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Chapter Sixteen

The Schindler Women

 

Mrs Anna (“Chana”) Hofstatter Nee Laufer
Mrs Anna (“Chana”) Hofstatter
neé Laufer

As soon as Hitler's Army had penetrated into Oswiecim (Auschwitz) territory, Polish since the Piast Kings of Poland, a careful search was carried out to find a suitable place for establishing a security camp for political prisoners, i.e., a concentration camp.[1] The small town of Auschwitz, population 12,000, is situated about 160 miles southwest of Warsaw. The outskirts of the town were a God-forbidden place where only pestilence survived. As someone once said, “It was avoided by life for a thousand years as death kept watch there.” This was the site, in the suburb of Zasole, which the Nazis were to build “Konzentrationslager Auschwitz,” where at one time ten thousand human beings were passing through the gas chambers daily.

On May 1, 1940, SS Hauptsturmfuhrer Rudolf Ferdinand Hoess was promoted and transferred to Auschwitz from Sachsenhausen, where he had held the appointment of Adjutant to the Commandant since 1938. Auschwitz was to be an important camp, principally for the suppression of opposition to the Nazi occupation of Poland. Hoess had been hand-picked by Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler to build and administer this edifice of Nazi terror. No sooner had the work begun on this site then the Nazis were looking to extend the complex and incorporate the village of Brzezinka (Birkenau).

The camp at Birkenau can be seen from the viaduct above the railway tracks. Himmler must have stood there when he visited the site on March 1, 1941. He was looking for a secondary camp isolated and out of the way from populated centers and separated from the main camp at Auschwitz. The building of Birkenau began in October 1941 by prisoners from Auschwitz, who came there daily to work. First, the farmsteads were demolished and the bricks from the houses were used for the construction of primitive barracks. The first camp structures to be built were for the camp prisoners. It was estimated that 2,000 Russian prisoners of war were used for this purpose, working under appalling conditions.

Viewing the terrain of Birkenau today, it is difficult to visualize the conditions under which the prisoners were forced to work during the construction of the camp in 1941/2. A penal company had been formed for the purpose of digging an enormous ditch in Birkenau, called Konigsgraben (Kings Ditch), to collect the ground waters and to drain the water into the Vistula. The prisoners detailed for the penal company were to be killed afterwards, but before they met their death they were to be ruthlessly exploited for labor. Similar work had already begun for the building of the women's barracks; on August 16, 1942 women were transferred from Auschwitz main camp to their new residence at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The camp was enlarged in July,1943 to serve the increasing number of prisoners.

In the autumn of 1944, the 300 Schindler women, together with the children Bronislaw Horowicz (76307), Celina Carp (76318), Ewa Ratz (76404), and Halina Horowicz (76308), left KL Plaszow in sealed wagons on route to Schindler's factory at Brunnlitz. To their dismay and horror, the transport arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau[2] where the prisoners were processed in the usual way. After delousing, cold showers and hair shaves, the Schindler group were barracked separately, where they remained uncertain of the future.[3] The fact that the women had arrived in Auschwitz was not in any way unusual. It was an administrative procedure to ensure that all prisoners within the camp system were registered, deloused, and correctly directed to the receiving camp. Auschwitz was the central hub of a vast array of satellite camps spreading over a very large area. The official transport listing of the Schindler women is shown as Konzentrationslager Gross-Rosen – Arbeitslager Brunnlitz.

Unknown to the Schindler women, Oskar had been arrested and was in the custody of the SS for conspiratorial crimes associated with Amon Goeth. The men who were now in the comparative safety of Brunnlitz were becoming anxious about their women. All the male children at Brunnlitz were to be transferred (with their fathers) to Auschwitz. Amongst them were the collaborating Dr. Gross and his eight year-old adopted son. Also transferred were Herman Rosner and his son Olek; Eugeniusz Ginter, aged 14, (born February 8, 1929) and his father; Richard Horowitz, aged 4 years, (born May 5, 1939) and his father; Wilhelm Nussbaum (68926) and his son Richard, aged 14 years (born March 22, 1930); Abraham Wisniak, born 1930 (69242); Arge Ferber (69160) and his son Roman, age 14 years, (born January 25, 1931). It seemed that without the authority of Schindler the break-up of this select company was imminent. The SS had decided that this was to be.

Mrs. Schindler arrived at Brunnlitz, and in the absence of her husband was now the figurehead. With the help and direction of Schindler's engineers she took over administrative control, supervising the installation of the machinery and preparing the living quarters. Her first priority was to get her husband out of trouble. Again, telephone calls were made to the highest echelons of power in the Abwehr and Armaments Inspectorate. Whatever happened, it worked, as Schindler arrived at Brunnlitz a few days later, dishevelled and shaken, but pleased to be back.

The news of the boys' transport to Auschwitz shook him badly. This was corroborated by Maurice Finder (76291) in a statement after the war. “I was installing the new machines when Schindler came over to me and asked whether I had any children on the transport. I replied in the negative and he replied “Thank God.” Maurice Finder had good reason to be thankful to Schindler. His wife had been taken for immediate transportation to the death camp at Belzec. Finder had appealed to Schindler, who went directly to the train which was preparing to leave (like the Bankier episode). Schindler argued with the SS, stressing once again that this woman was an essential worker for the armaments factory. Schindler not only obtained the release of Mrs Finder, but also that of her sister.[4]

The delay in the arrival of the women to Brunnlitz was now of great concern. Stern went to Schindler and begged him to do something.[5] Too late to stop the transport of the boys to Auschwitz, he used all his influence to have the women released. Again there were phone calls to friends in high places. The emissary to be sent to Auschwitz to accomplish this task was a young trusted female associate of Emily Schindler, the daughter of a wealthy industrialist in Svitavy. The notion that caches of diamonds were taken to bribe the Commandant of Auschwitz are, I believe, grossly exaggerated. In the Spielberg film, Schindler is shown making a personal visit to the commandant and bribing him with diamonds. There is no evidence that Schindler was ever in Auschwitz. The more acceptable explanation is that the orders and the paperwork had been completed many weeks earlier. It was a question of expediting the transfer orders of these women, considered important armament specialists, out of Auschwitz on a special transport to Arbeitslager Brunnlitz.

The release was accomplished with little difficulty but not without incident. The Schindler list of women taken by the courier to Auschwitz did not quite agree with the list (already filed) held in the administration office of Auschwitz. On the official camp list held at Auschwitz were two women with the same name, Helena Dortheimer (76229) and Helena Dortheimer 76230). One was the wife of Viktor Dortheimer (69124), now at Brunnlitz, and the other was the wife of his brother, David Dortheimer, who had been shot by Goeth in KL Plaszow. In November, 1943, 51 prisoners--50 men and one woman returning to the camp after work-- were searched. Found in their possession were potatoes and Swedes. Goeth was called and ordered all the prisoners to be shot, one of them being David Dortheimer.[6]

The discrepancy on the lists was pointed out to the courier and she was asked which Helena Dortheimer was to be transferred. The quick-thinking courier asked for both and explained that it was an error by the Schindler Armament Works in Brunnlitz. Viktor Dortheimer's wife and sister-in-law were thus safe; either one could have perished in Auschwitz.

 

Helena Dortheimer
J76230 Helena Dortheimer
(Wife of Viktor)

One of the most extraordinary occurrences at Auschwitz was that the Schindler women were the only known group of women, having been brought into the camp for labor or the gas chamber, who left the camp unmolested. Five abreast and all marked with red paint, they were marched to the transport en-route to Brunnlitz and Schindler's camp.. The Brunnlitz camp, a sub-camp of Gross-Rosen, was now under the command Of SS Untersturmfuhrer Joseph Leipold, assisted by about 30 guards who were considered unfit by the Wehrmacht for front line duties. Leipold, a hairdresser before the war, was a stereotypical Nazi who tried to run the camp with a rod of steel, only to be frustrated at every turn by Schindler, who constantly challenged his authority. Commandant Leipold was becoming exasperated with Schindler's apparent personal consideration of the welfare of his Jewish workers. Three women died in the camp at various times--Janka Feigenbaum, Elizabeth Chotimer, and Anna Hofstatter. Leipold issued orders that the bodies were to be incinerated in the factory furnaces. Schindler openly defied this order and challenged Leipold to do something. Instead, the bodies of the three women were placed in wooden coffins and buried at various locations with full rites supervised by Rabbi Jacob Levartow (68872).

One of the enduring mysteries of the Schindler story is the true identity of Mrs. Hofstatter. The evidence clearly shows that a Mrs. Hofstatter was part of the Schindler women in Brunnlitz, that she died on Christmas Eve 1944, and that she was buried in a parcel of land purchased by Schindler in the Christian cemetery in the village of Nemecka Bela (now Bela nad Svitavou), a few kilometers from Schindler's Brunnlitz camp. Mrs Hofstatter clearly existed, as she is referred to by Keneally and Itzhak Stern.

 

Judge Bejski far left. Schindler third from right
Judge Bejski far left. Schindler third from right:
“listening to Stern” at the Schindler reception.

In a survivors' reunion in 1962, at which Schindler was the honored guest, Stern addressed details of the Hofstatter incident directly to Schindler:

“You remember that Mr.s Hofstatter passed away. Commander Leipold ordered the body to be cremated. I turned to you and asked you to intervene. You did not hesitate and arranged a Jewish burial. Despite it being a Sunday, you rode to a nearby village where you persuaded a priest to sell a parcel of ground adjacent to the Christian cemetery.”

Stern then turned to the guests:

“He fenced in this parcel of land and founded a Jewish cemetery for one Jewish woman who had died a natural death. That day a Jewish burial service took place, and Rabbi Levertov with 10 Jews officiated with all the traditional prayers, and this was done specifically on the orders of Schindler. He ordered a coffin to be prepared from the most expensive wood, put a metal board inside it with all her details inscribed on it. Gentlemen, this was the only case in conquered Europe when a Jewish cemetery was formed. One of the SS sergeants from the camp took care of the cemetery, with flowers and plants for a special fee from Schindler. It is necessary to emphasize that he endangered himself by all of this. And it was a very heroic deed.”

Some of the leading archivists, historians, and self-appointed experts on Schindler in the Czech Republic and elsewhere have failed to locate and identify the real Mrs. Hofstatter--that is, until the author with the help of her granddaughter, Chani Smith-- solved this simple mystery.

First, let us look at the facts and background of this woman that have given rise to the ambiguity and mystery surrounding her. Anna (“Chana”) Hofstatter (neè Laufer) was a lady of immense charm and beauty. She was born on December 12 1878, in Sieniawa, Poland but lived with her husband Meir in Krakow. Mrs. Hofstatter's husband owned a chemist shop in Krakow and was well respected in the close-knit Jewish community. During the German occupation and the general violence and abuse against the Jewish population (described within these chapters), her husband, son, and daughter-in-law were shot in Plaszow. Because the name Hofstatter was a target for the Gestapo, Anna, fearing her own life, reverted to her maiden name of Laufer. Anna Hofstatter (Laufer) had two daughters--“Ala” (Sara Rosenberg [Hofstatter]), born January 7, 1905, (76419) and “Mala” (Mala Mandelbaum [Hofstatter]), born, July 24.1903, (76281) who, after the shootings, went into hiding.

It is a recurring fact that lists and personal details are not all what they appear. Changes of names, dates of birth, occupations, and all manner of personal identification are sometimes manipulated depending on circumstances at the time. This was all part of the survival instinct. On the transport list for October 1944, from KL Plaszow to Brunnlitz via Auschwitz, all three women had given false dates of birth.

Ju.Po 76281Mandelbaum (Hofstatter) Mala July 24, 1917 (1903)
Ju.Po 76419Rosenberg (Hofstatter) Sara January 7, 1916 (1905)

 

Certified copy of transport list (Anna Laufer)
Certified copy of transport list (Anna Laufer)

This is why Anna Laufer (Hofstatter) does not appear on the so-called Schindler's List compiled in April 1945 which has, in my view, been grossly exaggerated as Oskar Schindler's personal “list for life.”

The sisters survived the war and later emigrated to Israel. Immediately after the war they returned to Krakow where they retrieved family treasures which had been buried under a tree just before their forced removal into the Ghetto. Quite simply, Mrs Hofstatter, in a moment of immediate danger, had changed her married name and reverted to her family name Laufer.

 

Footnotes
  1. Description: Acknowledgement to documentation from the Auschwitz Museum.
  2. Return
  3. It was only in the last stages of the war that the railway spur entered the well known archway. The usual procedure was for transports to terminate before the archway and the prisoners would walk under guard into the camp.
  4. Return
  5. The author interviewed a number of the women survivors, who gave vivid recollections of what happened in Birkenau: Irena Schek (76431), Ludmilla Pfefferberg (76398), Betha Aftergood (76201), Rachel Korn (76334), Manci Rosner (76423), Regina Horowitz (76309), Clara Sternberg (76459), and others.
  6. Return
  7. Statement of Maurice Finder (76291) can be seen in Yad Vashem.
  8. Return
  9. Personal recollections of Stern made after the war and can be seen in the Ball-Kaduri documentation.
  10. Return
  11. The woman was Hela Goldfinger, the sister of Gena Turgel (nee Goldfinger), who the author interviewed in London. 1993.
  12. Return

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