In the 70 years following his liberation from the Nazis, Esse Goldberg was never reticent to tell his story.
Unlike other survivors, Esse Goldberg did not spare any details about his experiences in Nazi concentration camps, which included Auschwitz-Birkenau and Buchenwald.
Sheldon Goldberg, Esse’s son, recalls many of the details told by his late father: the roll calls outside the barracks in Birkenau that could last two or three hours in the middle of a particularly frigid winter; witnessing the cold-blooded shooting of a prisoner who was not at the barracks at the appointed time; the menial labour he was forced to perform in the camp; and surviving the January 1945 death march from Auschwitz into Germany.
But Goldberg had no idea that his father told the Nazis at Auschwitz that he was an apprentice carpenter, or that he signed a registration document when he arrived at the camp. He learned of these new details after receiving documentation from the Auschwitz Museum Archives and the Arolsen Archives.
Goldberg visited Auschwitz in October 2019, a little more than a year after his father died in the summer of 2018 at age 95. “I wanted to see what my dad went through and see all the places I’d heard about since I was a child,” he said.
Following a tour of the camp, he made his way to the Auschwitz Museum Archives and requested whatever information was available about his father.
The museum provided some information on the spot, but he had to wait a few weeks for a full report to be delivered to his home in Toronto.
It turns out that the Nazi SS was meticulous in keeping records. The archives contain a document signed by his father when he arrived at the camp on January 30, 1943. Seeing that was a shock: “Just to look at the signature was, oh my God. In January 1943!” he said.
The registration document his father signed included details like his height, weight, eye colour, place of birth, age, occupation, his parents’ names, plus some weird racial elements like the shape of his nose.
What most startled Goldberg was that his father’s given name was Israel (sometimes listed as “Iser” or “Izer”). All his life, his father had gone by the name Esse. “Probably Israel was changed to Esse,” Goldberg suggested.
As for his stated occupation, that also came as news to Goldberg. “He never told us he wanted to be a carpenter,” he said, adding that his father likely chose an occupation he thought would make him valuable to the Nazis.
For Goldberg, the visit to Auschwitz reinforced many of the stories told by his father. The tour guide noted that prisoners who were late for roll call were shot on the spot, just as his father had described.
On arrival, his father was given the number 98893, which was tattooed on his left arm. When they were children, Goldberg’s sister, Barbara, would ask her father, “What’s that number?”
His father would say it’s his phone number, Goldberg recalled.
But that number proved valuable when he made inquiries to the Arolsen Archives, which houses vast quantities of wartime and postwar documents.
It was recorded by officials at Buchenwald when his father, and others with the name Goldberg, arrived from Auschwitz on Jan. 22, 1945. “It’s amazing,” Goldberg said. “My wife was saying, ‘they tried to eliminate the (Jewish) race, yet they kept personal records.’ ”
Goldberg shared his findings with family members and news of his findings spread quickly. Many are curious about their own parents’ experiences and Goldberg wants them to know the case is not necessarily closed when it comes to learning more about their lives.
The database at Arolsen is fairly well known, but people should know that there is good information to be had from the Auschwitz Museum Archives, as well, he said. “The reason I’m doing this is to educate more people, to get more information about their parents.”
Unfortunately, his father is no longer around to explain some of what he’s learned. “I think about it constantly, how having that information while he was alive would have been the icing on the cake. To show him his signature, not knowing that his birth name was Israel, (that he was) an apprentice carpenter, all of which were never discussed while he was my father,” said Goldberg.
“It’s a very weird feeling and gives me goose bumps thinking that this information can never be discussed with him and how I feel that I didn’t do this trip earlier in my life.”
For more information, contact Sheldon Goldberg at [email protected].