In June 1998, the “Third International Meeting on Audiovisual Testimonies of Survivors of Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camps” was held in Brussels. The Israeli researcher Anita Tarsi, who works primarily on the Fortunoff archives, presented a paper on the fate of a group of children born between 1927 and 1938 [thus 6 to 17 years of age] who were sent from Dachau to Birkenau but who were not “selected” [to be gassed] on arrival. During the discussion that followed, Marie Lipstadt, a member of the administrative board of the Auschwitz Foundation, intervened and expressed her astonishment:
“According to my own experience, if you were under the age of 15, you went straight to the gas chamber.”
Anita Tarsi answered that she, too, had been surprised to learn that children who arrived at Auschwitz in 1944 were not gassed (at least not on the spot; some - but not all – having been selected [to be gassed] a few weeks later). Still, Ms. Tarsi was unable to advance a reason for this clemency of the SS: possibly, she suggested, these children had not been expected by the SS and the SS then did not know what to do with them. Or, it was attributable to the fact that at that same time Jews from Hungary arrived in great masses [Ms. Tarsi seemed to imply that the SS was perhaps a bit overloaded and disorganized].
A certain Salomon R. then took part in the discussion and supported Ms. Tarsi. He had known at Monowitz, said he, a kommando consisting of some 25 to 30 children less than 12 years old. When he eventually came back to Belgium in 1945, he met five children who had survived their deportation to Auschwitz. [Let us note in passing that this second speaker could well be the Salomon R., born 4/3/26, deported to Birkenau from Malines on transport III of August 15, 1942 at age 16 and a half, whom historians have been taking for dead].
These exchanges are really surprising and even confusing:
Official researchers of today are rediscovering known facts that can be easily verified (which past historians did not elaborate on and even obscured, which probably explains the ignorance and astonishment of their successors) such as individual children or groups of children deported to Auschwitz had been spared. This rediscovery is, most likely, due to the fact that audiovisual testimony is the order of the day and, 50 years after the end of the war, the only persons left to be interviewed are survivors who were children at the time of their deportation.
The particular event discussed by Ms. Tarsi is, by the way, noted in the Kalendarium which recorded (we shall see why) for August 1, 1944 the arrival and registration of 129 boys between 8 and 14 years of age from the Kaunas ghetto via Dachau. Their mothers and sisters were sent to the Stutthof camp (where, according to the official historians, no gas chambers ever existed). Their fathers and elder brothers were dispatched to Stettin. Prisoners at Dachau had told these poor children that Auschwitz was an extermination camp, and thus some of them ran away during the transport. Upon their arrival at Auschwitz, they were sent to the quarantine camp, which clearly indicates that the SS had no intention of gassing them (the Kalendarium does not give us any reason for this).
The surprise of Marie Lipstadt is in itself surprising, as she herself had been deported to Auschwitz at age 13 and a half, arriving the day after the boys‘ arrival, August 2, 1944, and was not gassed, either. The Kalendarium is wrong here: the transport on which Marie Lipstadt travelled (26th transport from Malines - Brussels) comprised 47 children (including her). According to the Kalendarium:
“The other 202 persons, including 47 children, were killed in the gas chambers.”
Now it is irrefutable that Marie Lipstadt, in spite of being a child, was registered on arrival and was not gassed. I also note that hers was not an isolated case because other children from her transport have also returned home.
Actually, when the number of children in a transport is less than the number of non-registered people, the Kalendarium can affirm dogmatically that the children are included in the latter and were gassed. However, when the number of children exceeds the number of persons spared, there can be no such recourse. Of course, the Kalendarium can wiggle its way out by simply omitting the presence of children (this was the case described in Akribeia, No. 5, October 1999 p. 142 for the transport of Dutch Jews arriving from Vught on June 3, 1944), but even this route is barred when a transport consists entirely of children, such as this transport from Dachau. Here the Kalendarium must recognize an embarrassing fact which is so glaring that it cannot be cast aside.
Clearly, the participants in this International Audiovisual Meeting - all professional researchers or known activists – seem to ignore the fact that the available literature speaks of many children who survived. Although there are many testimonies describing the arrival in camps in the West of masses of Hungarian women and children in 1944/1945, what I refer to here are documents (ideally registration office certificates) which remove these unhappy children from anonymity and give individual information. (I will limit myself to children under age 15 and will certainly not refer to all of them).
Thus, we have names and birthdates for a large number of children on a list set up in September 1945 by a Zionist organization at the former camp of Bergen-Belsen (with some of the children born in captivity). Historians affirm that all of them had passed through Auschwitz in spring or summer of 1944 (although this is not always true). Let us cite for instance:
- Estera B., 8 1/2
- Sari B., 13
- Gizela B., 14
- Cili B., 13
- Marysia B., 14
- Eszter B., 12 1/2
I can also refer to the testimony already mentioned in Akribeia No. 4, March 1999, p. 226, of a young Hungarian girl, Sara Gottliner-Atzmon, 11, who passed through Auschwitz without being gassed; she arrived there in the summer of 1944 with a younger brother and a baby nephew who were also both spared.
We also find surviving children in the transports from Czechoslovakia (Theresienstadt); for example, a little Viennese girl, Ruth K., arriving in the summer of 1944 at age 12.
The Jews from Corfu arrived at Auschwitz on June 30, 1944, and those unfit for work (three fourths of the transport) were immediately gassed according to the Kalendarium. But then how can one explain the presence at Bergen-Belsen in September 1945 of little Gabriel B., 13 and a half years old at the moment of deportation?
Regarding the Jews from Holland, we have read in Akribeia (cf. above) that 17 children under fifteen years of age, arriving on June 3, 1944, were spared and some even returned to Holland, viz.:
- Jack S., 11
- Jack V., 6
- Hans N., 9 1/2
- Heinie J., 8 ½
Even more touching for French-speaking readers is the case of numerous children deported from France and Belgium who, for the most part, were born in our countries, had our citizenship, spoke our language, bore first names familiar to our ears, lived in our cities and on our streets, but who went, it is said, straight into the gas chambers on arrival, such as:
- Jacqueline F., 9 1/2, arrived in March, 1944 (French transport No. 69)
- Jean P., 13 1/2, arrived in March, 1944 (French transport No. 70)
- Jeannette G., 13 1/2, arrived in April, 1944 (French transport No. 71). Here I note that Jeannette was 15 months younger than the oldest of the 34 children from Izieu; also on this transport (Fritz L., 15). The Kalendarium says that these children were all gassed, but, from this transport, at least five more children all younger than Fritz also returned to France.
- Fryma W., 7, arrived in April, 1944 (French transport 72)
- Claude M., 13, arrived in May, 1944 (French transport 74)
- Friedel R., 9, arrived in May, 1944 (Belgian transport XXV). At the moment of selection, she was sent to the “column on the left” made up of women unfit for work (old women and women with young daughters) who according to the Kalendarium and witnesses (all worthy of our trust, obviously) were immediately gassed. Actually, Friedel was sent to the Familienlager and was later registered under the number A5241 (Cf. Akribeia No. 4, March 1999, p. 218)
- Simy K., 13 1/2, arrived in June, 1944 (French transport 76). This is actually the famous Simone Lagrange.
- Janine L., 12, arrived in July, 1944 (French transport 77)
- Charles Z., 11 1/2, arrived in August, 1944 (French transport 78). He arrived on August 11, 1944 and was sent to the Durchgangslager, to be gassed, according to the Kalendarium, on September 5. Actually, he was registered under B9733 on September 7, 1944, and returned home, as did all the other children mentioned above.
We must, therefore, acknowledge as a fact that children survived from all transports in the period under study (the time which followed the Germans’ loss of the Ukraine in the spring of 1944). Let us mention in passing that, if Death Books were available for the year 1944, one would undoubtedly notice that numerous Jewish children are mentioned there, whereas not a single one was registered in 1942 and 1943; this is perhaps the reason why the [1944, transl.] registers have not yet been found. Now, in the face of this evidence, historians can no longer avoid the essential question: why do we discover traces of children – alive or dead – who were deported after the Germans had lost the Ukraine, but not before?
But let us return to the surviving children. It is possible to say (and we sometimes read this) that some child may have looked older than his age, some other may have hidden in his mother’s skirts, for a third no gas was available, and a fourth may have arrived when all the gas chambers were down. But the others? Well, one does not know; the Kalendarium tells us only that they have been gassed, which is not correct. Their homecoming constitutes an inexplicable flaw in the dogma that asserts all children, except for rare cases, were gassed on arrival at Auschwitz. We must therefore show humility and admit without shame that the return of these children constitutes a mystery, i.e., an act of faith, inaccessible to our poor reason. The only rational explanation one could put forward in this matter is that the exception has become the rule and that, as Pierre Vidal-Naquet has said with respect to Jean-Claude Pressac‘s “multipliers,” we have here a “scientific achievement which we should not cast aside.” Sure.
Taken from: Akribeia, No. 6, March 2000, pp. 94 to 99. Director: Jean Plantin.