Biographies

Search

350 results

elvira kohn

Throughout the whole time of our imprisonment in the camp, I had my camera with me. I managed to hide it when we arrived in the camp even though we had to submit all of our belongings to a detailed search. But, apart from the initial search, I had to continue to hide the camera because the Italians searched our barracks almost every day.

We, the inmates, figured out the system although it was very risky. We informed each other when and where the search began so if the search began in barrack number 1 that meant that barrack number 1 was clear.

One of the informers ran to let the others know, who then let me know, and then I sent the camera through others to barrack number 1 that had already been checked. So my camera was always in a different place and the Italians never found it, thanks to good communications and good relations among the inmates.

I didn't take any photos during our imprisonment because that would have been too dangerous. I wasn't, of course, allowed to do it and, had they caught me, I could have been in great trouble so I never even tried.
See text in interview
Today people say that the Italians didn't really kill anyone directly in the camp. My answer to that is: the Italians did and didn't kill in the camp. They killed indirectly. They killed by forcing us to work, by giving us small amounts of food, by giving us orders, by treating us like a lower race. They were cruel.

Often the inmates who had small children were given half a liter of milk for a child. The commandant of the camp who was among the worst, saw a mother with her child in one hand and a bottle of milk in the other, approached the mother, took the bottle from her and spilled the milk. They were cruel in these ways: starving us, mistreating us, scaring us, forcing us to work.
See text in interview
In May 1943, when the internment camp on Rab [6] was built, we were transferred from Kupari to the Island of Rab. There were no religious or observant inmates and no one observed any Jewish traditions or laws. At least I don't remember anyone doing so.

The Island of Rab was also under Italian rule. There were two camps: one for Slovenes and the other for Jews. Slovenes were imprisoned by the Italians just like we were. The two camps were strictly separated and no communication or contact between the two camps could take place.

There was one man, a Slovene, who was an electrician and who was ordered to fix some electric failures or something similar in our camp. He was the only one from the Slovene camp that we had some contact with but even that was very rare and limited since the Italians kept their eyes on him while he carried out his duty.

The Jewish camp, called Kampor, was divided into two camps: the Dubrovnik camp, where I was with my mother and other Jews from Dubrovnik, and the Kraljevica camp. Jews who managed to run away from Zagreb, Karlovac, and the surroundings arrived in Crikvenica and were interned by Italians in Kraljevica, just a few kilometers away from Crikvenica.

After a while, they were transferred from Kraljevica to Rab and were interned in the camp next to ours. The two camps, Dubrovnik and Kraljevica camp, were separated and each was enclosed with a wired fence. We were allowed to meet with Jews from Kraljevica camp during the day but only from 12 noon to 2pm, during the hottest time of the day.

At other times, it was strictly forbidden to meet. There were cases of parents being in one camp and their children in the other, depending on who was where when the war started, and at least they could meet for a short time during the day. I was lucky that I was with my mother.

There were around 1200 Jews in Dubrovnik camp and perhaps the same number or maybe a bit more in Kraljevica camp. We were accommodated in the barracks; in Kraljevica camp, there were wooden barracks, and in Dubrovnik camp they were made out of bricks.

The barracks were long and somewhat narrow. There were some 30 people in one barrack. The beds were bunk-beds: one person sleeping on the top and one on the bottom. The beds were one next to the other, on both sides of the barrack.

The toilets were outside, far away; to go to the toilet was like going on an excursion. The toilets were in one place and everyone from our camp used the same facilities, but there were a few toilet bowls, not just one. There was water in the camp, but for some weeks the central unit that supplied water was broken so cisterns with water were delivered to the camp. We received one liter of water per person per day, and that had to be enough for drinking and for personal hygiene.

We got a small amount of food which wasn't enough to keep us for the whole day. It was also disgusting. For breakfast, we got coffee that wasn't real coffee but some mishmash that tasted awful, and a piece of bread for the whole day. That piece we divided into three parts so that we also had a little piece for lunch and a little piece for dinner.

For lunch, we were given some soup, dried vegetables brewed up with old and foul-smelling oil, or pasta with oil. Pasta was usually served for dinner; thick black macaroni with oil. Even today, when I see someone pour oil over his food, I feel disgusted. Sometimes we were served goulash with meat and potatoes, but only small amounts of meat.

Every one of us had his turn to work in the kitchen; it was like a duty call, an obligatory call, perhaps once or twice in a week. We only helped around the kitchen to prepare the food, but the cooks cooked; we didn't. I remember once it was my turn to work in the kitchen and that day goulash with potatoes was served. The soldiers brought large baskets filled with already cooked potatoes and we were supposed to peal off the skin.

When the soldiers came to collect the potatoes, they looked inside the basket, then looked at us and asked: dove sono gli potati? [Italian: where are the potatoes] They gave us cooked potatoes to peal, and of course we ate more than half of the amount, who wouldn't have? We were hungry! The soldiers were very upset and from then on they always gave us raw potatoes to peal, and it was impossible to eat raw potatoes.

We usually woke up around 6 or 6.30 in the morning. The breakfast was brought to our barracks by the soldiers at 7am and by then we already had to be up and ready for breakfast, that is that horrible coffee and a piece of bread.

After breakfast, we each had our obligations that had to be fulfilled during the day. In the camp, everyone had to work or do something else during the day. The Italians weren't forcing us to work in a particular place; we could choose where we wanted to work. It looked as if it was voluntary work whereas we were actually forced to do something, it was just the place that we could choose. But sometimes even the place of work was determined.

There was something like a tailor's place where women who wanted to work there went. Buttons fell off from soldiers' uniforms or other things like that, so women went to do these jobs. Whoever worked there would be given an extra portion of food; this was like voluntary work, we weren't forced to do that.

Out of pure spite, I refused to sew buttons on soldiers' uniforms and never went to work there. Then, the Italians always built some roads and men usually went to dig and build these roads. That was hard physical labor. Men who worked there were also given an extra portion of food.

There was also a medical clinic in the camp, and usually the imprisoned Jews who were doctors worked there. In addition, there was a school for small children to teach them how to read and write so that they wouldn't remain illiterate. The inmates who were teachers worked there and taught children the basics in language and mathematics, the elementary things. The Italians allowed this.

I worked in the hospital. On the coastal side, in the town of Rab, which was four to five kilometers from the Kampor camp, there was the Hotel Imperial, which served as a hospital. Whoever wanted to work in the hospital could do so, and I volunteered. Every morning, Italian soldiers took a few of us on the truck to the hospital and brought us back in the afternoon.

We usually helped nurses in sterilizing bandages and preparing medical utensils. The patients who were treated in this hospital were the inmates from the Kampor camp. My mother sometimes worked in the tailors' place but most of the times she helped in the kitchen.

Lunch was served between 12 noon and 2pm. We had to go to the kitchen to collect our portion of food and then return to the barrack to eat there. During that time, we were also allowed to meet with the Jews from Kraljevica camp. We usually had the afternoons off. Depending on the nature of the work, sometimes someone had to work in the afternoon as well, but usually we had time off. Sometimes the Italians took us to the beach; they allowed us to go swimming.

They allowed 20 or 25 people to go to the beach, so we rotated. If more people went, it would have been more difficult for them to keep their eyes on us, so only 20 or 25 went at a time. It was around one or two kilometers to the beach and we walked. The Italians watched over us and guarded us very strictly and rigorously.

It was one of the Italian specialties to count us; they counted us again and again. We always had to line up and they counted and counted, before we left, while we were walking, while we were on the beach, when we walked back; they permanently counted us!

After we came back from the beach, we had off until 9pm. We usually walked around, many of us knew each other from before or we became friendly during our imprisonment so we walked and talked. At 9pm, the lights went off and we had to be in our beds in the barracks. The barracks weren't locked during the night.

The guards guarded them and walked around the camp during the night so that no one would even try to escape. It was very hot in the barracks especially during the night but the worst were the bedbugs. Our barracks were full of them and they drove us crazy. Those bugs bite and are very annoying so it was difficult to sleep at night.
See text in interview
We were first taken to the hotel Vrek in Gruz, a few kilometers from Dubrovnik. There we stayed for two months and at the beginning of January 1943 we were taken to Kupari. There were around 1200 Jews.

Kupari is about twelve kilometers from Dubrovnik and there we were interned in a Czech hotel that was situated on the seaside. It was a large hotel that was delimited with wire. We were only allowed to walk within the wired fence. The Italian soldiers were all over; there were also Italian guards who kept their eyes on us all the time.

They didn't allow us to go beyond the fence or to the coast because they thought that someone might swim away. So we had to stay inside the hotel or walk just a little bit around it. We received food but I rather not recall that: it was dried vegetables in oil and a piece of bread.

Then we had to cut this piece of bread in three parts, one for breakfast, the second for lunch, and the third for dinner. A friend of mine from Zagreb sent me a package with some food; we were allowed to receive one package per month. But even the food she sent me had to be dry so that it could be preserved.
See text in interview
I didn't feel much anti-Semitism in Dubrovnik before the war. Perhaps right before the war started, anti-Semitism was felt more individually than collectively. My boss, Miho Ercegovic, had one partner named Gesel. This Mr. Gesel told my boss that he must fire whoever was Jewish. He knew I was Jewish.

So my boss, who was very inclined to me, had to fire me but he did so only officially so that he wouldn't get into trouble. He still let me work 'unofficially' for him and I continued to do my job and take photos and that way I could earn my living. This was just when the NDH was proclaimed a state and the Ustashas came to power.

We were forced to wear a badge since the NDH was proclaimed in 1942. There were other discriminating laws implemented against Jews: in addition to wearing the badge, we were forbidden to work in state and public services, and we were deprived of the freedom of passage. We were allowed to go to the beach or to the market only until a certain time of the day; a curfew was imposed on us.

In Dubrovnik, the state power was in the hands of the Croats, i.e. of the Ustashas, and the military power was in the hands of the Italians. It was our luck that the Italians were in power there. The Germans, in collaboration with the Ustashas, tried to take us to their concentration camps, but the Italians made clear to them that they were in power in Dubrovnik and that it was Italian right to do what they wanted to do with us. And because the military power was greater than the state power, we were, in a way, put under the protection of the Italians.

The Jewish community informed all the Jews living in Dubrovnik, the Jews who by accident happened to be there, and the Jews who came to Dubrovnik to run away or hide, that on a certain day in November 1942 we would be taken away and that we could take with us what we thought was necessary. I was with my mother. We were taken aboard a large Italian passenger ship and many people of Dubrovnik came to see us off.

Among them was my boss Miho Ercegovic. When I saw him, I approached him and returned his camera. And he said, 'No, you keep it, and whatever happens will be captured on film.
See text in interview
I recall well one event in Dubrovnik: in April 1942, the NDH was proclaimed an Independent State of Croatia [5]. On this occasion, a great ceremony and celebration took place in Dubrovnik. All the high-ranking officials of the NDH came to Dubrovnik and requested that this ceremony be photographed.

Apart from me, there were two more men in Dubrovnik who worked as photo- reporters; however, that day they were already busy working elsewhere. By then Jews already had to wear a badge. Everywhere else in Croatia, Jews had to wear a yellow star but in Dubrovnik we wore on the left side of the chest a brass-like yellow badge within which was the black letter 'Z' [Zidov=Jew].

My boss told the officials that other photo-reporters were busy but that signorina [Italian for Miss] Elvira - that's how they used to call me in Dubrovnik - was available to take photos. 'If you don't mind that is. You know, she is Jewish', my boss said to them, and they replied that they didn't mind as long as the whole event was photographed.

The main ceremony took place in front of St. Vlaho church, and all the officials stood on the stairs of the church. Professor Kastelan and his sister were among the officials and many other functionaries and deeply religious Catholics. The ceremony began and I started to take photos. I had a Leica then. I stood there and took photos with my Leica on one side and the badge on the other.

After a short while, I noticed that the sister of this Professor Kastelan whispered something into his ear and they both looked at me. They stared at me for some time, and, as I noticed this, I slowly started to move back towards the crowd.

I wanted this to be unnoticed, and I moved slowly and disappeared into the crowd. Soon the sister came down the stairs, walked through the crowd, came straight up to me and asked me to stop taking photos immediately. At her request, I stopped and left the event.
See text in interview

Jankiel Kulawiec

There wasn't a ghetto yet, but there were repressions. As soon as the Germans had come back, they had burned one house down and executed ten people: eight Jews and two Poles. All of them had had links with one of the left-wing parties. During that execution they beheaded some of them with a saw - among them the father of Herszko Karszensztejn, the husband of my cousin Dowa, the one who had taught me Yiddish.

Hardly anyone from my family was still in Losice; Dawid and his family had managed to escape, to the Russians as well, I think. Ilja Mokobocki fled with my mama, and only his brother Mordko and his family were left. But I didn't stay with them.
See text in interview
A few days after the bombardment [on 12th September 1941] three German tanks came from Siedlce. I remember that I was standing on the street corner when they stopped. An officer got out of one of them and asked out loud why everything there was so dead, and why the shops were closed. He went up to a Jewish sweet shop, wrenched the locks off, opened the door, and scattered sweets around for the children. Interestingly, they came in the morning, and in the evening they left in the direction of Biala Podlaska. They said that they wouldn't be staying, but the Russkis [Russians] would.

When they left there was an interregnum for three days, and then the Russkis came [see Annexation of Eastern Poland] [10]. They'd been advancing for about a week towards Minsk Mazowiecki, and then under the Molotov- Ribbentrop Pact [11] decided to withdraw. Losice was to be on the German side, because we were about 14 kilometers from the Bug River [west of the Bug].
See text in interview

Mico Alvo

My father's brothers were not on the list. I mean the list of those people that were not allowed to leave, or otherwise, they would execute the rest. Since they managed to leave it was for the best. My father didn't tell them anything. Nothing at all. Everyone was free to do as they thought was best. At the time they used to say like they say in French, 'sauve qui peut.' That means: Whoever can, let him be saved.

You have to understand that no one was thinking that they were going to die. They thought that they would take them there and put them in forced labor to work. We would go and buy good hobnailed boots and warm clothes and things like that. People hid the money in the shoes and the belts in order to have money to spend. The Germans had also done the other thing: you would give them drachmas and they would change it to zloti, which was a worthless piece of paper.

My father really appreciated German science, but not the culture. Because we already knew from World War I in France, that they had done a lot. He appreciated the industry and with many suppliers he had excellent relations. He couldn't have imagined that the Germans would get to this point. My father thought it was compulsory to follow the orders of the Germans. He thought that by having a good behavior towards the Germans, their luck might be different from the others. I think that if they had known that they going for certain death, at least half of them would have left.

What I found out is that when they got to Auschwitz, my sister and my father didn't go straight to the ovens [crematoria]. They worked for a while in forced labor. My father lasted three or four months. He, who was used to getting up in the morning and having his shower and go to the office. I can only imagine what he went through. My mother went [to the crematorium] straight away,, and my sister lasted only a very short time.

Olga was the wife of Bernard Landau, who was put in prison by the Germans because they regarded him as a spy. He knew how to speak German better than the Germans. He was an Ashkenazi. In the family they considered him a little bit as an outsider. He left with the last transport to the concentration camps because he worked at the Community. But neither he, nor Olga or his children survived. Only his older daughter, Yvonne, who got married to a Spaniard and got the Spanish citizenship made it. She survived and later went to Palestine.

Rebecca left with her husband and two daughters and went to Auschwitz. My uncle Daniel lived in the ghetto at the time. Nevertheless he managed to get out of the ghetto with his wife and his two children, Nico and Mary. It seems that when the deportations started a number of people left. Only a few though. Roula's mother, who was from Volos, sent someone to take them and bring them to Volos on a boat. Then, when the Italians surrendered, they went up to the mountains of Karditsa.

Daisy's husband thought that it was better to leave and go to Athens. He had friends there. Daisy had no problem to go to Athens because she had married a Christian. They had excluded the ones of mixed marriages, but those were very few.
See text in interview
Sento's wife remained hidden and didn't turn up when all the Spanish were gathered. She managed to get to Athens and hide there. But she suffered. The Spanish that left from Athens weren't taken to Spain like it had happened with the first deportation. They took them to Bergen-Belsen. So she thought that she would be doing better than her husband and hid on her own but she suffered much more. She did survive though, and so did her two daughters.

Moshe Gattegno was with the Spanish. When the Spanish were liberated from Bergen-Belsen, he got eruptive typhus.

Aunt Lily survived, too. She had gotten married to Mario Modiano who was Italian. When the deportations started, the Italians put all the Italian citizens who were in Thessaloniki on an army train and moved them to Italian land. They didn't let the Germans take them. The Italian embassy helped many people. They gave out many certificates with fake citizenship. If, say, you had a grandfather or an uncle or someone, they would give you a certificate saying that you, too, are Italian. And they would send you on their own army train. So, this way they came to Athens and went into hiding.

When Italy fell and surrendered, Aunt Lily was in hiding in Athens with her two children. Her husband went to the mountains, with the partisans. They helped him to go and hide there with his two brothers and his eldest son, Tori. They didn't fight; they were old then, about fifty years old.

Aunt Ida married a Greek Jew. And they were all deported. She didn't survive.

My mother didn't have Spanish citizenship, because she was married to a Greek. My parents left during the last but one deportation to the camps. While she was at Baron Hirsch, my mother had tried to commit suicide by jumping into a well, but they managed to stop her. We heard of this from others that were there and returned.
See text in interview
After that the deportations started [78]. They started in February. There many deportations had already been accomplished. Our turn hadn't come yet. My parents were devastated, especially my mother. But unfortunately no one could have imagined what would happen. I was a rebel. I didn't want to accept it. I was saying, 'I will go out and fight, I'm not going to sit here and wait.' I couldn't accept this passive attitude. We can go and throw a bomb and burn the whole Community so they won't have any files, or anything etc. Because they are governing us through the Community, the Community is giving a hand for such a thing to happen! And I said, I would try.
See text in interview
In February 1943 [74] they put all Jews in a ghetto. One couldn't live wherever one wanted in the city. You had to live in certain neighborhoods, the ghettos [75], which Greek gendarmes were guarding and they had put civil guards on duty, too. It was the area around the Community offices. This area started at Androutsou Street and went further than where the Community was, to Evzonon. Everyone was in that area because that was an area where many Jews lived already. They had taken an area and guarded it so that no one could get out.

Besides that, we were all wearing the stars. Later, when I left, I found out that it was the easiest thing to take off your star and throw it away and get up and leave. No one would say anything to you. The Germans were very smart and associated everything they did with fear. The only measure that they were taking was to make sure you were scared. They said that if anyone tried to leave they would shoot them in cold blood. That was enough for no one to even try. If you were to take your star off and the gendarme saw you, he wouldn't come and ask you for your ID. Because there weren't only Jews in the ghetto, there were also Christians. Whoever was living there hadn't been thrown out of their houses, and they didn't ask them for papers or anything. So the terrorization of the Germans was based on fear.

Some Jews left the ghetto. The ones that could just left. It happened two or three times that someone saw them and killed them on the spot. Among them was a good friend of mine, Maurice Errera. At the cemetery there is a grave of six chaps, who were the same age as I, who they caught during their attempt to leave. They weren't caught by the Germans, someone gave them in. And they caught them and executed them straight away. That was enough to terrify all the rest of us.

I was living in the ghetto. We were at Miaouli Street. The Germans wouldn't let you go. They would make us do many things. Everyone had to declare all their assets. They ordered some young men to collect all these declarations, and I was one of them.

They set up an office for us at a school nearby. And people would come to fill in their declarations, and we were helping them to fill them in correctly.

The Germans had made lists of forty or fifty of the most distinguished members of the Community and they said that they were going to be their hostages. Among them was my father. They said, 'If any of these people leave, we will kill as many.' Their mentality was threatening. And my father thought, 'Twenty young people to be killed because of me?
See text in interview
Later, in February 1943 the persecutions started. They came one day at the shop and took my father and my two uncles to the 'Kommandantur' that was down Agias Sophias Road. I was at the factory that day. Around that time I went to the factory every day. They picked them and kept them there. They didn't allow them to come back. And I was at home with my mother and sister that night. Danny was in Athens. We were scared because Father hadn't come back and neither had any of the uncles.

They sent a gendarme to the house, who said, 'The son should come with us and bring the keys of the factory with him.' So I went, too. They waited for us there, they took the keys to the factory and they sent us to the transportation department, escorted by gendarmes. That maybe was the worst experience. What was going on at the transportation department was beyond one's imagination. The dirt, one on top of the other, some pot heads smoking, crazy, and all together. I don't know how my father could take it. But the poor guy didn't even know what was ahead of him.

We slept on the ground. They gave us some blankets, or perhaps I had brought blankets from the house, I don't remember. Next to us there were criminals. The next day they sent us to the Pavlou Mela Barracks where the prisons were [72]. We stayed there for three weeks:. my father, my two uncles and I. And they had taken in many more merchants. Benrubi who had a glassware manufacture and other merchants that were dealing in iron goods like us.

A parenthesis: There was a cell chamber with 400 Greek communists. And each time that there was a case of sabotage they would take a few from this chamber and shoot them. Many times they would come at two in the morning. Two or three times I remember something like that happening during the night. A German guy would get in the chamber while everyone was asleep and he would say a few names. They were the ones to be executed the next morning. As a punishment because of the sabotage that had taken place. They took us out of there by paying an amount of gold sovereigns to Papanaoum [73]. He was a German collaborator. He was working with the Germans, the infamous Papanaoum and a couple of others of his band; they were sharing the loot with the Germans.

They took us to the 'Kommandantur' in order to empty the shops. As soon as they had sent us to Pavlou Mela, the very next day, the emptying of the shops started and it lasted for three weeks. They were emptying shops morning and night. There were these very large Schenkel trucks then, Kroup I remember, they would take away the things. And they threw them out of the windows. They were taking things and throwing them straight out of the windows. They didn't leave anything behind. Not even shelves or counters.

This all happened in February 1943. After they had emptied the whole shop they gave it to someone called Karatzas. He was the one that was collecting all the fruit and agricultural products from northern Greece. He would store them in our shops, and then give them to the Germans at prices that were already prearranged. But he also bought them at very low prices from the farmers and the merchants. In other words, he was collecting all the food for the German army. Maybe they were sending them to Germany, too, where there was a great shortage. When the Germans left, Karatzas left for Germany, because he was afraid of being accused as their collaborator. He never came back to Greece.
See text in interview
They had taken my uncle to forced labor, close to Katerini [71]. They had taken all the Jews there for the new railway and the road they were building. Our customers from Katerini were bringing him food. We had customers that we knew from before the war, and they were bringing him food. My uncle worked until they paid the ransom. For a couple of months. Then many of the doctors became involved by giving you a certificate that you were unsuitable to work. They issued such certificates. I think this is why Solomon could leave. He managed to get a certificate stating that he was unable to work.

From my family no one else went to the local forced labor camps. I worked in a factory. There was an occupied factory that was making wooden boxes. It was close to the railway station. It belonged to a Jew; I think his name was Cohen. At Santarosa Street, they were making embrasures. There were many factories making embrasures at the time. They didn't make any plastic ones then; they were all made out of wood. I worked for about a month and a half. Until the Community had to pay the ransom.

My job was to cut and nail crates. They were crates for fruit. A kind of a carpenter's job. We would start early in the morning. Sometimes the tram was operating and sometimes it wasn't. When we knew that there was no tram coming the next day we had to get up an hour earlier to walk from the 4th stop of Martiou to get there, and an hour to get back. We would go there, we would get some food to eat, and we would finish. We would start at 7:30 to 8 in the morning and we would finish around 5 in the evening. The working day would last eight hours.

The factory didn't have many Jews. German cars were coming to load things up. We were supervised by both Jews and Greeks. Their behavior was good, normal. Both younger and older people worked there. To work in a factory like this at a time when there was forced labor, you had to have a way in, that is, you had to pay. In comparison with the railway tracks, this was a piece of cake. I don't know how my father arranged it. He knew someone in there, maybe he was a customer of his, and he chose the workers. He said, 'I want this one.' I don't know how it happened, but it was regarded as great luck.
See text in interview
My brother went down to Athens to take his exams for the Polytechnic in June 1942. They called us all to gather at Eleutherias Square [70] on 1st or 11th July, I don't remember the exact date. There many things happened... It was the first call for forced labor: to go and be drafted for labor. And the Germans transformed it into a feast. They had people photographing all around the balconies of the buildings that they had occupied. They would make you do gymnastic exercises; they would beat you up, two or three died from the beating. And they also had the women soldiers that were called 'Blitzmädchen.' This is a compound word: 'Mädchen' means lady and 'Blitz' means thunder. When we saw this happening we called my brother and told him, 'Don't come back to Thessaloniki.' And from that time on he stayed in Athens.
See text in interview
  • loading ...