Wednesday, February 24, 2016

World War Wednesdays: Pieces of Warsaw, No. 3

The Warsaw ghetto footbridge 
     Welcome to the third and final installment of Pieces of Warsaw, a series of research assignments I completed for the Holocaust course at the University of Ottawa under Dr. Jan Grabowski. So far, we've discussed an indictment issued by a German prosecutor and the death certificate of a young woman. As we've seen, both have led to tragic circumstances, but as Dr. Grabowski says, "Don't expect happy endings in this course."

Here is the third document we were given:

Dr. Jan Grabowski's translation from Polish:
Verso of the postcard:

To the Council of Elders

Please, let me know where is my son, Izak Micner, post office employee.
If he is not there, please let me know where he is.
I know that you will not refuse [my request].
Written by the desperate father

Recto of the postcard:

Sender: M. Micner                             Recipient: Council of Elders
Schultz Factory                                  Turobin, Krasnystaw area
Tailors’ shop
Nowolipki 29

Your son Izaak Micner departed for the bosom of Abraham.
He has been killed

Council of Elders

Here's what I uncovered on this one:
Izak Micner: Listed on the Yad Vashem database as Yitzkhak Micner, he is described as a fourteen year-old boy from Turobin, Poland. In the document itself, his father indicates that Izak was a post-office employee in that village.

M. Micner (Mordachaj Micner): According to the Yad Vashem database, Mordachaj Micner was forty years old when he wrote the postcard. He was married to a woman named Alte, and had been a merchant in Turobin. He identifies himself in the postcard as an employee of the Schultz Factory’s tailors’ shop in the Warsaw ghetto, and according to the database he was killed a year later (1943) in the Izbica camp, Poland.

Schultz Factory: The German apparel manufacturing company-owned by Fritz Emil Schultz was granted official designation as a war production firm by the German High Command in the fall of 1940. Due to his longstanding ties with the Jewish community, he chose the Warsaw ghetto as the site of his operations to produce winter clothing for the German army, which opened in September 1941. At its peak in July 1942, the factory employed nearly 4,500 Jewish laborers.

Jews at work in the textile section of the Schultz Factory

Council of Elders: Chief of the Reich Central Security Office Reinhard Heydrich gave a conference in Berlin on 21 September1939 at which, after describing the ‘ultimate aim’ to concentrate Polish Jews in large cities, he called for a Council of Jewish Elders to be established in each city. These councils were to be responsible for ensuring that the movements of Jews were carried out on time, and they were threatened with the ‘severest measures’ in case of ‘sabotage of such instructions.’

     Much like the second document, this source represents the ways in which family members were separated and lost contact with each other as the German regime moved people around in mass numbers. Since issues of spelling and poor records make it nearly impossible to establish these claims as certain facts, I, much like the Turobin Council of Elders, was unable to provide a concrete description of the circumstances surrounding Izak Micner’s death. However, if the information from the Yad Vashem database can be taken as truth (I was unable to find a list of Schultz factory employees which would verify this as his name), more can be answered about the fate of the desperate father who wrote this postcard. In the late summer and fall of 1942, massive transportations to Treblinka decimated the factory’s workforce, but Mordachaj Micner evidently escaped these. The firm continued operating until February 1943, when it was transferred in stages to the Trawniki concentration camp, and maintained production until the entire camp population was liquidated during the Harvest Action on 3 November, 1943.Since the Yad Vashem database lists his death year as 1943, it is therefore likely that he perished in this Aktion.

Works Cited
Gilbert, Martin. The Holocaust: The Jewish Tragedy. London: William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd.,
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “Work permit issued by the Schultz Company to
            Gina Tabaczynska.” Accessed 3 February 2016.         
Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority. “The Central
            Database of Shoah Victims’ Names.” Accessed 3 February 2016.

Thanks for reading,
Delany Leitch (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter!)

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Saturday Sightings- The Ovenbird

Happy Saturday Everyone!  Another bird for another post!

Another New World warbler and small songbird is the ovenbird, sometimes confused for a thrush.  This species breeds in mature deciduous and mixed forests, with little undergrowth and winters in Central America, many Caribbean Islands, Florida and northern Venezuela.  This bird is territorial all year round and does travel in groups when migrating, however will disperse upon reaching their destination.  The ovenbird can frequently be seen with its tail tilted up and bobbing its head while walking and when alarmed, the tail is flicked often from a half-raised position. 

Though requiring little undergrowth for mating, the ovenbird desires abundant undergrowth for foraging for food, which it does on the ground in dead leaves.  They will also catch insects in flight.  Their nest is referred to as an “oven” (giving the bird its name) and is a domed structure placed on the ground, woven from vegetation, with a side entrance.  The fact of the nest being placed on the ground makes it more of a target for chipmunks than for tree-nesting birds.  Chipmunks have been known to burrow directly into the nest to eat the young.  The ovenbird is also vulnerable to nest parasitism by the brown-headed cowbird.
Have a great week ahead!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

World War Wednesdays: Pieces of Warsaw, No. 2

Bridge connecting the ghetto and non-ghetto sections of Warsaw

     As discussed last week, I recently undertook a project through my Holocaust course at uOttawa which required some in-depth research concerning the experiences of specific Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. These were documented in the archive maintained by Emmanual Ringelblum, who was also discussed in a previous post. As an update to last week's discussion, I thought I'd share that my research received 100% and personal congratulations from Dr. Jan Grabowski!

     Similar to last week, here is the second document that was provided to us:

And here is Dr. Jan Grabowski's translation from Polish:

Identity of the deceased

Day: December 15th     1941   at 8:15 am    died in Warsaw
where:   Gesia street                Nr. 24
Elbaum Malka
daughter of Szlomo and Szajndla
Born in: Warsaw                                            Date of birth: 1923
place of residence: Krochmalna 7                  profession: staying with parents
civic state: single
Cause of death:                      executed by a firing squad

This is what I was able to uncover:

      Upon examination of the circumstances of Malka Elbaum’s death, it is determined that she was among fifteen Jews shot at the Gęsia Street prison as part of the second execution of arrestees charged with leaving the ghetto.She is included in a list compiled in Kiddush Hashem : Jewish religious and cultural life in Poland during the Holocaust as ‘Melke Elboym,’ daughter of ‘Shloyme’ and ‘Sheyndl,’with the remainder of her data being exactly that listed in her death certificate. According to the book, which was written by a rabbi who carefully documented Jewish life in the ghetto, the fifteen Jews were sorted into two groups around 8:00am on 15 December, 1941, with Malka as part of the first. After being told that they were being transferred to the Mokotow prison, the first group were walked from their cell out to the execution area, where they saw “a line of armed policemen, the German military officers, and the fifteen caskets.” Despite their screams of realization and terror, the eight Jews were tied to posts by members of the Jewish police, shot, and put into coffins which were then nailed shut.While the book describes the time on the first group’s death certificates being recorded as 8:45, Malka Elbaum’s actually states 8:15 as her time of death. This raises a question as to which author was more accurate.
This document and the story it tells demonstrates the tragedy of a family torn apart and wiped from the face of the earth in a matter of two years. Supposing the database information is accurate, I wish I could find out why Malka’s death certificate lists her as living with her parents when her mother is not described as having also lived in Warsaw. The young girl’s tragic end is likely due to the temptations of living on a ghetto-bordering street while being starved inside it.

     Malka Elbaum: Her name, with the same spelling, is listed in the Yad Vashem Database of Shoah Victims’ Names, where she is described as having been born in Warsaw, 1923 to parents Shlomo and Scheindl.The spelling of the parents’ names differs here but the remainder of the data is exactly as appears on the original death certificate. She is listed as having been murdered in the Shoah and aged 18 at her time of death. She also appears in the Warsaw Ghetto Database with the description “A young girl, living with a family. Lived at Krochmalna Street no. 7; shot at 8:15,” and “shot in prison at Gęsia Street”. Documents for her entry came from the State Archive of New Records regarding the Warsaw Ghetto and the Ringelblum Archive Part I.

     Szlomo Elbaum (Malka’s Father): His name can also be found in the Yad Vashem Database, though it is spelled “Szalma” Elbaum. According to the database, he was born in Warsaw in 1903 and appears on a list of Jewish inmates from a transport transferred to the Majdanek camp in 1943, though his ultimate fate is not listed.

     Szajndla Elbaum (Malka’s Mother): Her name appears on a records list by Jewish Kutno under “Szajna Rozenblum” with the maiden name Elbaum, though her maiden and married names are likely reversed. Her father’s given name is Abraham and her mother’s is Frajda, and she is listed as married to Szlomo. She was born in 1899 in Kutno, Poland, lived in Lodz before the war, and during the war lived in Dabie, Poland. According to the list, she died in 1942 in Chelmno, Poland.

     Gęsia Street Prison: In part supervised by the Jewish Ordnungsdienst, conditions there were worse than those present in other Warsaw jails. The prison had opened during the summer of 1941 to remove a portion of the Jewish inmates being held in “gentile” prisons, initially anticipating 500-600 but eventually serving a population of 1,500-1,800.

The entrance to the prison
     Krochmalna Street: A lengthy, poor street before the establishment of the ghetto, it became one of the most squalid in Warsaw during the occupation, with the corpses of starved Jews littering the road. Given its major occurrence of typhus, it was used by the Germans at the beginning of 1940 as a test area for the planned formation of the ghetto due to a health authority report that the street was the main source of epidemic in Warsaw (noted in Ringelblum’s diary). However, the street was not entirely Jewish and not entirely incorporated into the ghetto, as evidenced by the story of a young Jewish girl being smuggled out of the ghetto to live with a Christian foster family at 33 Krochmalna until the 1943 uprising.

      The story of Malka's last few moments, described in vivid detail in the Kiddush Hashem book, was one of the most troubling accounts I've ever read. The entire time I was searching for information I refused to believe that such a young girl could meet such a terrible end, but if there's one thing this course has taught me so far it's to never expect happy endings. In the grand scheme of the assignment, the Ringelblum archive, the entire Holocaust, she is one short line in one of the most horrific tales ever written.

     Thanks for reading, 

Works Cited
Grabowski, Jan. “Jewish Defendants in German and Polish Courts in the Warsaw District,
            1939-1942”. Yad Vashem Studies 35 (2007): 49-80.
Huberbrand, Shimon and David E. Fishman. Kiddush Hashem : Jewish religious and cultural life
            in Poland during the Holocaust. Translated and edited by Jeffrey S. Gurrock and Robert
            S. Hirt. New York: Yeshiva University Press, 1987.
Jewish Historical Institute. “A Story From an Old Photograph.” Accessed 29 January 2016.
Jewish Kutno. “One-Step Search.” Accessed 3 February 2016.
 Polish Center for Holocaust Research. “Warsaw Ghetto Database.” Accessed 3 February 2016.
Valley, Eli. The Great Jewish Cities of Central and Eastern Europe: A Travel Guide & Resource
            Book to Prague, Warsaw, Crakow & Budapest. Maryland: Jason Aronson Inc., 1999.
Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority. “The Central
            Database of Shoah Victims’ Names.” Accessed 3 February 2016.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

World War Wednesdays: Pieces of Warsaw, No. 1

The wall separating the Warsaw ghetto from the Aryan side of the city
     As I mentioned a few posts ago, I'm currently taking the Holocaust course at uOttawa, which is a topic I've studied informally my whole life. The professor, Dr. Jan Grabowski, is an award-winning figure in the field of Holocaust studies, and co-founded the Polish Center for Holocaust research.

     Almost two weeks ago, Dr. Grabowski presented us with an assignment which I found to be a profound experience in historical research, and I wanted to share it with readers as a sort of follow-up post to the one on Emmanuel Ringelblum. All document translations were done by Jan Grabowski, and I have obtained his permission for use of them as well as discussion of his assignment.

     To begin, we were given three documents which were found in the archive that Emmanuel Ringelblum buried under the Warsaw ghetto, along with the translations into English. We then had to conduct research to identify all places and names found in the document, as well as outline the historical context in order to know as much about the circumstances as possible. The goal was to find as much information as we could so that Dr. Grabowski could determine our levels of research capability. (We weren't allowed to collaborate or share answers so he requested that I post this blog after the due date had passed).

     Here's the first document he gave us:
It says:
                                                                                               Warsaw, 28 April 1942
The Chief of the Prosecutor’s Office                                     To the Special Court
of the Special Court                                                                In Warsaw



Buki, Hinda, Jewess
born 22 February 1919, brush maker, single
resident in Warsaw, Krochmalna street 17 apt. 171
currently in prison, Gesia street 24.              

Is accused of having left the Jewish Living Area.

Being a  Jewess, she has left, on March 20, 1942, without authorization, the area assigned to the Jews in Warsaw.

This is a violation of § 4 b of the Decree of 13 September 1940 and October 15, 1941 concerning the Limitations of Residence for Jews in the General Government.


The declaration of the accused

The accused is a Jewess, she has admitted to having left the Jewish Quarter in Warsaw without authorization, in order to go begging.


I request: 1. To prepare proceedings in front of the Special Court in Warsaw
                2. To extend the period of arrest for the accused who poses a flight risk.

Dr. Peter

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Saturday Sightings- The Hooded Warbler

Happy Saturday Everyone!  I saw this bright beauty multiple times last summer at Backus-Page House Museum.

Another New World warbler is the hooded warbler, which breeds in eastern North America and winters in Central America and the West Indies.  This species is a small bird and mid-sized warbler, with a plain olive/green-brown colouring on its back and yellow underparts.  Males have yellow faces as well, with distinctive black hoods and the females have an olive-green cap.  Until the male gets its black cap at around 9-12 months, they are easily confused with females.

As with the American redstart, the hooded warbler also feeds on insects, found in low vegetation or caught mid-air.  These birds lay 3-5 eggs in a cup-shaped nest in low areas of bush, which is a part of their broadleaved woodlands habitat with dense undergrowth.  In areas where woodlands are protected or recovering, the population of this species of bird is stable and potentially increasing, however the hooded warbler is often a victim of brood parasitism by the brown-headed cowbird. 
Take care!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

World War Wednesdays: From Gloves to Grease: Princess Elizabeth During WWII

    One of the most fascinating aspects of the Second World War is the way in which it affected every person who lived through it. People around the world of all ages and social standing, both males and females, were thrown into the chaos. We regularly discuss local folks and everyday heroes who rose to the occasion and made their mark on history, but I thought it would be interesting this week to talk about how our current and longest-reigning monarch answered the call and got her hands dirty with the best of them.

     When war was declared in September 1939, King George V and Queen Elizabeth sent the two young princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret to live at Windsor Castle, just outside London because they felt it would be safer than Buckingham Palace. The girls' parents remained at the palace and visited them on weekends. The Royal Mews were also moved to the castle, where the horses were put to work on the farm. The sisters remained there until the end of the war in 1945. Many people thought it was dangerous for the King and Queen to remain in the city during the heavy bombing of the Blitz in 1940, but Queen Elizabeth insisted, "The princesses will not leave us, I cannot leave the King and the King will never leave".

     During the height of the Battle of Britain, the young princess gave her first public address on 13 October 1940. Broadcast over the radio during the BBC Children's Hour, it was a message to British youngsters who had been evacuated from the cities to safety in the Empire. A 1947 article by Irving Wallace for Collier's magazine describes this address:
     "In a voice very much like her mother's, pretending to read from a script she had already memorized, Elizabeth went through her paces while her sister Margaret stood at a distance behind her, and the king and queen watched from an adjacent room. As she finished her last words, Elizabeth suddenly stopped, said extemporaneously, "My sister is by my side, and we are both going to say good night to you-- come on, Margaret!" Margaret appeared, murmured good night, and then Elizabeth returned to the microphone and added, "Good night, and good luck to you all!" Since royalty never extemporizes on official occasions, this interjection shook her parents, but created a happy sensation throughout the Empire."
     You can hear the speech here:

     By 1942, young Elizabeth was sixteen years old. According to Wallace, she wanted to join up in one of the women's services to do her part in the war effort. Her father took it up with the Minister of Labor, but it was decided that Elizabeth's training for the throne was most important and she should not enlist in anything. Feeling that she would be a slacker and carry the guilt for the rest of her life, she relentlessly persisted. Just before her nineteenth birthday in 1945, her father finally gave in and she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) as an auto mechanic and driver. Though she still slept at the castle, she spent her days working with oil, valves, and engines from 10:00 to 5:00. One of her greatest joys was getting dirt under her nails and grease stains on her hands to show to her friends. Here is a clip of her in action:
Elizabeth (far right) has her work inspected by her parents
     The training was accepted by her parents until it came time for her to be put into real action. Wallace describes the anxiety caused by her final test as a truck driver:
     "At graduation, a new crisis was provoked. Every ATS student, for her final exam, was was required to drive a truck from the camp to busy London. The king and queen went into a hurried conference with Mr. Herbert Morrison, the Home Secretary, about this. It was agreed that Elizabeth must not take this exam, since she might be involved in an accident. When the trio came out to announce their decision, they found a grinning Elizabeth guiding a lumbering camouflage truck into the palace gates. She had made the complete journey, from Chamberley to London, through the thickest traffic and twice around Piccadilly Circus, on her own, because she wanted to attend a party at the palace-- and hear the royal decision on her final exam."

     At any rate, the war ended soon after she finished her training. On 8 May 1945, VE Day, Elizabeth appeared with her parents, Margaret, and Winston Churchill on the Buckingham Palace balcony to greet the cheering crowds. In the evening, the two princesses, escorted by police officers, were allowed to mingle among the crowds celebrating the end of the war.
     I hope this post sheds some light on what a spirited and plucky young girl the Queen was, and how hard she tried to contribute to the struggle being carried on by her people. Wallace's article is courtesy of, and other information is supplemented by 

     Thanks for reading,
Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

P.S. Stay tuned next week for a very interesting post which I was eager to make this week but have been asked to postpone!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Backus-Page at West Elgin Secondary School Loonie Auction

Backus-Page House Museum is contributing three auction prizes/experiences and will have a table of various gift shop items and elimination draw tickets for attendees to purchase.  If you need a bidding paddle, we have some to sell.  Contact the office at 519-762-3072 or