4714 Holocaust passport photos

4714 Holocaust passport photos

4714 Holocaust passport photos of Będzin Jews were brought from Poland by Będzin born Lawyer Arie Ben Tov – Hassenberg in the fall of 1980. The original collection was handed over to Yad Vashem. It was a crucial contribution to the "Everyone has a name" project that enabled the uncovering of names and faces of Holocaust victims.

4714 Holocaust passport photos of Będzin Jews were brought from Poland by Będzin born Lawyer Arie Ben Tov – Hassenberg in the fall of 1980. The original collection was handed over to Yad Vashem. It was a crucial contribution to the "Everyone has a name" project that enabled the uncovering of names and faces of Holocaust victims.
These photos are to be found in Arie- Ben Tov's autobiographical book:
And in my Dream I hear my Mother's Voice...
Following is the full account of the 4714 photos reaching Yad Vashem:
"I went to Poland to participate in an international conference dealing with Auschwitz, which is a weighty topic in its own right. But, to me, the most important event during that visit was my coming back with those 4714 photos, among them a photo of my youngest brother Yisrulik. I handed the original photos to Yad Vashem, the photo-copied ones arranged alphabetically on a shelf in my study. They escort me, wrap me, their spirit, I dare say, completely part of me. That's what the Jews of my hometown looked like before...
The story begins a year earlier, in 1979, when a lady by the name of Risza Maslowska, a Polish Jewess who survived the war by impersonating as a Polish gentile, came to my office. She told me about the treasure of the photos that had gone through a few phases.
Near the end of the war, in 1945, a Jewish Historical Committee was established and led by Dr. Filip Fridman and the cooperation of other historians. The lady who showed up at my office had organized a branch for that committee that would take care of the Zaglembie province. It was in Katowice and its work, similar to that in the other provinces was the gathering of documents, photos, lists and every kind of documentary that records what the Jews had been through during the war. The aim was to find proof of crimes carried out against Jews. There is a story about a Volksdeutsche by the name of Geubles against whom war crimes accusations had been forwarded. To be taken off the list of war criminals he decided to come to the Katowice Historical Committee Branch and hand over to Mrs. Maslowska a box with more than 4000 photos. He hoped to get a bill of clearance and get off the criminals' list by doing that. He told her that he helped Jews during the war and these were photos he found in an office that had been abandoned by the fleeing Germans. It turned out that this Guebles was among the Volksdeutsche who cooperated with the Germans but did not commit any actual atrocities against Jews. The Polish authorities decided to re-habilitate those people under certain restrictions and were on list no.2, whereas list no.1 contained names of significant criminals. Those on list no.2 had a seal saying:" The bearer of this certificate in on list no.2. It bothered Guebles both socially and in his line of work and he hoped to have the blemish erased. He thought that that by bringing that treasure to the Jews he would be granted the legitimacy he was yearning for. Thus, it became known that these photos were handed over to the Germans in the time of the ghettoes, presumably to get a work permit from the Germans. The Jews were set up/deceived and were all sent to the camps while the Germans kept the photos, maybe in order to record their wartime activities. Due to their hasty departure they had no time to burn evidence of their atrocities and the treasure box with the photos survived. Truth is probably different from what he chose to share. He didn't help Jews and somehow found his way to that office and browsing through the office found the box, kept it and deliberated what he could gain from it until the thought of the gaining the approval he yearned for crept into his mind, which did get with the signature of the Katowice Jewish historical Committee.
Prior to the closing down of the Katowice office, when it was moved to the Jewish Historical institute in Warsaw, there was an idea to have them on a public exhibition for people to come and identify their relatives. The idea did not materialize and on 1 September 1948, nine years after the outbreak of the War, Mrs. Maslowska deposited it in the hands of the Warsaw Jewish Historical Committee. She did that under the condition that she could, at any time, get it back. That's how these photos remained in Warsaw until 1957, when she went to Warsaw to get the deposit back before going on Aliya to Israel.
She was met by a dire disappointment when the people in charge of the archives refused to let it out of their hands. They did promise her that she could, if she wanted, have the photos reproduced but that the originals were their estate. The woman who did not have that sum of money available at the time – some 7,500 Zloti – made Aliya without the photos. From Israel, even in times when there were no diplomatic ties between Poland and Israel, she tried to arouse the interest of institutes and people in that box but to no avail. In her despair she sent a letter to the Secretary General of the Polish Workers' Party, i.e. communist party. The response came from the chairperson of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, Mr. Fox, who claimed no such box of photos existed. Disappointment and lies did not discourage her and in a conversation with the editor of the newspaper in the Polish language published in Tel Aviv, he suggested she turned to me. And so, in 1979, she showed up at my office I listened to her story and was completely taken in by it.
I went to the US to attend an International Biographical Center (IBC) Conference a short while after her talk with me, where people from different background, races, and professions took part. The organization holds annual meetings, in a different country every time, where the participants speak about everything under the sun, a kind of intellectual fun time. I meant to use my time there to meet Mr. Zigmund Sztrochlic, a Zaglembie survivor and active in its organizations, who had been chosen by President Carter to participate in the Special Committee the president had set up for the commemoration of the Holocaust. I took a few documents Mrs. Maslowska had left with me in order to give them to him as I knew he was about to go on a visit to Poland. To my regret, I could not meet him and the topic was not even discussed. I sent him a detailed letter upon my return and asked him to prioritize the retrieving of the photos once in Poland. There was no reply. Even upon requesting help from Yad Vashem I was told their hands were tied in the matter. I decided to act on my own to get hold of the photos. When I heard that there was an International Conference to take place in the fall of 1980 regarding Auschwitz. I had a door open for me! I checked the option of joining the Israeli delegation that was headed by Stefan Grajek.
Vidi – vini – vichi
I went....
and.....returned with the photos.
Suffice it for me to say that when I got to Poland I stuck to the mission at hand. I went to the Jewish Historical Institue escorted by another member of the Israeli delegation because I understood full well that it was against my better interest to go there on my own. Once the Institute members understood what I had come for, they went to have a short consultation, and suddenly come back and hand me a parcel wrapped in yellow paper, in it lots of smaller bundles tied with disintegrating threads. We didn't even need scissors to free the photos from the threads. They had been here, in a corner for thirty five years, without anyone as much as touch them or clear the dust off them. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. The sight of the original wraps Mrs. Maslowska had put the photos in shocked me. I was shaken to the core. I touched the small packages, overwhelmed and looked at the back of each where the name and other details of the person in the picture were specified. When I held the photos I could practically see all those thousands of Jews, young men and women, some of them my classmates, from our youth movement, grandparents and small children. How beautiful these young men and women were, hoe formidable that Jewry was. By God, how could they be annihilated, deported and burnt?
For me it was a kind of resurrection – living people were looking at me from these photos, husbands and wives, young and old, boys and girls some sharp eyed, some not; that one with an overflowing smile and some restrained; some baffled and another with a wide eyed look at the world spread at his feet. Everyone a world unto itself, and I touched families, tribes, so many worlds. I sat there for many hours, the pictures moving before my eyes. There was a whole community, Judaism with all its shades and varieties. Pictures, more pictures, all alphabetically arranged. I asked my friend to look for the letter "H" – Hassenberg.
Brother, Yisrael Hassenberg
I could not do it myself; afraid of the emotional impact it could have on me if I suddenly held a picture of someone in my family. I feared shock. A few minutes later, my friend turns to me: "Is he someone of yours?" as he showed me a photo of a child. Yisrolik's eyes were looking at me from the picture: My 15-16 year old younger brother. I was shocked beyond words and froze. Of our entire family Yisrolik was the only one who was a mystery, and the last one I thought I'd see a picture of. My gaze locked on his face, as if he appeared, the way one hears a knock on the door and the person allows himself in before you open. He left us in 1941 without a trace, and here I am holding his picture at the back of which are his details written in German. I didn't know, or preferred to forget, that he knew German. I read: "Hassenberg Yisrael Bendsburg- Będzin, Katowice, Malachowska Strasse. Born 25.6.1925."
I was about to faint.
"Arie, Arie," my friend called out to me when he saw my pale face. I said to myself that I was not moving from here without this picture and put it in my pocket. (I still did not know if I was going to get permission to take the photos from Poland.) A second thought made me fill my pockets with other people's photos. And thus, I had only one picture from my family. I was filled with immeasurable sadness, as if they had been taken away from me all over again.
I asked to remain alone, to commune with my townsmen without stranger near me. I stood like that until one of the workers of the Institute, a proclaimed communist, approached me. He came closer, lowering his eyes. As if to alleviate the embarrassment, I started to explain the whole issue of the pictures. He could easily see how moved I was, my voice trembling. I made it clear that those pictures belonged in Israel and even though he was not excited at the thought, I found out later that he was of an essence in getting the certificate of approval that enabled the photos to be taken to Israel and he was the one who connected me with the General Manager of the ministry of Religious affairs. There is no doubt in my mind that my behavior and dedication had deeply affected him.
In the mean time I asked for boxes to pack the photos in and one of the secretaries assisted me. For the next sixteen hours, until our departure for Israel, successful intensive activity was underway. I approached various authorities who could help and eventually through Stefan Grajek, found the way to the official authority in the Ministry of Religious affairs, that was in charge of Jewish affairs as well. A meeting with Mr. Dusznik, General Manager of the ministry was arranged. When I sat, facing him, I took out my brother's picture and handed it over to him. He looked at the small passport photo for a long time.
"This nice looking boy who was killed by the Germans is my brother." He understood there was some intension in what I said to him and asked me how he could be of help. I explained that I needed a written permission from an official authority allowing me to take the pictures out of Poland. To my surprise he asked me how the permit was to be phrased. I willingly dictated the text to his secretary:
"I hereby certify that Mr. Arie Ben-Tov, an Israeli citizen, is taking passport photos of Jews from Będzin, killed in concentration camps. These photos were handed to the Jewish historical Institute in Warsaw in trust. I am issuing this permit to show to the Polish Border inspection and customs.
Signed: Tadeusz Duszik."
I used the time I had while the secretary typed the letter to elaborate on the dire state of the Jewish cemetery in Będzin to which he picked up the phone to one of the secretaries of the Communist Party in Zaglembie and instructed him to erect a fence around the Jewish cemetery.
I thanked him for his understanding.
The flight home was not a direct one, with a stopover in Frankfurt. I stayed at a humble hotel and spent the night communing and arranging the photos. I placed them on the bed, carefully looking at people's names, coming across familiar names made me shudder. I could not sleep. That night was to be coined "The Night of the Pictures."
The following morning, I purchased a few albums to place the pictures in – which I did after my return home. Once word of the treasure had come out, the media and Zaglembie survivors alike – first and foremost people from Będzin – lunged at me. The news spread and aroused a wave of response.
Following are a few examples:
The local Polish Newspaper Nowiny Kurier reporter Ana Cwiakowska – who survived the Holocaust as well – brought Risza Maslowska with her.
"Word of the success of the chairperson of the Zaglembie survivors' Organization in getting permission from the Polish authorities to take Holocaust survivors' photos from Poland aroused great interest in Israel." She wrote and added, "It touches us, Polish Jews, especially as this accomplishment is the culmination of Risha's efforts, who has been active at bringing these photos to Israel for many years now.
Both of us went to Lawyer Arie Ben Tov's office. When we stood there facing the photos, Rischa was in tears and shaking and immensely gently she stroked every picture saying in a whisper:
"I've tried so hard to get to this minute. Now the task of my life has been achieved." The reporter added Risza Maslowska's words:
"Asking lawyer Ben Tov to handle the case of the pictures was a profound idea. He took it under his known severity and started acting upon it right away. He managed to not only to get them out of Poland but also get an official permission to do so."
To me, as it is to Risza and other Będzin and Zaglembie survivors, maybe even to all those who survived in Poland, the photos are not mere "documented material" that serves historians and the like. To us it is a kind of resurrection of the world the was and is no more. We are looking at loving and loved faces. I know of some of our organization who lit Yahrzeit candles when they heard about the pictures.
'No, we have not forgotten you' I whispered to the faces looking at me from the photos. It is easy to guess that only a few from those faces have survived, and I do not know if any of the survivors clearly remembers under which circumstances they had given their picture to the Germans.
Retrieving them and bringing them to Israel has indeed been an important chapter in my life. I recall those moments in May 1943, when I got the Honduras passport and my mother's words:"So that at least one of our family will survive to tell what happened."
Upon my return from Poland I got coverage on all media, was interviewed on the military channel and many articles written about it. I was invited to talks and got a special response from a Będzin survivor in the academia:
"I thank you for the pictures of Będzin Jews, among whom I found many pictures of my family, who were killed by the German bitter enemy." He used his letter to me to share two meetings he had with his father before his father died.
I think that taking care of the 4714 photos is a life's mission in its own right.
When I showed Prime Minister Begin the albums at the time, he was moved and said:
"I have seen many Holocaust documentaries but never have I seen such testimony depicting Jews that have been so cruelly uprooted."

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To watch Arie Ben-Tov's auto biographical film: And in my dream I hear my mother's voice…click here

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