Viktor Kremin – A Schindler in Lublin? / Brigitte Waks

The first time I ever heard the name “Viktor Kremin” was when I read the testimony left by my dad’s cousin, Esther Arenzon, born Halberstadt. I always considered her as my aunt and we used to call her Estusha.  Every summer she came from Tel-Aviv to us in Paris, and we used to spend the holidays together.

 

Estusha’s testimony was found at her home after she died. Nobody knew that she had been interviewed by Yad Vashem, and for me, finding out about her life during the war was a great surprise.  She never told anyone how she had managed to survive, first in the Lublin ghetto and then, hidden somewhere in Warsaw.

Her testimony starts in the spring of 1942.  At the time she was living in the Lublin ghetto, never sleeping in the same place, constantly on the move.  One night, she received a letter from her father asking her to leave the ghetto as soon as she could, and to take refuge in the tannery factory owned by her uncle Waks in the suburb of Lublin.  (It was my grandfather, Haim Eleasar Waks’ factory).  Unfortunately, once she got there, no one let her in, but her cousin (I could not identify who this cousin was.) took her to one of the factory’s Polish workmen where she spent the night. The following day, a messenger, sent by her uncle Waks arrived to take her to Warsaw where most of the Waks family had been staying for a few months. She would never see her father again, as he was deported that very same day from the Lublin ghetto – probably to Belzec.

In Warsaw, she stayed with the Waks family and incredibly, even managed to get a job in the Toebbens’ factory as a dressmaker. But as daily selections for deportation among the workers intensified, led by the factory director Toebbens himself, she made the bold decision to go back to Lublin, where her husband, Mojzesz Tycochinski was still living.

She took the train alone, and once in Lublin, managed to sneak under the barbed wire and enter the Majdan Tatarski ghetto.  This ghetto had been established after the liquidation of the Lublin ghetto in April 1942 with about 4,000 remaining Jewish workers.  She stayed there for two nights, but as she did not have any identity papers, she realised that she would never get away from the constant threat led by a Nazi called Bomb who would visit the ghetto everyday with his dog to flush out all “illegal” Jews.  As she had no other option, she decided to run away from the ghetto and get to the Kremin factory on Florianska Street where her husband still worked.

What was this factory that she mentioned in her testimony? And who was this Kremin?

Viktor Kremin was one of the “Treuhanders”, who (similar to Toebbens or Schindler) followed the German army’s advance and took over the Jewish companies and assets in the General Government. There, they would force Jewish prisoners, considered slaves, to work in those factories.  As Jews were considered to “belong” to the SS, the Treuhanders, as corporate managers had to pay a fee for each Jew the SS would give them. The Jews who worked in the factories would receive a bowl of soup and a piece of bread every day. It is obvious that the profit made by those industries were huge.  Expropriations were carried by an agency attached to the General Government led by Hans Frank .

Before the war, Viktor Kremin had owned a company in Berlin. His name is mentioned on a list established by the law firm, Cohen & Milstein, who brought legal action against several German companies for illegal litigation, slavery and forced labour after WWII.  Kremin’s name is also listed in the directory of places of detention and forced labor the in the Bundesarchives, the German State Archives.

Viktor Kremin’s company expropriated the Jewish companies in the districts of Radom, Lublin and Galicia that specialized in the collection of glass, iron, paper and rags. He had a monopoly on the recycling of all this industrial waste. He kept the former Jewish owners and their workers in place, in order to benefit from their knowledge and experience in the recycling process.  As a result, numerous workers were temporarily saved from deportation.

According to Irena Gewerc-Gottlieb’s testimony, Kremin managed 3 recycling and reuse factories in the Lublin area.  The first one was located on Kalinowszczyzna Street and processed used textiles and clothing.  The second, on Pierswego Maja Street, was the iron recycling factory owned by Irena Gewerc’s father and the third one, in Zamocs, specialized in glass recycling.  We also need to add the factory on Florianska Street mentioned in Esther Arenzon’s testimony.

Viktor Kremin also went to Lwow after the Germans occupied the town in June 1941.

Sophie Kimelman-Rosen, another survivor, testified that during the spring of 1942, she and her parents registered to work in a recycling plant owned by Viktor Kremin in Lwow.  They received a work permit, stipulating that they were “Workers Vital for Economy”.   She and her father, together with other girls of her age worked there.  She escaped deportation and several SS raids in August 1942 thanks to this permit.  She worked there until the spring of 1943. One day, warned about the liquidation to come, she left the ghetto as she always did, thanks to her work permit, but instead of heading to work, she took off her armband with the Jewish star and went back to her former apartment and hid in a hiding place they had prepared with the help of a Wehrmacht officer to whom they had “given” their apartment.

Alicia Melamed Adams, another survivor, testified that she and her parents had survived until July 24, 1943 in a small camp in Drohobycz in Galicia where they worked for Viktor Kremin in a factory specializing in the collection of iron and rags.  One day, the Gestapo held a raid on the factory and took all the Jews to a local prison.  From there, as they were loaded onto a lorry to be taken and shot dead in the Bronica Woods, a young man, the son of a tailor working for the Gestapo intervened and saved her.  She was sent to work with this young man and his parents for the Gestapo.

The prisoners of another camp in Brzezany in Galicia worked for Viktor Kremin’s firm from January 1943 until June 12, 1943, according to the Erinnerung Verantwortung Zukunft foundation’s directory of places of detention.

It is impossible to evaluate the number of persons who worked in Kremin’s various factories.  In the Lublin archives one can find a few lists of the workers – such as the one included in this article. Among the 37 names on this workers list, under the numbers 27, 28, 29, and 30, the Tycochinski family name appears, including Mojzesz Tycochinski who was my aunt Esther Arenzon’s first husband.

I know nothing about Viktor Kremin’s life before the war and what kind of a man he was.

All I know is how he has been described by Esther Arenzon in her testimony.  Let us listen to her.

…”Where did I go? I went to Florianska Street to the Kremin factory, where my husband worked. I didn’t want to put him in danger and so, I stayed away from him – at that time, I had no other choice.”

…“I got a job at Kremin’s factory and was allowed to stay there.  It was an enormous bit of luck.  My job was to wash the rags saturated with sweat and coagulated blood.  We lived in barracks.  The Jews who worked for Kremin were objects of general envy.  Kremin himself said from time to time that “his” Jews would survive and stay alive.  To tell the truth, that German never betrayed anyone and did everything he could to save us.  More than once he warned us about a selection to come.”…

Irena Gewerc-Gottlib tells a similar story in her testimony:

… ”Kremin, the commissionaire who had taken our factory, employed my father.  He was a very good man.  He helped many of us.  With this work, my father received a work permit (J-Ausweiss).   We too were hired in the factory and granted a J-Ausweiss.….  We lived in the ghetto, Majdan Tatarski, near Lublin where the Germans organized frequent selections for death.  Kremin, with whom we worked, was a friend of the chief of police and SS Globocnik.  He informed us each time a selection was about to take place in Majdan Tatarski.  He also warned us that the Germans would liquidate all the Jews of Lublin in 1943 and told us to escape.  We, my father, my sister and my aunt, escaped in May 1943 to Warsaw.”…

Robert Kuwalek, in his book “Lublin Jews in the Concentration Camp of Majdanek“, mentions Ida  Rapaport-Glickstein’s testimony which expresses the same sentiments:

…”Kremin was a German commissionaire of Jewish enterprises who dealt with waste recycling.  Groups of Jewish slaves worked for him for long periods.  They were considered privileged, safe from actions.  A large number of people from these groups could escape in emergency and survived”…

…”Kremin was considered someone apart, a friend of SS Globocnik , and thus very well informed of the SS’s plans in Lublin.  People testified that he warned the Jews of the selections to come in the ghetto and that he even obtained the liberation of prisoners already in Majdanek.  It can be useful to mention this because this man, being a German, helped a number of persons and saved them”…

  Let us go back to Esther Arenzon’s testimony, as she worked in the factory on Florianska  Street :

…”We were led to believe that Kremin’s factory was essential for the Germans and would never be liquidated.  Our illusions were frustrated after the Majdan Tatarski ghetto was liquidated in November 1942.  Some workers were still working in Lublin’s jail, at a labor camp on Lipowa Street # 7 and we at Kremin’s “…

…”The factory was reduced and liquidated.  All the time one SS named Kalich came and demanded new lists of people to be deported.  Kremin always warned people that he had placed on the list ahead of time and alluded that they should try to save themselves.  But where to go?  How to save oneself?  When we asked for advice, Kremin shrugged his shoulders.  He could not help us and we understood him”…

…”One day, he warned us that Kalich was coming and read aloud to us the names on the list.  I heard my name.  I fell on my knees crying:  ”I want to live!”   I cried and kissed his hands.  What to do?  I could not go out because the first German or Pole I would meet would bring me straight to the Gestapo”…

…”Suddenly I noticed a worker named Grun putting a ladder close to the wall where a cockloft was and helping his parents reach it.  I ran to them but some others did. Everybody started pushing each other in order to get there… somehow I pushed myself up into the cockloft.  There were about 30 men and women there…

…Soon Kalich came with some Gestapo and Ukrainian men.  Kremin told everybody to gather in the courtyard… First there was an order for all Jews to lie down on the ground with their faces down and hands behind their back.  Then we heard shootings, the cries and groans of the wounded.  Then screams: “raus,raus los!”… the sound of trucks, the blows of rifle butts, and then a silence.  We all were laying down holding our breath… After a moment we heard Kalich together with Kremin in our building right under us.  ”Ist jemand da?” he cried.  Kremin assured him that nobody else was there, that nobody could hide himself there”…

…”Kalich fired a couple of shots into the ceiling on which we were laying, but it didn’t perforate the beams and nobody was hurt…  At the end, a boy came to the factory, calling the name of his mother, who was hiding among us.  At this point, we answered and went down from the cockloft… Mr Grun survived the war as well as Steigel… and Mrs Feldman” …

…”I left the cockloft almost fainting, dusty, dirty, unlike myself.  My husband’s name had not been on the list and he was saved.  He said:  “Go away, you can’t stay here” … I cried, ”I have nowhere to go”… At the end, he pushed me out of the gate of the factory, and in the last moment threw a handbag into my hands in which later on I found some clothes and money… I was left all alone on the empty streets ”…

That is how Esther Arenzon finishes her account about her stay at Kremin’s factory.

It seems obvious according this that Viktor Kremin saved her life as well as a few others.

My aunt succeeded to survive after many other dramatic episodes showing an incredible courage. She fought for her life and was helped by a few other human beings who, by doing so also risked their own lives.

As for Viktor Kremin, he survived the war and according to my aunt, was jailed in Lodz in 1946 for collaboration with the Germans.  During the trial he was set free because many Jews testified in his favor and said that he cared as much as he could for the Jews who worked for him.

Esther came to visit him after the war; they embraced each other, and Kremin told her that all the Jews had been taken from the factory to Majdanek.

Viktor Kremin did not go as far as Oscar Schindler who had succeeded in saving “his” Jews.

Schindler is a unique case of a man who risked his life, spent his last penny bribing the SS, buying the life of “his” Jews, moving his factory and changing the production, only in order to save his workers.  He was jailed twice, but always succeeded in being released thanks to his contacts with high-ranking officials.  It was proven that he spent over 4 million marks to keep “his” Jews alive.  In 1962, Schindler was honored by Israel as a righteous among the nations.

Even if Victor Kremin cannot compete with this, still I think that I have to pay tribute to his human attitude toward his workers which saved my aunt.

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