From the Simon Wiesenthal Memoirs, remembering a special Yartzeit in June,
and the Shavuoth Yizkor observance
I first heard of Sammy Rosenbaum in 1965
, when a Mrs.
came into my office in
to testify at a War Crimes trial. Mrs.
remembered Sammy Rosenbaum as "a frail boy, with a pale, thin face and big,
dark eyes, who looked much older than his age- as did many children who
learned too early about life." Sammy was nine years old in 1939
when the Germans
and made life a nightmare.
Sammy's father was a tailor who lived in two musty rooms and a tiny kitchen in an
old house. But they were happy and religious. Every Friday night Sammy went
with his father to the synagogue, after his mother and sister lit the Shabbos candles.
the SS set up a training center in a former Polish Army barracks
In the early phase of the war, SS platoons shot their victims; fifty, a hundred,
even a hundred fifty people a day.
The SS-men were being hardened at Rabka
so they would become insensitive to
blood, to the agonizing cries of women and children. The job must be done with a
minimum of fuss and maximum of efficiency. That was a Führerbefehl
the Führer's order.
The school commander was SS-Untersturmführer
Wilhelm Rosenbaum from Hamburg
. Cynical and brutal,
he walked around with a riding crop. "His appearance frightened us," the woman
Early in 1942
, SS-Rosenbaum ordered all Rabka
Jews to appear at the local school
to "register." The sick and the elderly would be deported, and the others would
labor for the Wehrmacht
Toward the end of the registration, SS-Führer Rosenbaum appeared,
accompanied by two deputies, Hermann Oder
. SS-Führer Rosenbaum read through
the list of names. "Suddenly, he beat his riding crop hard on the table," the woman
told me. "We each winced as if we had been whipped." SS-man Rosenbaum
shouted: 'What's this? Rosenbaum? Jews! How dare these verdammte Juden
my good German name?"
He threw the list on the table and strode out. We knew the Rosenbaums would be killed;
it was only a matter of time. People would be executed because their name was Rosenberg,
or if their first name happened to be Adolf or Hermann.
The police school practiced executions in a clearing in the woods. SS students shot
Jews and Poles rounded up by the Gestapo
, while SS-Führer Rosenbaum
observed students' reactions with clinical detachment. If a student flinched, he was removed
from the execution squad and sent to the front.
After the registration, Mrs. Rawicz
worked in the police school
as a charwoman. "When the SS-men came back from the clearing in the woods I had
to clean their boots covered with blood."
It was a Friday morning in June 1942
. Two SS-men escorted "the Jew Rosenbaum," his wife,
and their fifteen-year-old daughter Paula
. Behind them
came SS-Führer Rosenbaum.
"The woman and the girl were marched around the schoolhouse and then I heard
some shots," the witness has said. "I saw SS man Rosenbaum beat our Rosenbaum
with his riding crop, shouting: "You dirty Jews, I'll teach you a lesson for having my
German name!' Then the SS-man took his revolver and shot Rosenbaum the tailor two
or three times. Then the SS sent an unarmed Jewish policeman to the quarry to get Sammy.
He went to Zaryte
in a horse drawn cart. He stopped and waved at
Sammy Rosenbaum. Everybody in the quarry stared - the
Jewish laborers and the SS guards. Sammy put the stone in his
hands on the truck, and walked toward the cart.
Sammy looked up at the Jewish policeman. "Where are they?" he asked - "Father,
mother, and Paula
. Where?" The policeman just
shook his head. Sammy understood. "They're dead." He muttered and spoke
matter-of-factly. "Our name is Rosenbaum, and now you've come for me." He
stepped up and sat down next to the Jewish policeman.
The policeman had expected the boy to cry, perhaps run away. Riding out to Zaryte
the policeman wondered how he could forewarn the boy, allow him to disappear in the
woods, where the Polish underground might help him. Now it was too late. The SS
guards were watching.
The policeman told Sammy what had happened that morning. Sammy asked if they
could stop for a moment at his house. When they got there, he stepped down and walked
into the front room, leaving the door open. He looked over the table with the half-filled
teacups left from breakfast. He looked at the clock. It was half past three. Father, mother and
were already buried, and no one had lit a
candle for them. Slowly methodically, Sammy cleaned off the table and put the
candlesticks on it.
"I could see Sammy from the outside," the Jewish policeman told Mrs.
. "He put on his skullcap, and lit the candles.
Two for his father, two for his mother, two for his sister. And he prayed. I saw his
lips moving. He said Kaddish for them." Kaddish is the prayer for the dead. Father
Rosenbaum always said Kaddish for his dead parents, and had shown Sammy the
prayer. Now he was the only one left in his family. He stood quietly, looking
at the six candles.
The Jewish policeman outside saw Sammy slowly shaking his head, as though he
suddenly remembered something. Then Sammy placed two more candles on the table,
took a match and lit them, and prayed.
"The boy knew he was already dead," the policeman said later. "He lit the candles
and said Kaddish for himself."
Sammy came out, and sat down near the policeman, who was crying. The boy didn't cry.
The policeman wiped away his tears with the back of his hand and pulled the reins,
but the tears kept coming. The boy didn't say a word. He gently touched the older
man's arm, to comfort him- to forgive him for taking him away.
They rode to the clearing in the woods, where SS-Führer Rosenbaum and his
"About time!" screamed the SS-man.
No tombstone bears Sammy Rosenbaum's name. No one might have remembered him if
the woman from Rabka
had not come into my office. But every year, one day in June,
I light two candles for him and say Kaddish.
© ARC 2005