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June 26, 1987 - Image 45

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

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

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washroom where Zelig's father, Moshe, a
Chasidic rabbi, was leading some prisoners
in prayer. Swinging a rubber hose, Tannen-
baum killed the rabbi. Twice before, Zelig
had seen Tannenbaum beat his father.
lb date _ , the only person who has a kind
word for Tannenbaum is Aaron Miller, now
a 76-year-old Chasidic cantor in Brooklyn.
Delighted with Miller's concerts on Sun-
days, the prisoners' one day off from
12-hour work days, Tannenbaum once gave
Miller some extra food. But Tannenbaum
also once offered to make Miller a kapo.
"God forbid," responded Miller, "and
have everyone under my boot?
"It can't be that Tannenbaum is not guil-
ty," said Miller. "He was wild. He was a
murderer. What they say about him is true.
He just didn't do anything to me. He was
kind to me."
Survivors differ on what happened to
Tannenbaum after the war. Some say he
disappeared a few days before the Soviets
liberated the camp on May 8, 1945. A few
say he lived briefly in the town of Goerlitz.
Another says he lived for a while in
Romania with the Chasidic girl he had
repeatedly raped in the labor camp. In
1946, Leon Zelig tried to track down Tan-
nenbaum in Bucharest, where he had heard
he was living. Zelig was ready to gouge out
Tannenbaum's eyes. He never found him.
According to the Justice Department,
Tannenbaum entered the United States
from Italy in 1949. Six years later, he
became a U.S. citizen.
"Tannenbaum Was A Victim"
Survivors have had varying reactions to
Tannenbaum's resurfacing. Leon Hostig
was "furious, furious," to learn that Tan-
nenbaum had been living about two miles
from him in Brooklyn.
"My blood hasn't stopped running," he
said. "I would like to be his killer. If I had
known he was ten minutes away, he never
would have survived. I don't care about my
life. I never had a life. There wasn't a night
for me that I didn't have a dream from
those days. People say, 'Forget.' I can't
forget."
If given a chance, survivor David Katz
"would cut off one of Tannenbaum's fingers
every day. I would show him what sadism
is."
But Leon Zelig would have preferred
that Tannenbaum had never been dis-
covered. His exposure before his family and
friends and synagogue, said Zelig, "is
punishment enough."
"Tannenbaum was a victim," said Zelig.
"He had lost his family as I did. Nobody
was human in those days. The first thing
I did when I heard that Tannenbaum had
killed my father was rush to my father's
bunk and take it apart, searching for bread
to eat that he may have hidden for
religious services. That is not a very
human thing to do."
While noting that kapos were generally
forced by the SS to commit certain
brutalities, Zelig added that Tannenbaum
had gone "beyond the bounds. A kapo
didn't have to be a sadist. Tannenbaum
went beyond the bounds. Yet, I cannot say
I wouldn't have done the same thing if I
was in his place."

It is this context that puts the Tannen-
baum case in a legal and moral world of its
own. In the stinkhole of Goerlitz, volition
and motivation came from survival — in-
dividual survival — and the only code was
to make it through one more day. Morali-
ty and decency — kind thoughts and kind
actions — were almost aberrations.
The world that the Nazis so craftily
created was a world no one on the outside
can comprehend. At Auschwitz, the SS oc-
casionally forced Jewish prisoners to throw
alive into the ovens Jewish inmates who
had warned new prisoners of the
crematoria that awaited them. In the
numerous Judenrat, the Jewish councils in
eastern Europe under Nazi occupation,
Jewish leaders decided which Jews to ship
for certain death to concentration camps.
The Germans forced Jews into the sewers
of Warsaw to flush out other Jews who
were hiding after the ghetto's famous 1943
uprising. As Goerlitz survivor Leon Hostig
said, "Everyone was looking for his own
survival. It was brother against brother,
child against parent."
The Tannenbaum case does not rest easi-
ly with some Jews. Despite the Jewish
community's official endorsement of the
case's prosecution, one detects a wariness
that it will expose old wounds, that it will
reveal the depths to which not only Nazis,
but also Jews, sank during the Holocaust.
"It hurts the heart to talk about one Jew
against another," said Bella Miller, wife of
Goerlitz survivor Aaron Miller. "But if a
Jew could do something like this, maybe
we are not such a good people."
That a whole people should be — or,
even, can be — judged by the actions of one
man is, perhaps, myopic. Such thinking
emanates from the mirror image of racism.
But it also indicates the magnitude of roil-
ing emotions that the Tannenbaum case
has unleashed. And a sign of what is to
come as the case slowly progresses to trial.

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What Happened
To Other Kapos?

T

he Tannenbaum case is OSI's first
prosecution of a Jewish kapo, but
not the first federal action against
a Jew who served in that role during the
Holocaust. Thrice previously, the Immigra-
tion and Naturalization Department
sought the deportations of Jewish kapos.
Two of these were denied, another was
deported to Poland, which refused to
accept him.
According to Quiet Neighbors, the
authoritative account about Nazi criminals
in the U.S. by former OSI chief, Allan
Ryan, Heinrich Friedmann and Jakob
Tancer were acquitted in the early 1950's.
Both men were Polish Jews. Friedmann
had been the overseer of 2,150 Jews at a
Luftwaffe plant; rIbncer had been respon-
sible for forced laborers at an ammunition
factory. Friedmann took boots from Jews
lucky enough to have them and beat pris-
oners with his hands or a rubber hose. But

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Continued on next page

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