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Erzsébet Frank, "The Welders"

Frank, Ersébet poem 1945
US Holocaust Memorial Museum; Gift of Elizabeth Mermel

This poem offers insight into the experiences of a group of Hungarian Jewish women deported from Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen to work at the Junkers Aircraft and Engine Company factory in Markkleeberg between August and September of 1944.1 Women living in camps like Markkleeberg sometimes formed close support systems that are sometimes referred to as "camp families" to help them survive. This poem is a record of one such group.

As the Allied armies advanced toward Germany in the fall and winter of 1944, conditions within the Nazi concentration camp system became increasingly brutal and deadly. Nazi authorities evacuated concentration camps and killing centers as Allied forces approached the sites. They attempted to destroy evidence of their crimes and hastily deported the prisoners to camps in the interior of the Reich. Thousands of prisoners did not survive the harsh conditions of these so-called "death marches." The resulting overcrowding in the remaining camps made hunger, disease, and starvation even more severe among the neglected and abused prisoners. 

Written by a young woman named Erzsébet Frank, this poem is illustrated with a pencil drawing of the group of women welders. The SS marched these women between the camp and the factory every day for months, subjecting them regularly to beatings, solitary confinement, and public humiliation. At the time the poem was written in February 1945, the swelling prisoner population at Markkleeberg was already straining the camp’s inadequate barracks and limited washing facilities. 

Markkleeberg itself closed soon afterward. German authorities evacuated the camp in April 1945 and marched most of its prisoner population toward Theresienstadt. Some women managed to escape, but those who could not keep pace were killed along the way. More than 1,500 women left Markkleeberg, but less than half of them arrived at Theresienstadt.2

One of the women welders managed to preserve the poem during the forced march. Ten out of twelve of these welders survived the war, which speaks to the powerful role of support systems and "camp families." This document helps illuminate the variety of different contexts in which Jewish forced labor was utilized—as well as the prisoners' responses to their circumstances.3

The deportation of nearly 450,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz was the last mass deportation of the Holocaust, which took place in the summer of 1944. See Zoltán Vági, László Csősz, and Gábor Kádár, The Holocaust in Hungary (Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, 2013). The Museum has also published a set of frequently asked questions on the subject.

Evelyn Zegenhagen, "Markkleeberg," in Geoffrey Megargee, ed., The Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945, Volume 1, Part A (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009), 392–93. 

The specific circumstances of this work detail are outlined in Zahava Szász Stessel, Snow Flowers: Hungarian Jewish Women in an Airplane Factory, Markkleeberg, Germany (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2009).


Oberscharführer is a rank of the SS.

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The Welders

Once upon a time in Germany,
In the town of Markkleeberg, near Leipzig,
In the pretty block number 3, in the twenty-second [unit],
There [they] lived in exemplary order, peace, in the 22nd [unit].
They all loved each other. And that is out of the ordinary in the lager.
There lived in unison, the twelve welders,
Their room was pretty, orderly, an example in their block,
Their bunks all two-tiered. Their curtains from madeira, 
The holes were cut open, the raw edges unfinished 
As they had no access to embroidery yarns.
They worked eights hours, their clothing was clean,
They washed regularly, their coiffures were pretty.
They even received pullovers and wore stockings on their feet,
bathed weekly, and had clean overalls.
Once upon a time, and one can even believe,
This is how the twelve welders lived in our block.
They even received a canteen and ate with good appetite.
At the handing out of the [food] portion, they did not fight. 
Half of them—daily, to their morning shift
Walked in quiet and order to the iron factory.
They worked swiftly and it was no redemption
When at two ten the replacement came in,
Adri, Lily, Magda, Herta and Rozsika
The sixth of them was madeira Rozika.
In the other group were three sibling couples
Two Lerners, two Zuckers and two Trattner girls.
Though Adri was not Lily’s sibling
They walked like Siamese twins to the W.C.1
Herta was Magda's bread partner
But, for her bad luck, she favored the striped one. 
I never knew the secret of their lives,
Whom [he or she] preferred, the Flemish Alizka or Herta.
The life of twelve welders is of one dream,
Twelve monograms on a dozen red plates.
There wasn't anyone in the factory who didn't know
That at two fifteen will the six welders come in.
This was the latest news in the factory daily,
No wonder that everyone was so looking forward to it.
They appeared every day, exactly in the afternoon,
Except on Sunday [when] after twelve.
The main article always spoke of the [food] portion,
How many contains bread and what is the spread,
Then the most common topic would be
Whether by chance there is fodder beet for the day. 
They also talked about whether there was a scandal in the lager,
In what mood Lucifer Obershaar2 was in,
They also told us with usual precision
How much coking coal Lucifer had confiscated from our block.
Twelve welders, I thank you here
That you always told us everything.
Live on in peace and harmony
In [unit] twenty-two, the twelve of you.
Twelve welders, I am angry at you
That you did not take in my blanket
I have witnesses who, unfortunately, saw
That my blanket was stolen just then
Second fragment on the right margin:
With the motto of "Spet [sic] oder doch" 
With honest friendship and true camaraderie
Erzsebet Frank
Third comment (far right at the bottom of the page):
Markleeberg, in the month of February 1945
from Elizabeth Zucker Mermel

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Gift of Elizabeth Mermel
Accession Number 1993.97
Date Created
February 1945
Author / Creator
Erzsébet Frank
Markkleeberg, Germany
Document Type Poem
How to Cite Museum Materials

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