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MEMORIAL AND MUSEUM AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU FORMER GERMAN NAZI
CONCENTRATION AND EXTERMINATION CAMP

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Auschwitz Hiding Place Found More Than 60 Years Later. Auschwitz survivor found hiding place

16-03-2006

Jakob Silberstein traveled to the Museum several days ago. Born in Rypin in central Poland on November 15, 1924, he is a watchmaker and goldsmith by trade. During the war, the Nazis sent him to Nosarzewo (near Mława, Poland), where he performed compulsory labor on the construction of an airstrip.

In November 1942, the Germans deported him to Auschwitz as one of a group of approximately 1,500 Jews from the Ciechanów judicial district. Only 532 of the men and 361 of the women were sent to the camp; the others were murdered in the gas chambers.

Jakob was assigned camp number 76715 and placed in the so-called Maurerschule (bricklayers’ school). Later, as a chimney sweep, he labored alongside his friend Szlomo Bielas on camp construction projects.

In January 1945, Silberstein was one of the thousands of prisoners evacuated on foot in the “Death March” to Wodzisław Śląski, from where they traveled further in freight cars. He managed to escape from the train and found shelter with the family of Jana Sudowa in Bohumin (now in the Czech Republic), where he waited for the arrival of the Red Army.

Silberstein has lived in Israel and Germany after the war. A year ago, thanks to the Czech media and particularly František Krejzek, editor of the local Bohumin newspaper Oko, he found the family who sheltered him after his escape from the train, and the house they lived in. He came to the Auschwitz site several days ago in search of the hiding place that he and Szlomo Bielas prepared for themselves in case the camp should be evacuated.

It was a dugout covered by a metal heating stove in the basement of Block no. 17 in the Auschwitz I Main Camp. They did not use it in the end, since they feared that the SS would use poison gas to murder any prisoners who remained in the camp, or would blow up the buildings. Silberstein and Bielas decided not to risk staying behind.

In the basement of Block no. 17, Silberstein pointed out a place where a chimney shaft was built into the wall. Clearly visible soot marks indicated that a stove had once stood there. There was an opening in the floor—the entrance to the hiding place that the prisoners had made for themselves, now filled up with earth.

A Phone Call from Berlin

Jakob Silberstein is now finishing the writing of his memoirs. He told the Museum that they would not have been complete if he had failed to locate the family who sheltered him or to confirm that he had indeed prepared a place to hide when the camp was evacuated. After his visit, he called the Auschwitz Birkenau:

“Hello. Jakob Silberstein speaking. I’ve arrived safely and I’m so happy that I found that hole that Szlomo and I had. My son called from Israel yesterday. He asked if anything bad had happened, because my granddaughter, his daughter, told him after I met her at the Museum that she had never seen me so upset. I answered that I wasn’t upset, I was happy because I found that hole. I knew I would find it.

“I’m calling because I’m writing you a letter and I want to make sure you understand what I want to write. You know, I’m sitting here and weeping. I remember it all, my entire youth, and, well, everything. And I’m crying because it’s the first time I’ve written anything in Polish in almost 70 years.”

Jakob Silberstein in March 2006
Jakob Silberstein...
The basement of block no. 17
The basement of...
The basement of Block no. 17
The basement of...