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10 Lesser-Known Yet Interesting Stories from the Holocaust

Stories From Holocaust

The German Holocaust could be regarded as a significant or perhaps the most significant landmark of recent history. It was indeed a long extended event in its entirety. Brutal it might be in its core, yet the vast period saw some considerable stories that are very interesting to know. Now it’s pretty obvious that many of these instances might have been overlooked. The following list is an attempt to revive such lost tales and consists of 10 lesser-known yet interesting stories from the Holocaust. 

1. Eugene Lazowski and Stanisław Matulewicz, a pair of Polish doctors, saved the lives of 8,000 natives of the Polish city, Rozwadow by creating a fake Typhus epidemic during the Holocaust. The Nazis quarantined the city instead of sending people to concentration camps since they feared the epidemic to break out.

Rozwadow
A glimpse into Rozwadów, Poland today. Image credit: Krzysztof Dobrzański/Wikimedia Commons via atlasobscura

The very first fake typhus patient was a camp prisoner who was supposed to return to Germany after his 14-day leave. The ingenious idea of creating a pseudo-epidemic was introduced when this man approached Lazowski in Rozwadow and asked him to fake a diagnosis for him indicating the typhus disease.

The doctor agreed and offered him an injection after which he sent a blood sample to a German lab. The plan succeeded and the prisoner was discharged.

Lazowski and his friend Matulewicz started giving the same injection of a  simulacrum of the disease to masses in the Polish city of Rozwadow. The Nazis already had witnessed the consequences of contamination of typhus from the First World War and didn’t want to risk any possibility of its outbreak among their soldiers.

Nazis asked for blood samples of suspected Poles, and the positive ones were spared, though the infected Jews were executed.

German doctors were sent to Rozwadow when the Nazis grew suspicious, but the situation was well backed up by presenting the unhealthiest looking patients in a filthy room.

Not only the Nazis, but even the patients didn’t have any clue what was going on. The doctors revealed the entire scheme only in 1977. (Source)

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2. Not even a single Jew from Morocco was sent to the concentration camps or was killed during the Second World War only because of Sultan Mohammed V. He was instructed to round up all Moroccan Jews for relocation to the Nazi concentration camps but he said, “There are no Jews in Morocco, There are only Moroccan subjects.”

Sultan Mohammed V
Sultan Muhammad V with his son Hassan II in a Panhard replica in Casablanca in 1930. Image credit: Instagram via Wikimedia

As of 1940, the country of Morocco was home to more than a quarter of a million Jews, and they had habituated the place even before Carthage fell. They had been serving as ministers, diplomats, and advisors in the sultans’ court.

Mohammed, being a responsible leader, denied aiding the deaths of his own Jewish citizens. He also refused to follow legal protocols from the French Vichy authorities. The French tried to enforce two laws that restricted Jews from taking up certain professions, attending schools and required them to live in ghettos. He regarded such laws as anti-Semitic and publicly rejected them.

Mohammed made sure to protect his Moroccan Jewish community up until the Allied troops liberated North Africa in 1942. He was a strong advocate of the Allies and also hosted the historic Casablanca conference for four days where he invited resident Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and French President Charles de Gaulle.

Mohammed died in 1961, but his courageous actions were and always will be remembered by the Moroccan Jewish community with “eternal gratitude.” (Source)

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3. In 1943, a two-and-a-half-year-old Jewish boy named Josef Schleifstein’s father hid him in a large sack when they arrived at Buchenwald Concentration Camp. The guards eventually found him but liked him and accepted him as a “camp mascot.” The boy survived the war as well.

Josef Schleifstein
Joseph Schleifstein, a four-year-old survivor of Buchenwald. Image credit: ushmm via Wikimedia

Schleifstein saw the Italian movie Life Is Beautiful when he was 58 only to realize that it was based on his own life story. He could draw the parallels between what happened with him during the Holocaust and the plot of the Oscar-winning movie. Once he was sure it was him, he appeared publicly and shared his vague experience of surviving the Holocaust as a two-and-a-half-year-old.

Schleifstein as a kid arrived at Buchenwald with his parents in 1943. He was overlooked by the guards because his father hid him under his clothing sack. The rest of the children and adults were taken away and killed.

When guards learned about the little kid’s presence, they didn’t feel the need to finish him off. The local guards used to hide him during every formal inspection by Nazi officials.

Schleifstein, with his father, stayed in Buchenwald until the US troops liberated the camp on 12 April 1945. His entire family survived the war and reunited at Dachau and finally, in 1948, they immigrated to the US. (Source)

4. The Edelweiss Pirates were a proto-hippie youth mob in Germany who fought against Nazis by playing guitars and singing anti-Nazi folk songs at a campfire in the countryside. These working-class teenagers sheltered Allied troops and Jews, they fed the imprisoned and spread anti-Nazi slogans using armed resistance.

Edelweiss Pirates
The German teens who rebelled against Hitler. Image credit: Museenkoeln.de

The Edelweiss Pirates were mostly comprised of teens working in factories and mills. The youngbloods worked all day and headed straight to the hills in the dark with their mates to continue their frolicking.

These teenagers started gathering in bands with the same intentions from the late 1930s. It was illegal for young people to venture outside defined zones, yet the law didn’t seem to stop them from expressing their feelings against the Nazis through songs around the campfires.

The rebelling tendencies of the teenage pirates were directly proportional to the development of the Nazi regime. The next thing they would do was painting outbuildings with anti-Nazi slogans, jokes, and messages.

The rebels ambushed and looted Nazi bases using weapons to refill food and aid supplies. They also planned to destroy Nazi weapons and attack Gestapo bases.

More than a thousand pirates were arrested from which a few were hung without any trials or records. (1, 2)

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5. More than 8,000 pieces of music were secretly created in the Nazi concentration camps including symphonies and operas. The raw compositions were scribbled on whatever the artists could get their hands on from food wrappings to potato sacks. We know all this thanks to an Italian composer and pianist, Francesco Lotoro, who dedicated 30 years of his life to recovering, performing, and sometimes finishing pieces of music composed by the camp victims.

Jon and Francesco
Correspondent Jon Wertheim with Francesco Lotoro. Image credit: cbsnews

The Holocaust was nothing less than a generational skip of profound music and musicians. Lotoro’s expedition saw its revival.

The camps held composers from recreational types to world-class. Most of these passionate artists got killed, however, their music was not. We are fortunate that some composers who survived left their treasure with their sons.

Collecting the lost fragments of music and making sense out of it wasn’t an easy task. Lotoro with his wife had found compositions in such poor condition that they had to clean them first before even interpreting them.

One of the prisoners jotted an entire symphony on toilet paper using charcoal that was given to him as dysentery medicine. Not only did music helped prisoners have a recreational break from stressing over their end, but being a part of the orchestra slightly improved their chances of survival. 

Although not all music creators did it just for survival; it was their sincerity towards the sacred faculty of music. No matter how short-lived it might be, it gave them a sense of meaning and will to persist until the end. (Source)

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