Auschwitz

Photo of the Day

YEARS AGO?Marthe Cohn as a young woman in the 1940s. Photo: Marthe Cohn

YEARS AGO?: Marthe Cohn as a young woman in the 1940s. Photo: Marthe Cohn

Marthe Misses Nothing

The Lady was a Spy

?During World War II, Marthe Hoffnung was a French espionage agent in Nazi Germany, posing as Martha Ulrich, a 25-year-old ‘Fr?ulein’ whose cover story was that she needed to find her fianc? at the German front

???You should never accept to be kept under the boot of anybody; you have to fight back.?

Marthe Cohn

Marthe Cohn (nee Hoffnung), was crouching in a forest, dressed in a skirt and jacket, with white socks covering her silk stockings. She took a deep breath and grabbed her suitcase, taking leave of Georges Lemaire, the Swiss intelligence officer who had accompanied her to this spot on the Swiss-German border. Marthe began crawling through the underbrush toward the stretch of road patrolled by two German sentries. She waited until they met midway and reversed direction, so their backs were to her.

This was her cue. She was to pose as Martha Ulrich, a German nurse searching for her fianc?, but she was suddenly paralyzed by fear, overcome by the enormity of her mission, so she just lay there for more than two hours. Then she thought about a captain named Mollat, the French officer who had overseen her previous 14 missions to infiltrate enemy territory, all unsuccessful, and who had doubted her abilities.

She rose, pulling herself up to her full 4-foot-11 height, and walked to the road. ?Heil Hitler,? she greeted the sentry coming toward her, presenting her papers. ?Go on your way,? he said.

It was April 11, 1945, two days before Marthe?s 25th birthday.

Marthe Cohn was an unlikely World War II spy. At just 4 feet, 11 inches, Cohn was petite with blonde hair and blue eyes. She was also Jewish. Never hesitant to resist an unjust cause, especially during the Nazi reign in World War II, she courageously risked everything and contributed to the Allies? victory.

With her fair features and flawless German language skills, however, she was able to convince Nazi officers she posed no threat.

?I was now in Germany,? she said.

Cohn had no compass, map, radio or weapons, only clothes without labels and German money and vouchers.

?Everything I needed to know was in my memory,? she said with a smile. ?I have a pretty good memory.?

Now 96 years old, Cohn said she feels compelled to travel around the country to share her story with others. ?It?s important that people know that Jews fought,? she said. ?We were not just waiting to be arrested.?

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Photo of the Day

Witold Pilecki got into Auschwitz before almost anyone in the outside world knew what was really going on there.

Witold Pilecki got into Auschwitz before almost anyone in the outside world knew what was really going on there.

Witold Pilecki

Unsung Hero of World War II

Meet the Man Who Sneaked Into Auschwitz

One of the great heroes of the 20th century was Auschwitz prisoner No. 4859, who volunteered to be there.

In 1940, the Polish Underground wanted to know what was happening inside the recently opened Auschwitz concentration camp. Polish army officer Witold Pilecki volunteered to be arrested by the Germans and reported from inside the camp. His intelligence reports, smuggled out in 1941, were among the first eyewitness accounts of Auschwitz atrocities: the extermination of Soviet POWs, its function as a camp for Polish political prisoners, and the ?final solution? for Jews. Pilecki received brutal treatment until he escaped; soon after, he wrote a brief report. Poland’s chief rabbi states, ?If heeded, Pilecki’s early warnings might have changed the course of history.? Pilecki’s story was suppressed for half a century after his 1948 arrest by the Polish Communist regime as a ?Western spy.?

There are very few places that can accurately be described as hell on Earth. One of these is the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II, where as many as 1.5 million people died during the five years the camp was in operation.

The Polish resistance had been hearing horrific first- or second-hand accounts about the conditions inside Auschwitz. These early accounts came primarily from released prisoners, but also from casual observers like railway employees and residents of the nearby village of Oswiecim. The resistance decided they needed someone on the inside.

It is into this environment that?Witold Pilecki, a 39-year old veteran of the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1921 who fought against the initial Nazi invasion and a member of the Polish resistance, volunteered himself in 1940. Pilecki’s mission was to allow himself to be arrested and, once inside Auschwitz, to collect intelligence for the Polish resistance in the country and the government-in-exile in London, and to organize a resistance from inside the camp.

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Photo Of The Day

Zdenka Fantlova, who had been a prisoner at Belsen, met for the first time George Leonard, a British soldier who had been among those liberating the concentration camp seven decades ago. Photo BBC.

Zdenka Fantlova, who had been a prisoner at Belsen, met for the first time George Leonard, a British soldier who had been among those liberating the concentration camp seven decades ago. Photo BBC.

An Incredible Survival Story

The Tin Ring

Somehow, the remarkable Zdenka defied all the odds, all the horrors of the Holocaust Concentration camps, and somehow survived.

Somehow, she retained and has never been separated from the tin ring which Arno, the boy she loved, had secretly passed to her in the camp.

And, somehow, this troth serves as a repudiation of the visceral hatred and violence represented by Auschwitz, Treblinka, Bergen Belsen and all the other monstrous Nazi extermination centres.

Zdenka Fantlov?’s childhood in Czechoslovakia was one of great happiness and love and her life was like that of any other teenager. However, her peaceful existence was soon to be shattered and she was sent to Terez?n concentration camp. Here she was given a home-made tin ring by her first love Arno with ‘Arno 13.6.1942’ engraved on it. When he gave her the ring he said, ‘That’s for our engagement. And to keep you safe. If we are both alive when the war ends I will find you’. Arno was sent East on a penal transport later that same day; she never saw him again. After surviving six concentration camps, risking her life for the tin ring and death marches Zdenka found herself, in the last chaotic days of the war, at the hell that was Bergen Belsen.

Zdenka is one of the few living eye-witnesses to the horror of the Holocaust. She survived six concentration camps, lost her entire family and endured unimaginable horrors.

When she was just 17-years-old a simple tin ring made for her by her boyfriend became central to her will to live, until he was selected for one of the early trains ?to the east.???Though her boyfriend died, Zdenka clung to the simple tin ring as a symbol of hope. Her tin ring that she risked everything to keep through all the horrors till liberation, until she was surrounded by the dead and dying and close to becoming one of them herself.

?Then, everyone was on his own,?? she says. ?What most people are interested in [now] is the art of survival, and there is a secret to it. . . . I was 17, I was young, healthy, I was single, I was in love – and that is a tremendous power. To be in love and to have hope was something that gives you strength.

?It?s actually quite simple. Most people who came in felt like a victim. If you feel like a victim you become one. It takes a lot of energy out of you. You are afraid, you worry about what?s going to happen,?? she says. ?I never felt like a victim. I actually felt as though it has nothing to do with me. I was an observer looking out at the barbed wire, the guards, and the dogs. And if you don?t feel like a victim you have a chance.??

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Photo Of The Day

Auschwitz 31. Women survivors huddled in a prisoner barracks shortly after Soviet forces liberated the Auschwitz camp. Auschwitz, Poland, 1945.

Auschwitz 31. Women survivors huddled in a prisoner barracks shortly after Soviet forces liberated the Auschwitz camp. Auschwitz, Poland, 1945.

How One Woman Delivered 3,000 Babies During The Holocaust

Auschwitz had all sorts of facilities, such as sleeping quarters, offices, kitchens and latrines. It also had a “sick ward” where, in atrocious conditions, sick prisoners were looked after by physicians who were prisoners themselves. Anyone who appeared unlikely to get well was killed. Thus the physicians were constantly concealing serious cases by falsifying records to permit a longer stay to those who otherwise would have been sent to the crematorium. Almost all survivors of Auschwitz suffered from typhoid, a disease that qualified inmates for liquidation, but was never reported thanks to the courage of the physicians. They were risking their lives since the punishment for breaking any rule in the concentration camp was death. Auschwitz also had a “maternity-ward.” Many of the women who arrived at the camp were pregnant. They were needed for work; their babies were not. One of the midwives working in the ward was Stanislawa Leszczynska.

When Stanislawa Leszczy?ska first became a midwife, she never could have imagined that she would one day be whisked away from her home in Poland, where she routinely walked miles to deliver babies, and into the real-life nightmare of Auschwitz. After the murder of her husband in Poland and the forced removal of her son to another work camp, Stanislawa and her daughter entered Auschwitz with only one hope: that they would survive.

Born Stanislawa Zambrzyska in 1896, she married Bronislaw Leszczynski in 1916 and together they had two sons and a daughter. In 1922, she graduated from a school for midwives and began working in the poorest districts of Lodz. In pre-war Poland, babies were normally delivered at home. Stanislawa made herself available at any time, walking many kilometers to the homes of the women she helped. Her children recall that she often worked nights but she never slept during the day.

After the war, she returned to her job in Lodz. Her husband had been killed in the Warsaw uprising of 1944, but all of her children survived and, inspired by their mother’s example, went on to become physicians. Stanislawa supported their education, earning the family livelihood through a devoted service to childbirth.

In March 1957, as her retirement neared, a reception was organized to commemorate her 35 years in the profession. Her son, Dr. Bronislaw Leszczynski, remarked to her before the reception that she might be asked about Auschwitz. Until that time, she had said nothing about her work in the concentration camp. Her son began taking notes and later, during the reception when all the speeches were over, he stood up and told his mother’s story.

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Photo Of The Day

Solomon and Frieda Radasky. After over 50 years of marriage and two children, Frieda Radasky passed away in 1999. Frieda, like her husband, was from Warsaw.

Solomon and Frieda Radasky. After over 50 years of marriage and two children, Frieda Radasky passed away in 1999. Frieda, like her husband, was from Warsaw.

Solomon Radasky

Survivor

The 27th of January was Holocaust Memorial Day, we remember how little we remember. Despite the many movies, books and survivor?testimonies, there are the countless stories that have been lost and there are all the non-transmissible sensations. One who was not there can never know what it felt like to be there.

How did I survive? When a person is in trouble he wants to live. He fights for his life…Some people say, “Eh — What will be, will be.” No! You have to fight for yourself day by day. Some people did not care. They said, “I do not want to live. What is the difference? I don’t give a damn.” I was thinking day by day. I want to live. A person has to hold on to his own will, hold on to that to the last minute.

I am from Warsaw. I lived in Praga, which is the part of the city across the Vistula river. I had a nice life there; I had my own shop where I used to make fur coats. In Warsaw when a Jewish holiday came we used to know it was a holiday. All the stores were closed, and the people were in the synagogues.

Out of the 78 people in my family, I am the only one to survive. My parents had 3 boys and 3 girls: My parents were Jacob and Toby; my brothers were Moishe and Baruch, and my sisters were Sarah, Rivka and Leah. They were all killed.

My mother and my older sister were killed in the last week of January 1941. The year 1941 was a cold winter with a lot of snow. One morning the?SD?and the?Jewish police?caught me in the street. I was forced to work with a lot of other people clearing snow from the railroad tracks. Our job was to keep the trains running.

When I returned to the?ghetto?I found out that my mother and older sister had been killed. The Germans demanded that the?Judenrat?collect gold and furs from the people in the ghetto. When they asked my mother for jewelry and furs, she said she had none. So they shot her and my older sister too.

My father was killed in April 1942. He went to buy bread from the children who were smuggling food into the ghetto. The children brought bread, potatoes and cabbages across the wall into the?Warsaw ghetto. A Jewish policeman pointed out my father to a German and told him that he saw my father take a bread from a boy at the wall. The German shot my father in the back.

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Photo Of The Day

Colourized photo of the Ovitz Family

Colourized photo of the Ovitz Family

Ovitz Family

In Our Hearts We Were Giants

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Photo Of The Day

Photo: REUTERS

Photo: REUTERS

Auschwitz Bookkeeper Admits ‘Moral Guilt’ at Holocaust Trial

Auschwitz guard Oskar Groening.

A 93-year-old former bookkeeper at Auschwitz who is accused of being an accessory to mass murder told a German court that he felt morally guilty for his work at the Nazi death camp, describing in detail the grisly killings he had witnessed there.

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Photo Of The Day

Letter

Mohandas Gandhi’s letter to Adolf Hitler, 1939

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I Will Survive – Concentration Camp version

from Boing Boing

…video of a Holocaust survivor, his daughter, and his grandchildren dancing to Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive at various concentration camp sites throughout Europe. The YouTube comments seem to be split between those who are offended by it and those who are on board with this celebration of survival.

I think this is way cool.

The video author says:

On a recent trip to Europe, a family of three generations (a Holocaust survivor, his daughter and his grandchildren) dance to Gloria Gaynor’s pop song – ‘I Will Survive’ at concentration camps and memorials throughout Europe.

This clip was first edited with the help of my friend Pisithpong Siraphisit who runs Compeung Art Village, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

This dance is a tribute to the tenacity of the human spirit and a celebration of life.

Despite the systematic brutality and cruelty endured, we have still survived.

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