Reading List

Reading List #6: The last Sonderkommado member; New York Holocaust survivors

A selection of news stories and online articles related to the Holocaust, published over the last week.

The death of Dario Gabbai (1923-2020), who was believed to be the last survivor of the Sonderkommando, has been announced. He was 97. Gabbai was the last living of Jewish prisoners forced to work in death camp gas chambers. He and his cousins Shlomo and Morris Venezia, who died in 2012 and 2013 respectively, were among the very few such men to have survived WW2; as first-hand witnesses to the process of murder at camps like Auschwitz, Sonderkommando members were routinely murdered themselves by SS camp guards. Gabbai spoke frequently about his experiences, including in interviews with the USC Shoah Foundation (who reported news of his death) and with the BBC for Laurence Rees’s TV documentary series Auschwitz: The Nazis and the Final Solution. Though each week brings news of the passing of elderly Holocaust survivors, and though each is of course significant in its own way, the death of Gabbai represents the end of living memory of the first-hand witnessing of the Nazis’ Final Solution.

Journalist Jason Nark remembers Auschwitz survivor Anneliese Nossbaum (1929-2020), who has died aged 91, for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Nossbaum was born in Guben, eastern Germany, and her family witnessed the destruction wrought on Kristallnacht in 1938, before being sent to a series of concentration camps during the Second World War. Having lost most of her family, including her parents, Nossbaum settled in the United States, and was able to better cope with her trauma by speaking to school groups about her experiences, beginning in 1971. She returned to Auschwitz in January 2020, with a number of family members, to mark the 75th anniversary of the camp’s liberation.

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The New York Times profiles two women who have lived long lives and seen many tumultuous events before the present crisis. Poet Naomi Replansky (101) and her wife Eva Kollisch (95) were born in the aftermath of the 1918 flu pandemic, Replansky in New York and Kollisch in Vienna, from where she fled as a Kindertransport refugee in 1939. As you’d expect, their experiences of the Twentieth Century temper their reactions to their current confinement.

Elsewhere in New York, caterer Israel Frischman is continuing to supply hot meals to some of Brooklyn’s Holocaust survivors, even though the charity that would normally coordinate the service has been forced to close. Frischman tells the Associated Press that “This is going to go down in history, and you’re going to think back: ‘What did I do to make a difference? How did I make other peoples’ lives easier and better?”

CNN reports the death of New York Rabbi “Romi” Cohn (1929-2020) at age 91, due to complications of Covid-19. Cohn was born in Czechoslovakia and, aged 16, was involved with partisan operations which saved the lives of 56 families during WW2. Later, he worked as a property developer in New York’s Staten Island. In January, he led the opening prayer at the US House of Representatives to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. He recounted his wartime experiences in his book The Youngest Partisan.

Haaretz gives details of further Holocaust survivors who have lost their lives to Covid-19. They include 87-year-old Moshe Orenstein, who traveled to Israel aboard the famous ship Exodus in 1947, and Roza Krochmalnek, 92, whose family fled Poland as the Nazis advanced on their home and spent part of the War in the USSR before arriving in Palestine in 1943.

The Los Angeles Times reports on the life of Rachmil “Ralph” Hakman (1925-2020), who has died aged 95. Hakman travelled a number of times to Auschwitz, where he was imprisoned by the Nazis; his most recent visit took him to the museum’s 75th anniversary ceremony. He grew up near the Polish town of Radom. When the Nazis arrived, his family was forced into a ghetto; his deportation to Auschwitz followed, in 1942, after a deal he made to secure the release of his sister and her child, in exchange for himself. In later life, he traveled back to Poland in order to meet other survivors. In a recent interview he told the LA Times: “We’re really not normal people, us survivors… so we had to be around each other because we understood.”

If you have seen a relevant article that could be included in next week’s reading list, why not get in touch via the contact page, or on Twitter, @holocaustreader?

The header image shows Dario Gabbai, who has died aged 97. Images in this post are used under the principle of fair use for the purposes of review, education and study, and will be removed at the request of the copyright holder(s).

Inclusion of articles on this list does not necessarily indicate endorsement of opinions expressed within them.

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