Peter Charles

Unburying Holocaust history

The burial site in Seestall, where I was able to say kaddish for my grandfather’s brother.
Source: Author's photo
Family history uncovered after 80 years.

I have been on a remarkable journey over the last few weeks- a journey through three generations and yet one that particularly resonates this Yom HaShoah and that I had no idea when it began, would lead to what I know today about my great-uncle and a story that none of my family previously had knowledge of. Whilst my grandfather (who passed away over 50 years ago) was deprived from knowing the final fate of his brother, and with my father and his siblings having all passed away, at least for my brothers and my cousins we are now able to attain some belated closure. This story is also a fine lesson in the power of networks and what can happen when you just “show up”.

My grandfather, born in Lodz as Berek Charlupski in 1892(and known as Bernard Charles when he moved to England from 1933).
Source: Family collection

The journey began seven weeks ago when my wife and I embarked on a trip with our synagogue to Poland to learn more about Jewish life before and during the war, as well as ending of course with the horror of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Whilst there (I should of course have thought to do this prior to the trip), I realized that I could look up online the birth records for my grandfather and his siblings who I knew had been born around the turn of the 20th century around Łódź.

The Polish registry thankfully had the records of my grandfather (born in 1892, as Berek Charlupski) and his siblings (Majer, Halina and Pinchas who was born in 1894), all of whom were born in Pabianice, Poland. Whilst my grandfather and Majer survived the war (my grandfather having moved from Poland to Nuremberg at the end of WW1-and then having the foresight to move with his young family to the UK in 1933-and Majer-subsequently known as Max-ending up in Paris) , the family had known that Halina and Pinchas had not survived, but without having much further information as to their specific fates.

When our trip concluded in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Tzvi, our tour leader, showed us the records of the dead at the Auschwitz museum but also told us of the records that Yad Vashem have online as well, and hence the initial part of my journey of discovery really began. When I checked online on our final day in Poland, Yad Vashem records did in fact show that Halina had perished in the Łódź ghetto in 1944, but that there was also a record of death for Pinchas from the Dachau concentration camp.

It so happened that we flew straight from Poland to Tel Aviv, and whilst in Israel, I mentioned my new discovery to my good friend Shlomi Chanoch, whose father,Uri, was a survivor from Dachau and a significant figure in Holocaust education and the fight for recognition for Holocaust survivors and remembrance of the victims. Shlomi immediately suggested that I join him  at the upcoming commemorations for the liberation of Dachau , and so I jumped at the chance to not only visit Dachau and perhaps to learn a little more of my great-uncle’s final weeks, but to combine that with a first visit to Nuremberg, where my grandfather resided from around 1918-33, and where my father’s three sisters were born in the 1920s (my father having been born much later ,1938, in London).

After a day in Nuremberg (highly recommended for its combination of beauty, history- the Nuremberg Trials Museum is certainly a highlight, and traditional Bavarian food and drink), I then was invited by Shlomi to join him outside Munich at the Weingut II annual memorial service: Weingut II being the bunker (still an active military facility) that Uri had been doing back-breaking work in as slave labour during his incarceration at Dachau. I discovered that over 6000 prisoners had died during the process of preparing ground and doing the work on the three originally intended bunkers.

The memorial ceremony at Weingut II, with the 6000+ dead listed across the four white boards to the left and right of the lectern.
Source: Author’s picture

As it happened those 6000-plus souls were listed on four boards either side of the speaker lectern for the ceremony, so ahead of the memorial commencing, I thought I would take a look at one of them. You can perhaps imagine my surprise when around one-tenth of the way down the list on that specific board, I spotted the name “Pinkus Chartupski”- surely this had to be my great uncle Pinchas Charlupski didn’t it? Even as a I began scanning that first board, I thought it was a form of madness to imagine finding his name- and yet incredibly here it seemed to be.

I walked over to my friend Shlomi in a state of great excitement and relayed that I thought I may have found my great uncle’s name. As it happened he was talking to Heike Roletscheck, whose husband, Gerhard had been at the forefront of the initiative to commemorate the Jewish prisoners that had suffered and in many cases died in building the bunker, and who has dedicated his time across the past 30 years to piecing together in forensic detail the individual histories of many of the prisoners and the collective history of the Kaufering complex, and Heike immediately suggested that Gerhard would be able to tell me more. Little did I understand how much more!

After the incredibly moving and respectful ceremony (which together with the commemoration of the Death March and the Dachau liberation ceremony, really left me with immense and frankly new-found respect for the manner in which the post-war generations of Germans have reckoned with their past and fully understood their responsibility to encourage learning and understanding of the dangers of such anti-democratic, and antisemitic forces), I met Gerhard and after showing me a record book in the permanent memorial collection, which clarified that this was indeed my great uncle as the birthplace and birth date matched, he offered to try to find out more for me from his records.

“Pinkus Chartupski” is indeed Pinchas Charlupski from Lodz, my father’s uncle.
Source: Author’s photo of commemorative display, Weingut II.

By the middle of the following morning, I received a slightly cryptic message back in my hotel room in Munich, that Gerhard had found in his records a grave for “Pinkus Chartupski”. A grave? I did not imagine that many of those that were slaughtered in the Holocaust had known graves; burial pits with masses of bones, or “ash graves” with the powdery remains of individuals mixed with those of tens of thousands of others for sure , but an actual individual resting place where a body has been treated with something approaching reasonable respect ? I was completely shocked.

Gerhard then arranged (together with Heike) to meet me and drive me round to the sub-camp where my great uncle had been: Kaufering VIII, near Seestall, around 50km to the south-west of Munich. This is now an empty uncultivated field, though Gerhard patiently explained as we walked through it the layout of the camp, the structure of the very basic accommodation huts, and pointed out where the different growth patterns of the grass and wildflowers divulged where the paths and barracks had been exactly. So this was where my great-uncle had spent his final weeks, shortly after spending his 50th birthday in the Łódź ghetto, and then suffering the horrendous journey on the transportation trains from Łódź to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he immediately survived “selection” (those to the left were sent straight to the gas chambers, those to the right were considered strong enough to do the back-breaking work the Nazis required as the wartime economy came under intense pressure as 1944 wore on), only to be sent here to Kaufering VIII. As Gerhard explained that most of the inmates would have arrived on the same transportation, I took some comfort from knowing that at least he was with others that he likely knew from Łódź, who despite their own severe deprivations and deeply distressed states, may have provided some tiny crumb of care and friendship to Pinchas in his final days, as he suffered the horrendous conditions and severe malnourishment.

The site of Kaufering VIII, a sub-camp of Dachau, where Pinchas lost his life.
Source: Author’s photo

Next Gerhard and Heike drove me the short distance to the burial site. This was off a dirt track, after driving through the picturesque village of Seestall, and sat scenically beside an extremely luscious and peaceful lake, bathed on this particular Spring day by sunshine and the sound of birdsong. Gerhard explained to me that after October 1944, those who died in the Dachau sub-camps were not cremated at Dachau as previously, due to the lack of fuel as the Nazi war effort crumbled, hence the burial that my great-uncle had.

By now I was extremely emotional of course, especially seeing how the burial site was permanently commemorated close by with information boards about Kaufering and the Jewish prisoners buried there, but feeling a generational responsibility to my grandfather and father of providing some Jewish ritual and closure for their brother and uncle respectively. I was honored to be able to place, according to Jewish tradition, a small pebble on the gravestone and say Kaddish (the traditional mourning prayer) by the graveside of Pinchas Charlupski (appropriately my Hebrew name , Pinchas Yacov Ben Zvi, given to me by my parents at my birth, is in honor of this very man that neither I nor my father were ever able to meet). I think Gerhard too was quite emotional at this point, seeing a family member discovering one of their relatives at such a site and the way it had moved me and enabled some closure for my family after Gerhard’s many years of deep research and hard work. I hope to return in due course with other family members and perhaps to help find other living family members of those that are also buried at that site ( my great uncle is one of 26 from Kaufering VIII to be buried there) so that they can also get some closure albeit two or three generations belatedly perhaps, and in the hope that this site can continue to be well-kept and a little more frequently visited.

The burial site in Seestall, where I was able to say kaddish for my grandfather’s brother.
Source: Author’s photo

All in all this capped a remarkable trip, where I not only was able to deepen our understanding of family history and find a little closure, but actually better understand modern Germany, where I now recognize the deep respect that a broad part of German society has today for the need for the world to grasp the horrific lessons of Nazi rule, and their responsibility not only to Jews but to all humanity to warn against a descent into such automated murder and totalitarianism. The German people are doing their bit, more than many others in Europe, in the fight to ensure such horrors are never allowed to take root in Europe or elsewhere again.

In memory of Pinchas Charlupski , born Łódź 1894, died Kaufering VIII, Seestall 1944.

(With great thanks to Central Synagogue together with J-Roots and St Johns Wood Synagogue that arranged the original trip to Poland, to Shlomi Chanoch and the earlier work of his father Uri, and also to Gerhard Roletscheck for his immense dedication to uncovering this history and to ensure with many of his compatriots its appropriate commemoration, Markus Greif, the Bundeswehr, the Stiftung Bayerische Gedenkstätte and the many others in Bavaria that also welcomed me so warmly and empathetically.)

About the Author
Born in Nottingham, England, now London resident, ex-banker and Co-founder of a fintech business, and a frequent visitor to Israel.
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