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Bar of soap from Stutthof labor-concentration camp given to a Polish Holocaust survivor

Object | Accession Number: 1997.30.2

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    Bar of soap from Stutthof labor-concentration camp given to a Polish Holocaust survivor


    Brief Narrative
    Bar of soap issued to Czeslaw Foterek while imprisoned in Stutthof labor-concentration camp, later given to Helen Sperling (Hinda Kacenelenbogen) by a friend. The soap was used in the concentration camp and the inmates believed that it was made from human fat, although this was not true. Czeslaw Foterek was a Roman Catholic living in Gdynia, Poland. After the Germans invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, he was arrested by the Gestapo on September 19, and taken to Stutthof on November 9. There he worked as a slave laborer for the German Equipment Works until his release on March 28, 1945. Hinda Kacenelenbogen was on break from university with her family in Otwock, Poland, when Germany invaded. In October 1940, her family was evicted from their home and forced into the Otwock ghetto. In August 1942 the Germans began deporting and killing Jews from the ghetto and Hinda’s family escaped into hiding. Her parents, aunt and uncle were found and murdered by the Germans in September. Hinda and her brother Saul obtained new identities and lived in hiding. In 1944 Hinda and Saul were captured during the Warsaw Uprising. She was sent to Ravensbrück and then transferred to Buchenwald where she worked as a slave laborer. Buchenwald was liberated by the Soviets on April 17, 1945. Hinda spent three years recovering from cancer and malnutrition and was eventually reunited with Saul. They immigrated to the United States in 1949.
    issue:  1939 November 09-1945 March 28
    received:  1995 June-1995 September
    issue: Stutthof (Concentration camp); Sztutowo (Poland)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Helen Sperling
    top, center, stamped : RIF / 0024 [Reichsstelle für Industrielle Fettversorgung, Reich Center for Industrial Fat Provisioning]
    Subject: Helen Sperling
    Subject: Czeslaw Foterek
    Manufacturer: Reichsstelle für Industrielle Fettversorgung (RIF)
    Hinda Kacenelenbogen (later Helen Sperling) was born on May 6, 1920, in Otwock, Poland to a Jewish couple, Pinkhas (Pinkus) and Chana (Hannah) Rosenblum Kacenelenbogen. Pinkus was born in 1882 in Dyvin, Poland (now Belarus). Hannah was born on January 5, 1902, in Warsaw, Poland. Pinkus had an older brother, Moshe, who was married to Hannah's sister and they also lived in Otwock. Pinkus was an architect and the family enjoyed a comfortable, middle class lifestyle. Hinda had a younger brother, Saul, who was born on July 22, 1923. Otwock was a popular resort town with a predominantly Jewish community. After graduating from school, Hinda began attending a pre-medical school in Grenoble, France.

    Hinda was home in Otwock on vacation from school in September 1939, when in accordance with the Molotov Ribbentrop Pact, Germany and then Russia invaded Poland. In response Britain and France declared war on Germany. Poland quickly capitulated and the country was divided between Germany and the Soviet Union. The western half of the country, including Otwock, was occupied by Germany. Because of the war, Hinda was unable to return to school. In October, the Germans burned all the synagogues in Otwock. By the end of the year the German authorities required all Polish Jews to identify themselves by wearing the Star of David. They enacted several anti-Jewish restrictions that closed schools, confiscated property, conscripted men into forced labor and dissolved prewar organizations. In October 1940, Hinda and her family were evicted from the home her father had built and forced into the newly formed Otwock ghetto. In August 1942 the German authorities transported 7,000 Jews to Treblinka killing center, while another 3,700 Jews hiding in town and the surrounding forests were found and executed.

    Hinda and her family were able to escape the ghetto and went into hiding. Her aunt, uncle, and parents went to the small, nearby village of Kolbiel, while Hinda and her brother were able to obtain new identities as Roman Catholics, Maria Josefa Napiorkoski and Stanislaw Napiorkoski. In September, Hinda’s family was discovered by the Germans and her aunt, uncle and parents were murdered on Yom Kippur. From November 1942 to August 1944, Hinda and her brother lived in hiding under their false identities. By summer 1944, the war had turned against the Germans. The Soviet army had entered Poland and was closing in on Warsaw. In August, led by the Armia Krajowa (Home Army), the Polish Resistance initiated a revolt in Warsaw to liberate the city before the Soviets arrived. Saul took part in the uprising, was captured and deported to Stalag IX – C in Germany as a prisoner of war. On August 15, Hinda was captured and deported to Germany and imprisoned in Ravensbrück concentration camp for women. She received prisoner number 51884. On September 6, she was transferred to Buchenwald concentration camp where she was given prisoner number 29805. There she was forced to work as a laborer at a munitions factory. Hinda and the other workers sabotaged the shells while the guards were distracted as a form of resistance against their captors. By October, the Armia Krajowa uprising in Warsaw had been crushed by the Germans.

    On April 17, 1945 Buchenwald was liberated by the Soviet Army. Afterward, Hinda was transported toward the Czech border and then to Deggendorf displaced person’s camp in Germany. She spent three years recovering from malnutrition and kidney cancer in a hospital in Munich. During this time was able to reunite with her brother, Saul. On July 20, 1949, Hinda and Saul went to Bremerhaven, Germany. On August 5, they departed for the United States aboard the USAT General Sturgis, arriving in Boston on August 14. She and her brother Americanized their names to Helen and Steve Bogen. On December 7, 1953 Helen married Leon Sperling, a fellow Holocaust survivor who was interned at Kraków-Płaszów forced labor camp, and later Buchenwald where he was given prisoner number 67975. The couple settled in New Hartford, New York and had two children, Fran and Paul. Helen was very active in her local Jewish community, and spoke publicly about her experiences during the Holocaust throughout her life at schools, colleges, churches, prisons, and clubs. Helen, aged 95, died on December 15, 2015 in Utica, New York.
    Czeslaw Foterek was born on July 8, 1914 in Tursk, Poland. His mother was Jadwiga Kulton. Czeslaw lived in Gdynia, Poland where he worked as a carpenter. He was Roman Catholic and married to Irena Wojcieszak. In September 1939, in accordance with the Molotov Ribbentrop Pact, Germany and Russia invaded Poland. Poland quickly capitulated and the country was divided between Germany and the Soviet Union. The western half including Gdynia, was occupied by Germany.

    On September 19, 1939, Czeslaw was arrested in Gdynia by the Gestapo. He was delivered to the Gdańsk Nowy Port railway station and detained in Wejherowo, Poland. On November 9, he was transferred to Stutthof concentration camp, east of Danzig, Germany (now Gdańsk, Poland). He received prisoner number 8027. At first, Stutthof was a civilian prison camp for Polish and Jewish prisoners. It was under the control of the Danzig SS and police authorities, later the SS would take full control of the camp. From 1940 Stutthof functioned as the main work education camp in Danzig-West Prussia. In January 1942, it was incorporated into a concentration camp that housed predominantly Polish prisoners, but also some German political prisoners, criminals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and homosexuals.

    While imprisoned at Stutthof, Czeslaw was a slave laborer, making armaments for the German Equipment Works (DAW), located near the camp. DAW was a German defense contractor owned and operated by the SS, with headquarters in Berlin. The company provided repair work on freight trains and railway lines, and supplied the German military with boots, uniforms, wood, metal supplies and other materials. The company had several business locations and exploited the prisoners of Stutthof, Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, Auchwitz, Majdanek and many other concentration camps for slave labor. Their prison workers were exposed to heavy workloads, long workdays, and inhumane working conditions.

    By the spring of 1945, the Soviet Army had nearly pushed the German Army out of Poland and were closing in on the German border. On March 28, 1945, Czeslaw was released from Stutthof, where he had been imprisoned for six years. On May 7, 1945 Germany surrendered to the allies, after the war, Czeslaw returned home to Gdynia.

    Physical Details

    Object Type
    Soap (lcsh)
    Physical Description
    Rectangular, dense, brown bar of soap with a smooth, straight surface and white shaded areas on the top and bottom. Manufacturing information is stamped on the top. A seam runs horizontally along the front and back. The top has a small red stain in the center.
    overall: Height: 0.750 inches (1.905 cm) | Width: 2.000 inches (5.08 cm) | Depth: 1.500 inches (3.81 cm)
    overall : soap

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    No restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The soap was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1997 by Helen Sperling.
    Record last modified:
    2022-09-26 11:01:09
    This page:

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