Micha (Mechel) Simon was born on 11 June 1941 in Berlin. His parents named him after his grandfather Michaelis Leschnik, who had taken his own life in desperation after the November pogrom. But the Nazis’ name-changing law of August 1938 severely restricted the options for Jewish parents naming their children and Micha’s parents, Käthe and Leopold Simon, were not allowed to call him Micha. They were forced to choose from a list of supposedly Jewish names, designed to make children easily identifiable as Jewish, and opted for ‘Mechel’ as this was closest to the name Micha. On the memorial stone that Heinz’s aunt Irene Zimmt had erected after the war for Michaelis Lechnik and his family on the Jewish Cemetery, the name ‘Micha’ appears, not ‘Mechel’.
We don’t know whether Micha’s parents still managed to observe the traditional household rituals at this point, as Jewish lives were subject to extremely severe constraints. Micha and his parents and two elder siblings, Heinz and Erika, were forced to live in rooms let by a Jewish butcher on Oranienburger Straße. A friend of his mother described the compulsory living quarters as “the smokerooms of a slaughterhouse”.
The older Micha became, the worse the situation around him was. In January 1942, his great aunt committed suicide to escape her imminent deportation. Then in June 1942 his grandmother was deported to Sobibor. Micha perhaps sensed his parents’ concern at not receiving any news from his grandmother afterwards. But the event which must have upset him most was the arrest of his mother Käthe, who was remanded in custody in Moabit in December 1942, because she had organized a place to stay for a resistance fighter of the Herbert Baum group who had gone underground.
At the same time, his father Leopold was made to perform forced labour. During the day, his ten-year-old sister Erika, the eldest of the children, probably had to take care of her younger siblings alone. But worse was still to come. On 27 February 1943, during the Nazis’ “factory campaign”, Leopold Simon was arrested, probably at his workplace, and taken to an assembly camp. Micha and his sister and brother were left on their own without any news from their father for several days, as they were not collected from the apartment until shortly before their deportation. They and their father were deported to Auschwitz on 1 March 1943. But that is not to say they were together as they travelled to their deaths: Leopold was entered as number 336 on the transport list while the children had the numbers 1839-1841. Micha and his siblings, and his father too, were murdered immediately on arrival in Auschwitz.
Micha’s mother Käthe was deported from prison to Auschwitz. Her sister recognized her on a photo of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp but that was the last that was seen or heard of her.