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“You try to imagine it”

Danny and Nurit Kononowicz from Israel visited the ITS with a long list of names, since many of Nurit’s family members had been deported from the Yugoslavian city of Novi Sad by the Gestapo starting in 1942. The fates of four of them are documented in the ITS archive.

“The next time we observe Yom HaShoah, Holocaust memorial day, in Israel, we’ll be able to tell our children and grandchildren a little more about their family.” Danny Kononowicz and his wife look through documents that shed a light on the fate of her mother, father and aunts. They survived persecution by the Nazis. But it will probably never be possible to determine what happened to many other Jewish relatives after they were deported. The survivors have told of a few cases in which family members must have been led straight from the ramp to their deaths in the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp.

Most of the family began being deported from Novi Sad, in what was then Yugoslavia, on April 26, 1944. The Gestapo had turned the synagogue into an assembly camp and, in the space of seven days, sent 1,900 Jewish men, women and children on transports in the direction of Auschwitz and other concentration and extermination camps. Only 300 of them survived, including Nurit’s mother, Lea Fleischman, as well as her mother’s sister Fany and sister-in-law Jelena. Jelena is the only one who talked about her odyssey through five concentration camps; she also spoke to young people in schools and gave an interview to the USC Shoah Foundation.

The two sisters, however, who had also been deported from Auschwitz to perform forced labor in concentration camps in the Reich, kept their terrible experiences to themselves. “We know almost nothing about what happened to my mother,” Nurit says. The ITS was able to help fill in some of the gaps. There aren’t any documents from Auschwitz, as very little paperwork from there was preserved. But the correspondence files of the ITS include a list filled out by Lea Fleischman for her application for compensation, which provides information about the stations of her persecution. Assigned prisoner number 80784, she was registered in Auschwitz on May 1, 1944, and was then taken on a transport to Ravensbrück in January 1945 and from there to Machow to perform forced labor. The Verwertchemie chemical company ran a munitions factory there, which primarily manufactured the explosive known as penthrite. Production was carried out under terrible conditions in reinforced concrete buildings, which were sunken in the ground in the forest. Lea was sent on a death march at the end of April and was liberated near Schwerin on May 5.

Regarding Jelena, the archive also holds Nazi bureaucratic documents, including lists from the Hygiene Institute of the Waffen-SS with examination results. “All that Jelena said about Auschwitz was that she worked in a kitchen,” explains Danny Kononowicz, whose family left Poland in 1923 and emigrated to Argentina after a pogrom hit their village. “I visited the memorial site, and I filmed everything for Nurit. You try to imagine it, but it’s not possible.”