Postwar portrait of Norbert Wollheim.
Photograph | Photograph Number: 41986
September 1948 - October 1948
- Photo Designation
PERSONALITIES: JEWS -- Names (W)
- Photo Credit
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Norbert Wollheim
Postwar portrait of Norbert Wollheim.
- Norbert Wollheim (1913-1998), German Jewish social welfare worker, who administered the Kindertransport program; postwar leader of Jewish DPs in the British zone of Germany; and Auschwitz survivor who won a lawsuit against the I.G. Farben corporation. Wollheim was born in Berlin on April 26, 1913. During his youth he attended public school and was active in the German Jewish Youth Alliance until its dissolution by the Nazis in 1935. Intending to become a lawyer, Wollheim began law school in 1931. However, before he could complete his degree legislation was enacted barring Jews from the study of law. Instead, Wollheim went to work at a Jewish-owned, import-export business, hoping to make contacts that would provide him a way out of Germany. His main focus of activity, however, was social welfare work for the Jewish community. In the mid-1930s Wollheim became involved in organizing groups of Jewish youth to attend summer camps in nearby Denmark and Sweden. Shortly after Kristallnacht, he was asked by the leadership of the Jewish community (Reichsvertretung der deutschen Juden) to administer the new Kindertransport program, a plan to send thousands of children (mostly Jewish) from Nazi controlled central Europe to the United Kingdom. He was responsible for the application process, communication with parents, reserving special trains and finding escorts for the transports. He met with each group at the train station and personally escorted many to Britain, before returning to Germany to organize the next transport. In all, Wollheim arranged for over 7,000 Jewish children on 20 transports to reach safety in the U.K. The last Kindertransport left Berlin on August 29, 1939. Wollheim did not accompany this group fearing that if war broke out, he would be separated from his family. Both of his parents remained in Berlin. In addition, he had a young wife, whom he had married in 1938, and a baby born the following year. After the start of the war, Wollheim continued to work for the Jewish leadership body (now renamed the Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland) as the administrator of its vocational school. In 1941 he severed his relationship with the Reichsvereinigung and reported for forced labor. Wollheim's parents were rounded-up for deportation in December 1942. Though his father had been decorated with the Iron Cross for military service in World War I, he received no exemption, and both were sent to the gas chambers after their arrival in Auschwitz. Four months later in the last major deportation action in Berlin, Wollheim and his family were arrested and taken to the Grosse Hamburger Strasse assembly center. On March 11, 1943 they, too, were deported to Auschwitz in a transport of over 1,000 Jews, only six of whom survived the war. Wollheim, his pregnant wife and his three-year-old child squeezed into a car with one hundred other people, including several friends from his youth group. Since it was Friday night, they sang Hebrew songs, and one woman lit Sabbath candles. The following day they arrived in Auschwitz, where Wollheim's wife and child were immediately gassed. Wollheim was selected for forced labor. Claiming experience as a welder, he was sent to the Buna synthetic rubber plant at Auschwitz III (Monowitz), where he was put to work in construction. In Monowitz, Wollheim befriended a group of British POWs who shared their Red Cross parcels with him and relayed news of the war gleaned from BBC broadcasts. When Auschwitz was evacuated on January 18, 1945, Wollheim was put on a forced march to Gleiwitz. From there, the members of the evacuation transport were loaded without provisions on a train that traveled to Czechoslovakia, Austria, back to Czechoslovakia, and finally to Germany. Of the 6,000 prisoners who began the trip only 2,000 remained alive when the train arrived in Berlin on January 31. They were then taken to Heinkel, a satellite camp of Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg. During the bombing of Berlin on April 20, the camp was evacuated and the prisoners were marched out under SS guard. On the night of May 2, Wollheim fled to nearby Schwerin, where he met up with American troops. Not wanting to return to Soviet-controlled Berlin, Wollheim went to Luebeck, where he helped to organize a community of 800 Jewish DPs. After hearing that 30,000 survivors were living in nearby Bergen-Belsen, he arranged a visit. He met with DP camp leader Joseph Rosensaft, and together they organized the Central Committee of Liberated Jews in the British Zone, a democratically elected body in which Rosensaft served as chairman and Wollheim as vice-chairman. Wollheim subsequently remarried a German Jewish survivor who had belonged to his youth movement. They resided in Luebeck where they had two children. Wollheim continued to serve in a leadership role until his immigration to the United States in 1952. In 1953 he won a lawsuit against the I.G. Farben corporation for compensation for his two years of forced labor at the Buna plant in Auschwitz III (Monowitz). This legal decision paved the way for the establishment of a $6.4 million fund to compensate other Nazi-era slave laborers. Wollheim died on November 1, 1998.
- Photo Source
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial MuseumProvenance: Norbert WollheimSource Record ID: Collections: 1999.A.31
Record last modified: 2015-04-29 00:00:00
This page: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/pa1131212