Berl Hirschfeld was born on 16 December 1942 in Berlin. On 18 May 1943, aged five months, he was deported to Theresienstadt with the “88th transport of the elderly”, and to Auschwitz on 6 October 1944. Who was this child who was deported without his parents and spent almost his entire short life in the Theresienstadt ghetto?
Berl Hirschfeld was “no. 10” on the transport list; birthplace, Berlin; address, Krausnick Straße 8. No other people named Hirschfeld were sent on the transport, but two women listed, Ida and Alice Wielzynski, had the same address. The infant Berl was very probably taken to the assembly camp along with these two women.
Ida and Alice Wielzynski are listed as victims in the 1995 Berlin Commemorative Book but do not appear either in the new edition or in the online Commemorative Book. Neither do their names appear in any other relevant sources. Records show that all 100 deportees who left Berlin on 18 May 1943 arrived in Theresienstadt, and 14 of them survived the camp. Were Ida and Alice Wielzynski perhaps among the survivors?
During the search for clues, another lead proved more fruitful: Among the deportees from Berlin named Hirschfeld listed in the online Commemorative Book, there is a Dorothea Hirschfeld, née Mielzynski, who was deported on 4 August 1943 on the “95th transport of the elderly” to Theresienstadt ghetto and on 6 October 1944 to Auschwitz – the same day as Berl Hirschfeld. Is it possible that the names were incorrectly noted on the transport list?
A review of the transport list showed the following: 70 people, mostly staff of the Jewish Community and the Jewish hospital in Iranische Straße, and “half-Jews”, were deported on 4 August 1943 to Theresienstadt on the “95th transport of the elderly”. The list of transportees included Martin Hirschfeld, born on 12 June 1908, resident in Berlin, Krausnick Straße 8, and a “long-term JKV (Jüdische Kultusvereinigung, ‘Jewish religious federation’) employee and regular steward in assembly camp”, and Dorothea Hirschfeld, née Mielzynski, born on 2 January 1907, resident in Berlin, Krausnick Straße 8, “wife of no. 13 & staff member in assembly camp”. They were probably Berl Hirschfeld’s parents. Moreover, in Yad Vashem, there are pages of testimony for Martin and Dorothea Hirschfeld and their (unnamed) small son, dedicated to them by a distant relative.
With information gleaned from the pages of testimony and the Berlin compensation office, the following family history was reconstructed:
Berl’s father, Martin Hirschfeld, was born in Osche, in the East Prussian district of Schwetz (now Osie, Poland), the youngest child of Adolf Hirschfeld (1876-1952) and his wife Johanna Hedwig, née Rosenberg (1873-1945). The family moved to Berlin in around 1920. Martin Hirschfeld had three older siblings: a sister Else (born 1900), who later married Arthur Israel, and his brothers Herbert (born 1902) and Leopold (born 1904). In around 1931, Martin Hirschfeld started working for the Berlin Jewish Community, initially for the youth care office, as the director of a children’s home on the Winkel country estate. Later he accompanied children fleeing to England on ‘kindertransports’. When the assembly camps were set up in Berlin to prepare for deportation, Martin Hirschfeld was commandeered to run the camp in Große Hamburger Straße.
Berl’s mother, Dorothea Mielzynski, was the daughter of Robert Mielzynski, a tailor, and his wife Ida, née Budzuslawski (see Ida Wielzynski). She had a sister Alice (see Alice Wielzynski), who was two years older than her, and a younger sister, Babette, born in 1912. The date that Dorothea Mielzynski and Martin Hirschfeld were married could not be conclusively established, but it must have been in the late 1930s. At the time of the census, in May 1939, Martin and Dorothea Hirschfeld lived at Linien Straße 239, as did Ida and Alice Mielzynski. Martin Hirschfeld was listed as resident here, occupation “warden”, in the Berlin directories of 1938-1940. Dorothea and Martin Hirschfeld probably married in around 1937 before taking the apartment at Linien Straße 289 and subsequently moving in with Ida and Alice Mielzynski in 1941. Their last home was at Krausnick Straße 8, which they also shared with Ida and Alice Mielzynski. They lived here as subtenants and were no longer personally entered in the Berlin directory.
They named their son, born on 16 December 1942, Peter. However, after 1939, the Nazis imposed severe restrictions on names for Jewish children. If they were given a name that was not classified as “typically Jewish”, they were required by law to take the additional name Sara (for girls) or Israel (for boys). Probably for this reason, the Hirschfelds’ son was officially registered as Berl Hirschfeld.
Martin and Dorothea Hirschfeld were both employed as assembly camp auxiliaries – probably in Große Hamburger Straße. Their newborn son was looked after by his grandmother Ida Mielzynski, who lived with them and her daughter Alice at Krausnick Straße 8. When Ida and Alice were taken to the Große Hamburger Straße assembly camp on 10 May 1943, baby Peter was sent with them. His mother was in hospital with diphtheria at the time and unable to look after him. It is likely that his father Martin Hirschfeld had to fill out the deportation documents. Perhaps that explains the mistakes in them – a bid to obscure the family members’ identities.
On 18 May the infant was deported with his grandmother and aunt to Theresienstadt. For two-and-a-half months he was cared for by Ida Mielzynski in the nursery in Theresienstadt, where Ida looked after several small children. On 4 August 1943, his parents Martin and Dorothea Hirschfeld arrived in Theresienstadt. The family survived over a year in the ghetto. On 29 September 1944, Martin Hirschfeld was deported to Auschwitz; on 6 October, his wife Dorothea and son Peter, who was not yet two years old, were sent there. They were probably all murdered on arrival.
Peter’s paternal grandparents, Johanna and Adolf Hirschfeld, were also deported to Theresienstadt, on 3 September 1942. It is possible that they saw their grandson again there. Johanna Hirschfeld died in the camp shortly before the war ended; Adolf Hirschfeld survived. He died in 1952 in the Jewish hospital in Berlin. Of Peter’s paternal uncles and aunts, only Herbert Hirschfeld survived, having managed to flee to Palestine. Peter’s maternal aunt Babette Mielzynski (married name: Hoier) also succeeded in emigrating with her husband and child in 1939.