Interviewee: Abraham Kimmelmann
Interviewer: David P. Boder
Recordist: David P. Boder
Transcriber: Dagmar Platt
Translator: David P. Boder
Writer of added commentary: Donald Niewyk
Editor: Eben E. English
Creation location: ORT School, Geneva
Although large numbers of Jews lived in the Polish district of Eastern Upper Silesia, the Holocaust there (except of course for Auschwitz itself) is comparatively unknown. It had been part of Germany before 1918, and the Nazis reincorporated it into the Reich in 1939. Its 100,000 Jews, spread over more than forty Jewish communities, were then placed under the administration of a single Central Jewish Council. The Germans appointed Moshe (or Monek) Merin to head it. An active Zionist before the war, Merin organized Jewish police units to enforce the occupiers' demands, hoping to save at least a portion of his Jews by making them indispensable to the German war effort. Hence he maintained strict order and organized work in the ghettos, rounded up the unemployed for shipment to various camps, and violently suppressed all overt forms of Jewish resistance. Against this background, Abraham Kimmelmann sketches an unforgettable story of desperate Jewish measures to stay alive and avoid deportation to labor and extermination camps in 1942 and early 1943.1 He also takes us inside the smaller slave labor camps in Eastern Upper Silesia and documents the transition from army to SS control.
Kimmelmann’s hometown was Dąbrowa Górnicza, a factory center near Katowice just east of the 1939 Polish-German border and about thirty-five miles north of Auschwitz. It was home to about 5,000 Jews. His Hasidic family sent him to a private heder, but his education was cut short by the German invasion. Too young at eleven to be included in the early deportations of Jews to slave labor in Germany, he soon learned the metal trade to help maintain his family and keep it from being sent away from their home together with other "unproductive" Jews. Ultimately he could not avoid being transported to Markstadt labor camp and then to Fünfteichen, both satellites of concentration camp Gross-Rosen, where Krupp was expanding its huge Bertha Works. During the last months of the war he was taken to the main camp for a short time and to Buchenwald, where he was liberated in April 1945.
Kimmelmann is haunted by treatment of Jews by their fellow Jews during the Holocaust. Whether as Jewish Council members, Jewish police in the ghetto, or as block seniors at Markstadt, Jews strike him as more vicious and corrupt than some Germans. He occasionally loses sight of the directing Nazi hand behind every action. But Abraham is also thoughtful about the temptations placed before these individuals, wondering what he himself would have done in their position and whether their actions, too, were only human. What is more, he subsequently witnessed the still worse conditions that prevailed in concentration camps where the SS ruled more directly and the prisoner administration was largely non-Jewish.
A the time of his interview in Geneva in August 1946 the eighteen-year-old Kimmelmann was enrolled in a training program for mechanics sponsored by the ORT.
1. A version of this interview appears in Boder's I Did Not Interview the Dead, under the pseudonym "Abe Mohnblum."
From FRESH WOUNDS: EARLY NARRATIVES OF HOLOCAUST SURVIVAL by Donald L. Niewyk. Copyright (c) 1998 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. www.uncpress.unc.edu