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June 26, 1987 - Image 43

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-06-26

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

By Jackie

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camp commandant Oskar Zunker. This, he
said, had given him the only prerogatives
different from other prisoners: Occasional
trips into town for supplies.
Tannenbaum said he had once threat-
ened to turn over to the SS an inmate who
had taken more than his share of food.
Another time, he had used a rubber hose
to chase inmates away from kitchen gar-
bage, but only because "the Germans put
some white stuff on this garbage, some
And during the final days of the war,

"Just as there is no
collective guilt, there is no
collective innocence."

Tannenbaum said, he led an escape of 50
inmates from Goerlitz. "We cut the wire
and we were free," he said.
Tannenbaum's lawyer said these are the
"ramblings" of an ill, confused 75-year-old
man. "I can't get three consecutive
sentences out of him," said Manhattan at-
torney Elihu Massel.
Massel conceded that his client had been
a kapo, although he preferred the word
"overseer," since "kapo" has emotional
overtones. But he said the brutality with
which Tannenbaum has been charged
would have been difficult, if not impossi-
ble, since he was not physically fit by the
time he arrived at Goerlitz: In a previous
forced labor camp, Wola in Galicia, Nazis
had blinded him in one eye and severely in-
jured his back in a beating.
And if Tannenbaum's account about
helping prisoners escape from Goerlitz is
true, said Massel, then "he couldn't have
done the things with which he has been
charged. He couldn't have been a leader.
Nobody would have followed him. And
anyway, most of the really bad kapos never
left the camps alive. The prisoners made
certain of that."
But different stories about Tannenbaum
have come from former inmates of Goerlitz.
They say he was Goerlitz's chief kapo, not
merely an aide to the camp commandant.
Former prisoners claim he raped women
and beat, tortured and killed male pris-
oners. Well-groomed and well-fed, they say,
he escaped the privations of life in a forced-
labor camp. Described by some as a "wild,"
"cold-blooded" man, Tannenbaum, accord-
ing to accounts, was hated and feared by
fellow Jews.
Goerlitz was constructed during the
summer and early fall of 1944. Construc-
tion was nearly complete when Leon Zelig
arrived there in August, 1944. Tannen-
baum arrived there a few days later.
"He was six feet tall, blond, good look-
ing," said Zelig, 58, now a resident of Los
Angeles. "No one who spends time in a
ghetto or forced-labor camp looks that
When Tannenbaum came to Goerlitz, he
was a kapo, according to Zelig. A few days
later, he said, Tannenbaum was the chief
kapo, in charge of Goerlitz's eight other
kapos, one for each bloc in the camp.

David Katz, 65, arrived in Goerlitz about
the same time as Zelig. "Tannenbaum
didn't seem too bad at first," he said. "But
when the new prisoners came from [the
ghetto of] Lodz in September, 1944, he
changed. He became a wildman."
Leon Hostig is now a 67-year-old resident
of the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn.
In the ghetto of Lodz, two SS men had
beaten his mother. She died two days later.
His father was sent to the ovens in
Auschwitz. Hostig, then 23, and his two
brothers, Avram, 19, and Joel, 24, were also
in Auschwitz in July and August, 1944. In
September, they were among the approx-
imately 500 men from Lodz sent to
"We didn't know where we were
heading," said Hostig. "But we knew it was
a labor camp and that meant survival."
Before leaving Auschwitz, Hostig had
been given relatively sturdy clothes — a
jacket, a shirt, pants, decent shoes. Upon
arriving at Goerlitz, he stood in the camp's
courtyard in the first of two rows of incom-
ing prisoners. Tannenbaum, standing
about 15 feet from Hostig, faced the new
inmates. "He wore beautiful pressed pants,
shined shoes, a cap with a brim," said
Hostig. "He was the king of the camp."
Tannenbaum looked at Hostig's shoes
and ordered him to remove them and get
some wooden clogs from a supply room. "I
didn't move too fast," recalls Hostig. "After
all, he was another Jew. What could he
Tannenbaum then strode over to Hostig,
raised both his hands in the air and
slammed him on the head. Hostig fell
sprawling into the dirt.
, Later that day, the prisoners in Bloc No.
4, where Hostig's younger brother, Avram,
had been assigned, were ordered into the
courtyard. Avram, thin and frail, was slow
to move. Tannenbaum went into Avram's
barracks and, according to Hostig, stood
in the doorway next to the boy's bunk and
"beat his lungs out." The beating was
witnessed by the prisoners in the court-
The next day, Avram went to Goerlitz's
"hospital," a room with three beds and a
Jewish physician who was given no
medications. The boy died the following
"Tannenbaum is responsible for my
brother's death," said Hostig, who had
sneaked his brother into the trucks from
Auschwitz heading to Goerlitz. "Avram
weighed about 80 pounds. He was only
flesh and blood. He wouldn't have passed
the inspection at Auschwitz that approved
prisoners being sent to Goerlitz. I risked
my life so he would have a chance to sur-
"Tannenbaum was responsible for a lot
of killings," said Hostig, "not with a
weapon, not with a stick, but with his
hands. We didn't have any Germans kill-
ing us because there were hardly any Ger-
(According to Hostig, there were only
three Germans at Goerlitz: The camp com-
mander, the lager fuhrer, who lived in a
house on a hill above Goerlitz; a shoemaker

Continued on next page


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