Tenenbaum, Arthur A.

Tenenbaum, Arthur A.

Dzialoszyce (Poland), Miechow, Prokocim, Koszyce, Plaszow, Wuestegiersdorf, Gross-Rosen, Buchenwald, Theresienstadt

Mr. Arthur Tenenbaum was born in Dzialoszyce, Poland in 1918.  His hometown was north of Krakow.His father, Zisman was an Orthodox Jew who owned a clothing department store and studied the Talmud for at least six hours every day.  His mother, Grina (Platkiewicz)ran the store hoping that one day, their son would take over the family business.

Mr. Tenenbaum was the oldest of four boys and there were sixty-five people in his extended family.

He, his brothers and two uncles survived.

On the Sabbath, his father explained the Torah and always invited the poor to join them for dinner.

Mr. Tenenbaum commented that his father was a strict, very orthodox, god fearing man, intoxicated with God.  His mother worked at the store everyday from sixin the morning until midnight.  The children had private tutors as his parents didn’t want their sons mixing with non-Jews and girls.  Almost all the Jewish children attended public schools.

Before the war, his hometown had about nine thousand people, but about four to five thousand refugees increased that number to around thirteen thousand.  There were many synagogues and small stiebels, numbering about ten.

Mr. Tenenbaum’s father took him to both Warsaw and Lodz to see how businesses were run and also to witness religious life.  Politically, his parents believed in the Messiah, but not in Zionism.

It was unsafe to go out on Gentile holidays, such as Christmas and Easter.  During that time, hooligans threw stones at the Jews and once beat his father with sticks.

His family heard that the war began on the radio and read about it in the newspaper.  In September, 1939, German airplanes began bombing his town.  It took about ten days for the German army to enter and everything then collapsed.  On Kristallnacht, November 9 and 10, 1938, his family began worrying in earnest and his father began to build an underground bunker, fully camouflaged, but primitive.It was impossible to breathe for very long when closed inside.

The Germans began to pilfer their store and also beat people for no reason.  Within a few weeks, they couldn’t function, wore armbands, a curfew was imposed, couldn’t travel and the city became like a Ghetto.  They stayed in their homes.

The Germans were grabbing young men to dig ditches and for hard labor without food or pay.  In 1940 all young single men were expected to go to labor camps.  Mr. Tenenbaum’s second youngest brother, was one of the first to go.  Mr. Tenenbaum’s parents told him to get married and avoid the camp.  Mr. Tenenbaum then met Manya Moor, a girl from a neighboring town.  They married and had a baby boy, Saul, in 1941.

There was no Jewish resistance.  They thought that praying was a remedy.  They questioned all the rumors about killings and beatings, hearing that young, old and people with disabilities were killed.  They thought that slaughter was for the insane.  Their rabbi (who was a saint) was killed in his bed, causing all the Orthodox to fast and pray.

In September 1941, the SS arrived, circling the town, demanding that every Jew come to the marketplace.People were sobbing and confused.  Mr. Tenenbaum left with his wife and baby son, carrying only “a couple of bundles”.  The Poles told the Germans where any Jews were hiding.  The Germans searched from house to house.

In the marketplace, no one could have food, it was hot and the babies, including his son, were crying.  The selection didn’t begin until nightfall.  Fifteen hundred of the old and people with disabilities were taken by the Poles and thrown barbarically into trucks and then into pre-dug graves.  The remainder were driven to Miechow, another city, and told to sit on the wet ground.  His mother found them and sat with them all night in the meadow.  His father stayed behind, hidden in the home underground bunker.

There were about twenty-two thousand Jews there from three towns.  Two thousand of the young and strong, including Mr. Tenenbaum and his two brothers were taken away, leaving his mother, aunts, wife and baby to be loaded onto train cattlecars which were sealed, taken to Belzec concentration camp and all were slaughtered.

Mr. Tenenbaum and his brothers sent to theProkocim labor camp. There the brothers were divided and he was sent to Koszyce.  One of his brothers was there.  Six weeks later, his brother paid off a Gentile (with hidden money), who dressed him like a farmer so he could go home and rescue his father, bringing him back to the camp.

Every day, they walked a few kilometers to the Vestula River, which was a swamp.  It was a very cold winter and they had to go into the sewers, up to their necks, and lay pipes.  He, his father and brothers did this for seven months.  His father, who was only forty-one, was transferred

In mid-1943, they were moved to Plaszow, breaking up tombstones in an old Jewish cemetery.  Commander Miller said to throw in all valuables.  One prisoner kept a gold ring and was killed on the spot.  They left camp under armed guard to unload coal from trucks.  If they were slow, they were clubbed.  They labored about fifteen hours every day.

Amend Gett, a very tall man, with two German Shepherds was brought in.  The dogs tore the flesh off the inmates.  Mr. Tenenbaum stayed there fifteen months, until mid-1944.  Gett was a beast who enjoyed torturing the Jews.  Every morning, for fun, he shot a few inmates while riding on his horse.

Mr. Tenenbaum was very weak and thought the end was near.  He  was now building barracks.  He saw men from his hometown Plaszow and found Arthur Langgarten, a sewing machine mechanic, asking to be his assistant.  Mr. Tenenbaum, as a young child, had watched his mother sewing from patterns, so he was familiar with the machine.  He began working with this man and learned how to fix the machines. While he was working, there was a roll call and the man next to him moved a drop and was killed instantly.

Another instance of brutality happened during Mr. Tenenbaum’s wood chopping job.  An SS man named Willie (with a crippled arm) was an animal and when a young boy took a short breather, Willie took the handle of a shovel and hit him fifty times in the face and then put a bullet in his head.  The name of the boy was Schmuel Katz.

Because Mr. Tenenbaum’s father was so emaciated, in the summer of 1944, he was sent to Mauthausen and Mr. Tenenbaum was sent to Gross-Rosen.  There wasn’t any work there, just suffering.  No one could possibly survive.  Roll calls were all day and night.  Everyone was stripped upon arrival and gold teeth were pulled with pliers.  They were given “Mohawk” like haircuts and forced to crawl on all fours like animals, to dehumanize them.  Everyday, they were sent to the mountains to build shelters.  It was torture: hot weather, no water and unbearable dust.

Next Mr. Tenenbaum was sent to Buchenwald for a short while and then put on a cattlecar for four days on the way to Theresienstadt.  He saw mounds of dead bodies and thousand of skeletons.  At that point, he weighed less than seventy-five pounds.  Half of the boys died in the cattlecars and people were eating the bodies.  He had thyphus and kept loosing consciousness.

The Russians arrived May 5th, 1945 and liberated the camp.  They saved his life.  It took two months before he could function.  He was told that if a Jew came back to the small towns in Poland, the Poles would kill them,wanting to make sure all Jews were exterminated.

Mr. Tenenbaum’s surviving brothers live in Canada.  In 1950, he met his second wife in Munich.  She was also a survivor.  They have three children; Jean, Steven and Bruce.

Afterwards, the Germans said they had no idea what happened.  The Germans allowed the survivors to settle in Germany but he couldn’t stay in a country soaked with Jewish blood!

Mr. Tenenbaum said that fate made him survive!

Interview information:
Date: January 29, 1986
Interviewer: Esther Weine
Length: 1 hour and 46 minutes
Format: Video Recording