Primary Sources and Memoirs
Apenszlak, Jacob, Jacob Kenner, Isaac Lewin, and Moshe Polakiewicz. The Black Book of Polish Jewry: An Account of the Martyrdom of Polish Jewry under the Nazi Occupation. New York: American Federation for Polish Jews in Cooperation with the Association of Jewish Refugees and Immigrants from Poland, 1943.
This chronological narrative outlines the invasion and occupation of Poland as well as the atrocities committed against Polish Jews by Nazis during the Holocaust. The narrative opens with the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939 and moves into outlining many of the policies adapted by Nazis to control and oppress the Jewish population. The author extensively describes the Warsaw ghetto and its construction but also discusses the larger Polish experience with the horrors of the Holocaust. Life in the ghettos, rationing systems, the role of the Council, and other aspects of daily ghetto life are presented early in the narrative before the author moves into broad accounts of concentration camps, resistance movements, and partisans. The text is based on information gathered from primary source documents, interviews, and additional secondary sources. Photographs of Jewish citizens, scenes from the ghetto, and acts of violence enhance the narrative and provide clarity to many of the events described. The book provides occasional graphic descriptions of Nazi violence and photographs depicting dead bodies and violence and is suitable for high school level and above.
Brownlow, Donald, and John DuPont. Hell Was My Home: The True Story of Arnold Shay, Survivor of the Holocaust. Hanover: Christopher Publishing House, 1983.
This third-person biography of Arnold Shay (born Arnold Szjowicz) outlines Arnold’s prewar life, his traumatic experiences during the Holocaust, and his life after the horrors had ended. After the Nazi invasion and occupation of Poland in 1939, Arnold and his family of seven were moved into a single room in the Będzin ghetto and subjected to the everyday horrors of Nazi occupation. By April 1942 his entire family had either fled or been deported to labor camps, and been murdered. Arnold eventually left the ghetto and joined a resistance movement. There he met and married Fela Freidman before the couple was deported to Auschwitz in 1943 and separated. Arnold spent much of his time in Auschwitz working in a tailor shop and was subject to years of inhumane treatment and torture, including medical experiments by the famous Nazi doctor Dr. Mengele. After surviving a death march to Dachau, he was liberated in 1945. This biography provides very specific details regarding life in the ghettos as well as in concentration camps and offers a unique perspective from a survivor who endured an unusual set of circumstances. The narrative is not chronological and occasionally moves abruptly through flash-forwards and flashbacks. The account includes photographs of Arnold, his family, and some of the settings in the narrative, providing further detail to the story.
Laskier, Rutka, and Daniella Zaidman-Mauer. Rutka’s Notebook: A Voice from the Holocaust. Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2008.
Rutka Laskier, sometimes called the “Polish Anne Frank,” recorded her experiences under Nazi occupation in a diary. She was fourteen years old when she recorded the first entry on January 19, 1943. Rather than focusing on larger events in Będzin, Rutka’s diary is exactly what one would expect from a fourteen-year-old girl: an account of her daily life, friends, attempts at adolescent romance, and ideas of sexual exploration. Rutka mainly focuses on conflicts within her social group and her love interests while frequently expressing her distress over her captivity and the unending boredom she lives with. She and her family were moved from an apartment in Będzin to a one single room home and later to the ghetto in Kamionka. There, Rutka was forced to work in a sewing factory that employed much of the town. She provides little detail of Nazi occupation or how it impacted her life. The information she shares, usually accounts of Nazi violence, are presented in a very detached manner as though Rutka were not fully aware of the horrors of the situation. The diary ends very abruptly after an entry about a wedding, as Rutka and her family were deported to Auschwitz and killed. The diary portion comprises approximately half of the book. The remaining sections provide additional information on Bedzin, Auschwitz, and the Holocaust as well as maps, several personal accounts, and photographs. Rutka’s diary can be used as an example of how youth in Bedzin responded to the horrors of the Holocaust and is appropriate for middle-school aged readers and above.
Liebermann-Shiber, Ella. On the Edge of the Abyss. Western Galilee: The Ghetto Fighters’ House, 1992.
Holocaust survivor Ella Liebermann-Shiber provides an account of her experiences in Poland during Nazi occupation as well as detailing her time as a prisoner in Auschwitz. Ella responded to the horrors of her situation with artwork. She drew whenever possible in Auschwitz and became an artist after liberation. Her book includes many of her drawings depicting her experiences in Auschwitz. This book, while a valuable resource on the Holocaust, is currently out of print and may be difficult for scholars or researchers to obtain.
Lipski, Jane. “My Escape into Prison and Other Memories of a Stolen Youth.” In Stolen Youth: Five Women’s Survival in the Holocaust. Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2005.
Jane Lipski’s section in this book is a first-person narrative of her life before, during, and after the Holocaust. Fourteen years old at the time of Nazi invasion, Jane worked as part of the resistance movement within the Będzin ghetto and narrowly escaped the deportations that killed most of her community. She fled to Slovakia where she married another resistance worker. Soviet soldiers later captured the couple as they fled the country. They were imprisoned in Moscow as suspects of espionage. Jane details her pregnancy and birth in the Soviet prison as well as her years imprisoned in a labor camp. Eventually Jane was released and reunited with her remaining family. The short memoir provides insight into the lives of those in the Będzin ghetto as well as describing the postwar antisemitic climate in the USSR.
Martin, Doris and Ralph. Kiss Every Step: A Survivor’s Memoir from the Nazi Holocaust. Self-published, 2009.
Doris’s biography outlines her life prior to, during, and after the Holocaust. Doris Martin lived in Będzin with her family of seven before the Nazis invaded, and miraculously all seven survived the ordeal. Doris’s narrative is divided into sections narrated by different family members: Doris’s older brothers Issa, Moishe, and Yossell, her younger sister Laya, and, of course, Doris herself. Doris was deported to Auschwitz and later to a labor camp, where she spent the majority of the Holocaust. While she was imprisoned, her family went into hiding: first in the ghetto, but later hiding in plain sight as Polish citizens with falsified documents. Doris’s biography provides insight not only into the conditions of the Będzin ghetto but also into the different responses to the Holocaust. Some Jews were able to go into hiding while others were deported and imprisoned. Some, like Issa, even fled the country. Doris uses her biography to call for remembrance for her family and everyone who suffered and died during the Holocaust. This book is available through the Martin-Springer Institute located in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Pivnik, Sam. Survivor: Auschwitz, the Death March, and My Fight for Freedom. New York, NY: St. Martin’s, 2013.
Holocaust survivor Sam Pivnik’s memoir provides unique perspective into life under Nazi occupation and the horrors of concentration camps. Born Szlamek Pivnik, a Jewish native of Będzin, Sam calls his life prior to the Nazi invasion as a Garden of Eden compared to the hell of the occupation. Sam tried to hide in the ghetto with his family to escape deportation, but they were discovered and transported to Auschwitz. Upon arrival, Sam was immediately separated from his family. He performed physical labor in the camp and was later assigned to the Rampe Kommando, a squad of prisoners forced by Nazis to collect and sort the possessions of the dead. Sam was eventually transported to a satellite camp of Auschwitz and forced into hard labor until Nazis cleared the camp and forced prisoners on a death march to Germany. Soviet forces liberated Sam and the surviving prisoners on this march. Some were transported to a ship heading for Sweden. While en-route, Allies attacked the ship because they mistook it for a German warship. Sam was among the very few who survived by swimming to shore. Sam’s account provides a multi-faceted view of a variety of the horrors experienced by Jews during the Holocaust. The book includes photographs and maps as well as several graphic descriptions of violence. It is appropriate for high school-aged readers and above.
Ranz, Jochanan. In Nazi Claws: Bendzin 1939-1944. New York: Shulsinger Bros, 1976.
Holocaust survivor Jochanan Ranz gives a detailed account of life in Będzin before and during Nazi occupation with emphasis on resistance movements and partisan activities. Ranz briefly describes Będzin before the war, providing information on population, daily life, and Jewish culture. He then moves into the period of occupation, describing harsh Nazi policies against Jews and frequent violence and cruelties. The latter half of the account focuses on resistance in Będzin, in which Ranz was involved. The youth in Będzin formed a resistance group called the Kibbutz, which assisted in transporting Jews out of the ghetto into safety, often at great risk to their own lives. Once mass selections and deportations began, people involved in resistance were deported themselves or went into hiding in bunkers. Ranz ends his account by outlining the last liquidation of Będzin and the final seven days in which almost all Jewish life remaining in this town was eradicated. Though told in first-person perspective, the account focuses little on Ranz’ personal experiences. Rather, it sheds light on the story of Będzin as a whole. The narrative includes photographs of persons and places mentioned in the account. It is appropriate for all ages.
Rechnic, Rose Ickowicz. Try to Survive…and Tell the World. Self-published, 2002.
In this memoir, Holocaust survivor Rose Ickowicz Rechnic details her experiences living under Nazi reign in the Będzin ghetto and, later, in Auschwitz. Rose was thirteen years old when the Nazis invaded Poland and arrested her father, who was never heard from again. Rose provides the reader with details of life under German occupation: they were forced into terrible living conditions, food was heavily rationed and very scarce, Jewish children could no longer attend school, and anyone who was capable of working was forced into labor. After working in the ghetto for several years, she and her family were deported to Auschwitz. Her younger brother was selected with other men and was never heard from again. Rose and her sister, mother, and two aunts were put to work in the camp. Disease ran rampant, and Rose caught typhoid. It ultimately saved her life because when she was in the infirmary her name was removed from the list of prisoners who were scheduled for execution. After seeing her mother and sister marched to the gas chambers, Rose snuck aboard a train heading for another concentration camp, Bergen-Belsen. She lived there in considerably better conditions until her liberation in 1945. Her book then details her postwar experiences, including marrying another survivor from Będzin, moving to Germany and eventually the United States, and coping with the trauma of the Holocaust. Rose’s first-person narrative provides unique insight into life in Będzin and two separate concentration camps. This account contains photographs and brief descriptions of violence. It is suitable for readers of middle-school age and above.
Shay, Arnold. From Bendzin to Auschwitz: A Journey to Hell. Hanover: Christopher Publishing House, 1996.
Holocaust survivor Arnold Shay (born Arnold Szjowicz) details his life before, during, and after the Holocaust in this stirring memoir. Arnold was born and raised in Będzin and lived through the horrors of Nazi occupation and ghettoization. Later, he was deported to Auschwitz and lived in horrific conditions until his liberation. This book, while a valuable resource on life in Będzin and the Holocaust, is currently out of print and may be difficult for scholars or students to obtain.
Bauer, Yehuda. A History of the Holocaust. Revised edition. New York: Franklin Watts, 2001.
Historian Yehuda Bauer provides a complete and comprehensive volume outlining Jewish history and the Holocaust. The narrative opens with the history of European Jewry dating back several hundred years, including descriptions of cultural and religious practices and the construction of Jewish social culture. The discussion then moves to the end of World War I and tells how the Weimar Republic left in its wake spent many years laying the foundation for the Holocaust. From there the text focuses on the chronological history of the Holocaust itself, beginning with the occupation of Poland in 1939 and outlining ghetto life, the “Final Solution,” resistance, and the political climate of Europe, the Allies, and all those involved in the greater conflict of World War II. The text pulls heavily from primary sources for evidence and includes maps, charts, and photographs to provide additional coverage of the events discussed. The text includes several brief descriptions of Nazi violence and is suitable for high school level and above.
Browning, Christopher. Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1998.
Historian Christopher Browning details the movements and activities in Eastern Europe of a German police unit, the Reserve Police Battalion 101. Relying heavily on primary sources, such as Nazi military records and personnel files, Browning reconstructs the path of the unit and describes many of their violent killing sprees of Jews as part of the Nazi “Final Solution.” The author discusses personal details of individual policemen. He presents these perpetrators as ordinary men faced with the job of killing, rather than as killers by nature. Browning blurs many of the black-and-white lines in his examination of the motives, actions, and reactions of the police unit. The narrative is presented mostly chronologically and contains general background information on the greater historical perspective as well as focusing on the specific storyline of the Reserve Police Battalion 101. This resource proves useful in providing complex and detailed insights into perpetrators of the Holocaust. It contains several graphic descriptions of Nazi violence. Some caution is advisable. It can be age-appropriate for high school students and above.
Fulbrook, Mary. A Small Town Near Auschwitz: Ordinary Nazis and the Holocaust. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
British historian Mary Fulbrook provides an account of the Będzin ghetto during the Holocaust. She focuses on one man in particular who was the regional German administrator in charge of the city and ghetto of Będzin, Udo Klausa. As it happened, Klausa was also a longtime family friend after the war. Klausa worked closely with other Nazi administrators and military security to arrange deportations and other violent atrocities against Jews. Fulbrook uses her narrative to both tell the story of the Będzin ghetto while also questioning the personal involvement and moral responsibility of Klausa. The book provides a complex examination into perpetrator mentalities, Fulbrook portrays Klausa as both as a family man pursuing his career but also as somone who was doing more than following orders. He also collaborated closely with the Nazi regime to ensure the implementation of the Final Solution. This intricate portrayal of Klausa and of Nazis in general deepens the issue of German complicity during the Holocaust. The narrative is useful in examining both larger themes of responsibility while also providing a detailed and complete history of the Będzin ghetto during and after the war. This text contains several graphic descriptions of Nazi violence. It is age-appropriate for high school students and above.
Linenthal, Edward T. Preserving Memory: The Struggle to Create America’s Holocaust Museum. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.
Historian Edward T. Linenthal provides a chronological narrative outlining the fifteen-year process of conception, construction, and presentation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM). Linenthal describes the turbulent birth of the very idea, which was rooted in political advancement as much as in Holocaust remembrance. The involvement of certain key figures in the materialization of the museum is described as are political divisions existing among those working on the construction of the museum. Conflicts over architecture, location, content, and commemoration all play a key role in the progression of the museum. Linenthal structures much of his account around the idea of memory ownership. He repeatedly asks: who owns the memory? He outlines conflicts over the definition of the Holocaust and whether it applies to all victims or only those who were persecuted because of Jewish heritage. The narrative includes photographs and references various official documents involved in the making of the museum. Linenthal’s account focuses first and foremost on the history of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, but also provides insight into the idea of memory. The account provides a broad explanation of the political and social climate of Holocaust remembrance in the United States. It can be read by all age groups, although it might be more accessible to students interested in understandings memory cultures and how the USHMM decided to represent Holocaust history.
Jews in Ghetto of Dabrowa Gornicza & Bedzin, Poland; Street Scenes, Workers, Sewing Workshop of A. Rossner. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 1941. http://www.ushmm.org/online/film/display/detail.php?file_num=184
This eleven-minute, black-and-white video shows primary source footage from ghettos in Będzin, Dabrowa Gornicza, and Sosnowiec, three cities in Poland that were occupied by Nazi forces during the Holocaust. The footage is presumably from 1941 or 1942, though exact dates are not confirmed. It contains no dialogue or subtitles. Organ music is superimposed over the footage for the entire video. The footage shows glimpses into the daily lives of Jewish citizens: people walking down the street, shopping, visiting with friends and neighbors, posing for the camera, and working in a sewing shop. It includes the Alfred Rossner factory. Most Jews shown in the video have a Star of David, the identification symbol forced upon them by the Nazis. The film is effective in showing aspects of daily life in the ghettos as experienced by Jews and provides rare, first person perspective on living and social conditions in ghettos. The video shows neither Nazi soldiers nor violent acts and is appropriate for all ages, though background knowledge regarding context is useful.