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Plastic eyeglass frames, temple and lenses worn by a Jewish concentration camp inmate

Object | Accession Number: 2010.494.2 a-d

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    Plastic eyeglass frames, temple and lenses worn by a Jewish concentration camp inmate

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    Brief Narrative
    Eyeglass frames, temple, and lenses worn by Karl Schlesinger while a prisoner in several concentration camps from May 1939, when he was 22, until April 1945. As he was processed for prison, a German civilian warned him not to wear his glasses so he hid them in his hands. The eyeglass bridge was repaired by a German civilian working in one camp. By May 1939, Karl had fled Nazi Germany for Belgium. He was imprisoned twice by the Belgians, first as an illegal Jewish refugee, then as a German spy. He was sent to a military hospital in France and when Germany occupied that country in June 1940, he was transferred to St-Cyprien and Gurs internment camps. In August 1942, Karl was deported to Trezbinia concentration camp, then to Auschwitz, where he was tattooed with 160304. In November 1943, he was sent to Warsaw to clean the ghetto after the failed uprising. When Soviet troops approached in July 1944, he was forced on a death march and sent by train to Dachau, then Allach. He was liberated on a train on April 29 in Starnberger See by an American tank division. He traveled to Feldalfing and other dp camps where he heard that his parents were alive in Berlin. After two tries, he illegally crossed into the Soviet sector to find them. Karl reunited with his parents, Philipp and Johanna, in Berlin that November.
    use:  1939 May-1945 April
    use: concentration camps; France
    use: concentration camps; Germany
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Karl Schlesinger
    Subject: Karl Schlesinger
    Karl Schlesinger was born on February 22, 1917, in Breslau, Germany, (Wroclaw, Poland) to Philipp and Johanna Berkitz Schlesinger. Philipp was born on February 12, 1879, in Chelm, Poland. Johanna was born on January 10, 1883, in Chelm. Philipp was wounded fighting for Germany in World War I. He was a master tailor and owned a small business. Karl had four brothers: Bruno, Herbert, Kurt, and Siegbert, and one sister who died in 1918. The family was not religious but observed Jewish holidays. Karl was the only Jewish student at the Protestant high school. He attended a supplemental Jewish school and was active in Jewish sports associations and the synagogue choir.
    After Hitler assumed power in 1933, the majority of students in Kurt's school joined the Hitler Youth. One day, the dismissal bell rang and Karl stood up while a teacher was speaking. The teacher reprimanded him and said he was only a guest in Germany. Karl defended himself and told the dean of students, but was not supported. After graduation, Karl trained to be an electrician because he thought it would help him emigrate. In 1935, Herbert and his girlfriend were sentenced to two years in prison because he was Jewish and she was Christian. That year, Kurt moved to Palestine. In 1936, Bruno moved to South Africa. In 1938, Karl’s uncle got him a job on a chicken farm near Hamburg. He thought it could help him obtain a work visa for Argentina where his girlfriend had moved. During the Kristallnacht pogrom on November 9-10, Karl hid in his uncle’s house in Hamburg for a week. His uncle was married to a Christian, and the house was not bothered. During the pogrom in Breslau, Philipp, Herbert, and Siegbert were sent to Buchenwald concentration camp. After they were released, Herbert moved illegally to Belgium with his fiance. In January 1939, Karl returned to Breslau to prepare to join Herbert. German authorities told Johanna they would arrest Karl if Herbert did not report to them. In February, Karl and seven others crossed the German fortified Siegfried line near Aachen. They walked in circles through barbed wire and snow until they found a house and discovered they were in Belgium. They bartered with a smuggler and he drove them to Antwerp.
    In May 1939, Karl was arrested by Belgian authoritiess and sent to a refugee camp in Merksplas. In May 1940, Germany invaded Belgium. Bombs were dropped on the camp, but did not explode. Karl was released and given a German passport that did not have the J stamp for Jew. Shortly after, he was arrested, accused of being a German spy because his passport did not have the J, and sent to a military hospital in Orleans, France, where the soldiers beat him. In June, France surrendered to Germany and, in August, Karl was transferred to Saint-Cyprien internment camp. Herbert arrived there, deported from Antwerp. He worked in the kitchen and snuck Karl extra food. After a few weeks, Karl and Herbert gave the French guards a bottle of wine and they let them leave. They went to the Recebedou refugee camp in Toulouse. Karl was sent back to Saint-Cyprien, where he was punished for escaping. Herbert remained in Recebedou because he had no identification papers.
    In September 1940, a storm flooded St-Cyprien. Karl almost drowned but French guards saved him. In October, he was transferred to Gurs internment camp. Camp conditions were much worse than previous camps. He slept on muddy ground and rats walked over him. In April 1941, he was transferred to Agen forced labor camp, and then to Gabarret. He loaded gas bombs onto trains and his fingernails were crushed. In August, he was transferred to Chateau de Tombebouc internment camp. In summer 1942, per Wannsee Conference discussions, the Germans determined to deport all Jews in France to killing centers and labor camps in Poland. Karl was sent to Drancy transit camp for three weeks, and then deported to Gogolin, where he worked drying out swamps. In August, he was transferred to Trzebinia concentration camp, where he carried tracks for the railroads. Conditions in the German camps were horrifiying. Everything was taken from a prisnoer there. Inmates wore paper cement bags for warmth. Belongings were confiscated, but Karl hid some things under the barracks. The guards found them and knew they were his because his name was on a book. He was whipped fifteen times by the Jewish camp elder. Karl's glasses were broken by a pickaxe and he was sent by the camp elder to Chrzanow ghetto for a new pair. He asked a girl there to write to his parents and received a letter from Siegbert telling him his parents were sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1942.
    In August 1943, Karl was deported to Auschwitz death camp. During processing, he hid a photograph of his family in his mouth. He was tattooed on his left hand with the number 160304. In November, he was sent to Warsaw to clean up the ghetto which had been destroyed after the failed uprising. In December, there was a typhus epidemic. A doctor could not feel Karl’s pulse and told him to stop working for a week. In July 1944, as the Soviet Army approached, the prisoners were forced on a death march for six days. They could swim in a river, but anyone that got too far away was shot. Karl was given bread but it was too dry and hard to eat without water. They slept in a field and had to dig with their hands for water. They were put on a train and had to lie still in the fetal position. Karl moved, but a German political prisoner talked a guard out of killing him. The train stopped in Dresden, Germany. Boiling tea fell on Karl and he got second degree burns. He was sent to Dachau in August and given a badge with prisoner number 87308. In September, he was transferred to the subcamp, Allach, and he worked various factory and office jobs. A German guard, Tony Sprung, treated Karl well and shared food with him. He let him warm his hands by a fire, when noticed by other guards, Tony had to sleep in the barracks. As Allied troops approached, the prisoners were placed on a train; they thought they were going to be executrd. Karl gave Tony his address and Tony told Karl to remember his because he did not want to write it down and get punished.
    The train was liberated on April 29, 1945, in Starnberger See by an American tank division. Karl went to Feldafing displaced persons camp and then to Frankfurt. He met a man from Breslau who said his parents were in Berlin. Karl went to Bergen-Belsen DP camp to cross into the Russian zone. He was caught twice, but the guards let him cross the border. In November, he was reunited with his parents in Berlin. They had been in Theresienstadt for three years. He later returned to Bergen-Belsen and met Eva Horowitz, who was born on December 21, 1922, in Debrecen, Hungary. During the war, she was forced into the Debrecen ghetto and then imprisoned in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Weisswasser, Horneburg, and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps. Her family was killed in Auschwitz; one sister survived. During the war, Herbert lived underground in Belgium. Siegburt was killed in Auschwitz in 1942. Karl learned that Tony was killed by German guards because he told the US Army where other guards were hiding. Karl and Eva married in January 1948. They emigrated to the United States in 1950 and had two sons. Johanna died in 1948, age 65, and Philipp died in 1954, age 74. Eva died on March 31, 2008, age 85.

    Physical Details

    Physical Description
    a. Tortoise shell patterned plastic eyeglass frames with semi-circular rims with a flat upper edge; the left rim is cracked. The bridge has a rectangular metal plate screwed to the front and reverse. A metal hinged endpiece connects the rim to the right temple. The left temple is missing and there are hinge remnants on the left endpiece.
    b. Eyeglass frame temple made of a metal rod coated with yellow plastic. The rectangular end tapers to a curved earpiece.
    c. Intact, ovular clear eyeglass lens with dark brown rust spots.
    d. Three semi-circular sections of a broken clear eyeglass lens with dark brown rusts spots and a small glass chip: 1 section with a vertical crack and an intact, rounded edge (1.125h x1.500w; 1 with an intact, rounded edge (0.625hx1.375w; and 1 with an intact, rounded edge that narrows to a slightly pointed edge (0.750hx1.250w).
    a: Height: 1.875 inches (4.763 cm) | Width: 4.500 inches (11.43 cm) | Depth: 0.500 inches (1.27 cm)
    b: Height: 1.625 inches (4.128 cm) | Width: 4.250 inches (10.795 cm) | Depth: 0.250 inches (0.635 cm)
    c: Height: 1.500 inches (3.81 cm) | Width: 1.625 inches (4.128 cm) | Depth: 0.125 inches (0.318 cm)
    d: Height: 1.125 inches (2.858 cm) | Width: 5.000 inches (12.7 cm) | Depth: 0.125 inches (0.318 cm)
    a : plastic, metal
    b : plastic, metal
    c : glass
    d : glass

    Rights & Restrictions

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

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The eyeglass sections were donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2010 by Karl Schlesinger.
    Funding Note
    The cataloging of this artifact has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
    Record last modified:
    2022-07-28 21:51:11
    This page:

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