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The story of Orna Birnbach

"The youth of today is not to be blamed, but it has got the responsibility for the future"

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Orna Birnbach was born in 1928 as the daughter of Oskar and Guta Blauner in the polish town Wloclawek where the family lived hapily
until 1939.

Two weeks after the second world war began Wloclawek was occupied by the Germans. From this time on jews had to wear a yellow spot on the back, were only allowed to walk on the right side of the road and had to take a bow for every SS man they passed by. The property of the jewish families was confiscated and the jews were not allowed to stay outside after 6 p.m. The first jews were shot and only two month after the war started there were already 80 victims in town. Still in the same year Ornas family fleed to Tarnów.
Map of Poland
11th June 1942. The Germans checked the identification papers of
the jews. Those having a special stamp were given work. All others were deported to the East where they allegedly were supposed to
Orna Birnbach
Pictures from halcyon days
work in farming. But already at that time there were rumours about the extermination camps and nobody believed that lame excuse. Ornas family was examinated by the SS Oberscharführer Hermann Blache from the German city Bochum. She had to witness as he and his 16 year old son Gerald shot her grandfather because he had no stamp. Most of her relatives were killed in Tarnów. Thousands of jews were shot for no reason. On the market, in the forrest, on the graveyard. Children were separated from their mothers. If the Germans found children hidden by their mothers, those were shot or set on fire. Many thousands jews were deported to the extermination camp Belzec (Poland, Lublin area).

When a new action of the SS was announced for the next jewish holiday, Ornas father bribed three SS officers with his last money and hid himself with his and some other families in the cellar of their house. Miraculously the SS officers kept their words and protected the house while the hidden had to listen to the shounting of the murderers, the sound of their boots on the pavement and the barking of their dogs.

In September 1943 the ghetto in Tarnów was dissolved and the Nazis declared the town as "free from jews". The Blauner family was interned in the labour camp Plaszow, close to Kraków. Though only 15, Orna declared herself to be 20 to be allocated for work and not to be transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Meanwhile everybody knew that Auschwitz was the main extermination camp. One morning all 11000 Jews of the ghetto had to array to be allocated for work. This morning the notorious commander Amon Goeth visited the ghetto to chose the workers himself. Those who were not chosen were immidiately transferred to Auschwitz. Though Goeth was just looking for young and vigorous men Ornas father convinced him that they would also need women for cleaning and repairing furs. By his braveness to beard Goeth he was able to save 15 women from the doom of being tranported to Auschwitz including Orna and his wife (who finally were the only ones to survive the Shoad) but not his sister. From that moment on he took care of his nephew Pinek like he was his own son.

The men had to work in a quarry while the women had to build shanties with a view towards the so called "hill of death". Thousands of communists, partisans, resistance members, jews and people who hid jews were hung or shot on that hill.

Several times the women had to undress and run naked across the drill ground. Thereby their health was checked, whether they wore glasses or were conspiously pale. Old or sick women were immediately transported to Auschwitz. During this time Orna and her cousin Pinek were coupled in a close friendship but one day when she was on her way to see him she had to witness how Obersturmführer Grimm aimed at Pinek and shot him in front of her eyes.

Beginning in May 1944 the Nazis nighly removed children and sick persons from Plaszow that was turned into a concentration camp since January 1944. To calm down the children and their mothers they had children songs played but those still screamed and cried in anguish without intermission. After the children were removed they continued with the women.

In the same year Orna was seperated from her father. He finally was killed in Melk, a side camp of the concentration camp Mauthausen (Austria) while Orna and her mother were transfered to Auschwitz.
Orna Birnbach with her family
Orna with her mother
and her grandparents.

Guta Blauner, Orna Birnbachs mother
Guta Blauner
Ornas mother

Oskar Blauner, Orna Birnbachs father
Oskar Blauner
Ornas father

On their arrival the sky was black from the smokes of the crematorium so that it almost became invisible. The Germans living
Orna Birnbach:
"Life after the Shoah"
in that area complained about the fetidness but not that jews were burned. Only 10% of the arriving women were allocated to work. The others were instantly gasified.

Also Orna and her mother had to undress and to shower with other women. They knew already that this was the story the Germans told the jews before they were gasified. As she was standing in that dark and locked room with her mother, preparing herself to die her only thought was that there would be nobody left for revenge and that the world would never learn about what happened. That would actually had been her last thoughts but only water came from the showers. As Orna later reported this was the moment where she swore herself that she would not hide if she happened to survide. The swore to report to posterity what happened and to be the speaking tube for those killed.

Every morning they were woken up at 5 a.m. by the call "wake up jewish whores". Two of each shanty fetched a bucket of pitch dark coffee and everybody was given a single slice of bread. On sundays even with margarine and jam. Like every inhibitant Orna was tatooed a number for recognition which is still visible: 20713. From this day on she was not called by her name any more. She became just a number.

In Auschwitz there was a shanty which was especialy build for medical testing and where the notorious Nazi doctor Josef Mengele performed some of his cruel examinations. For example dwarfs were examinated if their inner organs would also be dwarfish and twins if

Orna Birnbach - Life after the Shoah

Texts and documents in German
Published by Andreas Disselnkötter
and Karin Schiele.
With a foreword from Wolfgang Clement
and an essay by Klaus Lohmann. Bochum 2002, ISBN 3-

The first part of the book reports about the scandalous circumstances her first course of lectures at schools in Bochum was overshadowed by. After that the students who visited her lectures give a few reports and finally it includes some extracts from the lawsuit against the Nazi Hermann Blache at which Orna deposed. Impressions about a life after the Shoah to pore over but also elements of hope as the students got her message.
they look alike even from inside. One of Ornas friends had two differently coloroud eyes. She was brought into the shanty. While  
she was on full conscious her eyes were torn out and sent to Germany for further examination.
Special thanks to
Orna Birnbach

At the end of 1944 only 220 women were left from the transport Orna arrived with. 200 of them were supposed to be transported to Mühlhausen (Thuringia), a sattelite station of the concentration camp
Buchenwald. Orna was selected to go but not her mother. Orna begged and craved but the officer on duty only said that she may stay with her mother in Auschwitz but her mother would under no circumstances leave. Until today Orna is not able to tell why she finally left without her mother. As the effort to gasify the left 20 women was supposed to be too big, they were put into a room next to the gas chamber.

When the Red Army came closer in 1945 Auschwitz was finally dissolved to eliminate all traces. The garrison went off whith the residual inhibitants on the so called killing marches. Only the weakest stayed, among them Ornas already sick mother. They were told that a truck would come to pick them up. Three days later the left jews had to allign again for marching. It was said that everybody who still stays would be shoot. Ornas mother stayed and waited for dead. On 27th January 1945 she was finally found by the Red Army and rescued.

In Mühlhausen where Orna was forced to labour she did not know anything about her mothers doom. She expected her to be dead.

Not much later they were carried to Celle in a goods wagon. From there they hat to walk the 80 km to the concentration camp Bergen Belsen. By that time the male SS soldiers already fleed just the female guards stayed. Now Orna had to experience that there were even more cruel humans than the SS officers. In order not to leave any traces for the approaching British Army they poisened the food and cut the water pipes. The guards locked all prisoners in the shanties to protect themselves from the raging epidemic thyphus. In one of the shanties Anne Frank died during those days from hunger, thirst and sickness.

Orna was also sick, suffering from Thyphus, closer to death than to life. All around her her dead friends layed. The survivors were suffering from thirst, hunger and unimaginable pains. On 15th April 1945 Bergen-Belsen was freed by the English army. When liberated Ornas weight was only 32 kg and she was about to die. First she was brought to an infirmary in Lingen. As all her relatives were killed she was then brought to a camp in Diepholz (Lower Saxonia) after she recovered. There she received the letter from her uncle in Tel Aviv telling her that her mother was still alive. Not much later both emigrated to Palestine and meet each other again for the first time.
I meet Mrs. Ornbach 1987 as a student when I visited Israel with a group from my college. In the Massuah Institute in Tel Yitzack she told us her story which really shocked us. Now almost 20 years later I came in touch with her story for a second time and now the time was ready for me to stand up. With this page I want to honour and support her great work and her fight against forgetting.

This biography I wrote about Mrs. Orna Birnbach is based on the above mentioned book and on various articles I found in the internet, mainly from following sources:

Gymnasium Damme (this source page is no longer online)
BBS Friesoythe

Finally it contains information I received personally from Mrs. Orna Birnbach. I like to thank her very much for allowing me to tell her story and for her kind support.

Orna Birnbach at a speech in a school in the county of Limburg (Germany) in 2004
Orna Birnbach at a course of lectures in German schools in 2004.

The first time Orna returned to Germany was in May 1964. She did
by Aléxandros Kiriazis
follow an invitation by the prosecution authority in Dortmund, to depose at the court of Bochum against former leading SS members. At first against Hermann Blache who shot her grandfather in 1942. As one can tell from the newspaper articles of that time the sympathies were not with her. The public seemed to be more on the side of the accused. Finally Herman Blache was sentenced to prison for life but just like many other nazis he was released after a few years and received a good pension.

Until 1974 she deposed in alltogether four lawsuits in Bochum. In 1972 she wrote a letter to the minister of justice of Northern Rhine Westfalia and complained about the advantageous climate for the accused. In example she and the main accused were accomodated in the same hotel and he observed her in the breakfast room. In the alley of the court building he spoke to her and regretted that he was not allowed to influence the witnesses.

Orna Birnbach also deposed in two other lawsuits. In 1971 in Vienna and in 1977 in Hannover. This time about incidents that took place in Plaszow.
In Germany and everywhere else:

Never again ! Never again ?

Then why houses burned in Rostock?
And why in L.A.?

Why isolate people with AIDS?
And why shall foreigners leave?

Why are jewish graves defiled?
And why gays bashed?

Why do asylum seekers cause unemployment?
And why do we shout "Nigger"?

Why are we suddenly afraid of head scarfs and burkas?
And why of gypsies?

Why? memento !

Today Orna Birnbach lives in Tel Aviv, is married and has got two daughters and four grandchildren. She often comes to Germany to
More information
tell her story personally to the following generations which do not have any imagination about war and about the horrible incidents that happened during the Nazi regime. As a contemporary witness she often travels with groups to Poland. During the Shoah her mother swore never to shake a German hand again. She kept her oath as well as Orna kept hers.
Links and additional Information

My second meeting with Orna
(I am sorry but this report is
currently only available in German)

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