Monday, September 20, 2010

The Story of a Communist „Schindler“

 The German who sheltered hundreds of Jews in the Nazi inferno
By Joseph Algazi (Galili) (former Ha'aretz reporter)
Kol ha-‘Am, 27 September 1964
Hebrew Original:
In the city of Lod in Israel lives a Jewish woman who is now reliving the story, full of hardship and grief, of her life during the years of the Second World War. In this dark story appears a prominent beam of light in the form of a German to whom she owes her life. The German, Bernhard Falkenberg, who lives today in East Berlin in the DDR (The German Democratic Republic, also known as East Germany, which existed between the years 1949-1990 – trans.) saved many Jews in the city of Wlodawa in Poland, including Grete Rotstein (Burger) of Lod, and he also helped the partisans in the forests. Falkenberg was subsequently caught by the Nazis and sent to the Mauthausen death camp, where he was imprisoned until the end of the war.

Falkenberg and Grete met face to face for he first time after 21 years in July 1964, when they both testified at the trial of the murderers of the Jews of Wlodawa.
From Grete’s story emerges the noble image of a courageous and honest man, who in the middle of the Nazi hell unrelentingly sought and found ways to save the lives of many Jews, knowing that he was thereby risking his safety and even his life.


Grete Rotstein (Borger) was born in the year 1921 in the city of Żywiec in Poland. Six weeks before Hitler’s armies invaded Poland Grete went to Warsaw, the capital of Poland, where she began to study dressmaking.
The outbreak of the war and the cruel bombardments found Grete in Warsaw; throughout all those events she was in the city by herself, without her parents.
 In October 1940 Grete, along with the Jews of Warsaw, was transferred to the city’s ghetto.
 Upon the outbreak of the war, her parents, Berta and Bernhard and her sister Lily fled from Żywiec to Krakow. Later some of the Jews of Krakow, including Grete’s parents, who did not want to go the Krakow ghetto, fled to the city of Mielec.
 In 1942 all the Jews of Mielec were sent to the Nazi death camps. Grete’s father, Bernhard, was sent to the Postkov concentration camp, where he was murdered. The mother Berta and the sister Lily were transferred to the Wlodawa labour camp.

Towards parts unknown

One day in 1942 a large transport of Jews was taken from Warsaw towards an unknown direction. Grete was in that transport. Grete succeeded in slipping away from the transport. How?
 “It was a dark night. The train was moving. I already knew which direction to run in. The point is, I escaped. I was helped very much by the fact that I did not have Jewish features. Surreptitiously – sometimes on foot, sometimes by train – I made my way as far as Wlodawa. I think I covered that distance in two weeks, approximately. At that time it was impossible to reckon time. It seemed to be standing still.”
 In those days the city of Wlodawa served as a big labour camp, an open one. The local Jews were put to work draining swamps under the supervision of the German, Bernhard Falkenberg.
 In Wlodawa it was well known that anyone who did not have a work booklet would be taken in an aktzia to a concentration camp or to Sobibor. The death camp at Sobibor was known for its horrors. Tens of thousands of Jews were burnt to death near Wlodawa. It was possible to go from Wlodawa to Sobibor by train in ten to fifteen minutes.
 The Jews of Wlodawa were ordered to dig a very long and deep pit. The pit was trapezoidal in shape. The pit was about 18 metres wide on top and about six metres wide on the bottom. Women and children, who were willing to do any exhausting work in order to be able to escape from the aktzia and remain alive, participated in this strenuous labour. Women, including some who were refined and delicate, pushed wheelbarrows full of sand and stones over narrow wooden planks. There were also some who cut down trees in the forests, sawed them and loaded them onto wagons.
 Every morning the working Jews would assemble on a large yard next to Falkenberg’s house, and from there they walked to work. The work place was about 6-7 kilometres from there.

Sounds of explosions were heard from the cinema

As Grete remembers it, the first aktzia in Wlodawa took place on the holiday of Shavuot of the year 1942. Grete does not remember if it was the day of the holiday itself or a day before, or maybe a day afterwards, but she remembers clearly that it was a Friday.
 On that Friday, when the workers were at their work-place, the Germans gathered all the sick, the old and those who did not have work booklets, and together with a transport of Jews who had been brought from Mielec and Vienna they put them into the cinema.
 When Grete and the other workers returned to the city at ten that Friday night, they heard shots and explosions from the direction of the cinema. The shots and the explosions alarmed them, and they immediately sought refuge in hiding places of various kinds.
 Grete saw through the gaps in the spot where she was concealed how masses of people were walking in a line towards the Grukhovka train station. It was a moonlit night. The masses of people were led in a procession with pushes and blows. Cries, shrieks, wails, shots and explosions could be heard the whole time. When the entire procession passed and disappeared from sight, the place was as silent as a graveyard.
 At the same time the bodies of many dozens of Jews were found sprawled in the cinema, where they had been shot to death or blown up by hand grenades that had been thrown at them by German soldiers.

The German supervisor provides work cards

On Saturday morning they went to work as usual. This time Grete’s mother, Berta, went to work. Before that day she had not worked. The German supervisor, Falkenberg, prepared work cards for dozens of Jews, including Grete’s mother, in order to save them from the danger of the Nazis’ aktzia.
 “I think,” says Grete, “that Falkenberg did not yet know what they were doing to the Jews who were taken in aktzias. He only knew that there would be an aktzia in which they would take those who did not have work cards, so he provided us with work cards.”
 That same Saturday Falkenberg ensured that the families of the Jews would not be split up into different work groups. He did the best he could to keep members of the same family together. My interlocutor told me that the groups were supervised by Poles and Jews who usually behaved reasonably well.
 While they were working, they heard occasional shots and explosions from the city, which, as we have said, was not far from there. The Jewish workers understood that an aktzia was taking place in the city and that the Germans were on the rampage.
 That same Saturday before noon several SS men appeared at the work-place and checked to see if everyone had work cards. Some of the workers did not have the necessary cards. Falkenberg had turned a blind eye, but the Germans decided to nab them. When the SS appeared at the work-place in order to check work cards, many of those who did not have work cards fled to the forests. Many of those who fled were caught by the German soldiers and placed on a transport to Sobibor.
 Grete remembers that when the SS conducted a check to find Jews who did not have work cards, they caught a woman who did not have one, just a chit from Falkenberg that verified that she was indeed a worker. The Germans were not satisfied with the chit and wanted to place the woman on the transport. At that point Falkenberg intervened, telling the SS men that he had not had a chance to issue a work card for the woman and so he just gave her a temporary chit. Falkenberg succeeded in removing that woman from the Nazis’ clutches, thereby saving her.

Bloody Saturday

That Saturday, which is now seared into the memory of my interlocutor Grete Rotstein, was an eventful one. With the approach of the end of the work day, about 4 o’clock, Falkenberg appeared on the scene, riding a carriage, and requested that the workers not return to the city when they finished work. He explained: “The SS were not satisfied. They are still hungry for victims and are likely to take even Jews who have work cards and put them in the transport.” Falkenberg asked the people to return to the city only after he gave them the sign. You have to know, points out G. Rotstein, that Falkenberg, who was German, could communicate with the SS people. He took advantage of that and managed to learn in advance when aktzias were scheduled, in order to warn the Jews who were there. And so that Saturday, after Falkenberg warned the Jewish workers, he turned the carriage around and returned to the city.
 The Jews stayed there and waited. From their location they could see how lines of people, women and children, were being taken to the Grukhovka train station to be sent to Sobibor.
 Later the same day the Jews who remained at the work place received the word from Frankenberg and returned to the city.
 Grete relates what they saw when they returned to the city:
 “When we returned we did not find many corpses. The Germans had ensured that the living took the dead with them. Despite that, the streets were full of blood. Puddles, puddles like those that appear on the street after it rains. We had to jump over the big puddles of blood. Many of those who returned with me did not find their loved ones. All that night wails and cries erupted from the houses: Where is my mother! Where is my husband! Where is my daughter! It was a terrible Saturday.”

The children shouted and cried

A few weeks later the Nazis carried out an aktzia against children.

Eliahu Meltzer from Israel, age 58, told of that aktzia at a court in Hanover: “I heard at my work-place that women and children had to assemble in the market square. I ran fast to the city in order to hide my family.”
 Schaub, who was an interpreter with the German SS, stopped him on the street. “Pistol in hand, he ordered me: ‘bring your wife and children to me!’ I ran and he chased me through the streets of the city. To my good fortune I managed to escape from him. Later, the same day, I saw how the children were gathered in the market. Schaub told them: ‘get up and go to the playing field.’ The children cried and many of them shouted: they want to kill us! Eight hundred children – that was the first children’s aktzia … they were taken from there in trucks. Many children were snatched from the arms of their parents. Those parents, who could not be separated from their children, travelled along with them to the gas chambers and incinerators of Sobibor.”
 A few weeks later another aktzia was carried out.
 When Falkenberg learned from the local Gestapo commander, Nitschke, that there would be another aktzia, he immediately told the Jews about it.

The murderer Nitschke appears on the scene

How did the events unfold?

One evening Falkenberg passed word that the next day we were to show up at work at 5 in the morning and not at 7 as usual. Falkenberg wanted to pre-empt the SS and permit many of the Jews to escape to the forests.
 The next day, before sunrise, the Jews gathered on the field from which they normally set out to work. It was an autumn morning, dark and cold. Grete does not remember the exact date – October or November 1942. The Germans learned of it. Apparently somebody had informed. Immediately after the Jews gathered on the field, SS forces surrounded the area and prevented the Jews from leaving.
 The workers were taken to the playing field, where many other Jews were already gathered. Here Grete met the Gestapo commander Nitschke for the first time. He was the one who carried out the selektzia (selection) of those who would go to their deaths and those who would remain to work, serving the German soldiers and officers.
 Falkenberg monitored all the actions and movements of the cruel Nitzchke.  

A loud argument

Grete remembers those fateful moments very well, for her life was hanging by a thread. Grete relates:

“Nitschke approached us. His eyes were gleaming with a sadistic appetite for human victims. When he was near us Falkenberg turned to a group of us and said: ‘that group – to the side.’ Nitschke immediately approached. He said: we don’t need so many people for work. Only 30 is enough. The rest can go to the transport. The Germans counted 30 people. Lily and I were numbers 31 and 32, which meant a death sentence. Falkenberg did not give up in his efforts to save still more people, on the pretext that they were needed for work. A loud argument erupted between Falkenberg and Nitschke. Falkenberg requested as many workers as possible and Nitschke claimed that thirty would suffice. During the loud argument between the two, there was disorder among the people, who were trying to save their lives.

Nitschke was seething with anger. He ordered that all of us be taken to the train station. The SS arranged us in lines and took us on the way to death. On the way the Germans would push us with their rifle-butts and shoot those who lagged behind. Sometimes they just shot people out of boredom. I concealed myself in the middle rows. I had learned from experience that it was not good to be first or the last; the first or the last were always the first victims whenever there was trouble.

The rescuer’s arrival

A great many people who had been brought from nearby concentration camps were already at the train station, and they were to be sent with us to Sobibor – to the gas chambers and the crematorium. The people who had been brought, the Germans loaded into cattle-cars.

While they were still loading the people into the cars Falkenberg appeared, accompanied by Holzheimer, a civilian who was responsible for the Chelm area.

Afterwards we learned that Falkenberg, who saw how the people were being taken to death, contacted Holzheimer and asked him to go to Wlodawa and to intercede with Nitschke in order to free the people.

Nitschke refused to release people. Falkenberg and Holzheimer contacted Lublin and after endless telephone conversations, Nitschke was given the order from Lublin to release 500 people from the transport for work in Wlodlawa. Falkenberg’s stubborn efforts had borne fruit – 500 people who were about to be sent to death in Sobibor were saved. Five hundred people including Mom, Lily and me, returned from the train station to the yard that was next to Falkenberg’s house. Again we had been saved from the clutches of the Angel of Death.”

The survivors waited for some time in the yard and afterwards returned to their houses in the city.

When calm had returned and the reverberations of the aktzia receded, a large number of Jews showed up, who had disappeared from sight before. Those people related that they had been concealed in a bunker by Falkenberg during the aktzia. That bunker was another one of the wonders worked by Falkenberg.

The bunker of salvation

Next to Falkenberg’s house there was a huge hayloft, in which large bales of hay for the horses were stored. Falkenberg had previously built a wall of bales around the hayloft and concealed nearly 400 Jews in the centre. Anyone who looked at the hayloft thought that it was crammed full of bales of hay. It was impossible to guess that it was being used as a hiding place for hundreds of people.

Grete remembers that Falkenberg got angry at her because she did not hide in the bunker. Grete admits: “until that day I did not know that there was a bunker where Falkenberg concealed hundreds of Jews.”

Grete raises another memory: once the Germans wanted to burn the hayloft. Falkenberg remonstrated with them and said, “even if we assume that two or three Jews are hiding in the hayloft, is it worthwhile, for that, to leave the horses without food?” Falkenberg’s deception worked. The hayloft was not set alight and hundreds who hid there survived.

After that aktzia Wlodawa was declared a closed labour camp. The workers lived separately and the others were put in the ghetto. Wlodawa was entirely walled off. However, because Falkenberg had been given permission to keep 500, there were several hundred more. The Germans perceived this.

Another aktzia was carried out.

Again it was Nitschke who did the inspection.

All the Jews of Wlodawa had a special identifying badge – “Judenzeichen.” It was a piece of white cloth with a blue star of David printed on it. The Jews had to wear the “Judenzeichen” around their arms. Additionally, the workers also had serial numbers on their chests.

Nitschke searched among the residents of the camps for those who did not have serial numbers on their chests. He felt that there were some such. This time too Falkenberg succeeded in deceiving him. He hid those without numbers in the “bunker” – that is, in the hayloft.

A suspicious commotion in the early morning

The life of suffering and tension slowly continued. There was no confidence in tomorrow. “In those days we always said to ourselves,” Grete relates, “we are alive at this moment, in another hour who knows if we will continue to see the light of day.” On 9 March 1943 Grete’s mother, Berta, was taken to another concentration camp at Krychow. Falkenberg, who had not been in Wlodawa when the mother was taken, became enraged when he learned about it. He was angry that she had not hidden properly and thereby endangered herself.

One day in April 1943 events occurred at a dizzying pace.

Lily was sick and Grete was at her bedside, taking care of her.

At 5 in the morning an unusual commotion was heard. Grete went outside to see what was causing the noise. Next to the gate of the camp she saw SS soldiers running about. She was scared and ran to warn her sister. The sister got dressed immediately. Many of the Jews noticed the suspicious movements of the SS men and feared that the Germans intended to carry out another aktzia. They fled and hid in the hayloft. Grete and Lily were among those hiding.

That day Falkenberg was lying in bed, sick with typhus.

Those who were hiding, who numbered several dozen, peered through the cracks in the hayloft and saw how the SS men were pulling people. Shots and explosions were periodically heard. The Germans, Grete explains to me, used to throw hand grenades into rooms during searches.

And the evening and the morning were the third day

That night two or three of the people hiding in the hayloft slipped out in order to find out what had happened. On their way they encountered two young women. They took them with them to the “bunker.”

The two young women related that only by a miracle had they managed to survive. During the aktzia the two of them hid in a shallow hole under a floor. Others, who hid in the attic, were caught and murdered by the Germans in a most cruel way. Those who had hidden in the attic, the young women related, were caught because of a stupid and unfortunate incident: one of them, a youth who was planning to flee to the Partisans fired a shot, maybe in panic, from a rifle that he had previously acquired. The sound of the shot revealed their hiding place to the Germans. They went up to the attic, killed everyone who was hiding there and then threw the bodies downstairs.

That night some of those who were hiding stole out of the hiding place and brought back a little food. Others went out from the hayloft and escaped to the forests. It was known that those who did that were risking their lives.

The others who were in hiding stayed in the hayloft for days on end. On the third day they saw through the cracks, some young women walking around in the area. They went out of their hiding place and asked the girls what the situation was. The young women related that on the orders of the Obersturmführer of Sobibor they were collecting the clothes left in the camp by those who had been taken in the transport.

The warning

The people in hiding, who came out into the daylight, headed towards Falkenberg’s yard. Falkenberg suggested that they remain in the “bunker” and gave them food. The people in hiding converted the “bunker” into a residential barrack where they remained for six or seven weeks. Occasionally more aktzias were conducted. Every time Falkenberg knew about an aktzia in advance, he endeavoured to warn the Jews, who then hid or fled for their lives.

In those days there were partisans in the forests around Wlodawa. The partisans would visit Falkenberg’s house and receive food from him.

The Jews who remained in Wlodawa were put to work in the vegetable garden.

One evening, at the end of work, Falkenberg called to three young women, one of whom was Grete, and informed them that they had to flee, because another aktzia was going to take place in which everyone would be taken to the Sobibor death camp. Falkenberg supplied them with food and warned them not to reveal to anyone that it was he who had informed them about the aktzia. He sensed that the Germans were suspicious about his relations with the Jews.

Again Falkenberg comes to our aid

That evening the Obersturmführer came across two young women who were walking around outside a barracks. This enraged him and he began to shoot with his pistol, then ordered all the people to come out of the barracks. The people were afraid to go out. In the end only thirty people went out, although about seventy should have been inside.

Falkenberg, who perceived what was going on, ran to the spot immediately. “Where are the rest of the people?” the Obersturmführer asked. Falkenberg replied that undoubtedly they had heard the shots and were hiding somewhere. “They’ll be back soon,” he reassured him.

The Obersturmführer ordered that the barracks be closed and locked until morning.

“That moment,” says Grete, “I began to think quickly and devise stratagems. An idea popped into my head: I announced out loud that we, the girls, needed to bathe. I grabbed two buckets and went to get water. I filled the buckets and returned with the water, and again I went and filled them, I did it several times. While making those trips I arranged for my steps to go by Falkenberg. Falkenberg took advantage of this “kuntz.” [trick  in Yiddish] Every time I passed near him he quietly transmitted, in fragmented words and murmured sentences, what we had to do. Falkenberg said that we should go to the barracks. He would lock it, and at 10 at night he would come to us. He asked us to be ready.

I will come back at midnight

“We did as Falkenberg said and waited.

“At ten at night Falkenberg came. He said he had gone to the Germans and informed them that he could not be responsible for our not running away and so he asked them to give him some Ukrainian policemen to guard us. ‘Wait for me,’ he said at the end, ‘I’ll come back at midnight.’

“Fear gripped us all. We did not know what to expect, we did not know what Falkenberg was thinking of doing. At midnight Falkenberg came, opened the barracks and told us to flee into the forests. He told us that he had plied the Ukrainian policemen with vodka until they got drunk. In those fateful moments, before we parted, the man who saved so many of us from death asked: any of you who remain alive after the war, please look for me and give me a sign of life.

In the forests

“We heard Falkenberg’s warning and did not flee to Adampol, because he knew that aktzias would take place there. We fled into the forests. At night we would sleep in the wheat fields. That was the end of July 1943. The stalks were high and concealed us.”

Those who had escaped heard shots and explosions from time to time. They knew that the Germans had indeed carried out an aktzia in Adampol, in which hundreds of Jews were murdered, including one of the two  young women from Wlodawa who had hidden in that hole under a floor.

Lily and Grete were in the forests, together with other escapees. Around that time Berta, Grete’s mother, managed to escape from the Krychow camp and to meet her daughters Lily and Grete in the forests. Poles had helped her escape from the camp.

The mother and her two daughters lived together in the forests until the day in the month of November 1943 when they were surrounded by German soldiers. The mother Berta and the sister lily were killed.

Grete wandered alone and isolated in the forests. Her life was hanging in the balance. In June 1944 Poland was liberated by the Red Army.

After liberation

After the war Grete married in Poland, started a family, and in 1948 emigrated to Israel.

Grete did not forget her rescuer Falkenberg. When she was in the forests she was told that he had been killed, but in Israel she met friends from Wlodawa who told her that Falkenberg was still alive.

Grete spared no efforts to find her rescuer:  
”All those years I looked for Falkenberg. I wanted to thank him for my remaining alive.”

How she found him

Every year Grete participates in the memorial day for the Jews of Wlodawa, the place where she had suffered. On the memorial day of 1961 she was shown a newspaper in which it was written that witnesses against the war criminals who had murdered the Jews of Wlodawa were being sought.
Grete went to the Israel Police in Tel Aviv, and gave a statement.
At the police she learned that a German by the name of Falkenberg was also requested to give testimony against the murderers of the Jews of Wlodawa. Grete began to hope that she would find her rescuer.
Based on the information she received from the Israeli police she went to an office in Ludwigsburg in Germany and asked them to find her the address of Falkenberg, who was to testify at the trial of the Wlodawa murderers that was to take place in the city of Hanover in West Germany. The people at the office in Ludwigsburg passed Grete’s letter to the court in Hannover.
After some time Grete received Bernhard Falkenberg’s address: “Ahrensfelde, Friedhof Street, no. 22, near Berlin, the German Democratic Republic.”
A letter from Falkenberg
Grete joyfully received the sought-after address and wrote a letter to Falkenberg. Falkenberg replied to her letter. In his reply Falkenberg wrote to Grete that he was glad to get her letter and that he was always happy to hear news from people who had undergone the events of that terrible war together with him. “I still remember the night when the last of the Jews of Wlodawa fled,” wrote Falkenberg, “how good it is that they managed to escape before it was too late.” In his letter to the woman who had survived he related that as he was travelling to Adampol he met large numbers of escapees – especially children – who were hungry for bread. He endeavoured to bring bread for the children who were hiding in the forests. From the letter it became clear to her, to Grete, that the director of the labour camp in Adampol, a German by the name of Selinger, saw how Falkenberg passed food to the partisans in the forests and informed on him to the Nazi authorities.
Falkenberg related in his letter to Grete how he was caught and sent by the Nazi authorities to the Mauthausen death camp.
The German authorities caught an emissary of the Polish partisans, in whose pocket was found a letter from the commander of the partisans in that area, Lichtenberg, to Falkenberg, in which he requested that the latter give him money. The Nazis immediately collared Falkenberg and sent him – via Lublin, Warsaw, Radom, Poznan and Vienna – to the Mauthausen death camp in Austria.
Falkenberg was freed from Mauthausen in 1945 by the Allied armies.
In his reply to Grete, Falkenberg indicated that if he could meet all the survivors from Wlodawa who live in Israel, that would be a great day in his life.

The meeting at court

Grete and Falkenberg continued to correspond until they met at the court in Hanover on 20 July 1964.
Grete speaks of that meeting with a great deal of excitement:
“I went to the court early – I got there at seven in the morning. Suddenly I saw Falkenberg in the distance. I recognized him immediately. He too recognized me. It was a most exciting meeting.”
Falkenberg went to the court in Hanover from East Berlin, where he lived. That morning he was accompanied to the court by that same Holzheimer, who had helped remove several hundred people from the transport. Holzheimer today lives in West Germany.
As has been stated, Falkenberg, Grete and others had been brought to testify in the court against the murderers of the Jews of Wlodawa, and they were: Richard Nitschke, Hubert Schoenborn, Anton Muller, Adolf Schaub and Josef Schmidt.
The charge-sheet stated that as members of the secret political police, the Gestapo, they had collaborated with the civilian police in the expulsion of the Jews from Wlodawa in Poland on the dates of 22-23 May 1942, 7 August 1942, 24 October 1942 and 7 November 1942. The expelled Jews were taken to the Sobibor death camp where they were put to death in gas chambers. In addition to that, Nitschke was accused of issuing orders for the execution of Jews by gunfire on 19 occasions in the years 1941 and 1942. Similarly Nitschke was suspected of having ordered the shooting to death of two Soviet prisoners of Jewish origin.
Until four years previously the war criminal Nitschke had served in a senior position in the Hanover police. He was caught, it was said, while he was planning to flee to America.

With head held high

An interesting incident occurred in the court.
When Grete and Falkenberg entered the court they found the criminal Schmidt on one of the benches, and another one was with him. Schmidt rose to meet them. Falkenberg looked at the two with contempt, reflected for a moment, and said:”I am glad and proud that I can walk with my head held high!” And he walked on.
Schmidt is the one who arrested Falkenberg in 1943.
Falkenberg’s testimony in the court lasted for six hours. In the same court in Hanover Grete met a Jew who had been saved by Falkenberg and today lives in Venezuela. At the time that Jew fled from one of the aktzias that was conducted upon the liquidation of the Gruenhaus labour camp. He got to Falkenberg’s house and hid in his bedroom. Falkenberg got him false Aryan papers and helped him get to Venezuela. Today that man lives in Venezuela, sound and healthy.
In the court Falkenberg revealed to Nitschke, among other things, that he had deceived him and succeeded in smuggling out the Jewish doctor of Wlodawa.
Grete and Falkenberg stayed together for several days – from Tuesday 20 July 1964 until the Saturday of that week. Falkenberg returned to his home near East Berlin. The rescuer and the rescued exchanged mementos.
At the end of her story, I asked Grete:
“Tell me, Grete, what do you think gave Falkenberg the strength to help Jews at constant risk to his life?”
With joyful eyes, Grete burst out:
“Falkenberg was a decent human being,” she emphasizes that word (1). “And it is interesting that he was a quiet and wise man. He was – and I think that he is still like that today – a humble man. He helped everyone he could help. Without distinction. When I remember those days it seems to me that he concerned himself all the time only with saving Jews. I never dared ask him, neither at that time nor two months ago, why he really helped us. For me he was the epitome of a man, the epitome of a “Righteous Among the Nations.” Friends who were with me told me that Falkenberg was a Communist for many years, and maybe it was his strong faith that gave him the strength to help us, even at the price of his life.”
Grete and her friends invited Falkenberg to visit them in Israel. They hope that they will be able to host Falkenberg among themselves, in the homes that they have re-established for themselves, and to impress upon him a little bit of the feelings of gratitude of which he is so deserving.
This is the end of the article in Kol ha-Am, 27 September 1964.
After the article was published in Kol ha-Am I sent it to Bernhard Falkenberg. In his letter of reply he wrote:
Ahrenfelde, near Berlin, 10 October 1964
To the Honourable Mr. Galili,
I was very surprised to receive your letter along with newspaper clippings. To my dismay I am not able to read the article and I have not yet found somebody who can translate it for me. As you also write, the article is intended to be published in the East German press. Personally I recommend not doing that.
Because it is not quite clear to me why the whole affair is still important after 20 years. I am not interested in being presented in a big way, for as I was forced to recognize personally, people today do not attribute much importance to those things.
I do not know what meaning all this has.
Sincerely yours
Bernhard Falkenberg
Grete and her friends endeavored with Yad Vashem to have their rescuer Bernhard Falkenberg recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations. Recently, when I returned to this story, I approached the management of Yad Vashem and asked what had become of the request to have Bernhard Falkenberg declared a Righteous Among the Nations. Soon afterwards I received this reply: “Yad Vashem keeps a full list of all the Righteous Among the Nations. To look at the list you are invited to enter the following link:
“Regarding Mr. Falkenberg, he was recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations in 1969. You are invited to look at the list of Righteous Among the Nations from Germany. Mr. Falkenberg’s name appears in the following link, on page 3:

Translated from Hebrew by George Malent

Translator’s note

1. In Hebrew, one compound word: ben-adam. Literally “son of Adam,” it often means simply “human being.” But in this context it means “decent human being” – equivalent to the Yiddish term “mensch” – trans.
In the framework of a research group we are looking for more information on Falkenberg and the following persons:

1. Leibl Rosanka, 2. Jechaskel Hubermann, 3. Motel Rabinowitz, 4. Shimon
Ledermann, 5. Jechiel Gronhois, 6. David Zinn, 7. Moshe Knopfmacher, 8.
Elieser Melzer, 9. Avigdor Ledermann, 10. Sara Amalinski, 11. Motel
Silberstein, 14. Pnina Knopfmacher, 15. Simcha Cohen, 16.
Shlomo Lemberger, 17. Abraham Chavina, 18. Lion Lubowski, 19.
Rotstein (from Militz), 20. Jehoshua Glanzmann, 21. Jossl Cohen.

1 comment:

  1. I live in Mehrow (a part of Ahrensfelde near Berlin), where Mr. Falkenberg bought land in 1945. 1948/49 he has been the mayor of our village. Nobody here knows anything about his history and his engagement for the Jews. Therefore I want to honor him with an article on It would be great, if you could support this project by add'l information about Mr. Falkenberg. Many thanks in advance.
    Benedikt (