I AM JUDEN:
UNDERCOVER IN THE SS
By Stephen Uzzell
Hello and thank-you for supporting authors – we really couldn’t do it without you. My name’s Stephen Uzzell and I’m an English high school teacher in the UK with a passion for language and history, with a special interest in the Holocaust.
In the annals of World War Two heroism, the name Haim Michael Klar deserves to be as widely known as Oskar Schindler. Although Haim may not have saved lives on Schindler’s scale (the truth is we cannot know; the facts are few and far between), his individual sacrifice was almost beyond comprehension. During the final years of the war, Haim impersonated an SS officer at Auschwitz and helped ease the suffering of prisoners, who regarded him as their ‘Guardian Angel’. When we consider that Haim was also Jewish, his courage in walking that most precarious of tightropes is astonishing.
I first chanced upon fragments of Haim’s biography several years ago, in a series of Holocaust testimonials to the Association of Descendants of The Shoah, based in Illinois, USA. To my knowledge, it is the sole record of his endeavours.
Haim’s extraordinary double-life was like nothing I had encountered in years of Holocaust research. I had become accustomed to stories such as Oskar Schindler, ‘the good German’, but stories of Jewish resistance are very few and far between. Nechama Tec has written about the Bielski Partisans in Defiance, and Leon Uris documented the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in Mila 18, but there are precious few others. Nobody has written about a Jewish hero who survived the Holocaust as a double agent.
My original intention was to expand upon the brief details of Haim’s life, with a view to writing his biography. Unfortunately, my attempts at contacting the Illinois organisation proved fruitless. Out of respect, I decided not to pursue the matter any further. But the story had its hooks in me, and would not let go.
I felt I had no choice but to write an account, lightly fictionalised in nature since there were so many gaps in his life story. And so the novel I Am Juden was born. All I knew was that my protagonist, Jozef Siegler, arrived at Auschwitz late in the war as a Nazi. I started there, at the end, and worked back in time, imagining how a resourceful Jew had ended up in an SS uniform. I don’t know for sure if the real Haim ever met Untersturmführer Amon Göth or Gusta Dawidson Draenger, leader of the Krakow Ghetto resistance, but since he was active at the same time and at the same place, it would seem a reasonable assumption.
|Gusta Dawidson Draenger.|
Published in January 2019, I Am Juden has been an Amazon Bestseller for six months and is available as an Ebook and paperback:
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I AM JUDEN: UNDERCOVER IN THE
After completing I Am Juden, I realised the story was still not complete. Like Haim Michael Klar, Jozef Siegler had one daughter (who tragically died young), and they emigrated to New York. It is their lives I explore further in the recently published Ballad of Liberty Siegler, set during the Adolf Eichmann trial of 1961.
I am currently working on a third historical novel, set during the Captain Swing riots of 1830 England, the last peasant uprising.
Scroll down to read an excerpt of I AM JUDEN: UNDERCOVER IN THE SS
An insecticide manufactured by I.G. Farben and known commercially as Zyklon B was first used to kill 600 Soviet prisoners of war in a makeshift gas chamber in the Auschwitz cellars on September 3rd, 1941. In Poland that summer, five killing centres stood equipped for the most efficient mass murder the world had ever known: Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Ten months after the first gassing, Reichsführer Himmler spent the weekend in the Silesian countryside, inspecting the camp’s ongoing expansion and construction of four large chambers and crematoria. The piece de resistance was Himmler’s observation of a successful Sonderaktion from beginning to end. Two convoys of Jews arrived from Holland, were detrained, then gassed in bunker 2, and their bodies removed to be buried in mass graves. The whole process ran without hitch. The very next day, Reichsführer Himmler ordered all Ghettos in the Generalgouvernement to be eliminated by December 31st 1942. Jozefinska received the memo on Sunday July 19th.
The Eagle Pharmacy had not yet opened its doors when I almost broke them down half an hour later. Helena Krywaniuk let me in, her fingers shaking at the latch. Perhaps she thought I’d come to arrest her. Pankiewicz stood ramrod straight at his counter, adjusting weights on his scales and refusing to look up until he’d found the balance.
‘I need to see you,’ I said. ‘In private.’
‘What’s the matter?’ he said when we were inside his office. ‘You look awful.’
I told him everything I’d learned about the gas chambers, and steeled myself for his inevitable disbelief.
He cast those deep eyes to the floor and fiddled with his bow-tie.
‘What do you mean, you know?’
It turns out somebody had escaped after all. A dentist called Jiri Bachner had been amongst the first deportees from Cracow last month. When his transport reached Belzec, Bachner broke loose from the others and hid in a latrine. He spent two days submerged up to his chin in the excrement pit and broke out of the camp on the third night, stealing past the stack of corpses outside the bunker. A fortnight later, trudging along the train tracks, he made his way back to the Ghetto.
‘He came back?’ I said. ‘Why?’
‘The same reason you’re here.’
‘And that was, what, a whole month ago?’
‘The Judenrat didn’t want to start a panic, based on one person’s story. Bachner’s hair had turned completely white and at times he was incoherent. He looked like a madman.’
‘So they ignored him?’
‘Initially, yes. But Akiva sent a kashariyot to follow the trail of the deportees. They made contact on the Aryan side with a Polish railroad worker familiar with the transport routes. They went together and confirmed what Bachner saw.’
‘So now what?’
‘The decision’s already been made to close the farm at Kopaliny. Gusta and Shimson Dawidson will be leading a return to the Ghetto, to direct operations from here. We have a friendly guard who will open up the gate for them, a good Catholic man, a police sergeant from Vienna. Like you, he left his regiment in the Ukraine to get posted here, to help. He brings food and takes children out, for no bribe. We need you to meet the Dawidsons in Kazimierz and escort them to Zgody Square. If anybody stops you, they are prisoners, under your custody.’
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See you on your next coffee break!
Mary Anne xxx