Shalom Lindenbaum's ticket to life

Shalom Lindenbaum, a Hebrew literature historian, professor emeritus of Bar-Ilan University, translator of Polish prose and poetry, expert in, inter alia, Bruno Schulz’s works. Read his story in the article by Janina Goldhar.

Before the outbreak of World War II, the Lindenbaum family lived in Przytyk, a village inhabited mostly by the Jewish population. Shalom Lindenbaum was born on 1 August 1926. His father, Josef, was a dental technician, while his mother, Dwora, came from the Przetycki family. Shalom’s older brother, Mosze, had completed three years of legal studies in Warsaw before the war broke out. Since 1936, he was active in the underground organization “Ecel” fighting against British forces in Palestine. His younger sister Rywka finished a junior high school. Shalom’s first language was Yiddish, his second language was Hebrew, and the third was Polish. The boy attended both a cheder (a Jewish elementary school) and Polish school.

When the World War II broke out, his family was still living in Przytyk. However, in January 1941 the Germans ordered all inhabitants of the village – including Poles – to leave their homes.The Lindenbaums had no other choice but to move to Wolanów, located about 15 km from Radom. Initially, Josef could still work professionally.

Near Wolanów, there was a large camp of Luftwaffe where intensive construction works were carried out. The works were supervised by German companies that employed thousands of workers, mostly Jews. Shalom took the job of a manual worker on the construction site. Thanks to his brother’s friend, a woman employed in one of the offices, Shalom’s brother also received a job at the constructions, while his father and sister were hired in a garment factory. As it turned out later, the certificate of employment in a German company proved to be a real “ticket to life”. In the summer of 1941, according to the regulation issued by the Nazi authorities, the workers were transferred to a camp located near an army camp for Soviet prisoners of war, while the unemployed were sent to the local train station Szydłowiec, and from there to Treblinka extermination camp.


The Lindenbaum family was deported to the camp. They also managed to take the mother with them and arranged a job for her. The camp was not really a concentration camp, but the living conditions were very harsh.In spite of this, Shalom emphasizes that he encountered some “decent people” among German workers. Shalom, his father, mother and sister were laborers.However, Shalom’s brother, thanks to his good command of German, became a camp secretary and worked in the office.After the so called “children action” (the action of murdering camp children in gas chambers), in which he did not participate, he relinquished his position and received the job of a translator in a military command. The Lindenbaums lived in this way until 1943.

In the spring of 1943, Shalom and his brother went down with typhus. After some time they both recovered, but before the brother's health really improved, he became ill with diphtheria and died.At that time, the rumors about the battle of Stalingrad began to reach the camp.The Germans started to liquidate the camp near Wolanów; they took the prisoners to a camp connected with the factory in Starachowice. Each day Shalom, his father and sister, together with other inmates, went to work, escorted by Jewish policemen and Ukrainians. They worked in the so called small forge, where working conditions were much better in comparison with those in the factory. Shalom’s mother, on the other hand, worked in the kitchen.

In July 1944, there came the first information about the oncoming Soviet offensive and an escape from the camp planned by a group of prisoners. The escape was not successful: almost all of the runaways were killed as a result.Shalom and his friend tried to run away again, but once more to no avail.The repressions were in full swing. On July 30, 1944, the prisoners of the Starachowice camp were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Oświęcim. The Lindenbaum family was separated.

Most of the people from this transport were gassed to death. Shalom received number 19341.


On 18 January 1945, about 17 000 exhausted Auschwitz prisoners gathered on the parade ground and then were driven in columns towards Gliwice. This was the so called death march.Shalom marched with his father, mother, sister and other inmates. However, they were not aware of each other’s presence in the march.As it turned out, Shalom's mother and sister were also separated. They found each other during the march and together reached Bergen-Belzen.Unfortunately, it was only the sister who survived: Shalom’s mother died on the day following the liberation of the camp.

Shalom and his father arrived in Gliwice after 48 hours of murderous wandering.Shalom’s father had to support his son, who fainted from exhaustion. Next, they left Gliwice and reached Rzędówka by train, from where they set off on foot for Rybnik.Shalom recounts: “There were more and more people killed with the guards’ bullets. Everyone not able to keep pace with the rest was shot to death. Suddenly, the shooting intensified and people tried to disperse”. Shalom and his father fled towards the forest. They continued their escape, and just as they were so hungry and exhausted that they lost any hope for help, they met a young man who took them to his house, fed them and gave something to drink. That night, the Lindenbaums and 7 other fugitives slept in a cow barn.In the morning the next day, the rescuer suggested the Jews that they try to reach the village of Wilcza.

After a long and dangerous journey, Shalom and his father reached the vicinity of Wilcza (they were still wearing their striped clothing of prisoners). There, they met Rozalia Kalabis coming by bike, who advised them to try to enter any of the houses. She told them that she would ask her friend living nearby to accept them under her roof. If it was impossible, Rozalia agreed to take care of them herself. The whole scene took place near the house of Katarzyna Froehlich, who with her daughter, Dorota, gave shelter to the runaways. Having received such a hearty welcome, the Lindenbaums stayed there for a few weeks, even after the Red Army marched into this area. They had nowhere to go – the whole Przytyk was razed to the ground. Read Shalom Lindenbaum’s account about the Death March »


When World War II ended, Shalom settled with his father in Radom, where Josef took up his former profession of a dental technician. On the other hand, Shalom instantly began to make contacts with the Zionist movement and soon joined the Military Organization “Ecel”. In 1947, he reached Palestine by means of illegal transport (through the camp in Cyprus), served in the underground organization “Ecel” and then in the Israeli army. He also took part in the liberation war of 1948.His father and sister found each other in Germany and together emigrated to Israel in 1949.

On the proposal of Shalom Lindenbaum, the Froehlich family was awarded the Righteous Among the Nations medals. Dorota Kuc accepted the medal in Katowice in 1994.

To this day, Shalom has maintained contact with Dorota Kuc and her family: he visited them a few times in Poland, while Dorota and her daughter-in-law traveled to Israel at his invitation.He also corresponded with Mrs. Kalabis to her very death. In 1953, he even sent her a rosary. Mrs. Kalabis’ request was to be buried with that rosary.

Shalom Lindenbaum have 2 sons and 8 grandchildren.They all live in Israel.

The text based on an interview conducted by Janina Goldhar on 3 August 2010 and on the article by Natan Gross “Przez szkło powiększające”, published in Nowiny Kurier” (News Courier), 12 April 1996.