“I’ve come from very far away
To bring bad news
To find your window,
To find your ear,
To bring you the bad news
To take the joy from your sleep,
To spoil your bread and wine. To sit in your heart each evening”
“Song of the Crow I“ Primo Levi
I have been looking for you.
Your brother Aryeh (or the way you used to call him at home-Leibo) was my father, and Pnina, my mother, was your wife’s niece (her mother Gula Katz was your wife’s sister). You must have known my father’s first wife (Chaya Holzberg) and her two children - they all perished in the Holocaust. I am your nephew (from my father’s side) as well as your grandnephew (from my mother’s side).
I know that you were the oldest of 10 children and were married to Esther. You had 2 children Pearl (6 years old) and Moshe Chaim (9 years old). I also heard that you worked with my grandfather in his kasha mill in Krasnik Poland before the war. Your brother Yaacov who emigrated to Palestine in the early 1930’s over the objections of your rabbi (“you can be a goy in Poland too - why go to Eretz Israel?”) was spared the horrors of the Holocaust. My father and your sister Malka miraculously survived the camps and started a new life in Israel.
I know that your wife Esther and your two children were murdered. I have no details how or when. All other members of our large family were gassed, cremated or murdered by other vicious means. I am named after your father, my grandfather, whom I never met - Itzhak.
No graves. No tombstones.
From the Mauthausen collection of the inmates’ ID cards, I learned that prior to Mauthausen and Ebensee, you and Joseph were together at the Plaszow concentration camp. Were you aware at Plaszow that a group of 1200 Jews were extracted from the camp and employed by Oskar Schindler at his enamel factory? They survived the war! I only wish you and your brother had been selected for the Schindler factory. Did you know Murray Pantirer in Plaszow? He was one of the Schindler’s List survivors. Could either of you have imagined that one day your great-niece, our youngest daughter Avital, would marry his grandson, Justin Pines?
When I was completing my medical training at Harvard Medical School in the early 1980’s, I took care of patients of Bill McDermott, a distinguished Professor of Surgery who died 18 years ago. Bill was educated and trained at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts General Hospital. He served with distinction as the Cheever Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School and in 1985 the McDermott Chair of Surgery was endowed by thankful patients and friends. I fondly remember him as a kind, highly skilled and well-respected surgeon and scientist.
I recently learned that Bill entered the Ebensee concentration camp as an army surgeon on May 10th, 1945 - on the day you died in the American field hospital.
In his book “A Surgeon in Combat,” Bill describes his first encounter at Ebensee on the day you died:
“When we arrived, we took charge of the ‘hospital area,’ in which several thousand of the worst cases were incarcerated. The sight of any one of the prisoners would have horrified anyone; what the several thousand ‘hospital cases’ were like was beyond imagination. Doctors become more or less accustomed to the sight of illness, suffering and death, but we were all physically sick after our first view of the camp. These men were walking skeletons, every bone of the skull and trunk standing out sharply. Their bodies were bent, twisted, and shrunken by disease and torture. They all had horribly diseased skin, huge running sores, areas of osteomyelitis where wide sections of bone were exposed and discharging pus, and a number of large opening empyemas draining from their chests. I can't begin to enumerate the prevalent diseases. There were cases of typhus, tuberculosis, men racked with coughs and bringing up blood …
“Almost every one of these thousands had at least several terrible conditions and all, of course, had some degree of dysentery and were wasted by starvation, so they presented the grotesque picture of distended abdomen and feet and ankles swollen by nutritional edema with the rest of the body shrunken literally to skin and bones. Any one of these cases would be unbelievable, and, when they were lying, crawling, or walking around by thousands, it surpassed anything the human mind could imagine. Those who were too sick to move were lying in barracks, six and eight to one double-decker wooden bunk, in conditions of indescribable filth and covered with millions of lice, bedbugs and flies.
These men had been normal, healthy, happy human beings once upon a time but the majority of them were worse than animals now, without any instinct of cleanliness, pride, modesty, or shame. Driven to their desperate state by months of insensate brutality, they groveled and pleaded for food, which they wolfed down like beasts. When we began feeding them light meals, they would cluster around the containers afterwards, scrape the sides with their fingers, and gnaw at their nails to get what had collected there. I set down a box of soap for a few minutes and when I came back, half of it had been eaten! It was an endless panorama of mass brutality and calculated sadism such as has never before taken place in this world to my knowledge …Five fell dead while they were waiting in line for the first meal we served. They were dying by the hundreds and would continue to die at a diminishing rate for a while. All we could do was gradually improve the living conditions, sanitation, food, and cleanliness and slowly begin medical treatment.”
I know that your cousin Jack Holzberg carried you to the American field hospital, but I don’t know the cause of your death…Jack is in his 90’s now. I could ask him.
No. I can’t. It’s too painful.
As to the sadist butchers who ran the camp:
The camp physician Dr. Willi Jobst, the SS pattern leader Hermann Pribill, SS Medic Gustav Kreindl and SS block leader Hans Bühner were sentenced to death. Your brutal camp commandant Anton Ganz who on March 3, 1945, kept 2059 Jewish inmates outdoors for days in freezing snow leading to hundreds of deaths was sentenced to life imprisonment and died in 1973 (justice?). The animal Commandant Otto Riemer who preceded Ganz escaped and his fate is still unknown.
In 1946, a cemetery for 4000 victims of the camp was set up, but in 1952 the cemetery was relocated closer to the location of the camp. In the late 1940’s the municipality of Ebensee demolished the concentration camp and constructed a residential area. Only the entrance gate, a small memorial museum and a “memorial tunnel” remains today. This tunnel is one of the 7.6 kilometers of mountain tunnel network you were forced to build under atrocious conditions to shield the Nazi war machine from Allied air raids.
On May 10, 1945 as Bill McDermott was approaching Ebensee just before he entered the concentration camp, he provided the following description of the scenic landscape:
“…Ebensee, situated in the most magnificent natural scenery imaginable…. the houses were clustered at one end of a small mountain lake with tall, craggy peaks towering precipitously on all sides of this natural saucer. The streets were neat and clean, and the houses built in the tradition of the ancient Austrian chalet. The lake was pure blue and the mountains so sheer that they seemed about to topple into the valley, a mélange of brilliant greens topped off with snow summits. Gmunden, at the other end of the lake from Ebensee was where Schubert used to sit on the bank and write lieder (songs).”
Franz Schubert, considered a beloved friend by German Jews, composed a choral work for the synagogue to the Hebrew words in Psalm 92 “Tov Lehodot LaHashem” (It is good for me to thank God) in 1828. Would the verdant Ebensee region still inspire Schubert?
When Yad Vashem provided us with the information about your death I was hoping to be able to locate your grave and move your remains to Israel. I contacted Wolfgang Quatember, the Director of the Ebensee Memorial Museum. Unfortunately, your grave can not be identified today. A copy of the hospital record he provided indicates that:
ID Number 84803 died on May 10, 1945 at 2:10 AM.
“According to some documents, we can prove that Ela Goldberg, 84803, arrived in August 1944 from Plaszow then Mauthausen, then sub camp Melk and in April 1945 deported to Ebensee camp. He died on May 10, 1945 in the Hospital Facilities of US Army. We can be quite sure, that he was buried on the Ebensee Cemetery for Concentration camp Victims, but his name is not mentioned on the burial plans. Because on the plans there are many victims unknown, we are sure, he is one of the “unknown” victims on the graveyard. All inmates of Ebensee camp, who died after liberation, were transferred to that place. In 2011 we built a monument on the cemetery with all the victim’s names. Ela Goldberg is mentioned on this monument.”
Dear Ela, Chaim Eliyahu Ben Itzhak,
I know this letter is flawed. I doubt whether I will ever be able to express myself properly. I learned some of these facts very recently and I wanted my children and grandchildren to perpetuate your and your brother’s blessed memory on the upcoming Tisha B’Av.
“Oya Li! Alelei Li!,” (Woe is me! Wail for me!)
“Take this to heart, and compose a bitter eulogy
their murder is worthy of mourning and placing ash
equal to the burning of the House of God and Porch and the Palace
because it is improper to add a day of breach and conflagration
and wrong to advance the date; rather to postpone it
Therefore today (Tisha B’Av) I will arouse my grief
and lament and wail and cry with bitter soul
with sigh weighing heavily from dawn to dusk
For the House of Israel and the people of the LORD who have fallen by sword”
Rabbi Klonymos’ Kina for Tisha B’Av for the martyrs killed by the Crusaders in 1096.
Acknowledgements: We would like to thank the Yad Vashem team including Shaya Ben Yehuda, Jeremy Weiss and Michal Dror for providing the information for this letter and to Wolfgang Quatember of Ebensee for searching for the grave and providing us with photos and the hospital record.
Prof. Itzhak D. Goldberg, MD FACR is professor of clinical radiation oncology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the chairman of Angion Biomedica Corporation.