Frank Dobia had an instinct for the moment. He always managed to escape certain death during the Holocaust. The Australian is the sole survivor of a Jewish family from Pomerania. Yesterday he viewed original documents on his imprisonment in the concentration camp Buchenwald and on his family´s fate. “I had heard a lot about Bad Arolsen,” said Dobia. "Now I wanted to see the archive with my own eyes."
The Buchenwald survivor has made it his mission to share his experiences with others. Knowledge of the destruction of European Jewry by the Nazis is a personal matter to him: “I could talk for hours,” said Dobia. “I want survivors to know what happened to their families.” He would also like Germans to grapple with “the deeds of their forefathers.”
Persecution of Jews in Dobia´s hometown of Dobrzyn (Dobrin) began shortly after the Wehrmacht invasion on September 11, 1939. Four days later the first 270 Jews were deported and shot, among them Dobia´s older brother Kalman. His grandparents suffered the same fate in November. The rest of his family was deported to the Plock Ghetto in 1939 and subsequently the Chielmnik Ghetto in 1941. Dobia managed to find shelter with a farmer nearby and worked in the farmyard. “That was dangerous as we were not allowed to leave the ghetto. But there was no fence,” reported Dobia.
He tried to reach his family when the ghetto was liquidated, but police had surrounded the area and no one was allowed in or out. Dobia´s parents and both his siblings were transported to the Treblinka death camp. Fifteen year old Frank, who was still known as Icek, was on his own. His family had ceased to exist.
Time and again Dobia managed to elude death. When the Stopnica Ghetto was liquidated, he hid in a shack and fled to the Polish part of town, where he posed as a farmhand. “I could speak Polish like the farmers and fluent German, which helped me,” said Dobia. He volunteered for work which was vital to the war effort and kept a low profile during raids. Dobia was forced to dig anti-tank barriers before he was sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp on December 24, 1944.
“I contracted typhus there and was not aware of much else,” he confessed. He was transferred to Block 66, which housed many Jewish children and youth from eastern Europe. The Communist resistance within the camp tried to save the youths, not least by organizing additional rations for them. Shortly before the approach of the American Army, Dobia was to go on a death march, yet he was once again able to hide.
Dobia the survivor was even able to elude the US Army immediately after the liberation. The concentration camp prisoners were not to leave the camp due to the risk of an epidemic. Dobia pretended that he and a friend had to dispose of some waste and slipped past the soldiers. “I struggled through the weeks ahead. Most of the Germans were a little afraid of me,” reports Dobia. After several stops along the way he found a temporary home in a Displaced Persons camp near Munich.
On December 31, 1948, Dobia landed in Australia, his new home. A distant cousin who had emigrated before the outbreak of the Second World War had read about Dobia in a Jewish newspaper and obtained immigration papers for him. “He had served in the Australian Army so there were no problems,” said Dobia. The young immigrant met his wife in Melbourne and they have been married for 57 years. They have three children. “In the meantime I have eleven grandchildren!” Despite his lack of school-leaving qualifications, Dobia succeeded in creating an immigrant´s dream career, from a simple worker in a meat factory to vegetable shop owner to a businessman. "My company tendered for the supply of various goods to the countries that had loans from the World Bank."
Dobia has never forgotten his beginnings; the Australian is still retracing his history throughout Europe. The 84-year old came to Germany in order to attend the ceremony marking the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald. “I will never stop looking for documents because they contain the undeniable truth.”