Aron NatansonAron Natanson, my grandfather, was born in Ploiesti, a small industrial city located North of Bucharest (Romania) on February 1st, 1886.
He studied philosophy in Berlin and ended his studies with a doctorate. His Doctoral Thesis was about Spinoza's philosophy. He later wrote a "Philosophical Dictionary" but these two books, remained unpublished manuscripts, and disappeared during the plunder of the family home in Paris, at the time of Aron's arrest.
Young Aron Natanson
In 1922, he married Fanny Neidmann, in Bucharest.
Aron Natanson and his wife, Fanny Neidmann (my grandmother), in Paris, in the late twenties.
He left Romania in 1923, with his brother Albert, for France. Antisemitism, which was growing in Romania at the time, played a great part in their decision to leave. The Natansons already had links with France : Albert Natanson was already working as correspondent for a French publishing company (Hachette) in Romania.
He became a bookseller in Paris, 19 rue Gay-Lussac, in the « Quartier Latin », a district located on the left bank of the Seine known as the "homeland" of students and artists in Paris. He sold rare and academic books, sometimes to order. He specialised in philosophical books, especially those dealing with comparative religions as mentioned in J. Filliozat's accounts, a distinguished member of the "'Institut de France" (equivalent of British Royal Society, or American National Science Foundation), « Professeur » in the « Collège de France » (This institution headquartered near the « Sorbonne » holds public lectures delivered by prominent academics and specialists) :
I, the undersigner, assure that I knew M. Aron NATANSON well several years before the war. M. Aron NATANSON had then an erudition bookshop rue Gay-Lussac in Paris. I was a young orientalist and I used to go to this bookshop mainly because of the personnality of M. NATANSON who was himself an erudite. He gained his doctorate in philosophy at the university of Berlin through his studies of Spinoza. My conversations with him were very informative. Often, professors and researchers also came in his bookshop, not only for books themselves, but also for discussions about them. His knowledge about the history of religions was very extensive and was very useful for me, personnally, although I was an indianist while he was an Hebraist and a philosopher. I remember especially the discussions he had with a fellow Hebraiste, M. Paul VULLIAUD, who translated and published the beginning of Zohar, using his advise. To me, these talks drew value out not of literal reading of Hebrew to which I cannot contribute, but of philosophical discussions and comparative history of religions created by this reading.
The account of M. Paul Hartmann confirms the nature of the bookshop :
In 1934-35, I lived in Paris, in the House of Marist Fathers and I attended courses in Catholic Institute located in the same street. My father, a notary in the town of Le Havre where I was born on December 19th, 1913, gave me every month 1.000 Francs as pocket money. This money was especially useful to buy books. One of the principal bookseller from whom I bought books, was Aron Natanson.
Very knowledgeable about religions and familiar with Hebrew language, Aron Natanson was not a practising Jew. He wasn't an Atheist but something close to a syncretist. He never forbade his son, Jacques, from entering the Catholics scouts, ca. 1935.
Fanny Neidmann, his wife, became sick and had to leave France (we wonder if she was actually expelled). She went back to Romania where she died in 1939 of tuberculosis.
In June 1940, Aron Natanson suggested his son, Jacques (my father) leave Paris for Brive (in Central France), and then Toulouse. Miryam came back in Paris. She was hidden in Catholics boarding schools, during the school year.
In January or February 1942, Aron was arrested for the first time, brought before the "Parquet" (the French equivalent of the District Attorney's office or the Crown Prosecution Service), and then released. The French police, who had made this arrest, reproached him for breaking law : «Here is the document which mentions this arrest. It is coming from the Archives of the "Préfecture de Police de Paris" :
offence to the law of the2nd of June, 1941 », i.e. the Status of the Jews new version. It was probably because of the fourth article which was strictly controlling jewish commercial activities : « Art. 4. – Jews can only exercise the professions, commercial, industrial or artisan activities [...], in the limits and conditions set by the decrees of the "Conseil d'État". ». Aron most probably continue to work illegally as a bookshopper.
|During the last week, no reports against Jews
by the law of the 2nd of June, 1942, were passed on, by the district or
area police stations.
But, during the same time, the Direction Services brought before the Parquet, on a charge of
- RUBIN Chawn, born on December 30th, 1907, in Kichineff, Romanian Jew, living 60 boulevard de Ménilmontant
- NATANSON Aron, born on February 1st, 1886, in Ploiesti, Romanian Jew, living 9 rue des Feuillantines,
- TUSZYNSKI Herman, born on May 4th, 1903, in Lodz, Polish Jew, living 87 rue Myrha,
- GERSCHGORINE Jankel, born on July 28th, 1864 in Kamenon, refugee Russian Jew, living 31 rue Saint-Louis-en-l'Isle
- TUSZYNSKI Herman was directed to the
cells in Paris).
Thus, Aron was charged with violation of the Status of the Jews. Nevertheless, this alert didn't drive him to try leaving Paris. Arrest and deportation was'nt long coming.
Aron Natanson was arrested by the Vichy French Police, on September 23rd, 1942, on the same date as 1594 Romanian Jews from the Paris area. Romanian Jews had escaped the mass capture of Jews on July 16-17th, 1942 (a tragic episode known as the "rafle du Vel'd'hiv") because Romania still was a country allied to Nazi Germany. But, on September 24th, 1942, Romania declared it was uninterested in Romanian Jews and deprived them of their nationality. They became stateless and could now be deported.
Aron Natanson was arrested as the same time as his 13 year old daughter, Miryam.
The place of the arrest, 9 de la rue des Feuillantines, photographed in 2001
Recently, I found an account of a survivor : M. Herman Idelovici was one of those Romanian Jews who were deported with my grand-father. He was arrested the day after the arrestation of Aron Natanson. His account can help us to understand how the French police conducted the rounding up.
« On September 24th, , someone knocked at the door of the apartment in which my father, my mother, my sisters and I were living.. Two policemen, of the French police unfortunately, appeared in the doorway. My father opened the door and the policemen showed individual cards. They presented four individual sheets with the name of my father, my mother, my elder sister and my own.They had nothing.about my youngest sister. My father pointed that out to the policemen, meaning: she is French, she is not concerned.
After thinking for a very short time, the policemen answered : "Yes, she is here, we'll take her with us, you ll'see later." Even, they said : "You ll' unravel that later" as if there were something to unravel... »Herman Idelovici, integral script of his accounte, Automne 42, CRDP de Nice
Paul Hartmann's testimony confirms that it was really the French police which arrested them. Witnesses told about the indescribable mess of the (9 rue des Feuillantines) apartment, after the arrest. Policemen even shot at the mirrors, as if they couldn't bear to see their own image, arresting a quiet bookseller and a little girl.
If the French Police followed the same instructions as they did for our witness, Aron and his daughter were probably took away to the police station of their district.
« When we went out of our building, I remember we walked up the "boulevard de la gare", led by these two policemen, towards the "Place d'Italie". We went past a few shops, and I remember we went past the baker's shop and the baker woman was on the doorstep, and her eyes met mine. I don't know, I don't know what she could have thought, what other people could have thought. We went past the "rue Nationale", we arrived to the police station of the "passage Ricaut"... »Herman Idelovici, integral script of his account, Automne 42, CRDP de Nice
From the police station, the families that had been arrested, were conducted to Drancy, in RATP buses (Paris transport authority):
« So, after a lot of difficulties, we were taken by the famous buses of bitter memory which were called TN 4, with outside platforms, we were took to the camp of Drancy which was becoming the greatest camp which prepared deportations towards the East. We arrived into this camp of Drancy at about half past twelve, or one o'clock p.m. They began to deprive us of what we had on us : wedding rings and other rings, watches, small change in our pockets... For that matter, it was Frenchmen who completely emptied us out. And somebody made us go up in one of the blocks. »Herman Idelovici, integral script of his account, Automne 42, CRDP de Nice
So, at the entry of the camp, Aron was dispossessed of his money and all his valuables.
Aron and his daughter stayed two days in the concentration camp of Drancy, before being deported to Auschwitz in convoy n°37, on September 25th, 1942. This train was mainly composed of Romanian Jews (779 out of 1004 deportees).
Our witness, one of the few survivors of this convoy, told the gathering and the departure of this train. He told this with the eyes of a 15-year-old boy
« The next day [September 25th, 1942], at five a.m., they called the roll in the central courtyard and the convoy was prepared to be conducted in the station of "Le Bourget-Drancy", which was the boarding station towards East. In these goods wagons, now famous, and of which images has been shown, in these goods wagons which had been planned for fourteen horses, if I don't make a mistake, they packed sixty men, sixty persons, men, women, children, old people, sick people, babies, infants, there were infants in my wagon. They made us go up inside, the doors were hasped, the airiness was only made by little high transom windows (it was the airiness for horses, in fact). There was a bucket, a sort of empty barrel for answering the call of nature and they gave a loaf of bread to each of us, a piece of sausage and a piece of margarine. I must say the atmosphere in this wagon, since the morning of 25th ( the train left the station of "Le Bourget-Drancy" at five to nine a.m., I still remember the hour), the atmosphere which reigned untill the 28th, midday, is something very difficult to describe : screams, women screams, sick persons screams and infants screams, the thirst (in the end of september, it was relatively hot), the thirst, the ignorance, the anxiety... Of course, nobody imagined where we were going, nor anybody imagined what we were going to do, nor anybody imagine what they were going to do with us. From time to time, especially in the night, I don't know why, half the people were awake, I stood on tiptoe and through the transom windows, I succeeded in reading the names of the station we were going across. I read "Strassburg" which was the new name of "Strasbourg", I read Fulda, I read Erfurt, I read Weimar...»Herman Idelovici, integral script of his account, Automne 42, CRDP de Nice
Two days later, the train reached the station in Auschwitz.
On September 27th, 1942, 175 men were selected to work in Kosel, in the neighborhood of Auschwitz. Later, as the convoy arrived at Birkenau, another 40 men were selected and were given numbers (66030 to 66069).
I believed for a long time that, because of his age (he was 56), it was more than probable that he was not selected for work and was one of the 873 persons driven to the gas chamber as soon as they arrived, with his daughter Miryam.
But in November 1999, I communicated with a German historian, Erwin Denzler, who did research into the same convoy about another deportee. When he read the english version of these pages, he reached me and led me to new documents, kept in the Archives of the museum of Auschwitz. Actually, Aron Natanson was selected to work and placed in the quarantine camp, and died there two weeks later.
At the very beginning of 2001, I could complete this itinerary, thanks to the account already quoted above :
The 175 men who have been selected in Kosel station, were driven in the little sorting camp of Ottmuth, then some of them were used in the factory-camp of Blechhammer. All these camps were a dependency of Auschwitz.
« And on the 28th, in the end of the morning, we arrived in Upper Silesia, in this station called Kosel. And when wagons clanked to a stop ( wagons clinked together in the moment of braking, with a clanking noise), the S.S. men began to shout, on the platform. Oddly enough, the first sentences I ever heard in German, were, were shoutings, they were,they were shoutings, bawls, yells... The wagons began to be opened with a great deal of crashing and they carried out the inspection, wagon after wagon, to see if there were dead persons, if there were still persons alive. A lot of persons were dead, many others went insane.
After this first inspection, the S.S. men, in front of each wagon, in German of course, shouted that men, between 18 and 55 years old, had to come down on the platform at once. My father, like other men of that age, went down onto the platform. In those days, my father was 43-years-old. He went onto the platform and assembled with around hundred men who were already there. A few minutes passed, so I stayed in the wagon, because I was 15, I stayed with my mother and my sisters. A few minutes passed and once again we heard the doors slam, from wagon to wagon. The S.S. men locked the doors et padlocked them again. When they arrived in front of my wagon, the S.S. man eyes turned towards me and he began to shout at me in German. I didn't understand it was at me, but my father made a sign to me. The S.S. man began to insult me, to call me all the names under the sun, names which I didn't understand, anyway. He meaned by that I was a fare-dodger, I hadn't come down, I hadn't obey his order [...] So, I came down, I, I don't remember if I had been able, if I had been able to say goodbye to my mother, to my sisters, I believe, in those moments, we were keeping silent. So, I came down with the little baggage which was in my hands and I met up with my father on the platform.
At this moment, we were a few hundred on the patform, we looked at the train which pulled away again with a clanking noise and, I, I remember looking through the transom window of the wagon in which my mother was. She couldn't manage to reach it, she wasn't tall enough, but I saw other faces, and, and, I believe it was above all, a feeling of fear, of anxiety, of ignorance. I began to be plunged into a world which was not mine, which was not logical in my eyes, which had nothing alike with what had been my life for the fifteen years before...»Herman Idelovici, integral script of his account, Automne 42, CRDP de Nice
Map of Southern Poland situating the station of Kosel and the two secondary camps of Ottmuth and BlechhammerIn fact, it's very probable that Aron didn't come down of the train in Kosel : he was 56 and therefore was over the age asked by the S.S. men. He knew German perfectly well and very probably did'nt answer the order to come down. That allowed him to stay with his daughter.
If it was the case, he arrived in Auschwitz and was selected when he arrived in camp of Birkenau :
Now, I'll try to reconstruct the itinerary of Aron, from what deportees told
: Maurice Cling, Marc Klein...
As they were leaving their wagons, men and women were separated and formed two parallel lines : men on the left and women on the right (B). Perhaps Aron could exchange last glances with his daughter, perhaps not. S.S. men jostled deportees ("Los ! Los !") who were coming out of a two days journey in the wagons, without opening the doors once.
They went past nazi officers : people strong and in good health on the left, the others and children on the right...
So, the little column set off along the platform, made for the entry of the camp (A) and went under the porch (A). Then, they went out of the camp and made for the camp of Auschwitz I, the "Stammlager", who was 3 km from there, southeast of Birkenau. They walked along the electric barbed-wire fence, then they entered the camp.
Deportees were formed into lines by officer who, with the help of a translator chose among them, shouted at them : «
You 're not in a sanatarium. The ones who are sick must come out from the rank s. »
It was only then that the remainder were tattooed. Then, the frisking, the undressing near a truck in which pieces of clothing were laid, "well folded". Deportees just kept their belts and shoes. Then, there was shearing of hair and pubic hair with clippers. Then, the shower and the handing out of striped clothes, with a hat in the same striped fabric. The most beautiful shoes were changed to wood soles flipflops.
« To the shock created by the camp's atmosphere and the S.S. and kapos' brutality, depersonalization was added, which usually goes with imprisonment and which, in Auschwitz, was beyond the limits : naked exposing, freezing shower, complete shearing of the body, being given the dead's clothes, tattooing of internee's number, and so on... »
Michael Pollak, L'Expérience concentrationnaire, Métailié, 1990
Since the first night, deportees woke up with a start by shouts in German coming from the kapo and his "stubedienst" (literaly : barrack room shift; in fact : kapo's assistants). They used rubber sticks : "Los ! Los ! Schnell !". Men were stunned, clambered out of their very small bunk and, distressed by shouts and blows, were swept along to the stairs going down in a shower room on the ground floor. Nobody could get away from the blows on the back, given by the kapo and his assistants.
In the morning, deportees went down to the courtyard between the shacks. On each shack, under the front door was written "Quarantäne. Eintritt verboten." A great hole was dug in the middle of the courtyard, with a wooden seat (banquette) around : the "Abort" (WC).
Then, long hours waiting. And the hunger which began. The courtyard was also used for training the prisoners : how to salute the S.S., when one of them shouted "Achtung
!", taking the hat off. If an officer talked to you, you had to answer in German and say his rank aloud. Its a problem for many Frenchmen. Not for Aron who had a good mastery of German. But how different was that language from the German of his philosophical studies in Berlin... It was forbiden to stare at a S.S. straight into his eyes : deportees had to have eyes to the ground, two metres on the right : "Augen rechts !" ("Eyes on the right !"). They had to know to give their roll number in German and in Polish.
Since that first day, the robberies between deportees began. The Old hand at Auschwitz stole those who had just arrived. Some of them had their shoes stolen, others their "Mutzen" (hat). We can imagine that Aron was not very good at this gameAron probably refused this depersonalization with all his soul. The author of the text above was a fifteen-year-old youth who "adapted" himself to the camp and survived. Aron could not do it. He was under when he arrived at the camp: striped off, shaved off, showered, tattooed, garbed in striped clothes; he had the time to know the brutality of the blocks: kapos, blows, training...., also the time to understand what happened to his daughter, and the time to die of all that.
« Here, the "haftling" [concentration prisonner] was an object who was manipulated. He had to obey to orders like a machine. He had only to express humility, consciousness of his unworthiness, of his nothingness in front of authority. He had no rights, he did not think, he did not exist. The quarantine's taming aimed at inculcating this belief in him, at breaking his personality, since he had became interchangeable, at being conditioned to new reflexes of marks of respect, to blind acceptance of the most arbitrary orders.
From then on, he was ready to enter the camp itself, that is to start working.»Maurice Cling, Vous qui entrez ici... Un enfant à Auschwitz, Graphein-FNDIRP, 1999
Since the summer of 1942, typhus spread through the camp. Aron weakened fell ill. The SS Dr Johann-Paul Kremer certified his death on October 11, 10.
h. 05 in the morning. At the end of december 1999, I received from Auschwitz's Archives, a copy of the official death certificate :
Registered according to the oralwritten declaration of the SS Dr Kremer, doctor of medecine in Auschwitz, on October 11th, 1942.
I now have to say a few words about the SS Dr Johann-Paul Kremer. He arrived in the camp of Auschwitz on August 30th, 1942 and stayed there nearly three months. When he arrived in Auschwitz, the typhus claimed many victims. I think it is probably the true cause of the Aron's death.
The SS doctor kept a diary since 1940. He made a few comments about his activities, often described his meals. For instance, on October 11th, just after certifying Aron's death, he had eaten well, and wrote :
11 October 1942 : Today, Sunday, there was a roast hare for lunch - a real fat leg - with dumplings and red cabbage for 1.25 RM.
But above all, Johann-Paul Kremer was one of the S.S. men who testified, in his diary, about the selections and the extermination in the gas chambers. He was a direct witness. Here is the main passage (in German with a translation) in which Kremer mentioned the «
special actions» as they said in the secret language of the camps :
« 2. Schutzimpfung gegen Typhus; danach abends starke allegemeinreaktion (Fieber). Trotzdem in der Nacht noch bei einer Sonderaktion aus Holland (I 600 Personen) zugegen. Schauerliche Szene vor dem letzten Bunker Hössler ! Das wur die 10. Sonderaktion » « Second inoculation against typhus, later on in the evening severe generalized reaction (fever). Despite this in the night attended a further Sonderaktion from Holland (1,600 persons). Ghastly scenes in front of the last bunker! (Hössler!) That was the 10th Sonderaktion. »
The cause of Aron's death is given in this act.
Cause of death : septicaemia by phlegmon
I think it is to be seen here one of the diseases involved with typhus.
Here is the complete death act.
Nr 35733/1942Auschwitz, den 21. Oktober 1942
Der Kaufmann Aron Natanson
mosaischwohnhaft Paris V, Rue des Feuillantines 9
ist am 11. Oktober 1942 um 10 Uhr 05 Minuten
in Auschwitz, Kazernstrasse verstorben.
Der Verstorbene war geboren am 1. Februar 1886 in Ploiesti, Rumanien
Vater: Osias Natanson, wonhhaft in Ploiesti
Mutter: Anna Natanson geborene Rapaport, zuletzt wohnhaft in Ploiesti
Der Verstorbene war
nichtVerheiratet mit Fanny Natanson geborene Neidmann
mündlicheschriftliche Anzeige des Arztes Doktor der Medizin Kremer in Auschwitz vom 11. Oktober 1942
Die Übereinstimmung mit dem Erstbuch wird beblaubigt.
Auschwitz, den 21.10.1942
Todesursache: Sepsis bei Phlegmone
N°35733/1942Auschwitz, 21 october 1942
The shopkeeper Aron Natanson
MosaicLiving at : Paris V, rue des Feuillantines 9
Died on October 11th, 1942 at 10 h 05 minutes
in Auschwitz, Kazernstrasse.
The deceased was born on February 1st, 1886
in Ploiesti (Romania)
Father : Osias Natanson, living at Ploiesti
Mother : Anna Natanson nee Rapaport, last address in Ploiesti.
The deceased was
nomarried to Fanny Natanson, nee Neidmann.
Registered according to the
oralwritten declaration of the SS Dr Kremer, doctor of medecine in Auschwitz, on October 11th, 1942.
The conformity with the first register is certified
The office employee
The office employee
Cause of death : septicaemia by phlegmon
Aron Natanson died, on October 11th, 1942, around 10 in the morning, in the camp of Auschwitz I.
Translation by Dominique Natanson with a great help from Déborah
Text revised by Jean-Marc Siegel.(France), Stan Rosenthal (Australia)
and Phil McGregor (Australia), moderator of the newsgroup "soc.history.war.world-war-ii"