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Postwar Justice


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Report on an Incident at Neu Freimann DP Camp

Wachtel Report Incident at Neu Freiman 1946
Courtesy of YIVO, New York

In 1948, a Jewish honor court in Munich convicted a Polish Jew named Regina Szenberg of viciously assaulting fellow Jews as a prisoner functionary at Auschwitz-Birkenau.1 The court applied the harshest sentence permissible: Szenberg was labeled a "traitor of the Jewish people." As one scholar has written, this sentence constituted a "denial of the right to belong to the Jewish community, to maintain contacts with Jewish organizations, or to live among other Jews."2 The offender’s excommunication was total, "[cutting him off] from the Jewish community, so that wherever he goes or turns, in every land he will find people ready to impose the sentence of banishment, of not being able to be counted as one of our people."3

This memorandum, submitted by a camp official named Hyman Wachtel, describes the incident that led to Szenberg’s trial and conviction.4 After she was recognized as a former kapo during a soccer game in camp Neu Freimann, other camp residents quickly came forward to defend Szenberg. Wachtel could find no witnesses willing to corroborate the charges, and decided to refer the case to the Munich honor court for resolution. 

Wachtel's report recounts just one example of the ways Jewish DPs dealt with suspected collaborators in their midst. Szenberg was denounced and formally tried, but public shaming, beatings, and even murder also appeared as forms of ad hoc retribution. Indeed, wartime collaboration cast long shadows over Jews living in DP camps, where passionate exchanges on survival, resistance, and victimhood were a feature of daily life, and screams of "kapo!" or "OD-mann!"5 commonly preceded brawls and physical confrontations. Denunciatory letters addressed to Jewish communal bodies, documents from political parties, and postwar newspapers depict chance meetings with former kapos on the streets or in communal kitchens, rumors of the return of former Jewish policemen to their prewar hometowns, or the circulation of accused collaborators’ photos in postwar Jewish communities. Against this backdrop of suspicion, Jewish DPs attempted to regenerate the bonds of trust needed to rebuild fragile, fragmented communities.

The trial was held under the authority of the Rehabilitation Commission of the Central Committee of Liberated Jews in the American zone of occupied Germany. For more on Jewish honor courts, see the items Verdict in the Case of Alexander Eintracht and A Verdict from "Our Camp-Tribunal" in this collection, as well as Laura Jockusch and Gabriel N. Finder, eds., Jewish Honor Courts: Revenge, Retribution, and Reconciliation in Europe and Israel after the Holocaust (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2015).

Laura Jockusch, "Rehabilitating the Past? Jewish Honor Courts in Occupied Germany" in Jewish Honor Courts: Revenge, Retribution, and Reconciliation in Europe and Israel after the Holocaust, Laura Jockusch and Gabriel N. Finder, eds. (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2015), 72.

C. Sukholitsky, "Tsvei problemen" Undzer vort, no. 4 (May 4, 1946): 1-2. Quoted in Zeev W. Mankowitz, Life between Memory and Hope: The Survivors of the Holocaust in Occupied Germany (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 205, footnote 72.

Wachtel worked for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), an organization which provided critical assistance to DPs living in camps after the war.

Ordnungsdienst or "Order Service" was the official name for the so-called "Jewish Police" in Jewish camps and ghettos during the war. 

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27th May 1948

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN

 

Re: Incident at Neu Freimann. May 1946

I, Hyman J. Wachtel, former Director of UNRRA Team 560, which was then known as the Neu Freimann Siedlung, witnessed the following measures:

At a Football Match which took place about 100 meters From the Camp on/or about May 1946, a woman known as Regina Sheinberg (formerly Regina Kopietz) was accused by a girl of being a "kapo" in Auschwitz.

People gathered around and started to scream "kapo" and threatened this woman's life.

Two people who lived opposite Neu Freimann but were registered in the camp, namely Mr. Lederman and Mr. Avrol, immediately called me from the other side of the field and swore that they knew this woman and were ready to swear for her integrity. They also told me that this woman was pregnant and begged me to interview the girl and find out if the accusations were true or false.

As the UNRRA Director, I was also responsible for the maintenance of law and order of the population in the camp, and therefore processed to have the crowd dispersed and took the accused woman to my office within the camp.1 I then asked the people to bring anyone to the office who knew this woman in Auschwitz. Four girls, whose names I do not now remember, appeared in my office and in the presence of the Camp Committee, I interrogated these girls separately. After an examination that took about two hours, the following was concluded by the District Attorney in the camp and myself:-

None of these witnesses would admit to having seen this woman molest anyone, or admit that they were molested by her. They would also not admit that they had seen anyone pay her any money for food, nor did they pay her any money themselves. 

The next day, at her own request, I turned this woman over to the Central Committee in order for them to clear her name.

H.J. Wachtel

Supply Director AJDC2

 

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Courtesy of YIVO, New York
RG Number RG-294.2
Accession Number MK 483, reel 20, folder 222
Date Created
May 27, 1948
Author / Creator
Hyman J. Wachtel
Language(s)
English
Location
Munich, West Germany (historical)
Document Type Report
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