Born in the city that became Auschwitz

Language: English

This downloadable video contains clips from testimonies of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust from the USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive who were born and grew up in the Polish city of Oświęcim, now infamous as the location of Auschwitz camp system created there by the occupying Nazi German administration.

Before there was Auschwitz, the city of Oświęcim had a thriving and varied Jewish community. The video offers a glimpse into this often overlooked element of the town’s history through first-person accounts from individuals who grew up there. Testimony reel provides context on this topic.

Running time: 28 minutes.

The City of Oświęcim (Poland)

Coordinates: 50º02'N 19º16'E

The existence of the city dates back at least to 12th century. Following the partition of Poland in 1772, the city was annexed to the Habsburg Austrian Empire, returning to Polish rule only after the end of WWI. During that time, Oświęcim became an industrial center and an important railroad junction. Jewish population in 1921 was 4,950. On the eve of World War II, there were about 8,000 Jews in the city, over half the whole population. Oświęcim was occupied immediately at the beginning of WWII. By October 1939, it was annexed into Greater Germany.

Located in and near the town of Oświęcim, the Auschwitz camp system was the largest of the concentration and death camp complexes built by the Germans in occupied Poland during World War II. The camp complex included Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, Auschwitz III-Monowitz (Buna), and over 45 subcamps. It is estimated that between 1.1 and 1.6 million predominantly Jewish men, women, and children were murdered at Auschwitz, nearly all of them in the gas chambers at Auschwitz II-Birkenau. 

The city of Oświęcim and the Auschwitz camp system were liberated by Soviet Army on January 27, 1945.

Brief biographies

Mark Bader

Was born in Oświęcim in 1927. He survived the ghetto in Sosnowiec and concentration camps Auschwitz, Fünfteichen, Gross Rosen, Hersbruck, and Dachau. His interview was recorded in 1996 in Los Angeles, USA.

Lola Fuchs

Was born in Oświęcim in 1928 as Lola Leah Silbiger. Her family belonged to the Bobov Hasidim. She survived the ghetto in Bedzin and concentration camps Breslau, Peterswaldau, and Langenbielau. Her interview was recorded in 2001 in Ocean, NJ, USA.

Jacob Geldwert

Was born in Oświęcim in 1921. He survived the ghetto in Sosnowiec and concentration camps Blechhammer, Sackenhoym, Buchenwald, Erfurt, Gross Rosen, and Halberstadt-Zwieberge. His interview was recorded in 1996 in Ithaca, NY, USA. 

Mania Kay

Was born in Oświęcim in 1920 as Mania Miriam Bodner. She survived the ghetto in Sosnowiec, death camp Auschwitz II-Birkenau and concentration camps Bobrek, Gleiwitz, and Bergen-Belsen. Her interview was recorded in 1995 in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.

Alex Reifer

Was born in Oświęcim in 1921. He grew up among the Bobov Hasidim. After the German attack on Poland, his family fled towards the East. While the family eventually returned back home, Alex stayed in the by then Soviet-occupied part of Poland. Soviet authorities assigned him to work in the cities of Sorokino, and Voroshilovgrad, in the interior of USSR. After the German attack on Soviet Union, Alex was drafted into the Soviet Army and became a decorated intelligence officer, following the battlefront all the way to Berlin. His interview was recorded in 1996 in Sherman Oaks, CA, USA.    

Samuel Silbiger Falsehaber

Was born in Oświęcim in 1923. He survived the concentration camps of Blechhammer, Berga/Elster, Buchenwald, St. Annaberg, Gross Rosen, and Dachau. He was liberated on a death march near Mittenwald. His interview was recorded in 1997 in Atlanta, GA, USA.

Ben Sonnenschein

Was born in Oświęcim in 1925. He survived the ghettos of Bedzin and Sosnowiec, and concentration camps Blechhammer, Kattowitz, Dyhernfurth, and Langenbielau I. His interview was recorded in 1996 in Aventura, FL, USA.  

Edward Spett

Was born in Oświęcim in 1928 as Ignatz Spett. He survived the ghetto in Sosnowiec and concentration camps Blechhammer, Sakrau, Ohrdruf, Gräditz, Faulbrück, Gross Rosen, Klettendorf, and Buchenwald. His interview was recorded in 1996 in Wyckoff, NJ, USA.

Saba Wainapel

Was born in Oświęcim in 1918 as Shprintza Reinhold Wulkan. She survived the ghettos in Krakow and Radom, working for the Zionist underground. After that, she survived concentration camps Auschwitz and Blizyn. Her interview was recorded in 1995 in South Fallsburg, NY, USA.

 

Additional resources:

Glossary

Bar Micva, also Bar Mitzvah

Jewish coming of age ritual, sometimes described as a Jewish confirmation.

Beis haMedrash, also Beth haMidrash

Jewish study hall located in a synagogue, yeshiva, or other building, often used for communal prayers too.

Bobov Hasidism

From the town of Bobowa (Poland), near Gorlice, Bobov Hasidism was founded by R. Solomon ben (son of) Meyer Nathan and grandson of Hayyim ben Leibush Halberstam.

Cheder

Traditional Jewish elementary school teaching the basics of Judaism and the Hebrew language.

Hachshara

Intensive agricultural training organized by the Zionist movement for immigrants to Palestine, preparing them for a life on a kibbutz.

Hasid

Follower of a branch of Orthodox Judaism that promotes spirituality, originally founded in 18th-century as a reaction against overly legalistic Judaism. Each Hasidic dynasty led by a Rebbe follows its own principles; thus Hasidic Judaism is not one movement but a collection of separate groups with some commonality.

Kibbutz

A collective community of Zionist pioneers that was traditionally based on agriculture.

Payes, also Payot

Sidelocks or sidecurls worn by some men and boys in the Orthodox Jewish community

Pesach

Passover, a biblical Jewish holiday.

Rosh Hashana

The Jewish New Year

Rebbe

Rabbi or a teacher, in Hasidic tradition the leader of a specific Hasidic movement

Shtiebel

A less formal place used for communal Jewish prayer.

Shul

Yiddish word for a synagogue, emphasizing it's role as a place of study, a school.

Yeshiva

Jewish educational institution focusing on the study of traditional religious texts