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Only the oppressor has a name. The story of the boy from the picture

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The boy from the Warsaw Ghetto

Shorts, knee-length socks, leather ankle boots, a worn out overcoat and a shabby cloth cap. Dressed as he is, he might just as well be going out to play with his friends in the spring sunshine. Yet his face, instead of joy, reflects horror. He holds up his hands in the surrender gesture. The verdict has been already brought in.

Shorts, knee-length socks, leather ankle boots, a worn out overcoat and a shabby cloth cap. Dressed as he is, he might just as well be going out to play with his friends in the spring sunshine. Yet his face, instead of joy, reflects horror. He holds up his hands in the surrender gesture. The verdict has been already brought in.

SS-Brigadeführer wanted only the best shots and for this reason, it was often the case that SS-Obersturmführer Franz Konrad had a camera with him during operations. He was not entirely sure if Jürgen Stroop would be satisfied with the work of young photographers from the Propaganda Kompanie No. 689.

In the pictures, Stroop was mainly looking for details, he wanted close-ups to capture faces and emotions. Just as in the case of the picture illustrating a group of civilians being round-up down Nowolipie street. Simply perfect. Thick, dark smoke rising from burning wooden buildings in the background and German troops on both sides of the column – calm, even relaxed, a few of them with their guns hung over their shoulders. One of them stops, watches with a smile on his face. Perhaps he was accosted by someone out of shot or maybe something simply caught his attention for a while. The faces of the Jews are petrified with fear.

Roundup of Jews down Nowolipie street. A picture from the Stroop’s reportJürgen Stroop/Wikipedia (PD)

In the front of this odd parade, there are two women, a man and a little girl. Perhaps they were family or simply neighbors who had promised to help one another until the very end. The girl is not more than five, she is wearing a checked coat and a headscarf tied on her neatly done hair. The man and the younger woman are looking attentively at the photographer, as if they wanted to know their fate. Another dramatic event is taking place almost in the same location. The intersection of Smocza and Nowolipie streets, rubble where a pavement used to be, with people lying down and German troops standing over them. A woman is covering a male with her own body, cuddling up to him, pressing her hand against his face. They are terrified.

The intersection of Smocza and Nowolipie streets. One of a few dozen pictures illustrating the liquidation of the Warsaw GhettoJürgen Stroop/Wikipedia (PD)

“Just drawn out of a bunker” says an emotionless caption underneath a picture glued to a rectangular piece of cardboard. Next, the cardboard is punched and connected with other pieces. 52 pictures illustrating the Stroop’s report and forming a document describing the process of liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto.

Tsvi. Levi. Artur

“It was only through a continuous and persistent effort of all our forces, that we managed to capture or definitely eliminate a total of 56,065 Jews. The figure does not account for those who were killed in explosions, fires, etc., whose number we were unable to determine,” wrote Stroop in his report addressed to Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS and the Gestapo. “On 23 April 1943, Reichsführer SS, through a higher commanding officer of SS and “East” Police, issued an order to search the Warsaw Ghetto with utmost ruthlessness and relentless severity,” added the commanding officer supervising the liquidation process.

The boy from the Warsaw GhettoWikipedia

“Forcibly drawn out of bunkers”. This handwritten note captions what is arguably the most famous picture from his report. The author remains unknown – it might have been Franz Konrad or one of the nameless, today, Propaganda Kompanie soldiers. From the perspective of the SS-men, it represents just another group of individuals who would be put before the firing squad on the spot or suffocate in the gas chambers at the death camps. Just another figure in a report. “Terminated”. “Displaced”. “Bandits”. There is however a reason to believe that Stroop appreciated the picture. The terror in the absent eyes of the boy standing in the foreground is simply striking. The fear felt by a child who has seen too much and suspects too much is juxtaposed with the indifference of the SS soldiers visible in the background and the routine of serial killers.

Who is the boy? For years now, this question has been nagging researchers investigating the history of the Warsaw Ghetto. There is no simple answer, as over the years, there have been several individuals, who have claimed to know the boy’s identity. Among them, was Tsvi Nussbaum, a former prisoner of the German concentration camp in Bergen-Belsen, who in 1982, in articles published by the American press, claimed to be the boy from the picture. The western media announced a sensational discovery – the boy from the ghetto has been found and he is still alive.

According to Nussbaum, he was arrested together with his aunt and uncle in July 1943. As he explained, the photo was taken in front of Hotel Polski located on Długa street in Warsaw, where Germans laid an ambush. The hotel was a place, where Jews living secretly outside of the ghetto, on the so-called Aryan side, sought asylum. The boy, who was only eight at that time, remembered for the rest of his life the moment, when he was passing through the gate and continued walking towards the truck waiting for the arrested individuals, the SS soldier raised his gun and aimed at him as he stopped paralyzed with fear holding his hands up.

Although moving, the story presented by Nussbaum includes several substantial inaccuracies, which the journalists have ignored for a number of years. He was captured by the Germans in July and the individuals in the picture are wearing clothes typical of early spring. What is more, they are wearing armbands with the Star of David, which would not be possible if the picture was taken outside of the Ghetto. Wearing such an armband on the Aryan side would be equivalent to an instantaneous death penalty, as Jews were not allowed to leave the closed district. Additionally, the picture was included in the Stroop’s report, which was prepared in May, i.e. two months before the arrest of Nussbaum and his relatives at Hotel Polski. GALLERY: Stroop’s report: the report of May 1943, prepared by Jürgen Stroop and addressed to Heinrich Himmler on the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto

Another witness came in at a later date. Abraham Zelinwarger from Israel, who in 1943 decided to leave his wife and son to join the uprising in the ghetto. He managed to survive, they did not. “I received a letter from him from Israel, approximately fifteen years ago,” recalls professor Richard Raskin of Aarhus University in Denmark, the author of the book titled “A Child at Gunpoint” devoted to the famous picture. “We spoke on the phone. He was certain that the boy in the picture was his son Levi and the woman next to him his wife Chana.” Raskin received from Zelinwarger prints of old pictures, the last remaining keepsakes he had of his close ones, yet the professor had his doubts as to whether the persons in the pictures sent by Zelinwarger and those in the picture from the ghetto are the same individuals. “There was no resemblance between them in my opinion,” he says. “Nevertheless, he points to another clue and provides another name,” Artur Dąb Siemiątek from Łowicz.

Łowicz. Sochaczew. Kowel

In the archives of the Jewish Historical Institute seated on Tłomackie street in Warsaw, in the building situated in the past next to the Great Synagogue blew up personally by Juergen Stroop on 16 May 1943, among thousands of accounts of the atrocities of the Holocaust, there is a testimony made by Jadwiga Piasecka in 1968. The testimony establishes a connection between the anonymous boy from the picture with a specific boy from Łowicz. “My mother knew Artur Siemiątek from before the war, they were family,” explains Ernest Piasecki, son of Jadwiga Piasecka. “She had nine siblings and was the youngest of the lot. Artur was a grandson of one of her brothers, i.e. Józef. He was born in Sochaczew,” he adds.

Jadwiga Piasecka lived in Łowicz together with her husband Henryk. In September 1939, they fled East from one war, through the border, to Kowel. “This is where I was born. I was three months old when another war broke out,” describes Piasecki. The Germans invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. Fortunately, Jadwiga, Henryk and little Ernest managed to escape deeper inland. This way they made it.

“We returned to Poland in 1945. My parents were searching for their relatives: from my dad’s side in Tomaszów Mazowiecki and from my mum’s side in Łowicz. It became clear to us that almost all members of our numerous family had been murdered. Only those who left the country and moved East or to Israel survived,” he emphasizes. He was unable to recollect when or how his mother came into contact with the picture, in which she recognized Artur. He does not remember her reaction. What he knows is that for her it was a proof of what happened to the Siemiątek family from Łowicz. Ernest Piasecki admits that the identification based on a single picture is questionable. He understands that it will never be possible to confirm the boy’s identity with 100% certainty.

Therefore, the information on the boy should also be sought at other sources.

Feather beds. Candelabrum. Linoleum

Sparse traces of Artur Siemiątek and his parents can be found in three yellowed documents kept in the National Archives in Łowicz.

The first one is the birth certificate of the boy’s mother, Sura, prepared in 1907 in Russian.

Birth certificate of Artur Siemiątek’s mother

The second document is a premarital agreement concluded in 1934 before “Marjan Janowski, Notary Public”, specifying the goods to be brought into their marriage by Sura Jenta Dąb from Łowicz and Lajb Josek Siemiątek from Sochaczew.

GALLERY: Premarital agreement concluded by Artur Siemiątek’s parents before a Notary Public “A total of ten thousand zloty in gold, trousseau and four thousand zloty worth of furniture”, including “linoleum”, “ceiling mounted electric lamp”, “two large eiderdowns”, “two feather beds”, “candelabrum”, as well as “a title to a colonial store in Sochaczew,” handwritten by the Notary Public in his best handwriting.

The third document is an entry in the residence registration record for the building situated on Piłsudskiego street No. 18 in Łowicz. The only one, where the son of Sura and Lajb is mentioned. “Siemiątek Elejzer; occupation: with the parents; date of birth: 7 January 1935; denomination: Mosaic faith,” recorded the registrar. Below, there is also reference to the sister of Artur-Elejzer. Łaja, named after her deceased grandmother, was three years younger than her brother. Residence registration entry was stamped with a round red seal indicating the date of 16 September 1938. The following entry in the next column is dated 26 September 1940 and refers to the date, when the family moved out. Their new address was Zduńska street No. 37. In the ghetto.

Residence registration record. The last trace of the Siemiątek family in Łowicz.

“The Siemiątek family were definitely well-off,” explains Marek Wojtylak, the head of the National Archives in Łowicz. “They must have been influential too. Lajb Siemiątek became a member of the Jewish Council, the so-called Judenrat. He was also the head of the Refugee Aid Committee; refugees were numerous in the ghetto in Łowicz. The committee also helped the needy, it had its beanery, a community center and it sponsored meals for children,” says Wojtylak.

It did not last long though. Late February 1941 saw the start of the process of liquidation of the closed Jewish district in Łowicz. It was not later than in March when the Siemiątek family were taken away, most likely directly to the ghetto in Warsaw.

Frankenstein. Butcher. Blösche

Even if one assumes that Artur Siemiątek is the boy from the Stroop’s report, there still remain questions without any answers. What happened to his parents? Why are they not in the picture? Is his younger sister Łaja alive? Who is taking care of this eight-year-old boy in the ghetto? VIDEO: Warsaw ghetto

Niemcy utworzyli w Warszawie getto dla ludności żydowskiej

Nevertheless, there is one person in the picture, whose identity is unquestionable. The SS soldier standing in the background, behind the boy, pointing the barrel of his sub-machine gun at him. SS-Rottenführer Josef Blösche, known in the ghetto as the Frankenstein or the Butcher. Extremely cruel and – according to the testimonies of the witnesses – enjoying killing people.

“He shot children. We knew that he was the sort of character, who was the least important among the Germans, as all the other Germans in the ghetto outranked him,” said Marek Edelman in his 2002 interview with Heribert Schwan and Helgard Heindrichs, the authors of the book titled “Der SS-Mann”. “I saw him on the 18th of January, as he was liquidating the Jewish hospital located on Gęsia street No. 6,” said a leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. “He was the commanding officer of the squad and I know, even if I did not see this myself, I know this for a fact that he went through all the floors and all the wards, killing bedridden patients. He killed infants and newborns. He had a reputation of a person who enjoys shooting people. I know this or I witnessed it myself, I believe it was on Sienna street. There was a wall, which children carrying contraband goods, such as potatoes, used to climb. The holes in the wall were very narrow, so it was difficult to squeeze through, one of the children got stuck in such a hole and he shot the kid,” he related.

A picture from the Stroop’s report. Original German caption: “Jewish rabbis”Jürgen Stroop/Wikipedia (PD)

“I witnessed it by a sheer accident, as I worked at the Bersohn and Bauman hospital [the Bersohn and Bauman Children’s Hospital in Warsaw – ed.] across the street. Still, people often said it [murdering people – ed.] was his daily routine,” said Edelman.

“Everyone was afraid of Blösche,” testified former inhabitants of the Warsaw Ghetto. He was only 31, originated from a poor German family from the Sudeten part of Czechoslovakia, “a tall, well-built man with wide shoulders, dark hair and bright eyes,” as he was described by Edelman. Perhaps an occupation of a waiter or even an owner of a tavern located in Friedland and inherited from his father would suit him better. His service in SS triggered off his worst killer instincts.

“He was the worst of the kind, because he used to kill people for no reason,” explained Sol Liber, a soldier participating in the ghetto uprising. “It was his daily work: to come to the ghetto and shoot people. I could probably understand it if somebody committed a crime but even then you do not simply shoot a person. But this was his job, his occupation. When he was unable to find a victim in the street, he used to force open doors and break into houses,” he added.

The following is the recollection of Anna Kacprzak of her meeting with the SS-man: “All of a sudden people started running. It was Blösche on his bicycle. I was walking slowly and when I saw him, I stopped, I was terrified,” she said. “Blösche looked at me as he was passing by on his bicycle and then he opened fire on those trying to flee, killing several people. I was scared to death,” she added.

SS general Juergen Stroop, in the middle, looking up. The first one from the right-hand side – Josef BlöscheJürgen Stroop/Wikipedia (PD)

“After a bloody street patrol by Blösche, I saw people lying and bleeding on the streets of the ghetto,” said Mieczysław Maślanko, another witness.

The SS-man appears also in other pictures included in the report. He is also the one standing next to a group of Jews with the caption “A group of rabbis”. He is one of the German soldiers surrounding Juergen Stroop and watching burning buildings. All of these pictures were later one used during his trial as circumstantial evidence of his crimes.

In 1969, Blösche was found guilty of killing at least two thousand individuals by the court in Erfurt. He was sentenced to death. The sentence was carried out.

Stawarowska. Kartuziński. Lamet

Although most of the Blösche’s victims remain nameless, the identity of several other people from the picture with the boy have been confirmed – obviously, only with a certain degree of certainty.

If one assumes that the boy in the picture is Levi Zelinwarger, the woman to his right, according to Levi’s father, Abraham, could be Chana Zelinwarger. However, professor Raskin deems it impossible. He also points to other individuals, whose identity is much less dubious. In his opinion, the woman in the background, directly behind the boy, is Gołda Stawarowska. The boy with the white bag on his shoulder, as determined by the professor, was Leo Kartuziński from Gdańsk. On the left-hand side, close to the edge of the picture, there is a little girl looking at the camera. Most likely her name was Hania Lamet, she was a daughter of Matylda and Mosze from Warsaw. Next to Hania, there is her mother, Matylda Lamet-Goldfinger, with a scarf around her neck and an armband. The identity of both of the above-mentioned persons has been confirmed by Hania’s aunt, Esther Grosband-Lamet, currently living in Miami Beach, Florida.

Everything else about this picture is pure speculation. There is no telling where or when the picture was taken. It is possible that the gate through which the Jews are passing was part of the tenement house No. 34 situated on Nowolipie street. Such information can be found in the book titled “Teraz '43. Losy”, the authors of which – Magdalena Kicińska and Marcin Dziedzic – projected the scenes from the Jewish district onto pictures of today’s Warsaw. As Dziedzic explains, in the case of this particular photograph, he used information obtained from history enthusiasts from the Internet message board of the “Marki Commuter Railway” Association for Defending the Remnant of Warsaw.

The boy from the Warsaw GhettoWikipedia

“They pointed out numerous details. Not only to the facade of the tenement house, the gate or the untypical pavement but also to the shadows casted by the individuals in the picture. All these details allowed us to determine that the building was situated on the northern side of the street with even building umbers,” explained the author. “The key clue was the rainwater pipe embedded in the slightly protruding wall of the building. The ledge is clearly visible only on the Lindley’s plans from the late 19th and early 20th century, which were prepared for the purpose of providing Warsaw with a sewer system,” he adds.

This is where the tenement house from which the Germans escorted a group of Jews, including “the boy from the ghetto”, would probably stand today.

Today, where the tenement house with the address Nowolipie 34 used to be, there is a pedestrian crossing at the intersection with al. Jana Pawła II.

The investigation, even though carried out with due diligence, is still based of circumstantial evidence. “At this point it is not possible to determine, with 100% certainty, where the picture was taken,” admits professor Andrzej Żbikowski of the Jewish Historical Institute. “We are also unable to tell when it was taken,” he says. The picture included in the Stroop’s report is not dated and the event was not described in the reports on the liquidation of the ghetto. “We can only guess that it was at the time of the so-called amnesty, when the Germans, following the initial days of fighting in the ghetto, announced that civilians would be safe to leave their hideouts. The people in the picture are, if this term can be used here, in a good condition. Their hands and faces are clean,” notices professor Żbikowski. “This may mean that they did not have to run from the fires engulfing tenement houses set on fire by the Germans at the later stages of the uprising,” he adds.

SS-men on the burning Nowolipie street. A picture from the Stroop’s reportJürgen Stroop/Wikipedia (PD)

Did the boy stand a chance of surviving? It is difficult to hope so, especially with Blösche the “Butcher” standing behind him. Even if he was not killed immediately after the picture had been taken, he was most likely taken to Umschlagplatz located on Stawki street and then to a death camp. The final lead which could be indicative of his further fate is the entry regarding Hania Lamet in the documentation kept in the archives of the Jerusalem-based Yad Vashem Institute. In the “Place and circumstances of death” column it says: “Majdanek. Children taken to the gas chamber”. Mariusz Nowik

Hania Lamet, six years old, died in a gas chamber at Majdanek concentration camp. This results from the document kept in the Yad Vashem archives
Artur Dąb Siemiątek named in the document kept in the Yad Vashem archives.

Autor: Mariusz Nowik / Źródło: tvn24.pl