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“The shadow of past was always present”

Frieda Jacobowitz, along with her husband Oscar Ramspek, did a search for traces for her father, Henry Jacobowitz. The 83-year-old is a Holocaust survivor, currently living in the U.S., in Phoenix, Arizona. “He did not want to return to any places from his past. So, we recorded the early stages of his life on video for him,” explained Frieda. They traveled to his native region, but also to the places where he was persecuted by the Nazis. At the ITS (International Tracing Service) in Bad Arolsen, they were able to have a look at some relevant documents.

Henry was born in 1929 as Chaim Jacobowitz, in Sewljusch (now Vynohradiv, Ukraine). The area belonged first to the former Czechoslovakia, then in 1944, for a short time, to Hungary. The Jewish residents were kept in a ghetto and subsequently deported to Auschwitz, and among them were the merchant family Jacobowitz. Henry’s mother and younger siblings were murdered immediately, and he was detained in barracks with younger people. “He had a bad feeling there,” said his daughter, “so he sneaked out at night through one of the windows and moved to another barrack to be with his father and uncle.”

Together with them, he became part of a commando that had to do the clearing work after the dissolution of the Warsaw ghetto. When the Red Army approached, they were taken on a march to Kutna and from there by train to the concentration camp of Dachau. Henry was assigned to the commando “forest camp” (Waldlager). In the period from August 1944 until May 1945, a total of 8,000 prisoners had to build a gigantic armament bunker for an underground aircraft construction. It is estimated that nearly half the prisoners died. They had to work for twelve hours and carry sacks with gravel. “My father could vividly remember how heavy the sacks were,” said Frieda.

Henry survived the starvation and slave labour, as did his father. On April 29, 1945, they were liberated by the U.S. Army. His uncle did not make it. Together with his father, Henry returned to his homeland, which now belonged to the Soviet Union. As so called collaborators with the enemy, they had to build roads as their punishment. “While Henry’s father remained there, he himself left for Hungary,” said Frieda.

After a stay in a DP camp in Austria, Henry emigrated to the United States in 1946. With the help of the USCC Immigration Program, he found an adoptive family and was educated to become a lawyer. “He did not talk much about the past,” said his daughter. “He did not want to burden us with it, but the shadow was always present. My husband Oscar finally brought him in to talk.” In the Bad Arolsen archives registrations from the concentration camp Dachau and from DP camps in Austria give evidence of his fate.

“I am very happy that we now know my father’s story and have visited these places,” said Frieda. “This makes it more tangible for me.” In the Ukraine, she also discovered much of the history and lifestyle of her father. Henry named his three children after his mother and sisters who were killed. Today Frieda lives in Amsterdam where she met her husband while studying music. “The visit to Arolsen was a special experience, for which I am very grateful.”