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Chapter IV

Jewish Survivors in the Camps

With the end of the war there were about 80,000 Jewish Shoah survivors in the German and Austrian labor and concentration camps compared to about 10 million non–Jewish refugees[1]. The Allies adopted a policy of letting UNRRA (the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) handle all problems relating to refugees. The organization had been created specifically to handle refugee issues. UNRRA proceeded to send refugees home or to their last address prior to being sent to Germany by the Nazis. The exception were the sick refugees. The refugee evacuation proceeded smoothly until politics entered the picture. Many camps that had large Polish populations were administered by the Polish Army and the Polish Government–in–exile, mainly in the British zone of occupation in Germany. The exiled government did everything in its power to block the return of Poles to their homeland now controlled by a predominantly communist government. The British government backed the Polish exile government as did the United States, to some extent. As a consequence, many Poles refused to return home. Many Hungarians, Ukrainians and Baltic refugees also refused to return home. Conflicts soon began in the various camps between the various nationalities, especially Poles and Ukrainians. The Polish administration insisted that the Ukrainians who were born within the Polish borders prior to the September 1939 war were Polish citizens. The Ukrainians rejected the Polish demands. Tensions escalated and fights broke out so the decision was made to create separate national camps. The Jews also wanted their own camps but the Allies, especially the British administration, at first refused to recognize the Jews as a national group. The Allies told the Jews that they were Poles or Hungarians according to the place of their birth or last residence prior to the war. The Jews refused to be part of the Polish or Hungarian camps and eventually Jewish camps were created with the assistance and guidance of American Jewish military chaplains, particularly Rabbi Abraham Klausner.


Rabbi Abraham Klausner in uniform


Abraham Judah Klausner was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 27, 1915, one of five children of Joseph Klausner, a Hungarian immigrant who owned a dry goods store, and Tillie Binstalk Klausner, an Austrian immigrant. He was raised in Denver, Colorado, graduated from the University of Denver in 1938 and ordained as a Reform rabbi at Hebrew Union College in 1941. Following ordination, Klausner joined the army and served as a chaplain at the Lawson General Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia.

Klausner eventually shipped out to Germany and was assigned to join the 116th Evacuation Hospital, which had just entered Dachau. The 116th arrived at Dachau, which was 10 miles northwest of Munich, in May 1945, just days after the camp was liberated. Rabbi Eli Bohnen was the first Jewish U.S. Army military chaplain to enter the camp. His unit remained only a short time at the camp. Rabbi Klausner arrived soon after. Most of the Jewish survivors found comfort in the fact that his military insignias showed the tablets of the commandments indicating that he was Jewish. Klausner helped to organize the camp and established a list of all of its Jewish survivors. He named the list the “shearit ha'pleita” or surviving remnant. The list contained 32,000 names and was posted in all of the camps in the American zone in Germany. He continued to publish lists of survivors of other camps. He also worked very hard at providing the Jewish survivors with kosher food, beds and medical needs.

On July 1, 1945, at the Feldafing Displaced Persons camp near Dachau, Klausner and Zalman Grinberg, a survivor of Dachau, established the Central Committee of the Liberated Jews in the U.S. Zone of Germany as the official representative body of the Jewish DPs. The purpose of the Central Committee was to champion the interests of the Jewish DPs and to draw attention to their plight. Klausner was horrified by the fact that the survivors were still living in the camps in much the same conditions as they had under the Nazis. He wrote letters of protest to his army superiors and included detailed reports about the camp conditions. Klausner also wrote to various Jewish organizations in the United States, which he felt were not doing all that they could to help the survivors. Klausner did whatever he felt was necessary to get the Jewish DPs what they needed including setting up Jewish hospitals and procuring clothes, food and medical supplies. While he did a great deal of good, his actions often put him at odds with the Army, the Red Cross, the UNRRA and various Jewish organizations. He also guided Earl G. Harrison, dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and U.S. Representative to the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees, who arrived in Germany in July 1945 to investigate conditions in the DP camps.

Rabbi Philip Bernstein was another Reform rabbi who helped the Jewish Shoah survivors in Germany and Austria. He served as the Adviser on Jewish Affairs to the Commander of the U.S. Forces in Europe between May 1946 and August 1947. Born in Rochester, New York, Bernstein was ordained in the first class of rabbis at the Jewish Institute of Religion in 1926. He went on to become rabbi of Temple Brith Kodesh in Rochester.

During World War II the Jewish Welfare Board appointed him Executive Director of the Committee on Army and Navy Religious Activities. During his fifteen months of service under Generals Joseph McNarney and Lucius Clay, Bernstein labored to smooth relations between the American military and Jewish survivors, to improve the living standards of Jewish DPs and to provide educational, vocational and employment opportunities for them in Germany while they awaited immigration elsewhere. He also worked to gain official American recognition for their representative body, the Central Committee of the Liberated Jews in the U.S. Zone of Germany. Bernstein's


Rabbi Philip Bernstein


most notable challenge and achievement during his tenure as Jewish Adviser was assisting the mass movement of Jews from Eastern Europe into the American zones of occupation and helping to dissuade the U.S. Army from closing the borders during the period of the mass migration of Polish Jews after the Kielce pogrom of July 1946.

Following his return to the U.S. in the summer of 1947, Bernstein served as President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and later as Chairman of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Most Jews refused to return to their native homes and preferred to stay in the camps because they knew their families had been murdered and their homes destroyed.

Shimon Lang, born in Zmigrod, Poland, was a typical Jewish Shoah survivor. He was liberated by the Soviet army at the Theresienstadt concentration camp on May 10, 1945. He told an interviewer at Yad Vashem: “I remember the day of liberation. I was liberated on Saturday, May 10, 1945. Some inmates who were strong left the camp and started to


Shimon Lang, a native of Zmigrod who survived the Shoah


enter German homes. Around the concentration camp there was a large population that provided the logistical support for the camp. These homes were attacked by the camp inmates. They took whatever food or goods they saw. They brought the stuff back to the camp. I was too weak to move but I decided that I must get something or I would starve. So next morning, I left the camp that was surrounded by Russian soldiers with rifles. I saw a German carrying a sack and I grabbed a corner of the sack. There began a tug of war. The German finally let go and left. I dragged the sack with all my energy to the road. I opened the sack and saw pictures of the man's wife.


German record of Shimon Lang's activities during World War II


I left the sack and went to a few houses where I found a small bag of sugar, a loaf of bread and a can of meat. I had no opener but banged the can until it split at the top. I made a sandwich and sprinkled the sugar on top of it. I did not eat too much and started to walk back to the camp but I did not feel good. I continued to walk and reached my barracks whereupon I collapsed. I do not know what happened nor how long I was unconscious. After a few days, I returned to my bed. Most of the inmates were gone. I rested on my bed. Two male nurses came looking for me. Outside were dead bodies all over the place.

Many of them died of dysentery. One of the nurses brought me a glass of water with a biscuit. I remained in bed. Then the Russians entered the camp and began to make order. They separated the sick from the dead. They spread sheets on the beds like in a hospital. No food was given except for tea. A few days later they began to distribute biscuits that were hardened. I started to work in the kitchen of the camp and slowly recuperated my strength. I remained in Theresienstadt about a month and a half. There was one Jew in the camp who began to organize a group of Jewish survivors that would go to Palestine. The camp administration had a policy of urging all the survivors to return to their native lands. The camp administration told us that we must return home and then we can go to Palestine. But we knew what it meant to return to Poland. I worked in Plaszow along the rail lines and saw the transports of Jews that were heading to Treblinka death camp.”

“I did not want to return to Poland and I did not return,” Lang continued. “I tried to influence all the Jewish survivors not to return to Poland where they would be killed. We were about 12 survivors. We decided not to return to Poland. I knew of a case where a survivor went to Poland and was killed by neighbors. The Russians decided to close the camp. We were placed aboard a truck and started to travel. We traveled for hours and reached the Italian border. To enter Palestine, we needed certificates that we did not have. We therefore traveled back to Vienna, Austria, where there were many Ukrainians. We continued to travel until we reached the City of Landsberg in the American military zone of Germany. There we met Dr. Greengrass who assigned us to rooms. We were six men in a room with bunk beds. We arrived at the Landsberg D.P. camp in June 1945.”

“In Landsberg there was a Jewish Polish hospital that had several good professors. One of them examined me and told me that I would need surgery and to return on a particular day. The professor made all the preparations. I appeared before the surgeons and they told me that they were doubtful whether the surgery would succeed. I told them that I was a sole survivor and nobody would shed tears if I did not emerge from the operation. They proceeded with the surgery and I remained bedridden for a long time. A German woman nursed me for a month. I remained in the hospital for about eight or nine months. I could have left the hospital earlier but the place where I lived was not to my liking so I stayed at the hospital. I left the hospital and started working in a tailor shop. Following the surgery I was very weak and it took me many months to recuperate. I continued to work at the shop and learned to become a good worker. In 1946 I met my wife and married. We gave birth to a son and later to a daughter in Landsberg. We finally left the Landsberg D.P. camp and reached Israel.[2]

Mordechai Lustig of Nowy Sacz, Poland, was another Jewish survivor who refused to go home to Poland. This is what he stated: “At about 10 A.M. on May 6, 1945, the American Army entered the Ebensee concentration camp located in Austria and began to restore order. The night before and in the morning, serious disorders took place in the camp. The inmates rampaged


Mordechai Lustig with his concentration camp cap following his liberation on May 6, 1945


throughout the camp and settled scores with the remaining staff of the camp. The Americans ordered all inmates, including the disabled, to assemble at the square and to align according to nationalities. Each group, such as Jews, Poles, Frenchmen, Russians, Czechs, stood with their co–nationals. I now saw the Jewish survivors at the camp, particularly the Jews of Sandz.

They were:

Chune Grinberg
Moshe Laor
Mendel Brownv Shimon Brown
Max Neuman
Itzik Goldberg
Shlomo Goldberg
Kuba Fuhrer
David Markus
Shmuel Salomon
Mendel Aftergut
Mosdhe Chayes
Nehemia Sheingit
Markus Fridenbach
Moshe Osteryoung
Romek Gut–Hollander
Asher Brandstern
Chune Elzner
Shimon Folkman
Shlomek Wolf
Mordechai Lustig
Benyamin Hausenshtock
Lulek Bittersfeld and father

I later discovered that Lulek Bittersfeld and his father were also liberated but were at the hospital in Ebensee where they were treated for typhus.”

“Following the American roll call,” Lustig said, “we all ran to the S.S. warehouses looking for food. We found small quantities of sugar and imitation coffee. We returned to the main camp and American soldiers invited us to join them in the hunt for S.S. men who had run the camp. Indeed, some of the guards were caught. One S.S. man was brought to the gate of the camp despite the fact that he had already managed to change clothes. He was recognized by one of the camp inmates. The inmates decided to kill him on the spot. They stretched him out on a board near the gate and everybody began to hit him until he died. A sign was written that read “Heil Hitler.” The sign was placed in his hand and a bayonet was placed in the other hand.”

“The Americans began to organize a kitchen to cook food for the inmates. The soup was loaded with solid foods and the inmates began to gorge themselves with the food. But they were no longer accustomed to such rich foods. Some inmates died since their intestines could not absorb the rich food. I was lucky that I took small portions and managed to digest them. I looked about and saw on top of the American tanks boxes of combat rations. I took some as did other inmates. We of course did not know what they contained. Romek Gut knew a bit of English and he read the content labels on the boxes and also the instructions on how to prepare the food. We organized a group that that began to prepare our meals for the day. In the following days, we continued to live off the combat rations that we removed from the tanks.”

“The Americans forced the entire population of the township including the Mayor and other important officials of the nearby Ebensee city to march to the concentration camp to witness the horrible scenes of masses of dead, naked bodies scattered all over the place. They started to dig mass graves and carried the bodies and buried them outside the camp. The Americans brought nurses from the hospital of the nearby city of Shteinkugel who began to care for the sick inmates. Some of the inmates who were afflicted with typhus or other serious diseases were taken to the hospital while others began to be treated on the spot.”

“A few of the Sandz survivors organized themselves into a small group that functioned as a unit. I took upon myself the position of cook and began to prepare the meals. Other members began to search the area for food. I cooked many soups and other items to help build the strength of the survivors. We then moved as a group to the Polish section of the camp. There were many civilian Polish citizens in the camp. They were brought to work mainly in agriculture. Of course there were also many Polish inmates who survived the war in the camp. We all began to travel in all directions to see the area. Once, my friend and I reached the city of Wels near Linz where the American military police arrested us. We had no papers or identification. We looked suspicious or perhaps they did not like us or our clothing. We wore ‘Hitler Jugend’ or Nazi youth clothing. We spent the night in jail and the next morning were freed by the officer who might have been Jewish. We returned to the camp and I went to the office to get some identification.”


Identification paper stating that Mordechai Lustig was an inmate of the Mauthausen concentration camp


I was issued a temporary identification that stated that I was an inmate of the camp.”

“A short period of time elapsed and Jewish soldiers from the Palestinian 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 promised to help us get to Palestine. They left the camp and soon those who had signed up to go to Palestine received packages from the Red Cross. I had signed my name and picked up my package. The Jewish soldiers returned to their base in Italy.”

“One day, the brigade soldiers showed up and told us to mount the trucks. 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.”

“Romek Gut, Kuba Fuhrer, myself and two Poles from Warsaw, Poland, decided to head back to Poland. There were no regular trains or buses. The few transportation lines were reserved for military personnel. So we decided to hitchhike through the villages and small towns of the area. Wherever we reached, we went to the local chief and presented our identifications and asked for sleeping accommodations and food coupons. Most of them obliged. I had two identity cards: one in the name of Markus Lustig and the other one in the name of Markus Kannengisser. In our wanderings, we reached the hamlet of Ried where we met some of the inmates of the Schindler camp. The latter took over a house that contained a restaurant. The place belonged to a Nazi. The survivors opened the restaurant and it soon became a center of lively encounters between the survivors and the local girls. The American military police soon closed the place for violating the non–fraternization order of the American army. This order prohibited the mingling of the American soldiers with the local population. We spent one night at the place and continued our journey to Mimach, then to Asbach. Finally we reached the town of Braunau where we stayed at the local school. There was a nearby restaurant where we were able to eat, since we had food coupons. We remained a few days at the place. Romek Gut, Kuba Fuhrer and the two Poles decided to head to Poland. I decided to return to the Ebensee camp. I had no wish to return to Poland at the time.”


Mordechai Lustig, in the white t–shirt on the extreme right, sailing to Israel with other Jewish volunteers


“I returned to the Ebensee camp and rested for a while. I then decided to travel to Linz, Austria, where they opened a new camp for Jewish refugees called Hart, located in Leonding. There they provided rooms to every three refugees and also food. I was also informed that being a camp survivor, I was entitled to replace my shoes and clothing. Indeed, my clothing needed replacement. I was given new shoes and new clothing; my appearance changed for the better. I also received a package with goodies from the Red Cross. Having time on my hands, I promenaded and walked about the city of Linz, which was very attractive. I eventually left for Israel[3]”.


Alexander Bialywlos


Other Jewish Shoah survivors headed back to Poland, including Alexander Bialywlos. He was born in Krosno and survived the war. He was liberated at the Gruennitz–Bruessau camp, better known as Schindler's camp, in Czechoslovakia on May 8, 1945. He was issued an identity paper stating that he was liberated from the camp. The document was written in Czech and German. “With a bottle of water, a bread and a piece of cloth,” Bialywlos remembered, “I set out to the nearby railway station. I had no money. A train arrived and I boarded it. I took several trains since many of the bridges were damaged. Finally, I reached Prague.”

“At the Prague station, there was a stand of the American Red Cross that distributed hot soup. I rushed over and received some soup. The station was mobbed with refugees. Then a train arrived heading for Poland. I boarded it and reached Krakow and found the Jewish community center that assisted me with some money, food and information. I was told not to return to Krosno since some Jews were killed there by Polish opponents of the present government, but I continued my trip and finally reached Krosno. I recognized the city but not the people. No Jews in sight. I started to inquire and was told that there was a Jewish woman in town by the name of Mania Kalb. She survived the war with her little daughter. Her tiny apartment became the reception center for the few Jewish survivors that would come to the city.”

“There was no reception office in the city for returning Jewish or non–Jewish survivors. No information, no financial aid, no assistance with locating a job. Anti–Semitic hatred directed at the Jew was everywhere. To earn a few zlotys, I began to sell cigarettes on the black market. I was disgusted with my situation and a bit hopeless when a cousin arrived from the Landsberg D.P. camp in Germany. While talking about the perished families, he unpacked his suitcase loaded with goodies and cigarettes, a real fortune in Poland of the day. We sat and talked. I gave him a picture of the situation in Krosno. He told me not to waste my time in Poland where there was nothing for me and to return to the Landsberg DP camp in Germany with him. I still had my liberation identity paper issued at the camp. I sold my belongings and I returned to Germany where later I resumed my studies and became Alexander White, formerly Bialywlos, M.D. I settled in the USA[4].

The returning Jewish Shoah survivors from the labor and concentration camps did not receive a warm welcome. Most of their homes were occupied by other people. In many instances, the homes were destroyed and the businesses shattered. The local population was suspicious, cold and hostile. Jewish refugees who had hidden during the war found themselves knocking at the doors to their old homes only to be met, many times, with a punch in the face. Many Polish citizens occupied Jewish homes, often using illegal Nazi documents, and refused to acknowledge any Jewish claim to the properties. Finding nothing left for them, the survivors milled around the city looking for shelter, food, even a bit of bread. During this period attacks against these Jewish survivors were a daily occurrence. It is estimated that between 1944 and 1946, 650 to 1,200 Jews were murdered in Poland[5].

Poland was in the midst of a violent wave of anti–Semitism that increased in intensity with the mass arrival of Polish Jews who were in the Soviet Union during the war. Attacks against single Jews on trains was very common. Pogroms occurred as early June 9, 1945, in Lublin. Three days later a pogrom took place in Rzeszow and later in Przemysl.


Yechiel Proper, the son of Arieh Proper of Sanok.
This important and kind man was murdered August 17, 1945 or the 8th day of the Jewish month of Elul in the year Tashav or 5706


All this agitation was of course fueled by the Polish government–in–exile in order to undermine the present government in Warsaw. The country was on the verge of civil war as the rural areas were ruled by nationalist right wing elements while the government controlled the big cities. The nationalist forces pointed to the few Jews holding cabinet posts such as Jakob Berman, something unheard of in Poland before World War II, as proof that the Jews controlled Poland. These Jews were of course members of the Communist Party, so therefore all Jews, especially those who returned from the Soviet Union, were communists. The Polish masses bought these stories, which led to minor anti–Jewish incidents throughout Poland.

Resentment was rapidly building against the Polish government. For the first time, Jews were in positions of influence and power. Many Poles, who had no love for Jews before the war, were now incensed that Jews had high positions in government. Polish Primate, Cardinal August Hlond, condemned the murder of the Jews, but he denied the racist nature of these crimes. “Army Krajowa” (home army), was the largest para–military underground organization in Poland during the war. The group was extremely nationalistic, anti–communist and anti–Semitic. Jews who joined with them during the war hid their Jewish identity. When the war ended, the Army Krajowa did not stop its para–military activities but continued to harass both the Polish government and any Jewish survivors it came across. This militia considered the communists the enemy of Poland, and the Jews part of the communist plan to take over the country

Anti–Semitic acts against Jews continued to plague the Jewish community and reached its zenith with the deadly Kielce pogrom that took place on July 4, 1946[6]. The surviving Jews in Kielce were accused of killing a Christian child for the blood needed to bake matzot, the unleavened bread Jews use during the Passover holiday. This holiday usually occurs in March or April and the event took place in July. This “blood–libel” was readily accepted by the Polish masses, who attacked the homes inhabited by the


The burial of the Jewish pogrom victims in Kielce Poland


Jews and then rampaged through the streets, killing any Jews they found in the city. The mob was joined by members of the Polish police and other Polish security forces, even though these forces all had to be members of the Communist Party in order to get and keep their jobs. The Polish government had to rush to the city of Kielce special troops to re–establish order at gun point. Forty–two Jews were killed and 39 Jews were injured[7]. A mass funeral was held for the victims in Kielce. The news of the pogrom spread throughout the world. The Jewish community in Poland decided to leave Poland by all means, regardless of the dangers that awaited them. The fact that police and security forces joined the mob told the Jews that they had no safety in Poland regardless of what the central government said. Cardinal Sapieha reportedly said that the Jews had brought the violence on themselves. The Jews found themselves caught in a political game where the stakes were life and death. Many Jews had hesitated to leave and face the dangers of a perilous journey to an uncertain destination. This pogrom broke the bond between Poland and the Jews. By the thousands they would flee the country within the coming months.


  1. Bauer, Flight, p.51 Return
  2. Interview of Shimon Lang by William Leibner Return
  3. Extensive interview of Mordechai Lustig by William Leibner Return
  4. White, Alexander. , Be a Mensch, A Legacy of the Holocaust USA, pp.138–143 Return
  5. Cichopek–Gajraj. Violence, p.116 Return
  6. Cichopek–Gajraj. Violence, p.116 Return
  7. Cichopek–Gajraj. Violence, p.117 Return


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