Yosef Kleinman, 82, Auschwitz-Birkenau survivor, is among the few remaining to give a first-hand testimony of the atrocities of the Holocaust. On Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day Kleinman bestows his legacy to younger generations.
Yosef Kleinman, arrested by the Germans in the Carpathian Mountains region in Hungary in 1944 at the age of 14, was imprisoned in Auschwitz-Birkenau with his parents, 11 year-old sister and 15 year-old brother. “When I was inspected for selection, the German officer hesitated where to send me because of my age. He finally selected me for work. That was the last time I saw my parents and sister – there at the Auschwitz train station.” Kleinman and his brother were selected for work while the rest of the family selected for immediate death. “We were in a group of 3,000 youths that summer in Auschwitz. Dr. Mengele exterminated 1,000 of us at Rosh Hashanah and another 1,000 on the Eve of Yom Kippur. We had to get out!”
With great ingenuity and a good dose of luck Kleinman and his brother managed to sneak out on a transport to Landsberg-Kaufering camps near Dachau where they were force-labored to build shell-proof bunkers to serve the Luftwaffe for a secret Messerschmitt ME-262 twin jet fighter plane development project. “Our dream was to get work. We thought that working would guarantee our lives. But conditions were terrible. There was no hot water to wash and the cement stuck to our faces. I did my best to clean myself and preserve my self-dignity. Eventually the camp was turned into a camp for the sick and dying and my brother and I both became sick, but we knew that whoever lay down sick would never get up.” Symbolically inline with the theme of this year’s Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day – ‘My Brother’s Keeper’: “I survived thanks to my brother. He wouldn’t let me give up hope. I was one of the youngest in the camp. We were lucky. We were very alert and agile and took advantage of opportunities.” Liberated from Kaufering by Americans in April 1945 the Kleinman brothers became refugees wandering through Italy carrying passports marked ‘political prisoner’.
The Kleinmans were able to board the “Four Freedoms” illegal immigration (Ha’apala – Hebrew: ascension) boat from Bocca di Magra, Italy, to Palestine in August 1946, carrying nothing more than a worn rucksack with a few personal belongings. Boarding took place under the cover of darkness in order not to be discovered as 1,024 Holocaust survivors were taxied out to sea on a small motor boat to climb aboard the “Four Freedoms” on a rope-ladder. The British Navy intercepted the boat, named for Roosevelt’s famous “Four Freedoms” speech, after eleven days at sea, just 30 miles off the coast of Tel-Aviv. Passengers put up a tough fight that lasted three hours but were finally defeated. The Kleinmans were imprisoned for six months in Cyprus, before finally arriving to Palestine, only to be imprisoned once again by the British in the Atlit detainee camp, established to prevent Jewish refugees from entering Palestine. After one month they were freed to begin a new life.
In 1961 Yosef Kleinman was one of 110 witnesses to testify on behalf of the prosecution in the Jerusalem trial that condemned Adolf Eichman, to death by hanging (Nazi Lieutenant Colonel in charge of mass deportation of Jews to ghettos and extermination camps in German-occupied Eastern Europe, captured by Mossad agents in Argentina in 1960).
Yosef Kleinman will never forget. He is wholly immersed in the events that shook his life and the lives of millions of Jews throughout Europe. He seizes every opportunity to tell his personal story so that others will never forget. On the eve of Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day Kleinman speaks before the congregation of Bereshit (Hebrew: Genesis) Synagogue in the town of Bet-Shemesh, focusing his attention to the youth in the audience, many of who have visited the concentration camps in Europe.
Kleinman is afforded a great honor in laying a flower wreath on behalf of survivors of Dachau-Kaufering-Landsberg at Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in the main Wreath-Laying Ceremony on Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day in the presence of President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and many other dignitaries, accompanied by, and taking great pride in, his IDF-serving grandson.