Four Slovak Jews pose on a stony hill in the Zilina labor camp.
- Variant Locale
- Photo Designation
LABOR CAMPS/MINOR CAMPS -- Slovakia -- General
- Photo Credit
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Max Stern
Four Slovak Jews pose on a stony hill in the Zilina labor camp.
Fritz Bruck is standing at the top left. Kiki Danzig is in the center. Max Stern is at the lower left. The photograph was taken by Manfred Hirsch, a German friend who had come to visit.
- Max Stern is the son of Moses Stern (b. May 24, 1889) and Selma Rosenberger Stern (b. August 5, 1890). He was born on March 2, 1921 to an observant, Orthodox, middle class family in Bratislava. Moses, originally from Vienna, worked as haberdasher and after 1936 as a traveling salesman. Max had two sisters, Trude (b. October 9, 1922) and Lilly (b. April 6, 1924), and four younger brothers Kurt (b. April 4, 1928), Harry (b. November 15, 1930), Josi (b. August 17, 1935) and Robi (b. August 13, 1936). On May 1, 1939 Kurt and Harry left on a Kindertransport to England. Max always had an enthusiasm for stamps. While he was still in high school, Max supplemented the family income by trading in stamps. His career took off following the establishment of new Slovak Republic, the first new independent state created since World War I. Max realized that stamps could be traded for food and serve as an international currency. He even managed to trade with German Nazis and Slovak Fascists whose passion for philately transcended their racist ideology. His clients befriended and helped protect him. Incredibly, one policeman invited Max to stay at his house while he went out to round up other Jews, and Max played ping-pong with Slovak policemen at night. By 1943, Jews were not allowed to own their own businesses. Max therefore asked Mrs. Maria Aigner to become the official owner of his business, Filatelia Kuko, which Max continued to operate out of Mrs. Aigner' bookstore. She and her German assistant, Manfred Hirsch, extended aid to Max in several ways. She helped get Max an exemption from wearing a yellow star and obtained false papers for him under the name Michael Zadetsky, though he continued to trade under his real name. Despite his connections, Max was sent to a labor camp in Zilina in 1943. However, conditions there were not terrible. The Jews were given army rations and allowed to wear civilian clothes. Manfred even visited Max and took his photo. Towards the end of May, a group or prisoners was taken to the train station for transport to Auschwitz. Max sneaked away from the group and returned to camp. About five weeks later he managed to get out of the camp altogether and return home. Maria Aigner got him new papers, and he resumed his work in her shop. The Slovak government exempted Max from deportations because his business brought in valuable foreign currency. Max's father and uncle, Moses and Shlomo Stern, belonged to Rabbi Weismandel's resistance group which bribed Nazi officials, especially Eichmann's assistant Dieter Von Wisliceny, with diamonds, currency and other valuables to delay deportations. Their activities were discovered in late 1943 and six people, including Moses, were imprisoned and tortured in the Ilava prison. Moses was released after approximately six months. The prisoners who were not released were liberated a few months later by Russians, thereby escaping deportation to a concentration camp. After his release from prison, Moses Stern returned to work for the Jewish Council, Ustredna Zidov, until the end of September 1944 when deportations began again. Max looked for a hiding place for his family, got new false papers for himself under the name of Milan Stransky, and obtained forged Argentine passports for his immediate family. On Yom Kippur, October 1944, Germans began rounding up the Jews of Bratislava. For some reason, they bypassed the house of Max's grandmother, Maria Rosenberger, where some thirty members of their family were living. However, the next day, Max's family was rounded-up while he was at work. Owing to their Argentine papers, the family was sent to special camp for foreign-nationals called Marianka. After a short while, everyone in Marianka, including all of Max's family, was put on special train and taken to Auschwitz. Max immediately went into hiding with three of his friends: Kiki Danzig, Laci Blumgrund and Erika Friedlieb. They hid between the ceiling and roof of a large elegant movie theater, The Redoute. The theater operator, Alfons Drobny, brought them food and never accepted payment in return. Until the projection room opened in the evening, the four people were free to move around. At night they watched the movies from closed-off boxes. After the theater was bombed during an air raid over Bratislava, they had to leave their hiding place for three days until it was safe to reenter. Their lives resumed the former pattern for a while, but then Drobny was arrested while bringing them food. During interrogation, he disclosed the hiding place. Max and his friends escaped just in time. They hid for few days in the home of the caretaker of Lacy's father's old factory, and then in the back of a nightclub. The Gestapo raided this hiding place and arrested Max and his friends. They sent them to Sered and from there to Sachsenhausen. Max was then transferred to a satellite camp called Lichtenrade and put to work building bunkers and barricades to defend Berlin against the Allies. The Germans evacuated Sachsenhausen on April 22, 1945 and forced the inmates on a death march. While on the march, Max met one of his closest friends from Bratislava, Oskar Schiller. They remained together and helped each other until their liberation two weeks later on May 7. Max returned to Bratislava in mid-June and reunited with his two sisters Trude and Lilly, who had just returned from Auschwitz. He learned that his parents, younger brothers Josi and Robi, and most of his aunts and uncles all had been killed. His Uncle Sigi survived the war in England, and his Uncle Shlomo escaped to Switzerland through the help of Rabbi Weissmandel. After Max's return, he immediately resumed his stamp trade. In 1948 he married another survivor, Eva Rosenthal and in June 1948 they immigrated to Melbourne, Australia.
- Photo Source
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial MuseumProvenance: Max Stern
Record last modified: 2003-08-21 00:00:00
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