The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

The Dentist of Auschwitz


In July 1985 I joined twelve Jewish men and women from the United States on a fact-finding mission behind the Iron Curtain. In the capitals of Poland, Romania, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia we visited a small number of Jews too old to leave for a beginning elsewhere. Most lived in Altersheims, homes for the aged supported by Jewish philanthropy. The Jewish life they had once known no longer existed, and anti-Semitism was still widespread. For the Jews, Hitler had won World War II.

When I returned to Boston, I sat back and took stock. I had to confront my obligation, and I began to speak out publicly about how and why nearly an entire people was erased from the face of the earth. In this process the small fragments of memory, fixed in my mind like holographic images, expanded and brought back my experiences in vivid detail.

But life does not always follow a straight road, as I had learned in my youth. One day, during a routine visit to the doctor's office, expecting a clean bill of health, I heard the opposite: "You have throat cancer," I was told. My good friend Dr. Goroll, as devastated as I, insisted that I be operated on the next day.

I imagined the worst. My speaking had become very important, for I had seen its effect on the young, how I had helped them understand the importance of resenting prejudices. Will I still have a voice? I wondered. The thought of becoming mute was overwhelming. I asked the doctors for a prognosis, but doctors are careful; they don't speculate.

Fortunately the tumor was small and, thanks to immediate surgery and weeks of radiation, my voice changed little. But I knew the doctors could not forecast the future. A voice inside kept telling me, "Write--you may not be able to speak for long."

I had to put my experiences on paper, and my work intensified. Comments from others poured in, echoing my own urge to write. This, then, is my story.

Although this book is the result of my recollections, some perhaps still locked in my subconscious, too deep for me to recall, it could not have been written without the valuable assistance I received from many sources. The sheer number precludes my thanking all of them. Nonetheless, I would be remiss not to thank a few.

In developing documentation of Auschwitz III, Fürstengrube, I am indebted to Tadeusz Iwaszko, writer and archivist at the State Museum at Auschwitz. I am grateful to Dr. Dirk Jachomowski of the Ladesarchiv Schleswig-Holstein and to Dr. Marienhöfer of the Bundesarchiv-Militärarchiv in Freiburg, Germany, for documents concerning the Cap Arcona disaster on the Baltic Sea. I am particularly grateful to Edith Pfeiffer of the Hamburg-Südamerika Dampfschiffahrts-Gesellschaft and the Hamburg-Amerika line (Hepag) for company records, documents, and the history of the luxury liner Cap Arcona and for helping me obtain "top secret" documents concerning the bombing and sinking of the ship. I thank Barbara Helfgot-Hyatt, professor at Boston University and distinguished poet, who from day one encouraged me to write this book. I would also like to thank Ina Friedman, a prolific writer on the subject of the Holocaust, who read the first hundred pages of the manuscript and said to me, "Write. You are bitten with the writer's bug."

Special thanks to Arthur Edelstein and Marge Garfield for their talented revisions of the manuscript. Special thanks to Mark Dane for his valuable time and word processing equipment--for without it I would still be typing this manuscript on a typewriter.

In pursuit of this project, a very special acknowledgment goes to Dr. Karen E. Smith for her valuable advice.

Lastly, I thank my wife, Else, for keeping my spirits up during the more than forty-four years of our marriage. To the rest of my family, to my friends, and to my neighbors, my profoundest apologies for having been a hermit while writing this book.

I have purposely refrained from paving the book with notes and references so as not to trouble the reader who is not interested in research.

The mistakes, errors, and misjudgments are mine and in no way attributable to the people mentioned here, who have contributed so generously.

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