Aleksander Landau

An engineer, managed a wood workshop in the Warsaw Ghetto – one of the forced labor companies working for the German army. Supported the Oneg Shabbat group and the Jewish Social Self-Help. During the Great Deportation to the Treblinka death camp, he offered shelter to intellectuals in his factory. During an attempt to escape occupied Poland, he fell prey to a Gestapo conspiracy.

Aleksander Landau (Aleksander Lejb Landau) came from Galicia, the southern part of Poland occupied by Austro-Hungary until 1918. For many years, he had been living in Vienna, where he was an active member of Poale Zion-Left. [1] Later, he moved to Warsaw [2] where he ran a large furniture factory together with his older brother Józef. The workshop was located in the first courtyard of the tenement house at 30 Gęsia street. Because it belonged formally to Józef, who lived in the United States, the Germans had confiscated the company in December 1941, when the US joined the war. [3] After linking the factory to the Suchowolski metal workshop next door, the wood workshop was founded – known as the Ostdeutsche Bautischlerei Werkstätte (East German Carpentry Workshops). It was one of many factories in the ghetto [4], providing supplies for the German army. They were commonly known as szopy, from English workshop, and German Schuppen (shed). Even though the owner had changed, Landau remained in a managerial position at the OBW, which turned him into one of the most influential people in the Warsaw Ghetto. [5]

Aleksander Landau with daughter Margalit, 1935 r. / The Ghetto Fighters’ House Archives, Israel

Differently to other workshop owners, Landau didn’t use his position for his own profit. [6] Wealthy Jews were ready to pay large sums to be accepted into the workshop, even though it meant, according to the Germans’ plans, slave labour. The OBW was allowed to employ 900 Jewish workers. [7] Landau supported the resistance movement, organizationally as well as financially – he donated large sums to Oneg Shabbat. [8] Above all, he provided employment to intellectuals, rabbis, members of the Jewish Social Self-Help and Oneg Shabbat, which to a certain extent protected them from deportations to Treblinka.

Młody Aleksander Landau / The Ghetto Fighters’ House Archives, Israel

Landau accept new people into the workshop even when it was full – he never turned anyone down. [9] Yet still, there were conflicts among the Jews regarding who should find shelter at the factory:

‘I’m running towards 30 Gęsia street, where my friend L’s [Landau’s – P.B.] carpentry workshop is located. On site, I see hundreds of people, including many of my friends, looking for protection from the Nazi beasts. No!! There’s no place for me there – I can see. My yesterday’s friends are looking at me in an alien, piercing way (…) [10] – wrote Menachem Mendel Kohn on 6 August 1942, during the Great Deportation to Treblinka.

It turned out that employment at the workshop gives only an illusion of safety. In summer 1942, each time the Germans came to the workshop, they selected several dozen people in order to kill them. A blockage was organized also at the Ostdeutsche Bautischlerei [Werkstätte] carpentry workshop at 30 Gęsia street, from where about 70 people were taken away, including many specialists. The Germans chose basing on one’s appearance. Those who seemed unhealthy were arrested and taken to workers’ barracks at Miła street. From there, another 60 people were taken, this time fewer women and children. They did it all the same way: a quick glance at someone’s face – this one will live, and this one will die – wrote Perec Opoczyński on 3 September 1942. [11]

Landau provided shelter to Hersz Wasser, Eliasz Gutkowski [12], Perec Opoczyński [13], Leon Ringelblum (Emanuel’s brother) and Jechiel Górny, who escaped deportation (his wife and daughter were sent to Treblinka). [14] Aside from them, he hid also communist activist Józef Lewartowski and member of the Jewish Combat Organization leadership, Józef Kapłan, until both of them were arrested and killed in a Gestapo raid. Despite this, the OBW workshop remained the most important resistance center during the Great Deportation [15]: it hosted a unit of the Hashomer Hatzair scout organization and was the first Jewish Combat Organization headquarters.

On the left: Rulebook of the Ostdeutsche Bautischlerei Werkstätte, signed by Aleksander Landau on 29th October 1942. On the same day Margalit, Landau’s daughter, took part in the assassination of Jakub Lejkin / Archiwum Ringelbluma, ARG II 38
On the right: ‘Please rescue them while there is still time!’ Letter to Aleksander Landau asking for rescue of rabbi Jechiel Meir Blumenfeld and his family from Umschlagplatz. Blumenfeld worked in the OBW workshop and managed to survive the deportation, but was shot by the Germans in the workshop two weeks later, on 15th September 1942 (Abraham Lewin’s Diary). / Archiwum Ringelbluma, ARG II 291

Aleksander Landau helped the ghetto resistance maintain contact with the so-called ‘Aryan’ side’. [16] Initially, he opposed armed combat against the Germans. According to Abraham Lewin’s writings, he participated in a secret Oneg Shabbat meeting alongside Ringelblum, Eliezer Bloch and Eliasz Gutkowski as late as 24 August 1942. [17] In the autumn of 1942, together with majority of the Oneg Shabbat leadership, he joined a committee of the JCO, collecting money to buy arms. [18]

Margalit Landau, teenage ghetto hero

One of the most outstanding young ghetto fighters was Aleksander Landau’s daughter Margalit (Emilia), born in 1925. She was a member of Hashomer Hatzair and the JCO. It was under her influence that her father became involved in the ghetto resistance. On 17 August 1942, she was placed in a transport to Treblinka, but together with her comrades, managed to cut the barbed wire blocking the train door and jump out. [19] She returned to the ghetto. On 29 October 1942, after the Great Deportation ended, she participated in the assassination of Jakub Lejkin, head of the Order Service, Jewish police in the ghetto.

Before the war, Lejkin was an attorney. Former lawyers made up 10% of the Jewish police, which numbered 2000 men. His brutality became notorious especially during the Great Deportation – according to Marek Edelman, he believed that it would help him save his family. [20] Lejkin was a grotesquely short man. [21] Despite receiving a warning phone call prior to the assassination, he followed his usual route from work to home. Margalit Landau and Mordechaj Growas tracked Lejkin down and Eliasz Różański shot him at Gęsia street. People in the ghetto rejoiced after the execution, while the Germans ignored the event. [22]

The Ringelblum Archive contains fragments of Margalit’s diary, written in Polish, from early 1942. In these notes, she appears averse towards her father.

On 18 January 1943, the Germans began another deportation – this time, 8,000 Jews were supposed to be sent to Treblinka. [23] The SS were trying to arrest people hiding illegally in the ghetto. A group of JCO fighters joined the crowd being led by the Germans towards the Umschlagplatz (the area near the railway station from where trains went to Treblinka). At the crossing of Zamenhofa and Niska streets, following a sign from Mordechaj Anielewicz (the later commander of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising), Margalit Landau threw a grenade at the Germans, triggering a gunfight. [24] 12 Germans were killed and several dozen injured. Margalit was killed on site [25], as were as all the other JCO fighters except for Anielewicz (on and around 18 January, also Icchak Giterman, Gustawa Jarecka, Abraham Lewin, Perec Opoczyński and Chaskiel Wilczyński from Oneg Shabbat were killed).

Margalit Landau in childhood / The Ghetto Fighters’ House Archives, Israel

The 18 January resistance was the first armed confrontation between the JCO and the Germans. It removed the fear of open combat and allowed for preparation for the Ghetto Uprising. Many Jews who were to be deported – at least several dozen of them – managed to run away during the shootout. Instead of intended 8,000, the group deported to Treblinka consisted eventually of 5-6,500. About 1000 people were killed on the streets. Thanks to the January self-defense, as it was called, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising enjoyed mass support of the remaining Warsaw Jewish community. [26]

Jakub Lejkin (in light-colored coat) reporting to the then chief of Jewish Ghetto Police, Józef Szeryński, May 1941 / Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-134-0792-27 / Knobloch, Ludwig / CC-BY-SA 3.0

The trap of Hotel Polski

After the Great Deportation to Treblinka, the ghetto area was significantly reduced by the Germans. The streets resembled a ‘ghost town’. The Jews were allowed to move around the remaining part of the ghetto only between workshops and with a pass. Aleksander Landau couldn’t feel safe either. On 18 January 1943, when his daughter was probably killed in combat against the Germans, he was led to the Umschlagplatz along with the rest of the workshop management, when he tried to rescue his employees. He managed to escape. [27]

In April 1943, when the Uprising began, Aleksander Landau left the ghetto together with his wife and son. He hoped to escape Europe thanks to a forged passport. In a special operation, Poles and Jews received fictional passports of neutral countries, mainly located in Central and South America, such as Paraguay, Panama, Honduras or Venezuela. They were supposed to be exchanged for German citizens staying in those countries. About 4-5,000 people came to a registration point at the Hotel Polski at 29 Długa street [28], from where they were supposed to be taken to France for exchange. Aside from Landau and his family, the group included the ghetto poet Icchak Kacenelson (his poems are stored in the Ringelblum Archive) and Szyja Rabinowicz, YIVO Institute activist before the war [29], Oneg Shabbat supporter, and roof tile factory owner. [30]

Unfortunately, Hotel Polski proved to be a Gestapo trap. South American countries questioned the authenticity of passports because they were issued by honorary consuls, who didn’t have the right to do so. Part of the people who gathered there were sent to the Pawiak prison, others to concentration camps or directly to the Auschwitz death camp. Aleksander Landau was sent to the Vittel camp in France; the Jews who stayed there still hoped for emigration – but eventually, he was transported, via Drancy, to Auschwitz. He was murdered in the gas chamber, like his brother [31] and Icchak Kacenelson.

Witnesses from Vittel recalled that Landau kept talking about his daughter. [32] Only several hundred people from the Hotel Polski had survived. This case, which led many Jews hiding in Warsaw to reveal themselves and suffer tragic death, is still subject to differing interpretations by the historians.

Postcard written in German by Aleksander Landau from the Vittel camp to Mark Trau, a relative living in Tel-Aviv, 7th June 1943 / The Ghetto Fighters’ House Archives, Israel
Footnotes:
[1] In Poland, this Zionist, Socialist organization fought against discriminating Jews and supported the idea of founding a new, equal Jewish society in Palestine. In 1920, the Poale Zion party divided itself during its 5th Conference in Vienna, when part of its delegates voted against establishing contact with the 3rd Internationale (Comintern), an organization gathering Communist parties throughout Europe, founded by Lenin in 1919. The Right faction represented moderate Socialist views. Emanuel Ringelblum, Hersz Wasser and other Oneg Shabbat members belonged to the more radical Left faction, which renounced its links to Comintern in 1924.
[2] Cywia Lubetkin, Zagłada i powstanie, transl. Maria Krych, Wydawnictwo Żydowski Instytut Historyczny – Instytut Naukowo-Badawczy/Książka i Wiedza, Warsaw 1999, p. 185.
[3] The OBW had also subsidiary workshops as 75-79 Gęsia street. Samuel D. Kassow, Kto napisze naszą historię? [Who Will Write Our History?], transl. Grażyna Waluga, Olga Zienkiewicz, Wydawnictwo Żydowski Instytut Historyczny, Warsaw 2017, p. 286.
[4] Łazarz Menes, Pamiętniki Żydów, sign. 302/223, in: The JHI Archive; title: Wspomnienia; author: Łazarz Menes, typescript.
[5] Archiwum Ringelbluma, vol. 11, Ludzie i prace “Oneg Szabat”, editors: Aleksandra Bańkowska, Tadeusz Epstein, Wydawnictwo UW/Wydawnictwo ŻIH, Warsaw 2013, p. XXV, footnote 31.
[6] S. Kassow, op. cit., p. 286.
[7] Archiwum Ringelbluma, t. 11, Ludzie i prace „Oneg Szabat”, op.cit., p. 384.
[8] S. Kassow, op. cit., p. 286.
[9] Ibidem, p. 286.
[10] Archiwum Ringelbluma, vol. 23,  Dzienniki z getta warszawskiego, ed. Katarzyna Person, Zofia Trębacz, Michał Trębacz, tranl. Sara Arm i in., Wydawnictwo UW/Wydawnictwo ŻIH, Warszawa 2015, p. 411.
[11] Archiwum Ringelbluma, vol. 31, Pisma Pereca Opoczyńskiego, transl. Daria Boniecka-Stępień i in., opracowała Monika Polit, Wydawnictwo UW/Wydawnictwo ŻIH, Warszawa 2017, p. 291.
[12] S. Kassow, op. cit., p. 281-282.
[13] Archiwum Ringelbluma, vol. 31, Pisma Pereca Opoczyńskiego, op. cit., p. XXI.
[14] Archiwum Ringelbluma, vol. 15, Wrzesień 1939. Listy kaliskie. Listy płockie, editors: Tadeusz Epsztein, Justyna Majewska, Aleksandra Bańkowska, transl. Sara Arm and others., Wydawnictwo UW/Wydawnictwo ŻIH, Warsaw 2014, p. 190-191.
[15] Source: Izrael Gutman.
[16] Adolf Berman, Wos der gojr hot mir baszert. Mit jidn in Warsze 1939-1942 [Co mi przeznaczył los. Z Żydami w Warszawie], Izrael 1980, p. 286-287:
[17] Abraham Lewin, Dziennik, transl. Adam Rutkowski, Magdalena Siek, Gennady Kulikov, edited by Katarzyna Person, Wydawnictwo ŻIH, Warsaw 2015, p. 203-204. See:S. Kassow, op. cit., p 295.
[18] S. Kassow, op. cit., p. 582-583.
[19] https://www.infocenters.co.il/gfh/notebook_ext.asp?book=28910&lang=eng&site=gfh
[20] Hanna Krall, Zdążyć przed Panem Bogiem, Kraków 1997, p. 49.
[21] Jonas Turkow, C´etait ainsi. 1939-1943 la vie dans le ghetto de Varsovie [Tak się to wydarzyło. Życie w getcie warszawskim 1939-1943], Paryż 1995, p. 115, 152. Za: http://warszawa.getto.pl/index.php?mod=view_record&rid=16071998133357000002&tid=osoby&alone=1, (26.03.2020).
[22] Ghetto Fighters House Archives,
[23] S. Kassow, op. cit., p. 586-587.
[24] S. Kassow, op. cit., p. 286; Ghetto Fighters House Archives,
[25] In this case, as in many others, the accounts vary. According to one of them, Margalit survived and died only at the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Archiwum Ringelbluma, vol. 23,  Dzienniki z getta warszawskiego, op. cit., p 201, 271 (p. 226). Cywia Lubetkin recalled that ‘Mordechaj Anielewicz and one girl survived’. Cywia Lubetkin, op. cit., p. 88-89.
[26] S. Kassow, op. cit., p. 587.
[27] Archiwum Ringelbluma, vol. 23, Dzienniki z getta warszawskiego, op. cit., p. 342-343.
[28] Archiwum Ringelbluma, vol. 11, Ludzie i prace „Oneg Szabat”, op. cit., p. 389.
[29] A research institute dedicated to Jewish culture and history, established in Vilnius in 1925. Currently located in New York.
[30] Archiwum Ringelbluma, vol. 12, Rada Żydowska w Warszawie (1939-1943), ed. Marta Janczewska, Wydawnictwo UW/Wydawnictwo ŻIH, Warszawa 2014, p. 221, p. 508.
[31] Archiwum Ringelbluma, vol. 23, Dzienniki z getta warszawskiego, op. cit., p. 343, p. 512.
[32] Za: S. Kassow, op. cit., p. 287.
Sources:
Adolf Berman, Wos der gojr hot mir baszert. Mit jidn in Warsze 1939-1942 [What the fate chose for me. With the Jews in Warsaw], Israel 1980.
Archiwum Ringelbluma, vol. 11, Ludzie i prace “Oneg Szaba”, edited by Aleksandra Bańkowska, Tadeusz Epstein, Wydawnictwo UW/Wydawnictwo ŻIH, Warsaw 2013.
Archiwum Ringelbluma, vol. 12, Rada Żydowska w Warszawie (1939-1943), edited by Marta Janczewska, Wydawnictwo UW/Wydawnictwo ŻIH, Warsaw 2014.
Archiwum Ringelbluma, vol. 15, Wrzesień 1939. Listy kaliskie. Listy płockie, edited by  Tadeusz Epsztein, Justyna Majewska, Aleksandra Bańkowska, transl. Sara Arm and others, Wydawnictwo UW/Wydawnictwo ŻIH, Warsaw 2014.
Archiwum Ringelbluma, vol. 23, Dzienniki z getta warszawskiego, edited by Katarzyna Person, Zofia Trębacz, Michał Trębacz, translated by Sara Arm and others, Wydawnictwo UW/Wydawnictwo ŻIH, Warsaw 2015.
Archiwum Ringelbluma, vol. 31, Pisma Pereca Opoczyńskiego, transl. Daria Boniecka-Stępień and others, edited by Monika Polit, Wydawnictwo UW/Wydawnictwo ŻIH, Warsaw 2017.
Samuel D. Kassow, Kto napisze naszą historię? [Who Will Write Our History?], transl. Grażyna Waluga, Olga Zienkiewicz, Wydawnictwo Żydowski Instytut Historyczny, Warsaw 2017.
Hanna Krall, Zdążyć przed Panem Bogiem, Kraków 1997.
Abraham Lewin, Dziennik, transl. Adam Rutkowski, Magdalena Siek, Gennady Kulikov, opracowanie Katarzyna Person, Wydawnictwo ŻIH, Warsaw 2015.
Cywia Lubetkin, Zagłada i powstanie, transl. Maria Krych, Wydawnictwo Żydowski Instytut Historyczny – Instytut Naukowo-Badawczy/Książka i Wiedza, Warsaw 1999.
Łazarz Menes, Pamiętniki Żydów, sign. 302/223, in: the JHI Archive; title: Wspomnienia; author: Łazarz Menes, typescript.
Jonas Turkow, C´etait ainsi. 1939-1943 la vie dans le ghetto de Varsovie [That’s how it was. Life in the Warsaw Ghetto 1939-1943], Paris 1995.