A group of Jewish DPs eat in the mess hall at the Schlachtensee displaced persons camp.
Photograph | Photograph Number: 29727
- Variant Locale
- Photo Designation
DISPLACED PERSONS/RETURN TO LIFE -- DP Camps/Postwar Communities -- Germany: Major Centers -- Berlin -- Duppel/Schlachtensee
- Photo Credit
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Miles & Chris Laks Lerman
A group of Jewish DPs eat in the mess hall at the Schlachtensee displaced persons camp.
Seated with bowls before them are Shmuel (Miles) and Rozalia (Chris) Lerman.
- Miles Lerman (born Shmuel Milek Lerman) is the son of Israel and Jochevet Lerman. He was born January 20, 1920 in Tomaszow Lubelski, where both his parents ran successful, large businesses and were among the most prosperous members of the Jewish community. Israel Lerman owned and leased a string of flour mills throughout eastern Poland (including one in Belzec, across the road from what became the death camp). He also ran separate wholesale liquor and gasoline businesses. Jochevet owned and managed a wholesale import company that specialized in tea, coffee and spices. Shmuel had four older siblings: Shlomo (b. 1904), Esther (b. 1906), Peshe (b. 1908) and Yona (b. 1910). He grew up in a religiously observant, Hasidic home. Israel and Jochevet were prominent members and financial backers of the Belzer Hasidim, who often hosted members of the rebbe's extended family. Despite his parents unwavering adherence to Jewish law and custom, Shmuel (like most of his siblings) moved away from religious tradition in his youth. He joined the socialist Zionist Hashomer Hatzair youth movement and participated in the local Jewish sports clubs, Maccabi and Hapoel. Shmuel spent the last two years of high school (1936-1938) at a secular, Hebrew junior college in Lvov. It was his intention to immigrate to Palestine (as his brother Yona had done in 1934) after graduation and enroll at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. However, his plans went awry after the sudden death of his father from a stroke in 1938. Though he had only a year and a half left to graduate, the family insisted Shmuel return to Tomaszow to help his mother. While his older brother Shlomo took over his father's businesses, Shmuel helped his mother with the import business. On the second day of the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, the Lerman family home was destroyed by a German bomb. Shmuel then took his mother and moved to Lvov, in what became the Soviet sector of Poland. Though they had lost all of their possessions, they were able to scrape together enough money to rent a small apartment. Shlomo and Peshe and their families soon moved to Lvov as well. Shmuel found work as an assistant manager in the state office of supply. In 1940 both Shlomo and Peshe and their families were deported to the remote regions of Soviet Asia. His mother would have suffered the same fate, but Shmuel was able to pull her off the train at the last minute after prevailing upon a NKVD officer at the railroad station. Shmuel and his mother lived through the Lvov pogrom (June 30-July 3, 1941) that took place just prior to the formal takeover of the city by the Germans. At the time, Shmuel was working for the railroad authority and had a certificate of employment from the Wehrmacht. Not trusting that the document would protect him from the roving bands of Ukrainian nationalists, who were grabbing Jewish men off the street and from their homes and shooting them en masse in the prison courtyard, Shmuel went into hiding for a few days in the basement of his apartment building. When the situation settled down, he went back to work for the railroad, where he was now paid only a token amount. As of July 8, Shmuel and all Jews 14 years and older were forced to wear white armbands with a blue Star of David. Later that summer, amid the confiscation of Jewish property, synagogue burnings and cemetery desecration, the Germans established a Jewish council, labor bureau and police force, and on November 8, set up a ghetto in the Zamarstynow and Kleparow quarters of the city. In December 1941 Shmuel was stopped on his way home from work by a member of the SS and a Ukrainian auxiliary, who tore up his work certificate and forced him onto a truck with 60-70 other Jewish men. He was taken to the Viniki labor camp, where he was put to work building a highway between Lvov and Viniki. To obtain gravel for the roadwork the Jewish forced laborers were instructed to dismantle the ancient Lvov Jewish cemetery and break up its tombstones. Shmuel got word to his mother about his whereabouts through a friend of his girlfriend Lucia. In mid-March 1942 the first large-scale action took place in the Lvov ghetto, resulting in the deportation of 15,000 Jews to the Belzec death camp. Shmuel's mother was among those taken. She did not survive. Lucia, who managed to evade the round-up, smuggled her way to Viniki and delivered the news to Shmuel. Subsequently, Lucia was captured and sent to the Janowska concentration camp. One day in the spring of 1942 Shmuel and four other prisoners were instructed to move deeper into the quarry they were working in to find a harder type of stone. They were guarded by two Ukrainians. Realizing they had an opportunity to gain their freedom, the five prisoners jumped their guards and killed them with their picks and shovels. After taking their weapons, the Jews fled into the forest. Within a period of six to eighth weeks, Shmuel and his group had gathered around them 200-250 Jews, including some women and children. The group organized itself into a partisan family camp. Shmuel and several other young men took command of the group. The Jewish partisans developed a loose alliance with local bands of Polish Home Army partisans, who sought their support against anti-Polish, Ukrainian resistance forces operating in the area. For 23 months Shmuel lived as a partisan in the forests, surviving by trading with, or stealing from, local villagers and raiding German supply depots. After the liberation, Shmuel returned to Tomaszow, but was warned to leave before he was killed. He then went to Lublin, where he established a leather business with a fellow survivor, Leon Feldhandler from Izbica, who had played a leadership role in the Sobibor uprising. However, shortly thereafter, Feldhandler was killed by a Pole. Shmuel then decided to move on. He settled in Lodz, where he opened a nightclub with a friend. There, he met his future wife, Rozalia (Krysia) Laks, who came in one evening with another young man. After dating for a time they were married in Lodz by the chief rabbi of the Polish army. While in Lodz, Shmuel made contact with his brother Yona in Palestine and learned that Shlomo and Peshe had survived, while Esther and her family had not. Shmuel made use of his contacts in the Polish government to establish a business in which he supplied certain foodstuffs (which he purchased on the black market) to the government to feed its workers in exchange for textiles, which he sold on the open market. After a time, Shmuel and Rozalia decided to leave for Germany so as to be able to get to Palestine. Taking Rozalia's younger sister Regina with them, they fled to Berlin, where they found a temporary home in the Schlachtensee displaced persons camp. Fear of ending up in a detention camp in Cyprus, led the young couple to abandon their plans to join the illegal immigration to Palestine, and to apply for visas to the U.S. They sailed from Hamburg to New York aboard the SS Marine Perch in February 1947. Upon their arrival in the U.S. Shmuel (Milek) and Rozalia (Krysia) Lerman adopted the names Miles and Chris Lerman. After living and working for the better part of a year in New York, the Lermans bought a poultry farm in Vineland, N.J. They stayed there for four years before returning to the city and establishing a heating oil business. In 1980 Miles was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, which became the governing body of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. In this capacity, he directed the International Relations Committee and served as national chairman of the Campaign to Remember, leading the initiative to raise the funds needed to build the Museum. He was reappointed to the Council by Presidents Reagan and Bush, and ultimately became its chairman. As a Council member, he negotiated agreements with foreign governments that brought archival materials and artifacts to the Museum. He was also a founding member of the Council's Committee on Conscience, which was established in 1995 to focus attention on, and help stop, contemporary acts of genocide.
[Source: Lerman, Miles. "Interview with Miles Lerman," July 17, 2001, U.S. Holocaust Museum Oral History Project.]
The Laks sisters, Hania (later Anna Wilson), Rozalia (Krysia, later Chris Lerman) and Regina (Renia, later Regina Gelb) are the daughters of Isaac and Pola (Tenenblum) Laks. Hania was born October 16, 1924; Rozalia, on March 5, 1926 and Regina, on December 16, 1929 in Wierzbnik (now part of Starachowice), Poland, where their father was a forestry engineer employed by an international lumber company that supplied timber to companies in Britain and Germany. Another sibling, a boy named Jusef, died of pneumonia as a four-year-old child before Hania was born. The Laks family was not religiously observant, but they kept a kosher home out of respect for Pola's mother (from Ostrowiec) and celebrated the main Jewish holidays. Pola was active in the local Zionist movement. She founded the Wierzbnik chapter of the WIZO women's organization and served as its first president. She also played a central role in the founding of the local, Hebrew-speaking, Tarbut school. The girls attended both Polish public school and the Tarbut school in varying combinations. Rozalia attended the Tarbut school for her first four years of formal education and then went to public school, while Regina attended public school followed by Hebrew school in the afternoons. When Hania turned eleven she was sent to a prestigious Polish gymnasium in Radom. The family spoke Polish at home, though both parents spoke Yiddish. The Laks' lived a comfortable, middle class lifestyle, except for a four-year period between 1933-1937, when the depression limited Isaac's employment opportunities. Pola, who suffered from arthritis, spent six weeks every year taking a cure at the sulfur baths in Busko Zdroj. Shortly after the German occupation of Wierzbnik-Starachowice in September 1939 the persecution of the Jewish population began. The Germans burned down the local synagogue on Yom Kippur, 1939; they began confiscating Jewish valuables; rounding-up Jewish men on the street for cleaning details and other humiliating work; and setting their vicious dogs on Jewish children who were playing outside. In these early months of the occupation Isaac was pushed off the sidewalk into the gutter by a German soldier, and then kicked when he tried to get up. Another time he was sent to sweep the railroad station. This situation led Jewish families to stay indoors as much as possible. When the schools reopened, Jews were no longer permitted to attend. Pola organized a small school in their home. Hania served as the teacher for Regina and several friends; Rozalia both taught the younger children and had classes with her peers. Regina and a friend organized a small lending library, pooling the book collections of several Jewish families. There was never a closed ghetto in Wierzbnik-Starachowice, but the Laks family had to move several times between the fall of 1939 and the fall of 1942 as the Jews were confined to ever-narrower sections of the town, and more and more Jews from outlying areas were concentrated in Starachowice. Soon after the arrival of the Germans in Wierzbnik-Starachowice, the Jews were ordered to set up a Jewish council. Isaac Laks was appointed by the new council to serve as head of the labor office, responsible for the registration, organization and supply of Jewish forced laborers to the Germans. When it became clear that having a place of work was the best guarantee against resettlement, all able-bodied Jews sought work certificates. Hania and Rozalia were employed in the local brick factory. Pola worked in the electrical factory. (She also helped to run a soup kitchen.) Towards the end of this period Regina also went to work in the munitions factory. In August 1942 the Laks' heard for the first time about the existence of the death camps, when a Jewish escapee from Treblinka reached Wierzbnik and came to their home. The liquidation of the Jewish community of Wierzbnik-Starachowice took place on October 27, 1942. Regina and her parents were rounded-up at home and marched to the market square, where amidst much violence they were divided into three groups: Isaac was sent with the men to the Majowka labor camp in Wierzbnik-Starachowice, Regina was sent with a group of women to the same camp, and Pola, who had been assisting an elderly Jewish woman as they walked toward the assembly point, was directed with her friend to the deportation trains bound for Treblinka. Hania and Rozalia, who had been working a double shift at the brick factory during the round-up, were later sent to Majowka, where they found Isaac and Regina. The next day they were separated. Isaac and Rozalia remained in Majowka, while Hania and Regina were sent to a second camp called Strzelnica. Isaac was once again put in charge of the labor office, and Hania performed the same duty in Strzelnica. Rozalia continued to work in the brick family, but also helped out her father in the labor office. Regina was put to work in the laundry. During the spring of 1943 a typhus epidemic broke out in the two camps, and one after another all the Laks took sick. Rozalia, who had nursed her mother through the disease in the ghetto, cared for each of them. With the help of medications secured from the outside, all of them recovered, though some of them only narrowly escaped the selections that took place during the height of their illness. Sometime in 1943 or 1944 the Strzelnica camp was closed and Hania and Regina moved back to Majowka. The Laks family was sustained during their two years in the labor camps by the efforts of a Polish family named Paliszewski, who had been entrusted with some of the Laks' family valuables. The Paliszewskis sold off these items little by little and smuggled the cash into the camp. In July 1944 the inmates of the Majowka labor camp were evacuated to a transit camp near the munitions factory, and a few weeks later they were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The last time the Laks girls saw their father was on the arrival ramp in Birkenau. They later learned that he perished in October 1944. The Laks sisters did not face a selection when they arrived in Birkenau. Their entire transport was sent to the prisoner barracks after being showered, shaved and tattooed. After being confined to the quarantine camp for several weeks, the girls were released and sent to work cutting back the marshes along the nearby river. In late October or early November 1944, when the sisters were losing their stamina, Fela Berlant, their barracks' secretary (the person who kept count of the inmates), who felt a kinship to the girls because she had friends who lived in Wierzbnik, took pity on them and selected them for a special work detail in the Effektenkammer, a separate warehouse for the confiscated belongings of non-Jewish political prisoners. The girls remained in this self-contained, indoor environment working under the direction of several Polish female prisoners until the evacuation of Auschwitz in January 1945. Before leaving on the death march to Gleiwitz, the sisters helped themselves to some warm clothing and footwear from the warehouse, which helped them survive the next few weeks on the road. Following the weeklong march through the snow, which Regina survived only because her sisters dragged her much of the way, the prisoners were loaded onto open railcars and transported to Ravensbrueck. When they arrived they discovered a camp overflowing with prisoners of every nationality with no infrastructure to accommodate them. Desperate to get out, the sisters volunteered to join a transport to an unknown destination. Ultimately, they were taken to the Ravensbrueck sub-camp of Retzow in Mecklenburg. For the next two months, Regina worked as the personal maid of an SS overseer, while Hania cleaned offices and Rozalia worked in the kitchen. During the evacuation of Retzow on May 1, the sisters found themselves on a road clogged with thousands of evacuees. With a group of several friends they broke away from their guards and slipped down an embankment. One of the women dressed up in the SS cape Regina was carrying for her overseer and pretended she was guarding the rest of the group until they found refuge on an estate, which had been largely abandoned to the Polish and Russian laborers who worked there. For the next 4-5 days, until the arrival of Soviet liberators, the sisters lived in the lap of luxury. After being warned about the danger of rape by Soviet soldiers, the Laks sisters left abruptly before the Russians could force them into employment. At that point the sisters decided to return to Poland to try to find surviving members of their extended family. They walked to the Polish border and then boarded a train going east. Along the way they were warned not to venture into any small towns in Poland because they risked being attacked by Poles who did not want to return property to surviving Jews. The Laks girls heeded the advice and went to Lodz, where they were reunited with their father's brother, Alexander Laks. A few months later Hania and Rozalia made a trip home to Wierzbnik, where they narrowly escaped attack by a group of local Poles, who came looking for them at the home of the Paliszewski family. During this period Hania reconnected with Adash Wilczek (later Adrian Wilson), a friend from home, whom she soon married; Rozalia met Shmuel (Milek, later Miles) Lerman and they were married in December 1945. Regina attended school in Lodz until she left with Rozalia and Shmuel for Germany in the spring of 1946. They settled in Berlin, where Regina went to high school at the Schlachtensee displaced persons camp. The three of them immigrated to the U.S. in the winter of 1947, arriving in New York on February 11. Regina married an American Jew, Victor Gelb, in New York City on March 8, 1953. Hania and Adash immigrated to Canada and settled in Toronto.
[Sources: Gelb, Regina. "Interview with Regina Gelb," February 20, 2001, Holocaust Museum Oral History Project; Lerman, Chris. "Interview with Rosalie (Chris) Lerman," January 13, 1999, Holocaust Museum Oral History Project.]
- Artifact Photographer
- Max Reid
- Photo Source
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial MuseumProvenance: Miles & Chris Laks LermanSource Record ID: Collections: 1999.87
Record last modified: 2017-12-15 00:00:00
This page: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/pa1115236