A box with a unique photography collection was found in the ruins of Birkenau after liberation, probably in the area known as "Canada", where the luggage of Jews who were murdered in the gas chambers was sorted. Hundreds of faces; smiling, happy, deep in thought, playful, melancholic. Weddings, births, holidays with family and friends. A world that was gone forever, immortalised on film; the world of Polish Jews before the Holocaust. Most of the approximately 2,400 photos immortalise families of Jews from Zagłębie; from Będzin, Sosnowiec and the surrounding areas. A lot of them portray the same people photographed in different locations, in different situations, at different times of the year, and in the company of loved ones and friends. There are amateur photos and ones taken by a professional photographer, snapshots and postcards. The photographers captured what they wanted to remember: a honeymoon or family gathering, but most importantly scenes from everyday life - walking on the street, children playing and the pleasure of leisurely moments. It's possible that the photos were brought to the camp by people from the same family, or even people living in the same house, and definitely by people who were deported together in the same transport. Most likely the prisoners working in "Canada" threw them into a box or a suitcase, and they were simply forgotten.
THE BRODER AND KOHN FAMILIES
The Broders, together with their six children - Bronka, Lejb, Eli Aron, Hadasa, Chenoch and Idka - lived in Będzin, at 52 Małachowskiego Street. That's also where their stationery and pharmacy/tobacco store was located.
In the twenties, the Broders were planning a trip to Palestine."Our father had a distillery in Jaffa. We had everything ready. However, shortly before leaving, our mother received a telegram from our father - while he was working, an iron barrel had fallen on his leg and severely injured him. He had to stay in a hospital in Tel Aviv for six weeks," remembers Eli Broder, the only family member to survive the Holocaust.
Fajgla Broder and the children stayed in Będzin. The father sold his business in Jaffa and returned to Poland.
At the beginning of the thirties, the eldest daughter, Bronka, married Majer Kohn whose parents, Nahum and Dina Kohn, owned a women's clothing shop in Sosnowiec, on Modrzejowska Street. They usually spent their holidays in Krynica.
Bronka and Majer Kohn had two children: David and Renia. The lives of the children were immortalised in a series of photos taken during walks around the city and on holidays. However, they don't include any taken by a professional photographer. Eli Broder, who told the story of his family, was an avid photographer. From the collection of 2,400 photographs, he found those he took himself. He said, "I photographed a lot. I had a Volkländer camera, then a Leica. I took the photo of Hudka (Hadasa) and Bronka with the children when I happened to meet them returning home from work. I developed it at home and then gave it to them." The Broders and Kohns were religious families and their children attended Jewish schools in Będzin. Eli Broder recalls his childhood: "As long as I lived with my family, I was religious and studied at a yeshiva. But my relationship with my parents wasn't good. My father was very strict. Once I hid ice skates under the bath, and when my father found them he gave them to another boy."
Children in religious families were raised with a focus on leading a godly life. The sons were supposed to continue the traditions of their fathers and attended schools where they learned the Talmud and prepared to live according to religious rules. Eli Broder was an avid cyclist, but sport and exercise did not belong amongst the ideals of an orthodox upbringing. Eli remembers that this was often a cause of conflict between him and his strict father.
In 1937, Eli Broder got married. His parents were against this marriage. His wife was not from a rich family, and her brothers were Communists.
After Germany's attack on Poland, Eli Broder and his wife fled to the Soviet Union.
His family stayed in Będzin. The next of the brothers, Lejb Broder, married Fajgla Rypsztajn at the beginning of the war. In 1941, Hadasa Broder married David Szlezyngier.
In 1941, Nahum and Majer Kohn were hanged in the market square in Sosnowiec.
Lejb Broder was shot by members of the SS during the closing down of the ghetto between 22 and 26 June 1943. David Szlezyngier was deported to a labour camp and murdered. Other members of the family were deported to Auschwitz. No one survived the Holocaust.
Eli Broder and his wife live in Israel.
"I photographed a lot. I had a Volkländer camera and then a Leica. I took the photo of Hadasa and Bronka with the children when I happened to meet them returning home from work. I developed it at home and then gave it to them."
Eli Broder, the only family member to survive the Holocaust.
THE MAŁACH FAMILY
Chana Pesia and Aron Josef Małach came from Maków Mazowiecki - a small town near Warsaw - which they left in 1905, with their eight sons, and moved to Będzin. There, three of their sons established a factory that produced sausage skins from beef intestines for Polish small goods producers.
The fourth son, Welwel, traded raw materials for glue production. This included beef blood, which he bought in a slaughterhouse and then sold to other producers. Before the war, two brothers left for Palestine. In 1939, one of them returned to Poland as he had not been successful professionally in Palestine.
Rafael Małach, the next of Chana Pesia and Aron Josef Małach's eight sons, married his cousin Malka Ruchel Blum. Together, they moved from Będzin to Dąbrowa Górnicza, a nearby industrial city in a region dominated by the extraction industry. There, together with his friend, Rafael Małach established a "kischke" factory like his brothers, however the company went bankrupt and Rafael returned to the family business. Rafael and Malka Ruchel Małach had seven children: Icchak, Zysze, Frymet, Syma, Estera, Wolf (now Ze'ev) and Abraham.
Ze'ev Małach, who currently lives in Israel, tells his family's story: "We were a family with many children. When we met during the Purim holiday at our grandmother Chana Pesia's, there were many of us. Grandmother ruled the family like a dictator. She made sure that the brothers who were better off helped the poorer or impoverished ones like my father. Each evening the whole family gathered together at our mother's in Będzin. My father walked on foot three to four times a week to visit her. My grandfather was as fit as a fiddle; Raschi read without glasses, still had all his teeth and attended the daily bathing ritual. His hair was only slightly grey. After mikveh he ate herring and washed it down with vodka. This gave him complete satisfaction."
Zysze and Icchak, the eldest sons of Rafael and Malka, were very talented handymen around the home. Ze'ev remembers that, before the war, Icchak built a camera on his own from different parts. Presumably he also took many family photos.
All the siblings were members of different political organisations. Icchak and Zysze were Communists, Estera belonged to Haschomer Hacair, Frymet was active in Gordonia, Syma in Bund, and Ze'ev in Haschomer Hadati. Ze'ev tells: "At home we had five parties, but despite this we were still a family that didn't have any internal ideological wars." Some of the siblings fell into conflict with the Polish authorities due to their political involvement. Icchak Małach was once arrested for displaying a red flag. In 1937, Syma had to flee Poland with her husband David Krauze - an active Communist in Dąbrowa Górnicza - because he was in danger of being arrested. They lived illegally in France for two years. In 1934, Icchak Małach married Sara Ruda and they moved to Będzin.
In 1937, their son Abraham was born.
Sara's family was from Warsaw, where her father was a fish trader in the Jewish quarter.
Sara Małach was a midwife and worked at the "Bikur Cholim" Jewish hospital in Będzin.
At first, Icchak Małach worked in his uncle Aba's printing establishment. Then, together with his brother-in-law, he established his own company. Ze'ev: "As for me, my father wanted me to be a merchant. I worked in a textile store from the age of 14, but I didn't like it so I started arranging all the zippers in the store. I also had a very good sense of colour. When women came into the store, I was summoned to advise them. After that, I worked at my uncle's print shop." Ze'ev married Itka shortly after the war broke out and they fled to the Soviet Union.
Icchak, Sara and Abraham Małach remained in Będzin and did not survive the Holocaust.
The grandmother, Chana Pesia, died before the war, and Aron Josef was murdered after 1939. The location is unknown.
Shortly before the war, Syma Małach and David Krauze were expelled from France to Poland, and then they fled to the Soviet Union. Ze'ev explains: "Syma died in 1943 in my arms in Samarkand due to an ectopic pregnancy. While fleeing the Germans, Itka and myself reached Taschkumir in Siberia. I worked in a mine there. When I learned that Syma was sick, I took leave and, in great danger, went to see her. Syma died in Samarkand and was buried there."
In 1939, Zysze Małach fled to the Soviet Union. He returned to Poland in 1945. Ze'ev, Itka and the children returned to Poland in 1946. The only person they managed to find there from their 178-member family was Zysze. They decided to leave Poland, and emigrated to Palestine.
Zysze died in Israel in 1985.
Ze'ev and Itka live in Herzlia.
"We were a family with many children. When we met during the Purim holiday at our grandmother Chana Pesia's, there were many of us. Grandmother ruled the family like a dictator. She made sure that the brothers who were better off helped the poorer or impoverished ones like my father.
Each evening the whole family gathered together at mother's in Będzin. My father walked on foot three to four times a week to visit her."
Wolf (now Ze'ev) Małach
"At home we had five parties, but despite this we were still a family that didn't have any internal ideological wars." Wolf (now Ze'ev) Małach
THE KOPLOWICZ FAMILY
Aron Koplowicz and his wife Rywka had seven children. These were Judl, Mirele, Helcia, Szlomo, Roza, Cesia and Sara. Aron Koplowicz was a wealthy merchant, the owner of a textile shop in the Old Market Square in Będzin. The Koplowiczs were a devout family – Aron belonged to Gerer-Rabbi Chassidim, a group of chassidim around a tzaddik of Mount Calvary, and was a respected member of the Jewish community.
Aron's and Rywka's children were raised in a strict, religious way.
The family-run shop in the Old Market Square was run by the eldest daughter, Mirele, who died young. After her premature death, the shop was taken over by Szlomo.
The Koplowiczs regularly travelled to their favourite holiday destinations, such as Kamińsk, Krynica and Rabka, or to Łódź where their second daughter, Helcia Zajdman, lived with her family. Chana Koplowicz, a relative, still remembers her wedding, which took place in Będzin. "At the time I was very amazed by the Zajdman sisters, who came to the wedding from Łódź in gold shoes, long dresses and very elegant blonde wigs. I remember it well to this day." Aron Koplowicz's daughters were also always fashionably and elegantly dressed, in stark contrast to their father's strict behaviour and dress. Many of the photographs portray Roza Koplowicz as a modern young woman, full of joy. After the Germans occupied Poland, the eldest daughter, Helcia Zajdman, returned to Będzin with her husband and children. The entire family lived in cramped conditions; "This large family of almost 30 people occupied three small rooms in the ghetto. Helcia and her children, her older brother Judl with his seven children, the parents and the siblings all lived there. It was a small single-storey house." The Koplowicz's textile shop was confiscated and assigned to a German overseer.
Due to the Aryanisation of Jewish companies and shops, the owners not only lost their properties, many Jews also lost their jobs and income. Roza and Cesia Koplowicz worked in a shop that was taken over by "Aryans". This protected them from deportation for some time. Chana Koplowicz describes the efforts of people trying to survive in the ghetto: "The overseers on Małachowskiego Street needed accountants. I met an overseer of one of our Jewish neighbours, who used to own a hardware shop. This overseer was an SA man and his name was Völkel. He was responsible for five Jewish shops. I put a different family member in charge of each of these shops. In this way, they could obtain special permits from special SA officials responsible for the work of foreigners. People without such permits were sent to labour camps." Many couples got married in the ghetto. This temporarily protected the men from deportation. At the same time, these weddings were a testimony to the effort that went into creating a semblance of normal life in these inhuman conditions. Roza Koplowicz got married at the beginning of 1943. Chana also got married in the ghetto. Both had children, but they did not survive the Holocaust. While the ghetto was being closed down, Chana and her husband hid in a bunker. After a few weeks their food supplies ran out. "We decided to leave the hideout. We were able to wash and get some rest courtesy of the overseer for whom I worked in the ghetto. He told us that every morning a German guard led a group of 50-60 Jews past his house, from the orphanage to the ghetto. In the evening he led them back. They were Jews who worked in the so-called "Aufräumungskommando" and worked cleaning up the abandoned ghetto. The overseer gave them a note from me, in which I asked them to accept us into their group. At the time, after the "cleansing" of the Jews, there were two options: seeking refuge on the Aryan side with a friendly non-Jew, or being accepted into the Aufräumungskommando. We were advised to discreetly join the squad when the people were being led to the ghetto. Our arrival had to be coordinated. We had to take the place of those who had decided to escape. The German overseers' list of names had to match - no one could be missing, and no additional names could appear. Over time, the group shrank and only the people with connections remained. I was taken to a labour camp." Most of the Koplowicz family members were deported to Auschwitz and murdered. Chana Koplowicz recounts: "The family of my uncle Aron Koplowicz was deported during the 'cleansing' of the ghetto. The only ones I saw later were Gelcia with her husband and children. They hid in a bunker and I came across them while working at the Aufräumungskommando. I don't know what happened to them later. Probably the same as with the others; they were sent to Auschwitz." Cesia was the only child of Aron and Rywka Koplowicz to survive the Holocaust. After the war she emigrated to Israel and died in Jerusalem in the eighties. Similarly, Chana Koplowicz left Poland and lived in Israel until she died in 1997.
"The family of my uncle Aron Koplowicz was deported during the "cleansing" of the ghetto. The only ones I saw later were Gelcia with her husband and children. They hid in a bunker and I came across them while working at the Aufrämungskommando. I don't know what happened to them later. Probably the same as with the others; they were sent to Auschwitz." Chana Koplowicz (married name, Zuberman), a relative.
THE HUPPERT FAMILY
All that's known of the Hupperts is what was possible to reproduce based on the photographs, and the greetings and notes the owners had inscribed on them. No one who remembers the family was found.
The Hupperts came from Cieszyn, a city on the Polish-Czech border. Roza and Josef had six children: Arthur, Adolf, Ferdynand, Mizzi and another son and daughter whose names remain unknown. The family was wealthy and led a glamorous lifestyle. The photographs from the twenties show not only individual scenes from the life of the family, but also express the special atmosphere surrounding them. Arthur Huppert and his wife Grete were married on 9 January 1938, in Opava. After the birth of their son Peter in 1938, they lived in Olomouc. Arthur regularly photographed his child and sent photos with detailed descriptions to his parents.
Arthur, Grete and Peter Huppert were murdered in the summer of 1944.
On 29 April the whole family was transported from Theresienstadt to Baranowicze and died there.
— Teksty zaczerpnięto z książki "Zanim odeszli... Fotografie odnalezione w Auschwitz" pod red. Kersten Brandt, Hanno Loewy, Krystyna Oleksy.
Curator — Dr Maria Martyniak
Curator — Agnieszka Juskowiak-Sawicka
— Excerpts taken from the book "Zanim odeszli... Fotografie odnalezione w Auschwitz" ("Before they perished... Photographs found in Auschwitz") by Kersten Brandt, Hanno Loewy, Krystyna Oleksy.
Curator — Dr Maria Martyniak
Curator — Agnieszka Juskowiak-Sawicka