Holocaust Survivors' Network

Auschwitz Survivor Nathan Kalman


By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 26, 2005


Nathan Kalman, 94, a Rockville resident, died of pneumonia at Suburban Hospital on Jan. 15, nearly 60 years after walking out of a forced-labor camp as an emaciated, lice-ridden survivor of Nazi horrors in the Lodz (Poland) ghetto, in the Auschwitz concentration camp and at the Gorlitz forced-labor camp.

Mr. Kalman, who arrived in the United States in 1950, told his daughter over the years about his experiences. Last year, she began to record them for posterity.


Nathan and Hannah Finer Rosenthal Kalman survived Nazi death camps.

He recalled, for example, the summer of 1942, when he was lined up against a brick wall just outside the Lodz ghetto while two German guards prepared to execute him. He had slipped through a fence while scavenging for desperately needed firewood; the guards presumed he was trying to escape.

As he begged to be allowed to see his year-old son once more, one of the guards took out a sword and began beating him about the head and body. The guard ordered him to run, all the while beating him with the sword. His family, believing he was dead, gave thanks upon his return.

One night at Auschwitz a couple of years later, lying in a wooden bunk wedged in among many others, Mr. Kalman found it impossible to sleep. A man above him rolled over in his sleep, and a crust of moldy, lice-infested bread dropped from his breast pocket into Mr. Kalman's hand. Starving, he held this "manna from heaven" to his nose to savor the smell and agonized over what to do. At last, he decided he could not take the other man's sustenance.

Meanwhile, the man above him woke up, discovered his loss and began screaming. Mr. Kalman tried to quiet him, reminding him that both would be hanged or shot by their guards, who made no distinction between Jewish victims and Jewish thieves. Mr. Kalman folded the crust of bread back into his hands, and the guards remained unaware.

Nathan Kalman was born Nussan Nutta Kalmanowicz in Lodz, a city in central Poland with the second-largest Jewish community in Europe before the Nazi invasion. As a youngster, he attended a private school -- half-day Hebrew, half-day Polish -- but had to drop out as a teenager to help support his family. In his early twenties, he got involved with the Zionist organization in Lodz and resolved to go to Israel.

He also met and fell in love with Hannah Finer; they made plans to immigrate to what was then Palestine. Mr. Kalman was impressed with the young woman's plan to set aside money so that both sets of parents could accompany them.

In 1934, he moved to Krakow to learn Hebrew and to prepare for the move. Alas, his betrothed married someone else while he was away. Heartbroken, he returned to Lodz, where he found solace when a matchmaker linked him to Basha Kramerz, a woman he hardly knew who lived in his apartment building. They married in 1939.

The couple was forced into the Lodz ghetto in May 1940, where Mr. Kalman, perpetually hungry and near death from exhaustion, cleaned streets, unloaded coal trucks and demolished Jewish homes. He also worked in a toy factory, despairing that his own infant son had nothing, certainly not toys.

Mr. Kalman and his wife were transported to Auschwitz in railroad cattle cars in August 1944; their 2-year-old son had been transported earlier and no doubt died en route. Entering the camp, Mr. Kalman was separated from his wife, who was slain shortly thereafter. He was selected for work rather than for the gas chamber.

After six or seven weeks in Auschwitz, he was sent on a forced march to Gorlitz, with about 70 Jewish prisoners dying of exhaustion and hunger along the way. Russian soldiers liberated the camp on May 15, 1945. Near starvation, Mr. Kalman was given a potato.

Making his way back to Lodz, he discovered that Hannah Finer Rosenthal, his first love, also had survived Auschwitz -- indeed had escaped, by sheer luck, being incinerated in Josef Mengele's crematorium. They married on Jan. 1, 1947, picking the date in memory of Mr. Kalman's first marriage to Basha Kramerz.

When they arrived in the United States in 1950, they intended to join a relative in Roxbury, Mass., but, unable to speak English, they mistakenly took the train to a similar-sounding city, Wilkes Barre, Pa. They both got factory jobs, sewing, at Scranton Garments, where they worked until 1964.

They moved to Tucson when Mr. Kalman discovered he had a dormant strain of tuberculosis, which he had acquired in the concentration camp. (Had it appeared while he was in the camp, he would have been killed instantly.) For six years, he and his wife worked as garment workers for Debbie Manufacturing in Tucson.

In 1970, the couple retired and realized their decades-old dream of immigrating to Israel. For 20 years -- "the happiest 20 years of their lives," their daughter said -- they lived in Arad.

They moved back to the United States, to the Revitz House in Rockville, in 1990, for health reasons. They were active in Revitz House religious activities, collected donations for Israel and Holocaust survivor causes and provided hours of tapes about their experiences to Steven Spielberg's Shoah project and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Hannah Finer Rosenthal Kalman died in 2000, and Mr. Kalman moved into Hebrew Home in Rockville.

Survivors include two children from Mr. Kalman's second marriage, Max Kalmanowicz of New York and Malka Pattison of Reston; and four grandsons.


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