Two Candles for Sammy
By Simon Wiesenthal
I first heard of Sammy Rosenbaum in 1965, when a Mrs. Rawicz from Rabka came into my office in Vienna to testify at a War Crimes trial. Mrs. Rawicz remembered Sammy Rosenbaum as "a frail boy, with a pale, thin face and big, dark eyes, who looked much older than his age -- as did many children who learned too early about life." Sammy was nine years old in 1939 when the Germans entered Rabka and made life a nightmare.
Sammy's father was a tailor who lived in two musty rooms and a tiny kitchen in an old house. But they were happy and religious. Every Friday night Sammy went with his father to the synagogue, after his mother and sister lit the Shabbat candles.
In 1940 the SS set up a training center in a former Polish Army barracks near Rabka. In the early phase of the war, the SS platoons shot their victims; fifty, a hundred, even a hundred and fifty people a day.
The SS men were being hardened at Rabka so they would become insensitive to blood, to the agonizing cries of women and children. The job must be done with a minimum of fuss and maximum of efficiency. That was a Fuhrerbefehl -- the Fuhrer's order.
The school commander was SS Untersturmfuhrer Wilhelm Rosenbaum from Hamburg. Cynical and brutal, he walked around with a riding crop. "His appearance frightened us," the woman from Rabka remembered.
Early in 1942, SS Rosenbaum ordered all Rabka's Jews to appear at the local school to "register." The sick and the elderly would be deported, and the others would labor for the Wehrmacht.
Toward the end of the registration, SS Fuhrer Rosenbaum appeared, accompanied by two deputies, Hermann Oder and Walter Proch. SS Fuhrer Rosenbaum read through the list of names. "Suddenly, he beat his riding crop hard on the table," the woman from Rabka told me. "We each winced as if we had been whipped." SS man Rosenbaum shouted: "What's this? Rosenbaum? Jews! How dare these verdammte Juden have my good German name?"
He threw the list on the table and strode out. We knew the Rosenbaums would be killed; it was only a matter of time. People would be executed because their name was Rosenberg, or if their first name happened to be Adolf or Hermann.
The Police school practiced executions in a clearing in the woods. SS students shot Jews and Poles rounded up by the Gestapo, while SS Fuhrer Rosenbaum observed students' reactions with clinical detachment. If a student flinched, he was removed from the execution squad and sent to the front.
After the registration, Mrs. Rawicz worked in the police school as a charwoman. "When the SS men came back from the clearing in the woods I had to clean their boots covered with blood." It was a Friday morning in June 1942. Two SS men escorted "the Jew Rosenbaum," his wife, and their fifteen-year-old daughter Paula. Behind them came SS Fuhrer Rosenbaum.
"The woman and the girl were marched around the schoolhouse and then I heard some shots," the witness said. "I saw SS man Rosenbaum beat our Rosenbaum with his riding crop, shouting: 'You dirty Jews, I'll teach you a lesson for having my German name!' Then the SS man took his revolver and shot Rosenbaum the tailor two or three times. Then the SS sent an unarmed kapo (Jewish policeman) to the quarry to get Sammy.
He went to Zakryty in a horse drawn cart. He stopped and waved at Sammy Rosenbaum. Everybody in the quarry stared -- the Jewish laborers and the SS guards. Sammy put the stone in his hands on the truck, and walked toward the cart.
Sammy looked up at the kapo. "Where are they?" he asked - "Father, Mother, and Paula. Where?" The kapo just shook his head.
Sammy understood. "They're dead." He muttered, and spoke matter-of-factly: "Our name is Rosenbaum, and now you've come for me." He stepped up and sat down next to the kapo.
The policeman had expected the boy to cry, perhaps run away. Riding out to Zakryty, the policeman wondered how he might have forewarned the boy, allow him to disappear in the woods, where the Polish underground might help him. Now it was too late. The SS guards were watching.
The kapo told Sammy what had happened that morning. Sammy asked if they could stop for a moment at his house. When they got there, he stepped down and walked into the front room, leaving the door open. He looked over the table with the half-filled teacups left from breakfast. He looked at the clock. It was half past three. Father, Mother and Paula were already buried, and no one had lit a candle for them. Slowly methodically, Sammy cleaned off the table and put the candlesticks on it.
"I could see Sammy from the outside," the kapo told Mrs. Rawicz. "He put on his skullcap, and lit the candles. Two for his father, two for his mother, two for his sister. And he prayed. I saw his lips moving. He said Kaddish for them." Kaddish is the prayer for the dead. Father Rosenbaum always said Kaddish for his dead parents, and had shown Sammy the prayer. Now he was the only one left in his family. He stood quietly, looking at the six candles.
The Jewish policeman outside saw Sammy slowly shaking his head, as though he suddenly remembered something. Then Sammy placed two more candles on the table, took a match and lit them, and prayed.
"The boy knew he was already dead," the policeman said later. "He lit the candles and said Kaddish for himself."
Sammy came out, and sat down near the kapo, who was crying. The boy didn't cry. The kapo wiped away his tears with the back of his hand and pulled the reins, but the tears kept coming. The boy didn't say a word. He gently touched the older man's arm, to comfort him -- to forgive him for taking him away.
They rode to the clearing in the woods, where SS Fuhrer Rosenbaum and his students waited.
"About time!" screamed the SS man.
No tombstone bears Sammy Rosenbaum's name. No one might have remembered him if the woman from Rabka had not come into my office. But every year, one day in June, I light two candles for him and say Kaddish.