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Chapter X

Receiving and Transit country–Austria

 

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Map of Austria

 

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Austria was divided into four military allied zones. Vienna, capital of Austria represented by a black dot, was also divided into four zones but was located deep in the Soviet zone.

 

With the end of the war, there were about 50,000 Jewish concentration camp survivors in Germany and Austria[1]. It is estimated that there were about 10,000 in Austria[2]. Austria would become a Jewish transit station and about 180,000 Jewish refugees would transit this country on the way to Germany or Italy[3][4]. Most of the Jews from France, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Hungary and Czechoslovakia returned to their native countries. Most of the Polish, Lithuanian and Ukrainian Jewish survivors refused to return to their native countries. This is what Mordechai Lustig, a native of Nowy Sacz, Poland, had to say following the liberation: “I was liberated at about 10 A.M. on May 6, 1945. The American army entered the Ebensee concentration camp in Austria and began to restore order. The night before and in the morning, serious disorders took place in the camp. Some of the inmates settled scores with the remaining Germans or their helpers in the camp.”

 

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Mordechai Lustig wearing his concentration camp hat following his liberation.

 

Lustig had no desire to return to Poland. He knew that most of his family had been killed and he had no inclination to visit his native city of Nowy Sacz.[5] He remained at the camp in Austria and began to recuperate. Slowly he started to visit the nearby villages and towns. Some of his friends returned to Poland but he refused to return. He even refused to join the Jewish Brigade that came to the camp to remove the Jewish inmates to Italy and then to Palestine. “One day,” Lustig said, “Jewish soldiers from the Jewish Brigade arrived at the camp. We did not believe our eyes when we saw the shoulder patches with the word “Palestine” and the Star of David. They talked to us in Yiddish and urged us to register to go to Palestine. They registered all the Jewish inmates that wanted to go to Palestine. They promised to help us get to Palestine. They then left our camp and soon those of us who had signed up to go to Palestine received packages from the Red Cross. I had signed the list and received a package.”

The soldiers were stationed at the Treviso base, near the triangle where Italy, Yugoslavia and Austria meet. As the soldiers received passes to travel through the surrounding countries, they encountered more survivors, and many were faced for the first time with the harsh truth of the Nazi horrors in the concentration camps. Some of the soldiers, if they could, smuggled individual survivors to the brigade camp. There, in Yiddish, these survivors told their tragic tales, shocking their fellow Jews with news of the Nazi atrocities. The details of the locations of the concentration camps were passed onto Captain Aaron Ishai Hooter of the Jewish Brigade. He and Sergeant Mordechai Surkis worked together with the Haganah in Palestine. Hooter and some of his men and his staff set out from the British camp in Treviso in search of the Jewish survivors in the concentration camps in Austria and Germany. They soon found Jewish survivors at Bergen Belsen, Mauthausen, Ebensee and other liberated concentration camps that were now displaced person camps run by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. When the Jewish soldiers reported the existence of Jewish survivors at the Ebensee concentration camp, the order was given to bring them to Italy. This was easier said than done since the Ebensee concentration camp was in the American military zone in Austria. The rescuers had to cross several military zones of occupation to get to the American zone in Austria. Many forged military papers had to be made before the rescue mission could start. The Jewish Brigade made all the preparations and one day the Jewish brigade reappeared at the Ebensee camp and invited all Jewish inmates to board trucks. The Jewish Brigade repeated these actions in other camps and removed many Jewish Shoah survivors to Italy. The Jewish Brigade extended help and assistance to those Jews who did not want to leave the camps.

Mordechai Lustig said “I did not feel like going to Palestine and went to the men's room until the Jewish Brigade left with some of the Jewish survivors. I was never a Zionist and I came from a very religious and Hasidic background that was opposed to Zionism. Palestine did not appeal to me. I wanted to live; I had suffered enough during the war. I was not going to a forsaken desert place to waste my life. I was not the only surviving Jew to remain in the camp although my name was recorded as wanting to go to Palestine.”[6]

Some Jews did return to Poland and at the Polish frontier were arrested for supposedly collaborating with the Germans during the war. They were arrested on the spot and sent to a special camp of hard labor. A few managed to escape and return to Austria and warn Jews not to dare to return to Poland.[7] A Jewish Shoah survivor naFromtchik returned to his Salzburg D.P. camp and this is what he had to say: “I have already come back from my Fatherland. There are hundreds, even thousands who, like myself, have felt for themselves what we can expect in our former homes.”[8] These stories repeated themselves among the Jewish Shoah survivors and reinforced the decision not to return to the old home. Furthermore, the Jewish Brigade soldiers appeared in camps and urged the Jews to organize and form committees to defend their interests. The soldiers advised the survivors to ignore the Allied pressure to return to their former homes. The soldiers told them that thousands of Poles, Lithuanians and Hungarians had refused to return home. As a matter fact, the Polish government in London urged the Poles not to return to Poland. Britain and the United States had to accept this decision since the London Poles were allies. The Jewish soldiers pointed to the Polish refugees and told the Jewish survivors that they could do the same thing. With brigade assistance, the Jewish survivors began to demand Jewish camps or separate living quarters since the camps had many anti–Semitic elements.

As time passed, more and more former Jewish camp inmates began to return from their former homes to the former Austrian and German labor or concentration camps. Even non–camp residents began to reach the Austrian and German camps. The Jewish survivors, individually or in groups led by the Brichah, began to reach Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, from Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic countries. Previous chapters describe the ways used by the Brichah to get the people to Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. Now they led the Jewish refugees from Bratislava to Vienna across the Morava River. It is estimated that between 1945 and 1949, about 130,000 Jewish refugees used this route.[9] Of course, there were other routes that were used by the refugees. The area was within the Soviet–occupied zone in Austria. The Soviets did not officially interfere with the movement of Jewish refugees. The latter headed to Vienna that was also divided into four occupation zones. The refugees headed to the American zone where the Rothschild Hospital was located.

 

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Polish Jewish refugees arrived in Vienna after the war. They were sheltered at the Rothschild Hospital displaced persons camp. The hospital was located at Severingasse, in the IX district of Vienna.

 

The hospital was established by the famous Jewish banking family in Austria and served the Jewish community. It was designed to accommodate 600 people. The hospital was closed in 1942. At the end of the war, the place was in a shambles. Stanislaw Teicholz, a Jew from Lemberg, Poland, had survived the war, and then joined the Brichah where he was appointed to head the Rothschild Hospital refugee center in Vienna. The committee was granted the keys to

 

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Stanislaw Teicholz
Head of the Rothschild Hospital transit camp in Vienna, Stanislaw Teicholz

 

the Rothschild Hospital.[10] Teicholz opened the place to all Jewish refugees in Vienna. He contacted the Joint Distribution Committee to help with food and medical supplies to reopen the medical sections of the hospital. He also contacted UNRRA and the American army for help. The American army supported the move since Teicholz took the refugees off their hands. They even provided him with food for the refugees. The stream of Polish Jewish refugees kept increasing, especially after the pogrom in Kielce, Poland. The number of Jewish refugees who arrived at the camp frequently reached 8,000 people who had to be cared for. The overcrowding was beyond description and the Brichah tried to remove as many Jewish refugees, but the numbers kept growing by the day. The Brichah sent Asher Ben–Nathan (also known as Arthur Pier) from Palestine to take control of the Brichah in Vienna. Ben Nathan was a native of Vienna and very familiar with the city that he had left a few years earlier.

 

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Asher Ben–Natan, Brichah commander in Vienna and Austria

 

Asher Ben–Natan was born Arthur Piernikartz in Vienna, Austria, on February 15, 1921. His father, Natan Piernikartz, operated a clothing business in the Austrian capital.[11] He attended a Hebrew high school and was a member of the Young Macabbi Zionist youth organisation. Following the Anschluss of Austria in 1938, Asher Ben–Natan fled Austria to Palestine. His family followed suit. After the end of the war in Europe, Ben–Natan was sent to Austria as head of the Brichah. As a cover, he also worked under the pseudonym Arthur Pier as a correspondent for news agencies.

 

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In Vienna, a seemingly endless flood of Jewish survivors from Poland, then Romania, streamed in from Eastern Europe, overloading the established camps. The JDC helped transform the dilapidated Rothschild Hospital into a makeshift camp.

 

Ben–Nathan proceeded to negotiate with the UNRRA officials and the American officers about the need for more breathing space for the refugees where conditions were bad. He was successful and managed to locate several school buildings that were converted into transit camps. Here are the names of all the Jewish refugee camps in Vienna:

Rothschild Hospital, Severingasse, Stadteil Alsergrund, UNRRA camp 350, Durchgangslager, Wien IX

Rupertsusplätz, Dombach, Stadheil Hemals, former school Wien XVII

Arzbergengasse No. 2 Stadteil Hemals, subcamp of Rothschild Hospital, former school Wien XVII

Alserbachstrasse Stadteil Alsergrun transit camp Wien IX.

All of these reception centers were very crowded. Some of the refugees remained a day, some a few days and some still longer. The JDC and UNRRA provided food. The refugees could not stay in Vienna for an extended time since their places were needed for other refugees who were making their way to Vienna. The Brichah was also uncertain of Vienna, which was surrounded by Soviet forces on all sides. Nobody knew the Soviet intentions regarding the movement of Jewish refugees. After all, most of these refugees had come from areas controlled by the Soviet Union. Their attitude could change any moment; thus the need to ship the Jewish refugees out of Vienna as fast as possible. The Brichah organized train transports and shipped most of Vienna's Jewish refuges to Salzburg, which was located in the American zone of occupation in Austria,

 

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Abba Weinstein, later changed name to Gefen, Brichah commander in Salzburg

 

Abba Weinstein was born in Lithuania. During the war he joined the partisans and distinguished himself. Following the war, he joined the Jewish Brigade and became very active in rescuing Jewish Shoah survivors. He was promoted to be in charge of the Brichah in the city of Salzburg. He once said :“ I acted the Greek part and knew two Greek words–kalimera and dispera. Then I was an Austrian refugee born in the British zone of occupation. Then I arrived at Salzburg and returned to be a Jew”

This quotation describes the various nationalities that the Lithuanian born Weinstein had to assume while in the Brichah.

Salzburg was a very important strategic Brichah center. From here, transports of Jewish refugees were sent to Germany, mainly to the American military zone, to Italy and to France. Transports arrived constantly from Vienna and had to be assigned to a refugee shelter. As the flow of refugees continued almost daily, the Brichah soon had to open more transit camps. The Brichah transported the Jewish refugees and the JDC and UNRRA fed them. The American military authorities in Austria always complained and protested about the large influx of Polish Jewish refugees to their zone of occupation and sometimes stopped transports from entering the American zone. The Brichah leaders then shifted the transport to another border point where the transport crossed the border.

List of Jewish transit camps in Salzburg.

Salzburg; DP Hosp. (U.S. zone) – In the town of Salzburg were a number of Jewish DP camps:

Riedenburg (Machne Yehuda) on the “Neutorstrasse, Ecke Moosstrasse.”

Camp Herzl (Franz–Josefs–Kaserne) between Schrannengasse and Paris–London–Strasse.

Camp Mülln 6 DP in Müllner Hauptstrasse 38.

Beth (Beit) Bialik in the part of Salzburg called Maxglan.

 

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Beth Bialik 1946
Source: Yad Vashem
 
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Beth Bialik; kitchen staff
Source: Yad Vashem

 

Beth Trumpeldor in the part of Salzburg, called Gnigl, and

New Palestine (called later Parsch) in the Wiesbauerstrasse 9 in Salzburg–Parsch (Parsch is also the part of Salzburg)

Other DP camps in the country (province) of Salzburg, outside the city of Salzburg, were called:

Puch bei Hallein and

Camp “GIVAT AVODA” (in the Wallnerkaserne) opened in summer 1946 in the small village called “Saalfelden” am Steinernen Meer.

There were also Jewish refugee centers in Linz, Insbruck and Graz. All received refugees from Vienna and then shipped them to their destinations. Most of the Jewish refugees were sent to Germany where there were many Jewish D.P. camps. Salzburg was near the German border. There were no Jewish refugee centers in the Soviet zone. The British zone in Austria had some refugee centers, but as mentioned before, Britain discouraged Jewish refugees from entering its zones in Austria and in Germany. The Brichah led Jewish refugee transports through the British zone in Austria to get to Italy. The British harassed the Brichah transports but they managed to transit the British zone on their way to Italy. There were also some small Jewish refugee centers in the French zone of Austria. All of these centers were integrated into a tight Brichah system of communication that was controlled from Vienna by Asher Ben–Nathan. He had a large force of agents at his disposal and managed to move thousands of Polish Jews and then Hungarian and Romanian Jews through Austria. The Brichah activities were also supported by American Jewish military personnel, that is, Jewish chaplains.

 

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Convoy of Jewish refugees leaving Austria for the Italian border
(Yad Vashem Archives)

 

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The Rothschild Hospital in Vienna provided medical care to the many Jewish refugees who transited Austria

 

The Austrian JDC had to restore the Rothschild medical facility that was closed in 1942 by the Nazi regime. Equipment and staff had to be brought from the United States. This was not the only hospital in Austria; there were other hospitals, clinics, infirmaries that provided medical aid to the Jewish survivors of the concentration camps and to the Jewish refugees who arrived from Eastern Europe. To provide for all these and other needs, the JDC had huge warehouses where the material arrived from the United States and was stocked for the needs of the Jewish population throughout Austria and Germany,

 

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JDC supply officers and drivers with the fleet of trucks. The former airplane hangar served as one of JDC's 68 warehouses where supplies from overseas were stored before distribution to the camps. Hundreds of thousands of tons of food, clothing and amenities were distributed every month to camp residents to supplement their basic rations.

 

The Austrian JDC faced many problems due to the various military that divided the city of Vienna and the country of Austria into military zones. Each military zone was administratively independent and headed by military men. The JDC appointed officials in every section to expedite the smooth running of the organization. The Soviet sectors had no refugee centers and thus no JDC offices. The French zones had a few small Jewish refugee camps but were not very accommodating to new Jewish arrivals. The British zones did everything in their power to limit the arrival of newcomers in accordance with the British foreign policy that the Jews should stay in their places. The American zones had the largest number of Jewish refugee camps and facilities. The Brichah directed the flow of Jewish refugees to the American zones where they infiltrated the existing camps. Most of them remained in Austria for short periods of time. In 1947, the Austrian JDC finally managed to place all its activities under the leadership of Harold Trobe.

 

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Harold Trobe

 

Harold Trobe was born in Pennsylvania and was a graduate of the Columbia University School of Social Work. He began his career with the Joint Distribution Committee in 1944. He was appointed director of operations in Lisbon, JDC's wartime base and a haven for refugees fleeing Nazi–occupied countries and seeking to emigrate to Palestine and the Americas. After liberation, Trobe was named JDC Country Director of Czechoslovakia, and charged with administering a welfare program for survivors. In 1946, he was assigned to supervise JDC activities for Jewish refugees and displaced persons in northern Italy. From 1947 to 1952, he served as Country Director for Austria.

The JDC was not the only organization to have administrative problems in Austria due to the various military zones. The Brichah also had many problems, especially in the British zone of Austria. The Brichah was closely watched by the British, who knew the aims of the Brichah, namely to bring Jews to Italy. These Jews had to cross the British sector of Austria. Constant new routes had to be found that required good coordination between the various Brichah sectors. The troubleshooter for the Brichah in Central Europe was Ehud Avriel, deputy Brichah commander and assistant to Surkis.

Ehud Avriel was born Georg Überall in Vienna, Austria, in 1917. Avriel was educated at a local gymnasium. He was a member of the Blue–White movement, and between 1938 and 1940 worked for the Youth Aliyah office in occupied Vienna. He immigrated to Mandatory Palestine in 1940 and settled in kibbutz Neot Mordechai. He joined the Haganah and was involved in the Rescue Committee assisting Jews to flee Europe. After the war he was sent to Europe where he joined the Brichah. He helped illegal Jewish immigration to Palestine. In 1946, he was sent to Czechoslovakia to purchase arms for the Jewish community.

 

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Ehud Avriel

 

Partial list of Brichah Agents in Austria

ALON Moshe M
ALON–HAFT Agnes F
AUGOSHEWITZ Dworah F
AUGUSHEWITZ Yehuda M
BASHAN Bronia F
BASHAN Eliezer Leshek M
BEILIN Ada F
BEILIN Father M
BEILIN Mother F
BEIN Sali F
BEN–ARI Mordecha M
BEN NACHUM Daniel M
BEN NATHAN Asher M
BEN NATHAN Erica F
BIRENBAUM Shulek M
BOIM Shmuel M
BOKIN Michael M
BOKON Reuven M
BOKON Dov M
BRESLAV Mark Arthur M
DAGANI David M
DEKEL Ephraim M
DEKEL Shoshana F
EISENBERG Murice M
ERNHALT Sarah F
EVA   F
FARGERICHT Awraham M
FEINBAUM Israel M
FEINGOLD Max M
FELBS Shmuel M
FELDMAN Mula M
FICHMAN   M
FIVHMAN Malczik M
FLEKS Mundek M
FRED Ori M
FRIDRICH Irena F
FRUTER Dov M
GEFFEN Abba M
GEFFEN Frida F
GERMAN Eisik M
GERMAN Hannah M
GERSHONOWITZ Nachum M
GINGER Marks M
GIRA Hela F
GIRA Awraham M
GLASS Pnina F
GLICKER Henia F
GOLDBERG Yosef M
GOLDMAN    
GORKI Shumek M
GOTLIEB Yosi M
HAAS Itzhak M
HAFTEL Gila M
HALEVI Sami M
HARAMTI Zvi M
HARRARU Tzemah M
HERAL David M
HERSH Awraham M
HOINEBESKY Bolek M
ITZHAK Michael M
KAKGNON Boris M
KAMINSKY Dov M
KANTOR Itzhak M
KAPLAN Sheldon Army M
KAUFMAN Beti F
KIWSKY Antek M
KLATZKOWSKY Israel M
KNIP Victor M
COHEN Eugene (military chaplain) M
COHEN Awraham M
KOPPASH Eliezer M
KOPPELBERG Pinhas M
KROCHMAL Max M
LANGER Itzhak M
LAZNIK Awraham M
LEVI Itzhak M
MALACHI Hanina M
MALACHI Hinda F
MONIK Meir M
MORLI (Lieutenant) M
MOWSKY Awraham M
MUNKACZ Mordechai M
NESTEL Yurek M
NOWINSKI Stanley (Captain) M
OFFER Yoav M
OFFER Hawa F
OLMER Itzhak M
OSTREIL Asher M
PAAR Esther F
PINES Zvika M
POLIAKOFF Dov M
REVEL Amos M
ROITER Moshe M
ROIZ Ephraim M
RONAL–ROZEN Ephraim M
ROSENBERG Sylvia F
ROSENBERG Yeshayahu M
ROSENBLUM Moshe M
ROSENTZWEiG Danu Gidoni M
ROSENTZWEiG Rina F
ROZMAN Brak M
RUDELNIK Israel M
SCONCEDEK David M
SHAVIT Eliezer M
SCHLINGER Nathan M
SHMUEL   M
SHMUTZ Michael M
SHOREMI Beti F
SHUSTER Yaacov M
SPERLER Nuta M
SURKIS Mordechai M
TALIA Bela F
TEICHOLTZ Bronislaw M
TORENSHREIBER Moshe M
TRAMBERG Asher M
TUR Toniia F
TZUTZIK Meir M
VAN ASSEN Shlomo M
WANGLISZEWSKY Yuri M
WEIGARTEN Awraham M
WEIGARTEN Moshe M
WEISS Hela F
WEISS Jozek M
WERBER Itzhak M
WIDRO Abraham M
WOLKOWITZ Shlomo M
ZANDBERG Bolek M
ZIBERT Richard (Lieutenant) M
ZRUBACHAK Feivel M

Footnotes

  1. Bauer, Flight, p.55 Return
  2. Schiff, David and Nathan, Asher Ben editors. Habricha. Israei Ministry of Defense, 1998, p.75. Return
  3. Ibid p.75 Return
  4. Ibid p.75 Return
  5. William Leibner interview with Mordechai Lustig Return
  6. Lustig, Mordechai, The Red Feathers, Published Israel, pp. 241–245 Return
  7. Bauer, Flight, p. 50 Return
  8. Ibid., p. 50 Return
  9. Thomas Albrich and and Ronald Zweig, Editors, Escape through Austria, published by Frank Cass, London 2002, pp. 8–11 Return
  10. Bauer, Flight, p.158 Return
  11. Bauer, Flight, p.88 Return

 

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