These are the stories of the Holocaust survivors included in the 34 photographic portraits by individual professional photographers in the exhibition of The Lonka Project held in the United Nations in New York City commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2024.
Each photograph is numbered #1 through #34 and includes a corresponding image followed by the individual story of the survivor. Underneath is the survivor’s name followed by the photographer’s name and nationality. Under that is the place the photograph was made and the date.
Please scroll down to view the story and details of each photograph you are viewing.
The exhibition is brought to you with the support of Israel’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, the World Jewish Restitution Organization, and Gefen Publishing House.
Curated by Jim Hollander, co-director of The Lonka Project.
Thank you for attending the exhibition.
Walter Spitzer was born in Cieszyn, Poland, in 1927. When the ghetto was liquidated in June 1943, Spitzer’s mother was shot, and the sixteen-year-old Walter was deported to Blechhammer, a sub-camp of Auschwitz. There he made his first drawing, with a burnt stick on an empty cement bag. Spitzer describes the moment when his life was, quite literally, saved by drawing. During the final months of World War II, Spitzer was an inmate in the Buchenwald concentration camp and was summoned to appear before the German political prisoner who was in charge of his barracks. Spitzer’s name was on a list of inmates to be sent off the next day to a work camp, a move which would mean certain death for him. His anti-Nazi block master told the artist he would delete him from the transport list on one condition. Spitzer had to promise, if he survived, “to tell with his pencils all you have seen here.” Spitzer lived to honor his vow, providing generations with an artistic record of the Holocaust and crimes against humanity. Walter Spitzer has lived and worked since World War II in France, where he studied at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris, becoming a renowned painter and print maker. Walter Spitzer passed away from complications due to the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-April 2021, at the age of 93.
Walter Spitzer by Alfred Yaghobzadeh Iran/France
The artistic gymnast Agnes Keleti, a Hungarian Olympic champion, was born in Budapest in 1921. Although already a leading athlete, in 1941 she was expelled from her gymnastics club for being Jewish. Agnes was forced to go into hiding. She bought and used false identity papers and worked as a maid. The Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg saved her mother and sister. Her father and most of her family did not survive. They were gassed in the Auschwitz concentration camp. In the winter of 1944, during the Siege of Budapest, Agnes would collect bodies and place them in a mass grave. After the war ended, Agnes returned to gymnastics and was selected to represent Hungary at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, and again at the 1956 games in Melbourne. She won 10 medals in the two summer Olympics, five of them gold.
Agnes Keleti by Bea Bar Kallos Israel/Hungary
Ben Stern was born in Poland in 1921 to a large religious family, and was a teenager during the Nazi Germany invasion. After being herded into the Warsaw Ghetto where he lived with his parents and eight siblings in squalor and hunger for two years, Ben was forced to separate from his family on August 15, 1942, and was deported to the Majdanek concentration camp. He was later transferred to Auschwitz, where he survived by falsifying his tattooed number 129592, constantly worrying about the crematorium and death Selektions. Ben endured forced labor in nine concentration camps and survived two death marches. In 1945 he had to march from Buchenwald to the Tyrolean mountains near the Austrian border. ‘Seven thousand young men left Buchenwald; we were 156 who survived.’ Ben was liberated by American troops in 1945. He was 24 and weighed 78 pounds. His family perished in the Holocaust. Ben never gave up hope that he would find his family. When he visited the Treblinka death camp in 1988, he left a note in the visitors’ book that said: ‘I’m looking for my mother.’
Ben Stern by Yuval Rakavy Israel
San Francisco, 2019
Dr. Moshe Avital was born in 1930 in Czechoslovakia, in an area which is now Ukraine. His father was a shochet (ritual slaughterer) and chazzan (cantor). Moshe was imprisoned in Ghetto Berehovo. In 1944, at the age of 14, he was deported with his entire family to Auschwitz, which he described as ‘the largest slaughterhouse in all of Europe.’ There Moshe was separated from his remaining family. He recalled the final moment he saw his mother, sisters, and others. Moshe then worked in other concentration camps. He described working 12-hour shifts on little food and enduring harsh winters and the constant sight of soldiers with guns pointed at him. When liberated from a concentration camp by American soldiers in 1945, Moshe said he weighed a mere 70 pounds and had lost about 50 percent of his body weight. He went on a children’s ship to Mandatory Palestine, enrolled in the Haganah paramilitary organization and fought during the 1948 war. He joined his only surviving brother in the US and continued his education to become a scholar. He said it was the duty of all survivors ‘to tell the tragic truth in full.’
Dr. Moshe Avital by Ed Kashi USA
New Rochelle, New York, 2019
Eddie Jaku was born in Leipzig, Germany, in 1920. Eddie’s life had changed on Kristallnacht, when Eddie returned home from boarding school to an empty house. At dawn Nazi soldiers burst in, Eddie was beaten and taken to Buchenwald concentration camp. Eddie was later released and escaped with his father to Belgium and France, but again he was captured and en route, Eddie managed to escape and make his way back to Belgium where he lived in hiding with his parents and sister. In October 1943 Eddie’s family were arrested and deported to Auschwitz death camp where his parents were murdered. In 1945, Eddie was sent on a death march but once again escaped and hid in a forest until June 1945 when he was rescued by Allied soldiers. In 1950 he moved to Australia where he rebuilt his life, and was one of the founders of the Sydney Jewish Museum. In 2020 Eddie celebrated his 100th birthday self-proclaimed to be ‘the happiest man on earth’ who made a vow to himself to smile every day. His best-selling memoir The Happiest Man on Earth was published in 2020. Using past trauma to spread a hopeful message, Eddie devoted himself to Holocaust education, ‘I teach children and adults not to hate.’ Eddie Jaku passed away in Sydney in October 2021, age 101.
Eddie Jaku by Louise Kennerley Australia
David Lenga was born in Poland in 1927. On September 8, 1939, David watched Nazi soldiers marching into Lodz, accompanied by tanks and flying swastika flags. The family was separated. His father was sent to a labor camp, and the rest were transported into the Lodz Ghetto. In a large Aktion, David, 15, his brother Nathan and their grandmother were selected for deportation. David escaped to look for his mother, but she was already in the hands of the Gestapo. In August 1944, as the Lodz Ghetto was being liquidated, David, now alone, went into hiding and emerged after a week pretending to belong to a cleanup crew that remained in the ghetto. But the group, including David, were loaded on trucks and shipped to Auschwitz. During the first Selektion of prisoners, to determine which would be sent to the gas chambers and which to forced labor, camp doctor Mengele rejected David from labor for being too young. David understood that this meant death. He sneaked into the workers’ line twice and three days later he was on a train headed for the forced labor camps in Kaufering, Bavaria. In late April 1945 as US troops approached, the prisoners were evacuated and marched for hours to open cattle cars. The convoy proceeded slowly, and David and two others jumped off, escaping into the forest. They reached a farmhouse where the farmer allowed them to stay in the barn. ‘We were given the opportunity to be human beings,’ David recalled. On May 5, 1945, they heard the thunderous roar of tanks and yelled, ‘We’re liberated.’ An American officer approached and asked them in Yiddish, “You boys are Jews? We’re taking you with us.” Later, in a displaced persons camp, David learned that his mother and brother were murdered in Chelmno. There was no word of the fate of his father. David then traveled to Sweden where he met and married Charlotte, a survivor, and learned that his father was alive and living in Israel. ‘That was a meeting I will not forget for my entire life.’ In 1954, the family immigrated to the United States where they raised their children. David, who began telling his story only in 2013, says of the risky escapes during the Holocaust, ‘The fact is, I dared it, and I made it. I’m very proud of it.’
David Lenga by Douglas Kirkland Canada/USA
Paulette Angel was born in France in 1927. After Nazi German troops seized her hometown, Metz, in 1940, Paulette and her family were forced to flee from their home. They went into hiding, moving from town to town but in 1942, within days, thousands of French Jews were rounded up and deported to Drancy, an assembly and detention camp for confining Jews who were later deported to the extermination camps. Paulette’s family realized they must separate and attempt individually to cross into the Zone Libre, a partition of the French metropolitan territory that they hoped would keep them from the death camps. In September 1942, Paulette and her sister Sophie were arrested by the Nazis. The two teenage girls were imprisoned in Allemans near Limoges, then in the Château de La Rochefoucauld, then in Angoulême prison, in the French internment camp in Poitiers (Camp de la route de Limoges). From there, the girls were transported and interned in the Drancy camp, last stop before Auschwitz. The sisters received help from the French resistance and were released later that same year ,1942, but remained detained, this time in a home for children under the age of 17. Paulette was 15. They were released and managed with help from the French resistance to join their parents in the Zone Libre. On July 21, 1944, Paulette’s father, Moïse Rozenberg, was denounced, arrested, tortured and executed by the Nazis in Isère. He refused to give out names of resistance fighters and Paulette says, ‘He died for France,’ just three weeks before the area was liberated. Paulette and her sister returned to Metz with their mother, who survived. In 1953, Paulette moved to Switzerland, where she dedicates her life to the education and commemoration of the Holocaust.
Paulette Angel by Paolo Pellegrin Italy
Simon Gronowski was born in Brussels in 1931. In 1943, the Gestapo arrested 11-year-old Simon, his mother and 18-year-old sister Ita in their Brussels hiding place. All three were transferred to the Nazi transit camp in Mechelen. His father had escaped the roundup. Simon’s sister was deported alone to Auschwitz. Simon, his mother Chana and 1,630 others were packed in a train known as “Convoy 20.” As soon as the train left Mechelen’s station, Belgian resistance fighters attempted to free imprisoned colleagues aboard the train. Chana pushed her son towards the door and lowered him so that Simon could jump off the accelerating train bound for Auschwitz. His mother did not follow. Simon waited, then ran like dozens of others who escaped to the surrounding trees and farmland. He walked and ran all night, reaching the house of Jan Aerts, a policeman who sheltered Simon and arranged his safe return to his father in Brussels. Simon’s mother Chana was sent to the gas chambers on arrival at Auschwitz. His sister also perished there. Simon and his father spent the remaining war years hidden separately. His father died within months of the end of the war, and Simon grew up in foster families. Later he became a Doctor of Law. While struggling to rebuild his life, he taught himself to play the piano in memory of his sister Ita, who had been a pianist. Simon plays jazz. Fifty years would pass before he shared his past, writing his book, L’Enfant du 20e convoi. The Aerts family, who had sheltered him the night of the escape, were awarded the honor of Righteous Among the Nations. During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, Simon has been playing his jazz piano regularly at his window for his neighbors to enjoy. After British composer Howard Moody heard Simon say, “Ma vie n’est que miracles” he wrote a community opera, PUSH, that told of Simon’s escape from the 20th Convoy on April 19, 1943.
Simon Gronowski by Sébastien Van Malleghem Belgium
Hermann “Mano” Höllenreiner was born in 1933 in Hagen, Germany, to a German Sinti family. In March 1943, when Mano was nine years old, he and his family were deported from Munich to Auschwitz, to the Roma section of the camp. There he was tattooed with prisoner number Z-3526 (Z for Sinti and Roma prisoners). The “Gypsy Camp” at Auschwitz-Birkenau was eliminated the night of August 2, 1944, when thousands were killed in the gas chambers. Shortly before, Mano had been transferred with his parents and his sister Lilly to the Ravensbrück concentration camp, and later that year to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Towards the end of the war he was able to flee a death march. After the war, he was sent to France along with other French prisoners of war, where he said he was a French Jew (his mother had Jewish ancestors). He concealed his German origins. The Höllenreiner family lost 36 members to Nazi persecution. He was taken in by a family in Paris, and was treated for severe trauma. It was only then that his prisoner’s tattoo was discovered and, in 1946, the surviving members of his family were able to locate him. Only years later was Mano able to tell of his experiences during the Holocaust.
Hermann “Mano” Höllenreiner by José Giribás Marambio Chile
Oświęcim-Auschwitz, Poland, 2020
Hessy Taft at home in her apartment on the Upper West Side, New York City. She stands by the piano which was prized by her parents, and poses with the photo of her as the “Aryan” baby who made the journey from Germany to Latvia and eventually to the United States. Hessy was selected at six months of age as the most beautiful Aryan baby, and was on the cover of this popular magazine by the Nazi Party, which appeared in the 1930s, in a photograph taken by Hans Blane, a well-known photographer in the German capital at the time. The picture was selected by Joseph Goebbels’ office, which had approached German photographers and asked everyone to send a picture of a baby to compete in the competition of the most beautiful baby. This picture won the competition and was also published on postcards. Hessy, now 84 years old, lived in Berlin at the time, and one day the cleaning woman came and told her mother that she saw a picture of Hessy. After the mother saw the newspaper, she went to the photographer and asked him how it happened. The photographer explained that he had sent the picture in, and then the mother asked him, “Do you not know that we are Jews?” The photographer replied that he knew only that he wanted to mock them and make fun of them.
Hessy Taft by Cheney Orr USA
New York City, 2019
Ruth Haran was born in Bucharest, Romania, in 1935. Romania established antisemitic laws and carried out a massive torturous campaign against the Jews even before it became an ally of Nazi Germany in 1940. Ruth’s father, a Jewish doctor from Poland, was deported and found employment in a hospital in Odessa. Ruth’s mother, a Romanian Jew, fled with her three children and was reunited with her husband in Odessa just before Axis troops set siege to the city. Ruth’s family, along with tens of thousands of Jews, fled Odessa in 1941. Odessa surrendered and over 80,000 remaining Jews were massacred. Ruth, who was seven years old at the time, recalls the fear and starvation during their escape and also the bombings by the approaching Nazis. They fled across the Soviet lines and Ruth’s father, the doctor who treated the many wounded and sick throughout their escape, kept their family safe and together. They set out on the long and arduous road to Uzbekistan, by foot and on train. Ruth recalls the typhoid epidemic among the fleeing refugees, which her father treated but which later took his life. After the war they traveled to Kishinev and in 1947, Ruth, her mother and siblings immigrated illegally to Mandatory Palestine. Israel was declared a state in 1948, and Ruth’s life flourished. Even so, it was never easy. Over the years, two members of Ruth’s family were killed in Israel’s wars. Eight decades after the Holocaust, Ruth is reliving her childhood horrors as destruction and death of loved ones are devastating the 88-year-old great-grandmother’s life. Five years ago, after her husband passed away, Ruth moved to Kibbutz Be’eri to be near her son Avshalom. At the time she was dealing with a bout of cancer. She described her life in Be’eri as beautiful; she was surrounded by love, care and beautiful fields her kibbutz cultivated. Handymen and farmers from Gaza, just down the road, returned to work in the kibbutz some time ago and there was hope for peace, she says. On October 7, 2023, Hamas assaulted and carried out a massacre in the Israeli communities of southern Israel. This time Ruth was all alone. She awoke that morning with the incoming barrages of rockets and kept calling her son Avshalom who lived next door. She tried her daughter-in-law; she tried her grandchildren but got no response. Through her window she noticed armed men on the front lawn and soon there was a knock on her door. Ruth opened the door to a group of armed men who burst into her home and forced her into her safe room. Her life was spared when they were called by another and left her trembling indoors. For 15 long hours she was hiding in her home. She does not remember where but not in the safe room, she says. She emerged once and saw bodies on the lawn nearby and she ran back inside. It was already nighttime when Israeli soldiers rescued her. As they were leading her to safety, she witnessed death everywhere with burned down and still smoldering homes. Ruth was taken to a nearby field with other kibbutz members who survived the massacre. They huddled together for hours under gunfire and there she learned that the terrorists had gone from house to house executing people. Her neighbors were sobbing and telling each other of the murder, rape and the slaughter of babies and children. ‘It is a Shoah. Only in Shoah are babies brutally murdered out of pleasure, women, pregnant women, killed or raped, homes burned,’ Ruth says, sobbing. Only days later was she notified that her son Avshalom, 66, was among the dead. Ruth says he was killed while trying to reach her home. His cell phone, which she had tried to call all day, was answered by someone in Gaza. Seven members of her family, including her daughter, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, aged three and eight, were kidnapped to Gaza. ‘They murdered my son, they took my family to Gaza…release them!’ cries Ruth, insisting, ‘I will return to my kibbutz, we will rebuild.’
Ruth Haran by Rina Castelnuovo Israel
Be’er Sheva, 2023
Senator Liliana Segre was born in Milan in 1930. Liliana was raised by her father Alberto and her paternal grandparents. Her mother died when she was an infant. The awareness of being Jewish came to Liliana only after she was expelled from school, following the Italian Racial Laws of 1938. When the persecution of Italian Jewry intensified, her father hid her at a friend’s home with fake documents. Liliana was 13 when she and her father tried to flee to Switzerland in December 1943. Both were turned back by the Swiss authorities and were arrested by fascists in Varese. After one week in Varese prison, she was transferred to Como and back to Milan where she was detained for 40 days. In January 1944, Liliana was deported from platform 21 of the Milano Centrale railway station to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Upon arrival, Liliana was separated from her father, whom she never saw again. At the Selektion, Liliana was tattooed with the serial number 75190. In May 1944 her paternal grandparents were arrested near Como and deported to Auschwitz, where they were killed. She was sent to forced labor in an ammunition factory which belonged to Siemens. She underwent three more Selektions and in January 1945, after the evacuation of the camp, she was forced on a death march towards Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany. After weeks of this ordeal, she was marched on to its satellite, Malchow concentration camp, where she was liberated by the Red Army on May 1, 1945. Liliana was one of 776 Italian children under the age of 14 who were sent to Auschwitz – 25 of those children survived. After liberation, Liliana located her maternal grandparents, the only surviving members of her family. In 1948 she met Alfredo Belli Paci, a Catholic survivor of Nazi concentration camps, where he was imprisoned for refusing to join the Italian Fascist Party. The two married in 1951 and had three children. For a long time, like many children who survived the Holocaust, Liliana kept silent about her experience. In the 1990s she started to speak in public about the Holocaust to young people, and against indifference towards migrants and victims of people-traffickers in Europe. In 2018 Liliana was appointed a senator for life. Liliana’s goal, she says, is to pass on the memory and ‘to bring to life the voices of the thousands of Italian Jews who suffered the humiliation of the Racial Laws in 1938 and after the Nazis occupied the country, Jews were deported, mainly to Auschwitz, where they perished.’
Senator Liliana Segre by Tom Vack USA
Harry Markowicz was born in Berlin in 1932. In 1938 the family escaped the rise of the Nazis by moving to Belgium, shortly before Kristallnacht. When Nazi Germany invaded Belgium in 1940, the family tried to escape again. Harry’s first memory at age three was of hiding in a ditch on the side of the road. German planes bombed the road on which refugees were attempting to escape. Harry’s family huddled in the ditch to wait out the bombings. When they reached the French border, they were turned away, and forced to remain in Belgium. In 1941, the Nazi authorities detained Jewish men for forced labor in factories or farms in Germany to replace their soldiers and were relocating Jews to the East. In 1942, the Markowicz family went into hiding. The parents rarely left their hiding place for years at a time, while their children were separated and hidden with various families. Harry was hidden with several different families and in children’s homes in Brussels until he was taken in by the Vanderlindens, a Belgian family with a teenage daughter. He became their “son” until the liberation of Brussels in September 1944. Despite his young age, Harry was aware throughout the war of the anxiety of the adults around him and behaved in ways that did not attract attention. The Markowicz family survived the war. Most of their extended family perished. Harry Markowicz passed away on September 15, 2020, in Silver Spring, MD, USA.
Harry Markowicz by Jono David UK/USA
Washington DC, 2020
Joseph Alexander was born in 1922 in Kowal, Poland. He enjoyed a stable life in Blonie until Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939. In late 1940, the German military transported Blonie’s Jews to the Warsaw Ghetto. Joseph’s father bribed some guards to let Joseph and two of his siblings escape back to Kowal. It was the last time he saw the rest of his family. From Kowal, the Nazis sent him to 12 different concentration camps, including Dachau and Auschwitz-Birkenau. After the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, he was sent from Auschwitz back to the Warsaw Ghetto to clean up the destruction’s aftermath. As the Polish Home Army advanced towards Warsaw, the Nazis sent Joseph to camps in Germany and then on a death march. While a captive, he endured forced labor under threat of death and conditions of starvation. He experienced severe illness while huddling for days behind brick piles in the destroyed Warsaw Ghetto, suffering from typhus. American troops liberated him in 1945 at Dachau. He immigrated to the United States in 1949, continued his work as a tailor in Los Angeles, and is a leading voice on Holocaust remembrance.
Joseph Alexander by Davis Factor USA
Los Angeles, 2019
Ralph J. Preiss was born in 1930 in Breslau, Germany (today Wrocław, Poland), the only child of Margot and Harry Preiss, a physician. ‘After Hitler came to power, Jews could not go to public school with other German children. It became illegal for Jews to own pets. Our dog, Axel, was taken away from us, a beautiful German Boxer who I loved very much. Hitler took away the German citizenship of all Jews, and even though my father or my grandfather had probably delivered every child living in our town, my father was no longer allowed to treat non-Jews. He began frantically to look for escape to any country that would take us.’ As a doctor, Harry was approved for refuge status in the Philippines. Philippine President Manuel Quezon saved more than 1,200 Jews from Germany and Austria, making the Philippines an unlikely haven as most nations closed their doors to Jewish refugees. While waiting for their visas to come through, Ralph witnessed Kristallnacht, or the “Night of Broken Glass," during which mobs destroyed synagogues throughout Germany. He recalls, ‘I was home alone with my grandmother. She woke me and bundled me hastily to our attic air raid shelter. I heard people shouting outside the house and banging on our wooden shutters. This was followed by breaking glass as the shutters were torn from their hinges and stones thrown through our windows. I was terrified. This breaking of glass went on for what seemed like hours. Then gunshots rang out. Our neighbor, a Christian schoolteacher whose son I admired for his snappy German Boy Scout uniform, had shot into the air to scare away the Nazi hoodlums that attacked our house. Later, from my bedroom window, I saw our synagogue was in flames. The Gestapo arrived to arrest my father but he was away, and he went into hiding until our departure.’ Ralph and his parents left Germany for the Philippines in January 1939, seven months before the outbreak of World War II. But war came to the Preiss family when Japan invaded the Philippines. Having an expired German passport, even one marked with a red “J” for Jude, permitted them to live outside the concentration camps set up by the Japanese during the war. The family survived liberation by joining Filipino guerillas on Mount Banahaw for three months. Ralph recalls, ‘I stayed one step ahead of the Japanese until the Americans liberated us.’ After high school in the Philippines, Ralph obtained a US visa in 1949 and attended MIT in Cambridge to study engineering. He pioneered automated diagnostics in computers at IBM’s Poughkeepsie lab, working there his entire career. He and his wife Marcia had four daughters. Marcia’s wedding dress, made of piña cloth from the Philippines, has been worn by three generations of the family.
Ralph J. Preiss by Mark Mann Scotland
New York City, 2023
William Samelson was born in Poland and lived there until the age of 10, when he was forced into various Nazi labor and concentration camps throughout Poland and Germany. He was a member of the Polish partisans at the age of 13. Captured by the Nazis, he was taken to the Buchenwald concentration camp where he spent three and a half years. William was known as 611441 in Buchenwald. ‘Usually, when your number was called, you never returned,’ William said. His mother was healthy, still in her 30s, but his little sister, only six, clung to the skirt of her mother. ‘She opted to stay with the little one,’ William recalled. ‘The last time I saw her, she was climbing into a freight train.’ He was liberated by the US Army in April 1945, and then spent six months recuperating in a hospital in Borna, Germany. William immigrated to the United States in 1948, following studies in Germany after the war. He was working on his M.A. degree in Germanic and Comparative Literature in 1951 when he was drafted into the US Army during the Korean War. William is an author and professor emeritus in the foreign languages department at the University of Texas in Austin.
Dr. William Samelson by Eli Reed USA
Austin, Texas, 2019
Hannah Pick-Goslar was born in Berlin in 1928. Her father, Hans Goslar, was deputy minister for domestic affairs in Germany until 1933. After the election of the Nazi Party to the Reichstag and Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor, Hans Goslar was forced to resign and the family moved to Amsterdam. Her mother died giving birth. Known as Hanneli, she attended the Sixth Public Montessori school where she became best friends with Anne Frank. Later the two enrolled in the Jewish Lyceum. The two girls appear in a photograph at Anne’s 10th birthday party with another girl whose parents later became known Nazis. In June 1943, Hanneli with her entire family were arrested and sent to the Westerbork camp, and in February 1944, to Bergen-Belsen. The Goslar family had Palestine passports and were detained in an improved section of the camp. In January to mid-February 1945, Hanneli and Anne were able to meet briefly through a hay-filled barbed wire fence dividing two sections of the camp. ‘The fence was high, it was night and there were many women,’ Hanneli recalls. ‘Another woman caught the package for Anne and ran away.’ Anne cried, and Hanneli consoled her. They would try again. The second time, Hanneli threw the package of bread and socks over the fence and Anne caught it. It was the last time the two girls met. Anne Frank is thought to have died from typhus in Bergen-Belsen camp in late February or early March 1945. On April 15, 1945, British troops liberated Bergen-Belsen. Hanneli and her sister Gabi survived 14 months at Bergen-Belsen. Her father and grandparents died before liberation. Hanneli was rescued on what is known as the Lost Train, intended to transport prisoners from Bergen-Belsen to
Theresienstadt during the last hours of World War II. Allied troops approached the camp, and the prisoners were freed by the Red Army. Hanneli and her sister Gabi, the only surviving family members, immigrated in 1947 to Mandatory Palestine, settling in Jerusalem where Hanneli became a pediatric nurse. She married Dr. Walter Pinchas Pick. They had three children and created a family that includes 31 great-grandchildren. Over the years, Hanneli appeared in numerous documentaries and books related to her friend Anne Frank and has traveled the world in order to educate about the Holocaust. Hannah passed away with family by her side on October 29, 2022, just two weeks away from her 94th birthday.
Hannah Pick-Goslar by Eric Sultan Israel
Inge Auerbacher was born in Germany in 1934. She was the only child of Berthold and Regina Auerbacher, whose family had lived in Germany for many generations. Inge’s father was a soldier in the German army during World War I. He was wounded badly and consequently, awarded the Iron Cross for service to his country. In 1938, her father and grandfather were arrested and taken away during the chaos of Kristallnacht. They were sent to the Dachau concentration camp. Inge, her mother and grandmother were able to hide in a shed during Kristallnacht and were not harmed. Inge’s father returned home with her grandfather, who died shortly after in 1939. Harsh restrictions were imposed, and a former housekeeper provided them with food. Inge could no longer attend the local public school. In 1941, she was forced to wear the yellow star, and was taunted by other children. In late 1941, Inge, her parents and her grandmother were told to report for “resettlement.” Her father, being a disabled World War I veteran, obtained a postponement, but her grandmother was sent to Latvia, where she was murdered. On August 22, 1942, Inge and her parents were arrested and deported to the Theresienstadt Ghetto in Czechoslovakia, to the ghetto’s disabled war veterans’ section, where they were allowed to stay together. Inge was hungry, scared and sick most of the time. In the spring of 1945, the Germans began building gas chambers in Theresienstadt, but on May 8, 1945, Soviet troops
liberated the remaining Jews in the camp. Inge and her parents were among the 1 percent who survived. In 1946, Inge and her parents immigrated to the US. Inge became a chemist, and is an author of books on the lives of children during the Holocaust.
Inge Auerbacher by Stephen Ferry USA
Jamaica, Queens, New York, 2020
Sonia Kam (r) was born in Germany in 1931. Her parents were living in Belgium, often visiting Germany, where her grandparents lived. ‘My mother tried to persuade my grandparents to come with us, but they refused. “We are Germans!” they said, When Kam’s family returned to Brussels, a large sign from the Gestapo hung on the door, “No entry, property of the Gestapo.” Sonia and her sister went back to school, but they now had to wear the yellow star. The head of a summer camp agreed to take care of
Kam and her sister Hannie (l) with false identities. ‘One day the Gestapo stood at the door and said they knew that two Jewish children were hidden on the premises and that they should get rid of us. She contacted my father and he had to pick us up.’ The two sisters then lived with their parents in hiding for a few months and, ‘one morning my father said goodbye to my mother and drove off to work. It was the
last time we saw him.’ The family was separated. Sonia was taken to a monastery and her sister to another hiding place. The mother was hiding elsewhere. After the US Army liberated Brussels, the girls were reunited with their mother. Their father Shaul was murdered in Auschwitz and the rest of their entire family perished in Nazi concentration camps. In 1949 they immigrated to the US.
Sonia Kam & Hannie Dauman by Steve
Riverdale, Bronx, New York, 2020
Juliane Heyman was born in the Free City of Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland) in 1925. When the Nazis came into power in 1933 and amid rising antisemitism her parents, after being imprisoned, took her in 1938 in the middle of the night and crossed the border to Gdynia, Poland, and later to Brussels, Belgium. In May 1940, the Germans invaded Belgium and Juliane’s family fled again. ‘We crossed the French border on foot, but the German troops arrived. A French baker sheltered us and I learned to bake bread. One day my brother, Lothar, and I were stopped by German soldiers who asked if we were Jewish. One soldier pointed his gun at us and threatened to kill us. We fended them off by pretending not to understand German.’ The family fled Belgium to Paris and after several months there obtained false papers allowing them to escape into the unoccupied zone where they lived on a winery. They then continued their escape and were smuggled on foot at night through the Pyrenees from France into Spain, ‘in total silence throughout the crossing.’ They made their way by train through Spain into Portugal without getting caught. Juliane and her family arrived in late 1941 to New York by freighter from Lisbon. Juliane became the first woman training officer for the Peace Corps in 1961. She worked as an international development consultant in educational and social projects in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, the
Caribbean and Central America. Juliane is an avid skier and hiker; she divides her time between Aspen and Santa Barbara. ’My challenging life experiences have given me depth and understanding of different
peoples, and I hope I have touched the lives of some.’
Juliane Heyman by Brent Stirton South Africa
Santa Barbara, California, 2020
Sir Ben Helfgott was born in Piotrkow, Poland, in 1929. He was ten when Germany invaded Poland. In 1942, the Nazis herded the Jews into the Piotrkow Ghetto. Ben, then 12, registered to work at a glass factory, having heard rumors that if one had a job assisting the war effort of the Third Reich, one would not be taken away. ‘We did not know where Jews were taken – we heard stories of gas chambers, but who could believe it?’ The factory’s manager, Mr. Janota, treated him brutally. But when SS guards marched into the glass factory and rounded up workers for transport to Treblinka – Ben among them – Janota came to Ben’s rescue. Janota lied to the SS men, risking his own life and saving Ben by saying that Ben was a non-Jewish Pole. Later, Ben was caught and sent to Buchenwald. ‘It was a terrible place. All we had to eat was soup that smelled like urine and a crust of bread.’ Later he was shipped to Theresienstadt, where he was eventually liberated, weak, emaciated and starving. Ben’s mother Sara and sister Lusia had been rounded up and murdered in a forest. His father was shot trying to escape from a death march from Buchenwald, just days before the war ended. Ben was sent to England after the war at age 15 with 700 other orphans. A mere 11 years later, Ben was part of the 1956 Olympic Games in weightlifting, a feat he repeated in 1960. He is one of two Jewish athletes to have competed in the Olympics after surviving the Holocaust. Ben was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2018 for service to Holocaust remembrance and education, and in October 2020 Sir Ben was awarded the Pride of Britain award, also for his outstanding contributions to Holocaust education. Sir Ben passed away, age 93, on June 16, 2023.
Sir Ben Helfgott by Greg Williams Great Britain
Henri Kichka was born in 1926 in Brussels, Belgium. His parents came from Poland. In May 1940, the family was stunned by the Nazi invasion of Belgium but Josek, Henri’s father, had no illusions about the fate awaiting the Jews. In the first week of September 1942, they were taken from their Brussels home as the Nazi soldiers sealed off the street in the middle of the night and went from building to building forcing all Jews from their homes. The family was herded into cattle wagons in a railway transport heading east first to Germany and then to Nazi-occupied Poland. Henri and his father Josek were taken off the train with the other men in the small town of Kosel. They were to work in slave labor for the Third Reich. Henri’s mother, Chana, his sisters Bertha and Nicha and his Aunt Esther were shipped to Auschwitz and upon arrival they were gassed. Henri ended up imprisoned in ten concentration camps: Camp d’Agde, Camp de Rivesaltes, Sakrau, Klein Mangersdorf, Tarnowitz-Nord, Sankt Annaberg, Kattowitz-Schoppinitz, Blechhammer, Gross-Rosen, and Buchenwald. On January 21, 1945, with the advance of the Red Army, they were forced on a death march with some 5,000 prisoners – only 750 survived. Henri’s father died a few weeks after surviving the death march. Henri was liberated on April 11, 1945. Three days later Henri turned 19. Henri returned alone to Brussels and succeeded to rebuild his life. On April 25, 2020, Michel Kichka announced his father’s death, “A small, microscopic coronavirus has succeeded where the whole Nazi army had failed.”
Henri Kichka by Pascaline Lefin Switzerland/Belgium
Yaacov Guterman was born in Poland in 1935. He lived in Plock, where a third of the inhabitants were Jews. Yaacov was four at the outbreak of World War II. He and his parents endured imprisonment in the ghetto, then deportation to the Soldau concentration camp. Simcha, his father, risked his life to document the reality of the time. He wrote his account in Yiddish on long pieces of paper, which he hid in bottles, and later in basements. Dozens of years later, one of the bottles was found and its contents made public. In order to survive, the family obtained fake IDs. Yaacov was taught to recite Christian prayers in Polish. In 1942, the Nazis began exterminating Jews in the gas chambers. ‘Now began the torturous wandering and the threats of our Polish neighbors, who found us in our hiding places to give us over to the Germans.’ Toward the end of the war, Yaacov was separated from his parents. ‘I worked as a cow-herder for a family of farmers in the village of Zabady, outside Lowicz. I was nine at the time, and my parents remained in terror-stricken Warsaw.’ Yaacov’s father, a fighter in the Polish A.K. underground movement, was killed on the first day of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. After the war, Yaacov spent time in the Zakopane orphanage, headed by Lena Kichler. She had gathered some 100 Jewish orphans, who had been hidden in monasteries and villages in Poland. Yaacov’s mother survived and remarried. Together with Yaacov, the three immigrated to Israel, where they lived in transit camps. ‘Seven years after our arrival, my mother died of cancer. I married Ruti, whom I fell in love with during my military service. Ruti and I had two wonderful boys, Raz and Tal. At 29, Ruti died of cancer.’ One year after Ruti’s death, Yaacov moved with his two toddlers to Kibbutz HaOgen. On the kibbutz, Yaacov became an artist and an author. His son Raz served in one of the elite combat units. On the first night of the First Lebanon War, during the battle of the Beaufort, Raz and five of his fellow soldiers were killed. After the death of his son, Yaacov became one of the leaders of the protest against the war. He was among the first to join the forum of Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace. The author of dozens of books, Yaacov provides students testimonies of his memories of the war. He also participates in tours of Poland with Israeli youth.
Yaacov Guterman by Galia Gur Zeev Israel
Kibbutz Haogen, 2022
Born in June 1937 in the Polish town of Piotrków Tybunalski, at seven years old he was separated from his mother and imprisoned in a Nazi slave labor camp and then in the Buchenwald concentration camp. His older brother Naphtali Lau-Lavie concealed him. His father was murdered in the Treblinka concentration camp. Meir Lau survived and was freed from the Buchenwald camp in 1945. He became a poster child for miraculous survival, when a US Army chaplain, Rabbi Herschel Schacter, found him hiding in a heap of corpses when the camp was liberated. His entire family was murdered except his older brother and a half-brother and an uncle already living in Mandatory Palestine. Lau immigrated to Mandatory Palestine with his brother Naphtali in July 1945 and was raised by an aunt and uncle. He studied in yeshiva and was ordained as a rabbi in 1961. He was Chief Rabbi of Netanya (1978–1988), then elected Chief Rabbi of Israel in 1993. He served until 2003. He was also Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv and was awarded the Israel Prize in 2005 for his stance on non-Orthodox denominations in Judaism. He was awarded the Legion of Honor by France’s President Sarkozy in 2011. He served for many years as the Chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. Yisrael Meir Lau is the 38th generation in an unbroken family of rabbis. His son Moshe Lau currently serves as Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi. On April 11, 1945, Yisrael Meir Lau was eight years old when he was photographed leaving Buchenwald concentration camp after its liberation by the 6th Armored Division, United States Army. Seventy-five years later, Rabbi Lau was to observe the Passover Seder with social distancing and isolation from his many family members, like so many other Holocaust survivors. The rabbi says, ‘This year the night of Passover will be different. This time I will not talk to people, but about history.’
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau by Jim Hollander USA
Tel Aviv, 2019
Abraham Foxman was born on May 1, 1940, in Baranovichi, Belarus. ‘My parents decided to move east, hoping that they could outrun advancing Nazi Germany troops.’ As his parents fled, ‘The Germans caught up with us in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania.’ When his parents were ordered into a ghetto, his nanny, Bronislawa Kurpi, a Catholic woman, agreed to take the one-year-old Abraham into her home. His parents thought it would be for a few months. ‘They could never explain to me how they made that decision, for parents to be separated from their own child. It was a horrendous decision that saved my life, and it saved their lives because, separately, they were able to fend for themselves.’ Months stretched into years and Abraham was raised as a Catholic in the city of Vilna. Abraham was given a non-Jewish name, Henryk Stanislaw Kurpi, and was baptized a Catholic. In early childhood, he learned the rites and rituals of the Roman Catholic faith. He wore a crucifix and was taught to make the sign of the cross at church and to hold priests and Catholic clergy in high esteem. At war’s end, Abraham’s parents, who both survived the Holocaust, came looking for their son, then six years old. But by then, the nanny loved him as her own child and was unwilling to give him up. ‘My nanny said I belonged to her and to the Catholic Church.’ Eventually, his parents won a bitter custody battle and Abraham was returned to them. ’My parents asked my nanny to become part of our family since we lost all the rest of it, to be my grandmother. But she just couldn’t take that. It was a tragedy of love.’ For a period of time, Abraham was attending the Jewish synagogue with his father on Saturdays and the Catholic Church on Sundays. ‘I know my parents remained in contact with her, supporting her as much as they could, but I never saw my nanny again. She died in the 1950s.’ Abraham says he owes his life to the courage of his nanny, Bronislawa Kurpi. He and his parents lived four years in a displaced persons camp in Austria before immigrating to the US. Abraham was 10 years old when they arrived in New York City. He went on to receive a law degree and later joined and led the Anti-Defamation League, fighting antisemitism for 50 years. For his service, Abraham was awarded numerous honors and awards, among them, France’s highest civilian honor as Knight of the Legion of Honor, the Raoul Wallenberg Humanitarian Leadership Award, and the Interfaith Committee of Remembrance Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2016, he became vice chairman of the board of trustees at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City.
Abraham Foxman by Harvey Stein USA
New York City, 2021
Dr. Renata Polgar Laxova was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia in 1931. In 1939, at the age of eight, she was sent by her parents to England on the Kindertransport. The Kindertransport from Prague to London transported 669 Jewish children to safety as Nazis were rounding up Jews to be sent to concentration and labor camps. Renata left Prague on July 31,1939, on the last of eight Kindertransport trains traveling through Germany to Holland, and then by ship to England. The ninth Kindertransport train, a month later and the largest one, with 250 children on board, was loaded and ready to pull out of the Prague train station on September 1, 1939, when it was stopped. All the country’s borders had been closed by the occupying Nazis as Hitler’s troops invaded neighboring Poland. None of the 250 children were ever heard from again, and it is believed they were all killed by the SS. Both her parents survived the war by changing their identities and living covertly. Renata was reunited with her parents and moved back to Brno in 1946. She relearned the Czech language, attended university and started a career as a pediatric physician and geneticist. Renata and her daughter, on the advice of a friend, took a bus convoy to Vienna, barely missing the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia amid the Prague Spring of 1968. The family eventually immigrated to the United States. Renata was Emeritus Professor of Genetics at the University of Wisconsin. She discovered the New-Laxova syndrome which is a rare congenital abnormality. She lived with her terrier, Breenie, named after her hometown in the former Czechoslovakia. Renata passed away on November 30, 2020, at age 89 after a brief illness.
Dr. Renata Laxova by Michael Nelson USA
Madison, Wisconsin, 2019
Dorothy Bohm (née Israelit) was born on June 22, 1924, in Königsberg, East Prussia, to a German-speaking family of Jewish-Lithuanian origins. She lived under Nazi rule until age 14, when her family sent her to England. Her father, Tobias Israelit, an industrialist and also an enthusiastic photographer, gave Dorothy his Leica camera at the station as a parting gift saying, “This might come in useful.” She attended boarding school and hoped to become a doctor. She later moved to London where she met Louis Bohm. They married in 1945. Her husband’s work called for travel, and they lived in Paris and then in New York and San Francisco. She traveled to Israel and Mexico, where in 1956 she began shooting in color for the first time. Most of her work is in black and white, but on the urging of André. Kertész, she began experimenting in color photography. From 1984 on, she worked exclusively in color. Her work has been called "humanist street photography," and she has been friends with such photographers as Bill Brandt, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Brassaï., and André. Kertész. In 1969, Bohm had a major exhibition alongside Don McCullin. She co-founded The Photographers’ Gallery in London with Sue Davies in 1971, becoming known as one of the doyennes of British photography. She has published some 14 books. In 2009, she was appointed an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society. Dorothy has said about her photography, ‘The photograph fulfills my deep need to stop things from disappearing,’ and also, ‘I’ve seen a lot,’ she says, ‘but I don’t show the ugliness of life, I try to show the good.’ Dorothy passed away on March 15, 2023, a few months shy of her 99th birthday.
Dorothy Bohm by Marissa Roth USA
Adam Han-Górski was born in 1940 in Lvov, son of Szymon Han and Helena Pliz, a renowned pianist. In September 1939, the family fled from their hometown Jaworów (in today’s Ukraine) to Lvov, where Helena was employed by a dance company. Soon after Adam’s birth, she left on a tour of the Soviet Union, while Adam was looked after by a Christian caretaker, Katarzyna Chytra. In 1941, Nazi Germany occupied Lvov, and Adam’s mother Helena was cut off from her husband and baby son. Szymon took Adam back to his parents in Jaworów and into hiding, but after Szymon’s father and two brothers were murdered in Jaworów, Adam was saved by his caretaker Katarzyna Chytra, who, when Adam’s father was sent to forced labor camps in the Gulag, was instructed to take the child to his grandparents in the Krakow Ghetto. In 1943, after hearing that Adam’s grandparents had been transported to their deaths at Bełżec concentration camp and that he had been left with neighbors, Katarzyna Chytra rushed to rescue the two-year-old Adam from the Krakow Ghetto, just before its liquidation. Katarzyna, risking her life, brought Adam back to Lvov, where she baptized him and changed his name. During the Nazi occupation, she married Jan Witz, a railway worker, and both, despite the death threat for hiding a Jewish child, looked after Adam as their own child until the arrival of Soviet troops in Lvov in July 1944. Adam was reunited with his parents at age five, when Helena returned from the Soviet Union and, in 1946, her husband Szymon was released from a labor camp. Adam learned to play the violin in Katowice. At seven years old, Adam made his debut as a violinist. In 1957, the Han-Górski family emigrated to Israel. Some years later, the legendary violinist Jascha Heifetz, having heard Han-Górski in Paris, invited him to take part in his master class, and shortly afterwards, Adam moved to the United States. In 2012, Katarzyna Chytra and Jan Witz received the title of Righteous Among the Nations.
Adam Han-Górski by Alec Soth USA
Plymouth, Minnesota, 2020
Nat Shaffir was born in Iasi, Romania, in 1936. The Fascist Iron Guard identified the family as Jews in 1942, and armed guards took the family to a nearby ghetto that day. Nat and his sisters, Sara and Lili, were no longer allowed to attend school. ‘Never give up,’ his father said before he was taken for slave labor in early 1944. Those words have kept Nat going for his entire life. Nat, then seven, was the one in charge of bringing food rations for his sisters until the war ended. In 1945, after days of heavy bombing, Russian soldiers liberated the ghetto and months later his father returned from the labor camp. Nat learned that 32 of their relatives perished in the Auschwitz-Birkenau and Buchenwald concentration camps. In 1961, a surviving uncle sponsored Shaffir to immigrate to the United States. Nat became a marathon runner at age 65, and on August 24, 2019, Nat Shaffir was on top of the world; he had reached the summit of
Nat Shaffir by Dave Burnett USA
Washington, DC, 2019
Naftali Fürst was born Juraj Fürst in 1933 in Petržalka, then Czechoslovakia. After the signing of the Munich Agreement in September 1938, Petržalka became part of the Third Reich. Juraj recalls his family being ordered to leave their flat. ‘My war started when I had to leave our house.’ Juraj and his family were deported to the Sered labor camp. They survived until the end of 1944, when Naftali, his older brother Shmuel and their parents were shipped to Auschwitz. He recalls the train cars opening, and the barking of dogs as the outcry began alongside. The brothers were separated from their mother and father and were put in Block 29, known as the children’s block. ‘Whole families entered Birkenau and were placed in the barracks, smoke and fire were coming out of the chimneys, the crematorium was still in operation.’ They were tattooed. ‘Dad was 14024, my brother 14025, and I was 14026,’recalled Naftali. He remembers the horrible starvation. After some time, the children were ordered on a march. ‘It was like passing through the gates of hell. Those images cannot be described. Blood, crying, dead bodies.’ They arrived at Buchenwald on January 23, 1945. ‘In Auschwitz they murdered with gas chambers and slave labor,’ he says, ‘and in Buchenwald with starvation and filth.’ It was in Buchenwald, five days after its liberation by the US Army, that the 12-year-old Juraj was caught on camera by an American lieutenant, Harry Miller. Juraj was then not a boy, but a skeleton. Juraj returned from the camp and found an aunt who had survived. One day, he heard his mother’s name in a list of survivors which was read out on the radio. Later he learned his brother was alive in a hospital in Prague and so was his father. His family was reunited. In 1949, Juraj became Naftali and immigrated to Israel, rebuilding his life in Haifa, where he lives today. For years he kept silent until he decided to tell his story. ‘After 60 years of silence I gave the Germans a kind of pardon. It’s not the same generation. I began to tell my story,’ he says, adding, ‘We are the coals that were not burned in the great fire. It is the last time that we will be able to tell our story and pass it on to future generations.’ On October 7, 2023, Naftali woke up to the news that Hamas terrorists invaded dozens of Israeli communities along the Gaza border. Throughout the day Naftali tried to reach his granddaughter Mika who lived with her husband Sefi Peleg and their 2 1/2 year-old daughter Neta in Kibbutz Kfar Azza. They were hiding without food and little water and Sefi tied the handle of the door with a wire, so that the terrorists wouldn't get in. They stood with knives in their hands while the adjoining house was burning, hearing the screams of their neighbors. “The baby did not cry and the dog did not bark,” Mika told Naftali. ‘They understood they must be quiet to survive’, says Naftali. Mika’s parents-in-law, Tami and Eithan, were brutally murdered by the terrorists. At 2 am, after 20 hours, the three were rescued by Israeli soldiers and Naftali could breath again. ‘In the Holocaust, a little bit of luck was not enough to survive. I must have survived, because I had a lot of luck, and what happened to my family on October 7, is another huge luck, that my granddaughter, her husband, and my sweet great-grandson, were saved from the inferno.’
Naftali Fürst by Rabia Basha Israel
Sisters Goldie Szachter Kalib (l) and Rachell Szachter Eisenberg (r) have their portrait taken at Goldie’s home in Baltimore, Maryland on July 21, 2019. They show the concentration camp number tattoos on their arms. A third sister with a consecutive number passed away recently. Just before the end of World War II, Dr. Josef Mengele made “the last Selektion.” Goldie Szachter Kalib, then a 13-year-old Jewish girl from Bodzentyn, Poland, was part of that Selektion, as well as her mother and sisters. The sisters’ experiences included hiding with a Polish Christian family, and time spent in a slave labor camp. They were shipped to Auschwitz in 1944. The next year, the survivors of the extermination camp were forced on a death march to Bergen-Belsen.
Goldie Kalib & Rachell Eisenberg by Carol Guzy USA
Baltimore, Maryland, 2019
Rene Slotkin was born to Ita and Herbert Guttmann, who fled the Nazi regime from Dresden, Germany, into Czechoslovakia, where their twins Rene and Renate were born in 1937. Herbert was sent to Auschwitz and executed in 1941. Their mother Ita and the twins were sent to Theresienstadt and, soon after, the three were deported to Auschwitz. Rene arrived in Auschwitz in December 1943. In March 1944, their mother was killed. Only twins, doctors and nurses were saved, and Rene and his sister Renate were part of Josef Mengele’s monstrous experiments on twins. Rene remembers Mengele well: his Mercedes, his boots, and the torture the twins underwent. As it became clear that the Nazis were losing the war, Mengele left Auschwitz and the prisoners were forced on a death march. Rene was saved by the Russian army, but the child’s ordeal continued for another year until the Slotkin family located and adopted him and brought him to the United States, where he was reunited with his surviving twin.
Rene Slotkin by Ron Haviv USA
New York City, 2019
Cellist Anita Lasker-Wallfisch was born in Breslau in 1925. The youngest of three sisters, Anita grew up in a home filled with chamber music. She studied cello with Leo Rostal in Berlin, returning to her family in Breslau after Kristallnacht in 1938. Anita’s family tried to emigrate from Nazi Germany, but to no avail. Their home was sealed by the Gestapo, and the family was separated. ‘The war broke out and we were finally trapped. My parents were deported and sent on a transport to the East, to Isbiza near Lublin… I never saw them again. I was 16 years old. I involved myself in clandestine activities – forged papers for French prisoners of war to escape with. I tried to escape myself with forged papers.’ Anita was caught, imprisoned and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1943. As a convict, she was saved from Selektion, where SS guards chose who should live and who should die in the gas chamber. Anita joined the camp orchestra as the cellist. ‘I survived nearly one year in Auschwitz…our task consisted of playing morning and evening at the gate of the camp so that the outgoing and incoming work commandos would march neatly in step to the marches we played. We also had to be available at all times to play to individual SS staff, who would come into our Block and wanted to hear some music after sending thousands of people to their deaths. Although we were somewhat privileged, we had no illusions, that we would end up in the gas chamber.’ In 1944 she was transferred to the Bergen-Belsen camp. ‘There are no words to describe this inferno. The dead bodies piling up, no food, no water – nothing. It was clear that we had come to the end of the line. It was about 5 p.m. on April 15,1945…the first British tank rolled into the camp. We were liberated! No one who was in Belsen will ever forget that day.’ Anita and her sister Renate survived. Their parents were killed by the Nazis in 1942. In 1946 Anita was finally allowed into England. She studied at the Guildhall School of Music, married the pianist Peter Wallfisch and had two children. She co-founded the English Chamber Orchestra. In 1996, Anita broke her silence and published her memoirs, Inherit the Truth. Anita is a Member of the Order of the British Empire. In 2019 Anita was awarded the German National Prize for her campaigning against antisemitism.
Anita Lasker-Wallfisch by Omer Messinger Israel
Aron Bielsky is the youngest of four brothers, after Asael, Tuvia and Alexander (“Zus”). He was born on July 21, 1927. The family were farmers in Stankiewicze, Poland, in present-day Belarus. When the Nazis invaded in 1941, his older siblings refused to go into the ghetto and fled into the forest. Two of his other siblings were not so lucky and were murdered. His parents were killed in a mass murder in their village in December 1941. The brothers formed a partisan group that became known as the Bielsky Brothers, the
Bielsky partisans, or the Bielsky Brigade, with Aron playing a large part in guiding Jews from the ghetto out into the forest encampment. The Bielski brothers brigade was one of the most significant Jewish partisan resistance efforts against Nazi Germany during World War II. They fought the Nazis while providing a safe haven for Jewish women, children, and the elderly who were helped fleeing into the forests. The Bielski Brigade, with Aron’s help, grew to some 1,200 Jews by the end of the war. After staying in Poland for some time after the war, Bielsky immigrated to Mandatory Palestine and in 1954 settled in the United States, joining his surviving family members. He changed his family name to Bell, owned and drove trucks in New York City, and is now living in Florida.
Aron Bielski by Harry Benson USA
Palm Beach, Florida, 2019