Title: My destiny - an autobiography
Author: Emanuel Wajnblum
Publisher: Self Published
Place of publication: Melbourne
Year of Publication: 1998
Location of Book: Makor Jewish Community Library, Melbourne Jewish Community Library, Melbourne
Cities/town/camps: Poland: Bedzin, Sakrau, Czechoslovakia: Karvina, Gleiwitz, Germany: Blechhammer, Grossrosen, Buchenwald, Switzerland: Berne
Note: those cities/towns/camps underlined are those which are most central to the narrative
My Destiny, a whole life autobiography of Emanuel Wajnblum, gives a detailed account of pre-war life in Poland, life under Nazi occupation and Wajnblum’s subsequent years in Switzerland and Australia. 16 pages are dedicated to life in the Polish town of Bedzin, Wajnblum’s home town, before the war. 77 pages describe Wajnblum’s experiences in his hometown after the Nazi occupation began. The succeeding 64 pages depict life in various labour camps, culminating in the time Wajnblum spent in Blechhammer from September 1943 until January 1945. 40 pages describe the “death march” that took him to the Buchenwald concentration camp, and his time spent there. The final 153 pages tell of liberation from Buchenwald in April 1945, and the years after the war – at first in Switzerland and later, in Australia. My Destiny was published late in Wajnblum’s life, in 1997.
Wajnblum was 13 years old when war broke out in September 1939. His family was in the woodworking business and his skills in that trade helped him to survive the war. Wajnblum’s youth meant that he was not closely associated with any political party, but his father was a member of the religious-Zionist ‘Mizrachi’ movement. Bedzin, the town in which Wajnblum’s family lived, was 80% Jewish. Relations with neighbouring non-Jews were relatively good, although anti-Semitic incidents grew in frequency in the lead-up to the war.
In the time between the start of the war in September 1939 and April 1943, the Jewish residents of Bedzin lived in terror under Nazi occupation. The factory owned by Wajnblum’s father was requisitioned and came under the control of a Nazi treuhandler (trustee) by the name of Mr. Gosierowski. A Judenrat was appointed in the town and made responsible, together with the Nazi-appointed ‘Jewish militia’, for organising deportations of Jews to the concentration camps. Wajnblum states that he harbours no grudge against the Jewish militia, as he does not recall any of them committing wanton acts of cruelty. He does, however, criticise in strong terms the acts of the president of all district Judenrat, Mr Meryn. Wajnblum describes meetings called by Mr Meryn in which he convincingly and articulately portrayed himself as a saviour of the Jews of the area, whilst encouraging people to help him round up Jews for deportation. Mr Meryn himself was ultimately executed by the Nazis.
From April 1943 until liberation in April 1945, Wajnblum was incarcerated in a number of forced labour camps and concentration camps. Some of his experiences were more bearable than others, often depending upon the leadership within the camp, both Nazi and Jewish. In Karvina, Wajnblum came across one of the harshest of leaders, Salek Meller, the ‘Jewish leader’ of the camp. Wajnblum states that the cruelty of Meller outdid that of the SA commander of the camp. When an opportunity came to transfer, Wajnblum seized it and wound up in Blechhammer. There, Karl Demerer was head of the Jewish leadership, and he, according to Wajnblum, worked to protect his fellow inmates. On one occasion when Wajnblum was standing out of line, a German officer drew his gun. Dememer stepped in and took control, ‘flogging’ Wajnblum so that he wouldn’t be shot. Wajnblum relates that he had to pretend to be in pain as in fact, Dememer was not flogging him properly. The evacuation of Blechhammer led to the ‘death marches’ of all inmates further into Germany. Wajnblum now found himself at Buchenwald, but after a relatively short period of time, Buchenwald was also evacuated, and mass executions took place. A kind Blockälster, a German political prisoner, allowed Wajnblum and several others to remain hidden in the camp until liberation.
On April 11, 1945, Buchenwald was liberated by the Americans. Soon after, inmates of the camp began looking for countries to take them in. This was hardest for the Jewish inmates; most others were repatriated to their countries of origin. Eventually, Wajnblum managed to get to Switzerland, where he began recuperating and rebuilding his physical and metal health. Wajnblum later made two return trips to Poland, in 1947 and 1948, to locate family members. His subsequent emigration to Australia in 1951 led Wajnblum to Melbourne where he has remained ever since.
Wajnblum’s book is well written and comprehensive. He provides some historical background and context in certain parts of the book, but never too much, so the book’s focus remains on his experiences. In some parts of the book, Wajnblum takes advantage of the fifty years of hindsight which he now has in order to analyse events and their significance. Professor Peter Baume accurately sums up in his comments to the book: “That you lived through this horror and that you have written so elegantly is a tribute to you many times over.”