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IG Farben Opens Factory at Auschwitz #krakowtours

KRAKOW TOURS – Infamous for its close involvement with the Nazi war machine and some of the worst atrocities of the Holocaust, the German firm IG Farben opened a new factory close to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi occupied Poland on 21st May, 1942.

IG-Farben-Factory-at-Auschwitz

IG Farben was probably the most well known corporate participant in the Holocaust, and the company’s history sheds a chilling light on how genocide became tied in with economics and business.

Founded in Germany in 1925, the IG (Interessengemeinschaft) conglomerate quickly became the largest syndicate in Germany and the biggest chemical concern in the world, until its dissolution in 1945. The company grew out of a merger of German chemical, pharmaceutical and dye manufacturers, including BASF Aktiengesellschaft, Bayer AG and Hoechst Aktiengesellschaft.

Held up as an example of Germany’s ability to achieve economic self-sufficiency in the inter-War years, IG Farben had always been popular with the country’s government. The election of the Nazi Party in 1933 saw IG Farben’s influence grow even more. As the biggest producer of synthetic rubber, and a major producer of explosives, synthetic fuels and other vital items, the company was crucial to the economic and military ambitions of the Nazi party. IG Farben enjoyed state backing when it came to the allocation of raw materials, labour and credit. IG Farben representatives were also employed in important positions within the Nazi government.

After the start of the Second World War, demand for synthetic fuels and rubber quickly started to exceed supply. It was decided to build two new plants, one of which would be located close to Auschwitz, the largest death camp in Europe.

Opened in 1940, as Hitler’s ‘final solution’ came into full effect, Auschwitz was built on a former military base in occupied southern Poland, close to the town of Krakow. Initially conceived as a detention centre for Polish citizens arrested after Germany invaded the country in 1939, the location of the camp, at the centre of the German occupied territories in Europe and close to a host of transport networks, meant it quickly expanded into something far more horrific.

The IG Farben factory was situated close to Auschwitz so it could exploit Jewish slave labour in its oil and rubber production plant. In total, some 300,000 detainees from Auschwitz were employed in IG Farben’s workforce, supplying the company with free labour. The company housed the workers in its own concentration camp, with the horrendous conditions there and in the factory leading to an estimated 30,000 deaths. On top of this, an unknown amount of workers deemed unfit to continue working at the factory were sent to the death camp at Auschwitz.

Alongside the brutal conditions of the labour camp, IG Farben also sanctioned drug experiments on live, healthy inmates. These experiments took place at Auschwitz, but were also sanctioned at other concentration camps by IG Farben’s pharmaceutical subsidiaries. Documents survive revealing a correspondence between an employee of Bayer Leverkusen (a subsidiary of IG Farben at the time) and the commander of Auschwitz, negotiating the sale of 150 female prisoners for the sake of medical experimentation. The chemical giant was so entwined in the Nazi death machine that the Zyklon B gas used in Nazi death camps was produced by another of IG Farben’s subsidiaries.

Following the German defeat in the Second World War, IG Farben came under the control of the Allied Powers. Several of the company’s officials were convicted for the inhumane treatment of prisoners and use of slave labour. The company itself was dissolved into three separate divisions, Hoescht, Bayer, and BASF.

May 21, 2015 Posted by | Auschwitz, This Day In History | , , | Leave a comment

KRAKOW TOURS’ 1000th TRIP TO AUSCHWITZ

We’ve just reached another milestone. So i thought i’d play with the spreadsheet a little to produce some stats for the previous 5 years.

Firstly our new milestone;

1000 trips to Auschwitz Memorial / Muzeum Auschwitz

6510 Total guests

from 53 different countries (no Germans yet)

and 36 different American States

741 trips to the Wieliczka Salt Mine

Busiest week – ‘week 40 – 2014’ with 144 guests

5210 packed lunches

10,420 sandwiches made

over 900 trips to Lidl

Approximately 200,000 km driven

2 minor bumps

roadkill includes 2 cats and a chicken (and nearly a deer)

1 very pleased and proud Phil.

May 4, 2015 Posted by | Auschwitz, This Day In History, Tour Information | Leave a comment

Who Owns Schindler’s List?

A preliminary hearing starts Wednesday in Jerusalem in a legal case that pits the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial centre against the estate of Oskar Schindler’s widow to decide who owns the legacy of the man who saved 1,200 Jews from the Nazis.

Schindlers List

Who owns Schindler’s list? That is the question to be decided by a Jerusalem court, which holds a preliminary hearing on the case on April 15. A document from almost exactly 70 years ago lies at the heart of the legal battle – dated April 18, 1945, it lists the names of 801 Jewish workers who German industrialist Oskar Schindler saved from extermination by asking the Nazi authorities to allow them to work at his factories.

The rights to this document and others are being claimed by both Israel’s Yad Vashem memorial centre and Erika Rosenberg, who is both a beneficiary and the executor of the estate of Emilie Schindler, Oskar’s wife.

Yad Vashem, which describes itself as the Jewish people’s “living memorial to the Holocaust”, is dedicated to safeguarding the remembrance of the tragedy for future generations. In 1999 the Jerusalem-based centre received a suitcase sent from Germany containing thousands of documents, including two of the four remaining copies of Schindler’s list, of which there were originally seven copies typed on onionskin paper.

The suitcase – of incalculable historical and financial value – was in the possession of Anne-Marie Staehr, who was once Oskar Schindler’s mistress. Schindler left for Argentina with his wife after the war, returning alone to Germany in 1957, where he died in anonymity in October 1974.

The suitcase and the list found its way to the press in Germany, where it made headlines, and was eventually sent to Yad Vashem by German journalist Ulrich Sahm, a Jerusalem resident and a former correspondent for the “Stuttgarter Zeitung” newspaper.

On these events, both warring parties agree. But the two sides differ on who held the rightful claim to the documents prior to their arrival in Israel.

Rosenberg alleges that Staehr absconded with the documents from Schindler’s home in Frankfurt after his death and kept them in the suitcase until her own death in 1984. Forgotten in the attic of her house in Hildesheim, Lower Saxony, they were found 15 years later by Staehr’s son.

Emilie Schindler, who still lives in Argentina, learned of the existence of the documents through the media. She asked Rosenberg, then her friend and biographer, to retrieve them and bring them to her in Buenos Aires. But when Rosenberg confronted the “Stuttgarter Zeitung” to demand it hand over the documents, she was told the suitcase had already been sent to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

The Israeli news daily “Haaretz” cites Rosenberg as saying that Emilie fell ill over the affair, and that she called it “a huge injustice”. “I saved Jews, together with my husband, and now the Jews have taken the suitcase away from me. You must demand it, even after my death,” she allegedly said.

In 2001 Emilie returned to Germany, where she died without leaving any descendents. Like her husband, she was posthumously bestowed with the title of “Righteous Among the Nations”, the highest civilian honour that Israel grants to Gentiles who saved Jews during World War II.

As the designated executor of Emilie Schindler’s estate, Rosenberg sought in vain to fulfill her wishes by retrieving the documents. In 2013 she filed a legal suit against Yad Vashem, which she accused of theft.

Rosenberg’s lawyer, Naor Yair Maman, makes a distinction between the legal case and its historical ramifications.

“Even if you believe that, from the historical-academic perspective, it would be preferable that the documents remain in Yad Vashem, you have no right whatsoever to claim title to someone else’s property,” he told AFP.

Yad Vashem says it obtained the documents legally and has always acted with transparency. The memorial centre contends that Oskar Schindler gave the suitcase in question to Staehr voluntarily – and that it had, therefore, never belonged to Emilie.

“Yad Vashem holds the documents lawfully and has acted the whole time openly and publicly,” it said in a statement to AFP, adding that it was opposed to “trading in Holocaust-era documents”. Citing their historical value, the centre said the documents must remain in the public domain.

Yad Vashem requested a dismissal of the charges in February, a request that was denied by the Jerusalem District Court.

“We will hold our debate with Rosenberg in court to ensure these documents do not reach the private hands of those who are not their legal owners and whose interests are unclear,” Yad Vashem subsequently vowed.

Rosenberg has always defended her intentions, saying she only wants to “preserve, protect and restore the historical data”.

In July 2013, another copy of Schindler’s list – which notably inspired the eponymous film by American director Steven Spielberg – was sold on eBay for $3 million.

April 15, 2015 Posted by | Auschwitz, News, This Day In History | , , , | Leave a comment

Irena Sendler

When we hear stories about people who saved the Jewish people during the Holocaust, we always hear about the men. Everyone knows who Oskar Schindler is yet very few know who Irena Sendler is, even though she saved over 1,500 more Jews than Schindler.

Irena Sendler was born Irena Krzyżanowska on February 15, 1910 in Warsaw, Poland to Dr.Stanisław Krzyżanowski, and his wife, Janina. Her father died in February 1917 from typhus that he had caught while treating patients who others refused to treat for fear of catching the disease, among them many Jewish patients.

In 1939 when the Germans first invaded Poland, she started small by giving much needed food and shelter to Jews Once the Warsaw Ghetto was erected in 1940, Sendler could no longer help isolated Jews, so she started saving children. Sendler used her papers as a Polish social worker and papers from one of the workers of the Contagious Disease Department to enter the Warsaw Ghetto. Each time she entered the ghetto she left with the children.
She soon had a network of 10 people working with her. They made sure to inform the families caring for the rescued children that they must return them to their Jewish families after the war. To ensure this she kept very detailed records as to where each child was placed in jars buried in a neighbor’s backyard.

On October 20, 1943, Sendler was arrested and was placed in the notorious Piawiak prison, where she was constantly questioned and tortured. During the questioning, she had her legs and feet fractured. She refused to answer and was sentenced to death. Her executioner was bribed by others and helped her escape. Regardless, The Germans boisterously broadcast her execution. Posters were put up all over the city with the false news of her death.

She lived hidden for the remaining years of the war, just like the children she rescued. When the war was finally over, she dug up the bottles and began the job of finding the children and trying to find a living parent. Almost all the parents of the children Sendler had saved, died at the Treblinka death camp. Some children were sent to Israel and many others were adopted by Polish families.

Sendler was announced as the 2003 winner of the Jan Karski award for Valor and Courage. The announcement was made on July 24, 2003 and the award ceremony took place later that year in October 23 in Washington, D.C. She died on May 12 , 2008 in Warsaw, Poland.

During Passover, as the Jewish community celebrates their cultures and freedom from slavery, let us remember a woman and her jars who saved so many during the Holocaust.

April 8, 2015 Posted by | Auschwitz, This Day In History | , , , | Leave a comment

Maximilian Kolbe

On July 30, 1941, seventy two years ago, a rumour spread through cell block of 14 of the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz, Poland, that someone had escaped. The prisoners knew what that meant and were terrified with anxiety over what would happen to them as a result.

Maximilian Kolbe

At six o’clock that evening they were all lined up at attention while the commandant of the camp scrutinized them one by one without saying a word, but they all knew what he would likely do to retaliate and punish.

The next morning they were again assembled and told that the fugitive had not been discovered so ten of them would have to die in the starvation bunker. They were then dismissed except those in cell block 14.

After a brutal day standing in the blazing sun the selection of the 10 innocent men condemned to die began. The commandant again walked the lines and stopped suddenly before a trembling victim and pointed at him the finger of death with the order to step forward and march to the under ground bunker to die of hunger and thirst.

At one point in this gruesome process the victim of random choice cried out: “I have a wife and children whom I love dearly. I am leaving them orphans.” His name was Francis Gajowniczek. Then the unexpected happened . One of the other prisoners broke ranks,, came forward, dared to kiss commandant’s hand and said: “I want to die in the place of the condemned.” And who are you the commandant demanded: “I am Maximilian Kolbe. I am a Catholic priest, a Franciscan Friar.”

This whole sad story came to an end two weeks later when only four survivors remained in the cell now needed for others. They were injected with carbolic and died on August 14, 1941.One of them was Maximilian Kolbe. Now St. Maximilian Kolbe, a martyr of charity.

This is the testimony that Fancis Gajownicezk gave some thirty years later to the heroic virtue of his savior, Fr. Maximilian Kolbe: “At that moment it was hard for me to realize the immensity of what had happen-ed to me. I, the condemned, was to live on because someone else willing ly offered his life for me. Was it a dream or a reality? Among my companions in shared adversity in Auschwitz there was unanimous wonder and astonishment at the heroic sacrifice of his life for me on the part of this priest. His consistent love for those around him was extraordinary, but the most splendid confirmation of his heroic love came at the end, when he offered his life for me, almost a total stranger to him.”

July 29, 2013 Posted by | Auschwitz, News, This Day In History | , , , | Leave a comment

Auschwitz’s Great Escape

Jerzy Bielecki

The beautiful story of Jerzy Bielcki and Cyla Cybulska, whose love bested the Nazis, but couldn’t defeat time.

The day was July 21, 1944. Bielecki was walking in broad daylight down a pathway at Auschwitz, wearing a stolen SS uniform with his Jewish sweetheart Cyla Cybulska by his side.

His knees buckling with fear, he tried to keep a stern bearing on the long stretch of gravel to the sentry post.

The German guard frowned at his forged pass and eyed the two for a period that seemed like an eternity – then uttered the miraculous words: Ja, danke – yes, thank you – and let Jerzy and Cyla out of the death camp and into freedom.

It was a common saying among Auschwitz inmates that the only way out was through the crematorium chimneys. These were among the few ever to escape through the side door.

The 23-year-old Bielecki used his relatively privileged position as a German-speaking Catholic Pole to orchestrate the daring rescue of his Jewish girlfriend who was doomed to die.

It was great love, Bielecki, now 89, recalled in an interview at his home in this small southern town 55 miles (85 kilometers) from Auschwitz.

We were making plans that we would get married and would live together forever.

Bielecki was 19 when the Germans seized him on the false suspicion he was a resistance fighter, and brought to the camp in April 1940 in the first transport of inmates, all Poles.

He was given number 243 and was sent to work in warehouses, where occasional access to additional food offered some chance of survival.

It was two years before the first mass transports of Jews started arriving in
1942. Most of the Jews were taken straight to the gas chambers of neighboring Birkenau, while a few were designated to be forced laborers amid horrific conditions, allowing them to postpone death.

In September 1943 Bielecki was assigned to a grain storage warehouse. Another inmate was showing him around when suddenly a door opened and a group of girls walked in.

It seemed to me that one of them, a pretty dark-haired one, winked at me, Bielecki said with a broad smile as he recalled the scene. It was Cyla – who had just been assigned to repair grain sacks.

Their friendship grew into love, as the warehouse offered brief chances for more face-to-face meetings.

In a report she wrote for the Auschwitz memorial in 1983, Cybulska recalled that during the meetings they told each other their life stories and every meeting was a truly important event for both of us.

Cybulska, her parents, two brothers and a younger sister were rounded up in January 1943 in the Lomza ghetto in northern Poland and taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Her parents and sister were immediately killed in the gas chambers, but she and her brothers were sent to work.

By September, 22-year-old Cybulska was the only one left alive, with inmate number 29558 tattooed on her left forearm.

As their love blossomed, Bielecki began working on the daring plan for escape.

From a fellow Polish inmate working at a uniform warehouse he secretly got a complete SS uniform and a pass. Using an eraser and a pencil, he changed the officer’s name in the pass from Rottenfuehrer Helmut Stehler to Steiner just in case the guard knew the real Stehler, and filled it in to say an inmate was being led out of the camp for police interrogation at a nearby station. He secured some food, a razor for himself and a sweater and boots for Cybulska.

He briefed her on his plan: “Tomorrow an SS-man will come to take you for an interrogation. The SS-man will be me.”

The next afternoon, Bielecki, dressed in the stolen uniform, came to the laundry barrack where Cybulska had been moved for work duty. Sweating with fear, he demanded the German supervisor release the woman.

Bielecki led her out of the barrack and onto a long path leading to a side gate guarded by the sleepy SS-man who let them go through.

The fear of being gunned down remained with him in his first steps of freedom: “I felt pain in my backbone, where I was expecting to be shot,” Bielecki said.

But when he eventually looked back, the guard was in his booth. They walked on to a road, then into fields where they hid in dense bushes until dark, when they started to march.

“Marching across fields and woods was very exhausting, especially for me, not used to such intensive walks,” Cybulska said in her report to Auschwitz as quoted in a Polish-language book Bielecki has written, He Who Saves One Life

“Far from any settlements, we had to cross rivers,” she wrote. “When water was high … Jurek carried me to the other side.”

At one point she was too tired to walk and asked him to leave her.

“Jurek did not want to hear that and kept repeating: ‘we fled together and will walk on together,'” she reported, referring to Jerzy by his Polish diminutive.

For nine nights they moved under the cover of darkness toward Bielecki’s uncle’s home in a village not far from Krakow.

His mother, who was living at the house, was overjoyed to see him alive, though wasted-away after four years at Auschwitz. A devout Catholic, however, she was dead-set against him marrying a Jewish girl.

“How will you live? How will you raise your children?” Bielecki recalls her asking.

To keep her away from possible Nazi patrols, Cybulska was hidden on a nearby farm. Bielecki decided to go into hiding in Krakow – a fateful choice they believed would improve their chances of avoiding capture by the Nazis. The couple spent their last night together under a pear tree in an orchard, saying their goodbyes and making plans to meet right after the war.

After the Soviet army rolled through Krakow in January 1945, Bielecki left the city where he had been hiding from Nazi pursuit and walked 25-miles (40-kilometers) along snow-covered roads to meet Cybulska at the farmhouse.

But he was four days too late.

Cybulska, not aware that the area where she had been hiding had been liberated three weeks before Krakow, gave up waiting for him, concluding her Juracek either was dead or had abandoned their plans.

She got on a train to Warsaw, planning to find an uncle in the United States. On the train she met a Jewish man, David Zacharowitz, and the two began a relationship and eventually married. They headed to Sweden, then to Cybulska’s uncle in New York, who helped them start a jewelry business. Zacharowitz died in 1975.

In Poland, Bielecki eventually started a family of his own and worked as the director of a school for car mechanics. He had no news of Cybulska and had no way of finding her.

In her report Cybulska said that she was haunted in the years after she left Poland by a wish to see her hometown and to find Jurek, if he was alive.

Sheer chance made her wish come true.

While talking to her Polish cleaning woman in 1982, Cybulska related her Auschwitz escape story.

The woman was stunned.

“I know the story, I saw a man on Polish TV saying he had led his Jewish girlfriend out of Auschwitz,” the cleaning lady told Cybulska, according to Bielecki.

She tracked down his phone number and one early morning in May 1983 the telephone rang in Bielecki’s apartment in Nowy Targ.

“I heard someone laughing – or crying – on the phone and then a female voice said ‘Juracku, this is me, your little Cyla,'” Bielecki recalls.

A few weeks later they met at Krakow airport. He brought 39 red roses, one for each year they spent apart. She visited him in Poland many times, and they jointly visited the Auschwitz memorial, the farmer family that hid her and many other places, staying together in hotels.

“The love started to come back,” Bielecki said.

“Cyla was telling me: ‘leave your wife, come with me to America,'” he recalls. “She cried a lot when I told her: ‘Look, I have such fine children, I have a son, how could I do that?'”

She returned to New York and wrote to him: “Jurek I will not come again,” Bielecki recalled.

They never met again and she did not reply to his letters.

Cybulska died a few years later in New York in 2002.

In 1985, the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem awarded Bielecki the Righteous Among the Nations title for saving Cybulska. The institute’s website account of the escape and its aftermath is consistent with Bielecki’s account to The Associated Press.

“I was very much in love with Cyla, very much,” Bielecki said. “Sometimes I cried after the war, that she was not with me. I dreamed of her at night and woke up crying.”

Fate decided for us, but I would do the same again.

July 21, 2013 Posted by | Auschwitz, This Day In History | Leave a comment

Boy Scouts’ Escape From Auschwitz

June 20: A Polish Boy Scout led the most audacious escape from the Auschwitz death camp on this day in 1942 – after stealing SS uniforms, guns and a top-ranking Nazi’s car.

Kazimierz Piechowski and three other inmates dressed as a transport crew to leave the inner high-security zone marked by the notorious ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ gate – German for ‘work makes you free’.

After walking beneath the sinister, wrought iron message the non-Jewish group of four ditched the cart they had stolen and split up.

Piechowski and two fellow Poles – priest Jozef Lempart and army officer Stanislaw Jaster – went to the warehouse where uniforms and weapons were stored.

They entered via a coal bunker that Piechowski, then aged 22, had ensured would open by unscrewing the latch during a forced labour assignment days earlier.

Inside, they dressed as SS-Totenkopfverbände – or ‘Death’s-Head Unit’ – guards and armed themselves with four machine-guns and eight grenades.

Meanwhile, fellow ecapee Eugeniusz Bendera, a Ukrainain mechanic, went to the motorpool and stole SS Hauptsturmführer Paul Kreuzmann’s Steyr 220 saloon car.

Piechowski – who wore the uniform of an SS Untersturmführer, or second lieutenant – sat in the front passenger seat as Bendera drove to the main exit.

The group of political prisoners, who had forged papers, panicked when the guards manning the gate didn’t instantly raise the barrier.

But Piechowski, the only member who spoke good German, calmly leant out the window and screamed: “Wake up, you buggers! Open up or I’ll open you up!”

The terrified guards scrambled to raise the barrier, allowing the prisoners to escape and prompting all future inmates to have a number tattooed on their arms.

The four men all survived the war, except Jaster, who is thought to have been killed by the Gestapo after helping to free 49 prisoners on a train to Auschwitz in May 1943.

He was one of 4.9million Poles – of whom 3million were Jewish – killed during the occupation of Poland, where Auschwitz and five other deaths camps were located.

Piechowski, whose membership of the banned Boy Scout movement and bid to join the Free Polish forces led to his 1939 arrest, became a resistance fighter after fleeing.

In response to his escape, Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss ordered future inmates to have their prisoner number tattooed on their arms.

Ironically, his Home Army membership led to him being imprisoned for seven years after the war by Poland’s new communist rulers, who feared an insurgency.

Yet Piechowski, who today lives in Gdasnk, refused a bravery award following the end of communism in 1989 by humbly saying: “I do not feel this honour is owed me.”

June 20, 2013 Posted by | Auschwitz, This Day In History | , , , , | Leave a comment

Animated History of Poland

Animated History of Poland [FULL VERSION] from styczek on Vimeo.

May 19, 2013 Posted by | This Day In History | , , , | Leave a comment

Surviving Auschwitz

KRAKOW TOURS: Seventy years ago today a Nazi train was stopped by resisters as it travelled from Flanders to Auschwitz.

Althea Williams tells the story of a survivor.

Kazerne Dossin, a former infantry barracks, during its use as a detention centre in 1942.

Kazerne Dossin, a former infantry barracks, during its use as a detention centre in 1942.On the night of April 19th, 1943 a train pulled out of Mechelen, a small town in Belgium. It carried 1,631 men, women and children and was the 20th convoy to leave the infamous Kazerne Dossin assembly camp for Auschwitz-Birkenau. Up to that point, of the 18,000 people who had already made the journey only a handful had escaped.

This time three young men, Youra Livschitz, Robert Maistriau and Jean Frankelmon, students at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, lay in wait for the train. Ten miles down the line, they flagged down the convoy using a lamp covered with red silk to resemble a warning light. Armed with just two pairs of pliers and a single pistol, they cut through the barbed wire that secured the heavy bolts on the outside of each cattle car.  Two hundred and thirty-seven Jewish deportees took their chance, pushing themselves through tiny windows, or wrenching the doors aside, falling or leaping into the dark. The Germans fired upon the fleeing shadows and at the easier targets of those who waited for their loved ones to follow.

In one of the carriages were Channa Gronowski and her 11-year-old son, Simon. As the train accelerated again, escape seemed impossible. But the mood in the carriage had changed and men broke open the lock on the door. Channa lowered Simon by his shoulders onto the footrail. He remembers his mother hesitating, saying: ‘No, the train’s going too fast!’ But Simon had jumped, rolling down the embankment. He leapt to his feet unhurt and waited for his mother to follow. The train halted and shots rang out. Three people fell. After 20 minutes of shooting and searching, the train departed and with it Simon’s mother.

Simon ran all night, through woods and over fields. He intended to reach Brussels and find his father, Leon, absent when the Germans had raided their home. He knew he risked capture but he needed help so he knocked on a door. His clothes torn and covered in mud, he said he had been playing with friends and had got lost. He was taken to the local police officer; Simon was sure he would be arrested. Jan Aerts had indeed guessed Simon came from the train but he had no intention of betraying him. He took him home and his wife fed him and washed and mended his clothes. The policeman helped Simon catch a train back to Brussels and he was finally reunited with his father, although they spent the remaining years of the war hidden in separate locations. Channa Gronowski was sent to the gas chambers on arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Simon’s sister Ita, 18, was sent on a later convoy and was also killed at Auschwitz.

At the Liberation, Leon Gronowski wrote: ‘People flood the streets, wild with joy; crying, laughing, singing, embracing each other. But I am miserable … My loved ones are still in the camps … I wander through the streets aimlessly; my heart is bleeding’. Ignorant of his wife and daughter’s fate he died of pulmonary disease in June 1945.

A total of 25,833 Jews and over 352 Roma were deported from Kazerne Dossin. Of the 233 people who attempted escape from the 20th convoy, 26 were shot that night. One hundred and eighteen got away of whom 89 were recaptured, 79 of these were deported on later convoys and 153 survived Auschwitz-Birkenau.

As for the three who stopped the train, Youra Livschitz was captured and executed in February 1944 and Jean Frankelmon was arrested soon after and sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he was liberated in May 1945. He died in 1977. Robert Maistriau was arrested in March 1944. He was liberated from Bergen-Belsen in 1945 and lived until 2008.

Today Simon Gronowski lives in Brussels and practises as a lawyer. He has two children and four grand-children. For over 50 years he hardly talked about his past but, following a chance meeting between his daughter and Robert Maistriau’s son, he was persuaded to overcome his reluctance to speak publicly about his experience. He has now written a book and speaks regularly in schools.

In the context of the Belgian occupation, when the number of active resisters is thought to have amounted to only about six per cent of the population and helping escapees was punishable, Jan Aerts and his wife were unusual people. Simon Gronowski was fortunate to have encountered them.

Gronowski’s story and those of many others are related in the new Kazerne Dossin Museum and Documentation Centre of the Holocaust and Human Rights, one of the most ambitious in Europe. The Kazerne Dossin replaces a smaller museum about deportation and the Resistance; the Flemish government agreed to finance the 25 million euros necessary to renovate the previous museum on the condition that its scope and aims were completely revised. It cited the dwindling number of survivors and witnesses to the Holocaust and its wish to show that Flanders not only recognises its part in the Nazi period but intends to contribute to the study of the mechanisms of exclusion, intolerance and racism in today’s society. The new museum owes its growing reputation to its efforts to render the Holocaust relevant to a younger public, drawing attention to the underlying conditions that can lead to human rights’ violations.

April 19, 2013 Posted by | Auschwitz, This Day In History | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

March of the Living held at Auschwitz

Over 10,000 people are taking part in today’s March of the Living at the former Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The participants are chiefly Jewish students and schoolchildren from across the globe, as well as about 500 Holocaust survivors.

Ron Lauder, chairman of the World Jewish Congress, is among this year’s attendees, as is General Benny Gantz, Chief of the General Staff of the Israeli Army.

The educational programme for the young, which runs over a number of days, takes in visits to several Holocaust sites on the terrain of what was Nazi-occupied Poland.

Besides German war crimes, the participants also learn about Righteous Gentiles who endeavoured to save Jews.

It is estimated that about 6 million Jews died during the Holocaust.

About 2.6 million were gassed at the death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Sobibor, Chelmno and Belzec. The majority of the remainder were shot at innumerable sites across Nazi-occupied Europe.

It is estimated that about 1.1 million people died at Auschwitz-Birkenau alone, including about 70,000 ethnic Poles, 21,000 Roma and 15,000 Soviet POWs.

The first March of the Living was held 25 years ago, with the route following the 3 km road between the former Auschwitz camp and Birkenau, where most of the gassings took place.

April 8, 2013 Posted by | Auschwitz, This Day In History | | Leave a comment

Celebrate Easter – Krakow style

KRAKOW TOURS: Unlike in some parts of the world, where the mutant chocolate offspring of a chicken and a bunny is considered the most appropriate way to celebrate Christianity’s greatest feast, a Polish Easter combines tradition and fun with a great deal of colour and respect.

Holy Week starts on Palm Sunday, and due to a natural shortage of tropical foliage in Southern Poland, other more indigenous plants are bent into service to commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem seated on a donkey. Typically made from dried flowers and branches in villages throughout Poland, these ‘palms’ can be bought in the Main Market Square, blessed in one of Krakow’s many churches and used as colourful home decorations during Holy Week. Throughout this week the Main Square hosts an Easter Fair where traditional gifts and seasonal food can also be bought. The ‘Misteria Paschalia’ early and sacred music festival runs concurrently, and enjoys an international reputation. Easter is also when the events season really begins to get under way.

via Celebrate Easter – Krakow style! – My Destination Krakow.

March 29, 2013 Posted by | Events, This Day In History | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Krakow Ghetto Pharmacy to Reopen

KRAKOW TOURS: Drawers full of surprises, voices on an old phone, and new rooms that will transport visitors back in time – the famed Pharmacy Under the Eagle will reopen after a major refit in March, on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto.

The Pharmacy Under the Eagle (Apteka Pod Orłem) was the only gentile business that the Nazis allowed to continue operating in the Jewish ghetto. Its owner, Tadeusz Pankiewicz, helped save many lives and is recognised as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. His staff also risked their lives to help those trapped in the ghetto.

Situated on Plac Bohaterów Getta (formerly Plac Zgody), the Pharmacy Under the Eagle kept people alive by distributing medications for free, as well as providing tranquilisers to help keep hidden children quiet during Gestapo raids and hair dye to aid escapes.

via Krakow Ghetto Pharmacy to Reopen After Major Refit » Krakow Post.

March 12, 2013 Posted by | Events, Krakow Travel Advice, News, This Day In History | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The first time Hollywood exposed the Holocaust

Exactly 70 years ago, Hollywood’s top stars got together to expose the Holocaust.

It was early 1943, and Hitler’s armies were finally in retreat from North Africa and the Soviet Union. D-Day was more than a year away, and the Nazis had murdered almost three million Jews.

Since the start of the war, eyewitness accounts of mass shootings and death camps had made their way to governments around the world. “Rescue through victory” remained the official Allied strategy, and the killings receiving little attention.

As the genocide reached its apex, Hollywood decided to take action.

A seasoned journalist and screenwriter, Ben Hecht was the first celebrity to publicize the Holocaust. Hecht’s February 1943 essay, “The Extermination of the Jews,” rang warning bells even as the US State Department buried reports of genocide.

“Of these 6,000,000 Jews of Europe, almost a third have already been massacred by Germans, Romanians, and Hungarians,” Hecht wrote in Reader’s Digest. “The most conservative of scorekeepers estimate that before the war ends at least another third will have been done to death.”

Not content with writing op-eds, Hecht decided to do what he did best — put on a sweeping drama. An Oscar-winning screenwriter who contributed to “Gone With the Wind” and scripted “Scarface,” Hecht knew how to stir emotions and frame an epic story.

via The first time Hollywood exposed the Holocaust | The Times of Israel.

March 10, 2013 Posted by | Auschwitz, This Day In History | , , | Leave a comment

Schindlers List: The Girl in the Red Coat

A little girl in a red coat becomes the catalyst which saves the lives of more than 1,000 Jews destined for the concentration camps in Steven Spielberg’s celebrated film Schindlers List.

But for the now 24-year-old woman who played the role in 1993, the iconic appearance left her traumatised for years.Oliwia Dabrowska was three years old when she starred as the girl in the red coat – the only flash of colour in the otherwise black-and-white film.

via Schindlers List: Trauma of girl in the red coat who became holocaust icon | Mail Online.

A Girl From Schindlers List by Stella Muller-Madej

 

March 5, 2013 Posted by | This Day In History | , , , , | Leave a comment

Krakow Ghetto opened 72 years ago this week

IN SCHINDLERS STEPS – This day in history – 1941 – The beginning of the Jewish ghetto in Krakow

One of the five main ghettos created by Nazi Germany during their occupation of Poland in WWII. Before the war, the city was an influential cultural centre for the 60,000 – 80,000 Jews that resided there.

February 26, 2013 Posted by | This Day In History, Tour Information | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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