into a prominent family of Polish artists and political activists. She became a well-known writer in the interwar period and was allied to Catholic, nationalist and antisemitic movements. Following the German invasion of Poland, she became an active member of the underground resistance and inspired the creation of Żegota, the arm of the underground state which assisted Jews in hiding, in 1942. She was arrested in 1943 and sent to Auschwitz but subsequently released, enabling her to participate in the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. She escaped to Britain following the imposition of a Communist regime in 1945 but returned to Poland in 1957 during the political liberalisation which followed Stalin’s death.
Zuzanna Ginczanka was born in Kiev in 1917 but she grew up in Równe in Poland after her family fled the chaos in the years after the Russian Revolution. After she moved to Warsaw in 1935, she became a leading figure in the Polish capital’s literary scene. In addition to poetry, she also wrote dramas for Polish Radio. Following the German invasion in 1939, she returned to Równe, which had been occupied by the Soviet Union, before settling in Lwów. When Germany then invaded the USSR in 1941, Zuzanna went into hiding until her betrayal by the building’s caretaker Zofia Chocim. She then escaped to Kraków where she again lived in hiding until her capture and execution in 1944.
Zygmunt Klukowski (1885-1959) was born in Odessa in the Russian Empire but spent most of his life in the small Polish town of Szczebrzeszyn whose small hospital he served in from 1919. His wartime diary, which is widely regarded as one of the most important sources for life in occupied Poland, formed the basis of a number of histories of the horrors inflicted on the Szczebrzeszyn region which Klukowski published after the war. Despite his importance as a witness to Nazism, which led to him testifying at Nuremberg, Klukowski was persecuted by Poland’s post-war Communist regime due to his involvement in the non-Communist resistance to the Nazis.