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Durham County Record Office: the official archive service for County Durham and Darlington

A Survivors Testimony: Jeanette Kaufmann

Among the papers of Lieutenant, later Captain Stanley Levitt, one of the British soldiers who liberated Belsen concentration camp, is a statement given on 21 April 1945 by one of the Jewish internees, Jeanette Kaufmann.

Jeanette was born on 6 October 1880 at Zloczow, Poland, the daughter of Jeremias Hammer. She married Johann Kaufmann in Vienna, Austria in 1925 and had two sons, Maximilian (born 19 November 1925) and Herbert (born 20 June 1927). Jeanette worked as a cashier for the Phönix Insurance Company Limited in Vienna.

Statement by Jeanette Kaufmann, p.1 (D/DLI 7/404/12) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office
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Jeanette's experiences, recorded on her liberation from Belsen concentration camp in April 1945, as evidence to be used in the trials of the SS guards, allow us to see the development of the Nazi persecution of the Jews from the implementation of the Nuremberg Laws in Austria in 1938. Her evidence covers persecution, ghettos, forced labour, concentration camps and the Final Solution.

Statement by Jeanette Kaufmann, p.1 (D/DLI 7/404/12) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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Jeanette's family saw the implementation of the Nuremberg Laws in Vienna on 11 March 1938. Jeanette and her husband, Johann, had to stop work and their children, Maximilian and Herbert, were thrown out of school. The family tried, unsuccessfully, to emigrate to Colombia, South America. 'Then started the days of evil.'

Statement by Jeanette Kaufmann, p.1 (D/DLI 7/404/12)
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Initially, some Jews were allowed to remain in their homes, but were used as forced labour. Jeanette 'was put to hard work in a brick works at VOSENDORF [near Vienna]. My husband and children were arrested and imprisoned and put to such jobs as street cleaning.'

The early concentration camps, for example Dachau, originally for political opponents of the Nazi regime, were also used for Jews. However, when Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, they found more Jews than they could hold in the existing concentration camps. Adolf Eichmann, Chief of the Reich Central Office for Jewish Emigration, therefore supervised a programme of Jewish resettlement, into ghettos.

Statement by Jeanette Kaufmann, p.1 (D/DLI 7/404/12) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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Jews were rounded up and taken to the new Jewish reservation at Opole, near Lublin, Poland. Jeanette Kaufmann and her family were sent there on 27 February 1941, and she describes the experience.

'A thousand people from Vienna had all their valuables taken from them, on pain of death, and were only allowed to take 50 kilograms of luggage each. On arrival at Opole, they had nowhere to live and food was short: 'the 2000 of us were to live in a place called OPOLE near Lublin, formerly occupied by 200 Jewish families. On our arrival they put us into a destryed [destroyed] Synagogue. A Cookhouse for the poor supplied us with soup daily ... we had to dispose of our few remaining belongings in order to obtain food.'

Statement by Jeanette Kaufmann, p.1 (D/DLI 7/404/12) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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They were also subjected to mental and physical abuse by local non-Jewish Poles.

The situation became even worse when Germany invaded Russia in June 1941.

Statement by Jeanette Kaufmann, p.1 (D/DLI 7/404/12) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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Jeanette and her family 'had to flee for our lives in the night hidden under a load of hay' to escape the daily manhunts to find Slav [or it could be a typing error for slave] workers for the forced labour camps.

Statement by Jeanette Kaufmann, p.2 (D/DLI 7/404/12) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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They fled to the ghetto at Ostrowice, Poland, where Jeanette's parents and sister, Charlotte Bieler's family were living. Life there was terrifying.

As the Germans advanced further into the Soviet Union, more Jews came under Hitler's control. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Propaganda Minister, wrote in his diary about Hitler's determination to annihilate the Jews, claiming that 60% would be 'liquidated' and 40% used for forced labour. Jeanette Kaufmann's family suffered the consequence of this policy.

Statement by Jeanette Kaufmann, p.2 (D/DLI 7/404/12) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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In addition to this horrific eye-witness account, Jeanette later relates that the commandant of the forced labour camp at Radom Blizyn, Poland, SS Unter scharführer [Corporal] Gosberg, 'used to boast about his part in the evacuation of Warsaw - how he saved good ammunition by forcing Jews to jump to their death from a fourth floor window'.

As the ghettos were cleared, the Jews were sent to various concentration camps: forced labour camps or death camps. Jeanette Kaufmann's parents were sent to the gas chamber from Ostrowice.

Statement by Jeanette Kaufmann, p.2 (D/DLI 7/404/12) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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The people were deported by train, a hundred or more in each truck; many died on the journey from thirst, starvation and exposure.

Statement by Jeanette Kaufmann, p.2 (D/DLI 7/404/12) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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Jeanette, her husband, Johann, her two boys, Maximilian and Herbert, and her sister Charlotte's family, were taken from Ostrowice to the forced labour camp at Bodzechow, Poland. Atrocities by the SS were commonplace and, on 4 January 1943, Charlotte and her family were shot.

Those people able to survive in the concentration camps were moved frequently. On 17 March 1943, the Jewish inmates at Bodzechow were transferred to Starachowice, Poland, to produce munitions in the Hermann Goering Works.

Statement by Jeanette Kaufmann, p.2 (D/DLI 7/404/12) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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The men were sent on to a forced labour camp at Radom Blizyn, Poland. Jeanette describes the conditions at Starachowice: they slept on the ground in barracks; their diet was turnip soup; they all caught typhus; and were shot if they couldn't work.

Statement by Jeanette Kaufmann, p.2 (D/DLI 7/404/12)
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Jeanette Kaufmann bribed a guard and was transferred to Radom Blizyn to be with her husband and sons.

Statement by Jeanette Kaufmann, p.3 (D/DLI 7/404/12) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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She was given a job as a typist, but her husband and sons had to work in a quarry, 'with Tartar-like Ukranians as guards'. One of her sons was 'sentenced to 50 lashes because he was three minutes late for the Roll Call parade'. Worse, 'On one morning all children below the age of fourteen were collected, taken into the woods and shot'.

Luckily for Jeanette, her sons were aged 18 and 16. The camp commandant, SS Unter scharführer Gosberg, was particularly cruel.

Towards the end of 1944, as the Russians advanced against the Germans, thousands of concentration camp internees were moved west by the Germans. Jeanette was 'moved by rail to the horror camp at AUSCHWITZ', Poland, where she was 'stripped, shaved head and body and given rags to put on ... then beaten. ... The S.S. women were perpetraters [perpetrators] of acts we never experienced at the hands of the most sadistic S.S. Men.'

Statement by Jeanette Kaufmann, p.3 (D/DLI 7/404/12) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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Jeanette spent six weeks at Auschwitz, 'part of a gang dismantling the crematorium ... to try and hide traces of it's [its] vile work.' She gives a detailed description of the gassing and cremation of thousands of prisoners and the deceit involved:

'The place was camouflaged to represent a sanatorium with a light railway line running into it for conveying sick persons too ill to walk.' Nevertheless, 'The big majority of the victims were conscious of what was about to happen to them ...'

Statement by Jeanette Kaufmann, p.3 (D/DLI 7/404/12) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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On 5 January 1945, Jeanette Kaufmann was moved west again, via various concentration camps, to Belsen. One of the camps she mentions, Mauthausen in Austria, 'was a camp for 'Anti-Social' prisoners - They were the aristocracy of prisoners in Germany.'

Many of her fellow prisoners died en route: they were 'In the midst of a haggard winter with only our striped cotton suits to wear ...'

Jeanette remained at Belsen until the camp was liberated by the British Army in April 1945. Her husband and sons had been 'torn from me' at Auschwitz on 26 October 1944.

Statement by Jeanette Kaufmann, p.3 (D/DLI 7/404/12) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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'After being liberated by the British I contrived to creep - I couldn't walk - into the men's lager [camp]. There I leaned [learned] the horrible truth that my husband had been there for five weeks and had died of starvation only three days before the English arrived.

'My boys (aged now 18 and 20) were supposed to be at Ordruf camp [Germany] but all reports that I have heard up to now indicate that when the area was liberated there was no camp there - only a big cemetery

Statement by Jeanette Kaufmann, p.4 (D/DLI 7/404/12) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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'I am liberated, but then my life is crushed.'

Do you know what happened to Jeanette Kaufmann?

See a full transcript of Jeanette Kaufmann's statement.