Cover image for Himmler's Jewish tailor : the story of Holocaust survivor Jacob Frank
Himmler's Jewish tailor : the story of Holocaust survivor Jacob Frank
Frank, Jacob, 1913-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Syracuse University Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
xxx, 299 pages : photographs ; 24 cm.
General Note:
Based on Mark Lewis's taped interviews with Jacob Frank.
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DS135.P63 F635 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The only survivor of his sixty-four-member family, Frank provides the only firsthand account in English of Lublin and the destruction of its Jewish quarter. Amid the horrors and everyday minutia of life under the Nazis, he reflects on the role of faith, the will to live, and the temptation of suicide. Frank also examines survivor guilt, Jewish identity, the psychology of victims and perpetrators, and the role of memory.

Author Notes

Jacob Frank was born on January 3, 1913, in Lublin, Poland. He ran away from home as a boy to become a tailor rather than fulfill his father's wish that he become a rabbi. After the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, Frank was randomly chosen to head the clothing factory at the SS-run Lipowa labor camp, managing 450 tailors by the end of 1943. His position put him in contact with such notorious SS officers as Heinrich Himmler, Adolf Eichmann, and Odilo Globocnik. A witness to the total liquidation of the significant Lublin ghetto, Frank was the only survivor of his sixty-four-member family. After Lipowa, he was interned in a prison and three other concentration camps, including Natzweiler and Dachau. He emigrated to the United States in 1946, becoming a successful clothing designer and tailor in New York City.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Jacob Frank was born in 1913 in Lublin, Poland. At 12, he ran away from home to become a tailor rather than a rabbi, as his father wished. When Germany invaded Poland, Frank was randomly chosen to head the clothing factory at the SS-run Lipowa labor camp in Lublin. His position put him in contact with such infamous Nazis as Heinrich Himmler and Adolf Eichmann. After Lipowa, Frank was interned in a prison in Lublin, in the Radom labor camp in Poland, and in the Natzweiler and Dachau concentration camps. Dachau was liberated by the U.S. Army in April 1945. Frank was the only survivor of his 64-member family, including six sisters, and he emigrated to the U.S. in 1946. Two months of interviews form the basis of this book, and Lewis wisely leaves Frank's mistakes in grammar and syntax intact. This may well be one of the most penetrating and moving records of one Holocaust survivor's ordeal ever to be published. --George Cohen

Publisher's Weekly Review

Born in 1913 and raised in Lublin, Poland, Frank survived over five years of forced labor and genocidal imprisonment in Nazi camps between 1939 and 1945. For a while he was put in charge of a camp's clothing factory, where he supervised the making of special leather coats for the Nazi elite, including Himmler and Eichmann ("the whole look was meant to terrorize you"). Novelist Lewis (Suspicions Among the Thoughts I May Contain) has crafted Frank's first-person account of his life from "two months of interviews and meetings," and from the cassettes and videotapes Frank recorded in the 1980s for Yale's Holocaust archive. Lewis and Frank's oral history method, with its hesitations, digressions and questions, seems designed to preserve Frank's idiom and his detailed process of recollection: readers can imagine the man himself speaking as he describes his slow, complicated years of persecution and horror. Frank witnessed the destruction of Lublin's Jewish ghetto: he may be (coauthor Lewis declares) "the only person to have survived the entire existence of the labor camp" called Lipowa, built inside Lublin and linked to the Majdanek death camp. Frank was later held at a camp in France, and then at Dachau. Frank's memoir stands out among Holocaust testimonies for the rarity of his experiences: Holocaust historians will want and need to know what he remembers about Lublin, Lipowa and other sites of labor and terror. Lewis's admirable introduction explains his methods, gives background and context for Frank's story and makes clear that he hopes for readers from both the community of scholars and the wider, nonacademic world: this meticulous record surely merits them. 11 photos; two maps. Agent, Barbara Brown. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One The Young Needleman     1925 When I was twelve or twelve-and-a-half years old, my father want me to be a rabbi or something more in the Jewish way of life. My upbringing was in a very Hasidic home; my father was a Talmudic, all the time with a prayer book in his hand. In the middle of the night, he used to wake up and sit by a candlelight or a kerosene light, to sit for two or three hours and to pray and to study, and then he went back to bed. I was one boy from six girls, and I was watched by him that I shouldn't do something to hurt myself or do wrong, and I went to the yeshiva . Being twelve years old, looks like, I don't know if I was so smart, but the Dean from the yeshiva said to my father that I would need to go to another yeshiva what this is a higher education there. And the higher education school was outside Lublin, about twenty or twenty-five miles, with the name Mezzrich. Mezzriche Yeshiva was known not just in Poland but in other parts of the world, because there was also there students from the United States, from England, from France, and my father wants me to go there.     My father signed me up to go away to this yeshiva, but I was very attached to my family, especially to my mother. I had six sisters, and they always was after me to watch me wherever I went, telling me to walk slow or to eat slow. Being attached so much to them, I felt this was hard to go away from them, and I couldn't take my home with me.     Before I left, my father prepared me with a whole wardrobe, the Hasidic way how I was dressed, and I was supposed to go away in a couple of days; everything was prepared. Before I had to leave Lublin, my father put me to bed that I should take a rest--I had to travel by horse and buggy for ten or fifteen hours. He undressed me and he covered me with the blanket and he went down to the synagogue to make the evening prayer. He figured when he'll come back, he'll dress me, and I had to leave by eight o'clock in the evening.     So the moment when my father left for the synagogue, I was making believe that I am sleeping, I dressed myself, and I escaped from home to an uncle of mine, my mother's brother's nephew. He was a tailor. I knew that I am doing a terrible thing to my father, but being attached to my mother and the six sisters, I couldn't take this moment to go away to be separated from them, and that's what made me escape from home. My father, when he came back and he didn't find me there ... he was very, very disturbed and very angry. He was looking for me but he didn't know where I am. Then later when he found out, in a day or two, he said I am no more his son--he don't want to see me anymore before his eyes.     I couldn't go home that my father should not see me for a year and a half. I was by the uncle; I came home only to see my mother with the sisters during the time when my father was not home--I know in the morning he went to schul, to daven, to make the prayer--so this was only the time when I could come into the house. He didn't see me; I didn't see him.     In a year and a half, I learned the tailoring trade very quick. In that time, I was about thirteen-and-a-half years old. I decide I'll leave Lublin to go to Warsaw because my father had a sister in there, and I figure I'll be able to stay with her, and from there I'll go to work already in the trade what I learn in a year and a half.     I went to Warsaw; before I left I wrote a letter that I am coming. They was waiting in the train station, they picked me up, my aunt and uncle, they was very pleased to see me, they didn't know the circumstances that I didn't see my father, and he didn't want to see me, so I came home to them. They liked me very much--they gave me a separate room for myself, we start to talk, and I tell them the story. My aunt, she became a little bit cooler from how she was an hour before, but I'm still her brother's son, so she didn't show that she is not so happy.     The next day my aunt and my uncle start to have a talk with me, what my plans are, what I want to do, when I decide to go back home. I told them that I don't think that I'll go back home because my father doesn't want to see me, and I can't stay in the house where my father doesn't want me ... "My plans are if I can stay here with you, my aunt and uncle. I am a tailor now, I learned my trade, this is already a year and a half that I am in this line, and I know very well this line, and I would like to go to a tailor to go to work. If I can stay here, I will even pay how much for food and for the room what this has to cost, because I know that if I can get a job, I will make a nice salary here"--because the wages in Warsaw for the working people was much higher than in Lublin.     She said, "Well, you have a very nice plan. This is nothing wrong to be a tailor. And I think your uncle, my husband, knows some people in this line, and he'll see to find some place for you to go to work." Didn't take too long, and in a couple of days, my uncle told me that he has somebody, he is a very, very good tailor, and if I would like he can take me there. I said, "Sure, I would love to." I came over to this tailor place, and my uncle took me in to this man, and he interviewed me and asked me what I knew about this trade. I tell him much, much more than what I really knew, but he tells me he'll try me out, and the next day I came and they gave me something to do, and it looks like he likes the work what I am doing, and I had a job.     I was there for a year and a half, and from there I went to another tailor. I told him ... what this was not true ... he asked me what I know about tailoring and I tell him I can make a jacket by myself because I know the whole trade.     But this was not true, because in the old place they didn't trust you to do work before you was ready ... you had to be on a contract for three years, and I was there only a year and a half. But I learn in a year and a half, I tried to learn the trade what another boy would have to work for three years or four years.     And I remember he said, "OK, let's see what you can do." So he told me to come the next day in the morning.     I came in, and he gave me a bundle, a jacket--what this is cut pieces--and he told me to make the jacket ... to prepare a first fitting, so everything was to order, a custom tailor.     They gave me this jacket what was already cut, and I made the first jacket, and I brought in the jacket from the shop to the showroom, where he had his desk. He was sitting there waiting where the customers came in there ... and I went in with the jacket on the hanger. He examined the jacket, and he said, "Everything looks good, but this is not so ... this is not the way what I like it to be." This is not the way from the work what he is doing, so he says, "It's not so good, but I see you have an idea, so if you'll be here for a couple a weeks or couple a months you'll learn--you'll do the way what I want you."     I was working in this place for four and a half or, I think, five years, and in that time, I was making a salary that in Lublin, they didn't believe; when I tell them how much I made a week, they said that I am a show-off, so much money I made. I used to make seventy-five zlotys, was like here seventy-five dollars a week ... like a fortune with money in that time, and I was in that time only sixteen-and-a-half years old.     But before the high holidays, I decide to go home to Lublin. Two days before Rosh Hashanah, I came to Lublin; I didn't see my father this same day. In the meantime, in all the years, I was writing to my family, I was writing also to my father. He never answered me. He couldn't forget and to forgive me for what I really did. In his way, I think, he was right. He had one boy what he was raising for all his life, and he wants me to be a rabbi, and all of a sudden I became a tailor. So the first day I didn't see him, but a day later, Erev Rosh Hashanah, my father came back from the morning prayer from the synagogue, and I was in the other room and I heard him coming in. When he was starting to eat breakfast, I went over to the table and I said, "Good morning, Father. I know that you're not so happy maybe to see me, but now that this is Erev Rosh Hashanah, a whole year, the Jew has sinned. He goes to the synagogue and he says to God, `I have sinned, and please forgive me for the wrong things through all the year.' And God is listening to him, and he is forgiving him. So I come to you, Father, I know that I did something terrible in that time, but there are so many years, I always went in the right way, I davened every day, and I'm doing my prayer every day, please forgive me what I did three or four years ago."     My father stood up from the chair, and he took me around the shoulders, and he start to cry, and he said, "You are my son. I am forgiving you. You did something that hurt me very much, but you are still my son and I loved you all the time, even when I didn't see you, and let's forget what this was. Tomorrow is the first day of Rosh Hashanah . Let's be a family together like this was before."     Twelve or thirteen years later, with this hell, when the extermination start--in the beginning, we didn't know if this is an extermination, but the conditions was very bad--and before my father went with my whole family in the line to go away, about three or four hours before, we was together, and we was talking ... they gave an order that everyone from the ghetto has to come out, and my father doesn't think that he'll see me anymore. Before they went out to go to the line, he said, "My son, I'm sure you'll be the one that'll survive and you'll tell the world what really happened with us. I don't know what will happen with us, if we are going to live or we're going to die, but I can tell you, I had the feeling, that you will be there, you will survive, and you will tell the world what really happened to us, to the Jews."     ML: When you decided to leave home, was that a momentary impulse, because you were too afraid to leave and you didn't want to leave your mother and your sisters, or did you have a plan in your mind where you were going and what you were going to do?     JF: I think I had a plan because I had boys, friends, there in the neighborhood, but they was not so religious like in my home, like I was in that time. And I was a little bit not so ... I was afraid to go away because I was attached to the family, but in the other way, I had in my mind I wouldn't want to be a rabbi or another clergyman like my father want me to be, I want to be more like the other boys. This is the answer what I can give you.     ML: That experience of deciding yourself who you wanted to be--did you ever think about that in light of your experiences in camps where choice was limited or you had no choice of what happened to you? To me there's a contrast between deciding what you can be yourself and then living in a very violent and rigorous world where it's decided for you.     JF: In that time in Europe, a father, when he told you something, you had to obey. That's how the upbringing from the religious home was. Being in that time twelve or twelve-and-a-half years old, I didn't agree with this type of thinking. At that time I was already thinking that I am entitled to say something what I want to be or to do.     ML: Later on, under the Nazis, you had no choices--you were taken to places against your will, your family was split apart--how did you see the world at that time? Did you believe that the camps operated with a Führer principle: the leader is all-important? Did you ever have feelings that this bore a resemblance to your father's authority, or did you see that here, in these later experiences, these dealings with authority were very different?     JF: I think the answer to this is, being in camp, again, you had to do what they want you to do. You couldn't decide the way what you want to do, because you couldn't escape. There was no way to escape somewhere else except if there was a way to run out from the camp, but we was living in a country what even if you run out from the camp and you'll do what you want to do--Poland was a very anti-Semite country--they'll catch you and they'll give you over to the Germans. There was no way to escape. In the time when I escaped and I was twelve or twelve-and-a-half years old, I had a way to go to an uncle, or from an uncle to go to Warsaw. I had ways where to carry out my will. But in the time from the war, if something happens, you couldn't do anything what you want to do, but you had to do what you are told to do.     When I was growing up in the city Lublin, even as a little boy, when it came to a Polish holiday, a Christian holiday, Christmas, the Jewish children was afraid to go out in the street, because we was afraid for the Polish boys what they'll beat you up or even they'll kill you, because this Polish child heard the Jews was kidnapping Polish children and that they sucked their blood for the holidays. This was the way how the Polaks brought up their children.     This was the way what I was thinking when I was a small ... in the city where I was born ... to always to be afraid. Not only this--there was times when I was already a grown-up man what I was thinking in this way. When we was walking in the street and across the street was a policeman walking, you notice you didn't do anything wrong, but you was afraid that he can accuse you that you did something wrong, to come over to arrest you or beat you up--that's the way how Jews was brought up in Poland.     ML: What do you remember as the differences between the Warsaw Jewish community and the Lublin community?     JF: The Warsaw community comparing to the Lublin Jewish community was a big difference. Warsaw was a big city; was almost a million people, or 750,000, I don't know exactly, but was more the big city, was not so anti-Semite. Maybe was the same, but they didn't show out because everybody was busy with rush, running, running, running, a little similar to New York ... in that time, the difference from a small to a big city. The Jew in Warsaw was living more freely than the Lublin Jew.     ML: Were there fewer rumors about ritual murder and Jews sucking the blood of Christians for holidays?     JF: Not what I heard in Warsaw. You see, in Warsaw, the people was more occupied to improve their lives. And to improve their lives, they had to work harder. And to work harder, they was always more occupied, not to think about other things. In the smaller places what they didn't know this better life, they had time to think about things like anti-Semitism ... what they was thinking was: if you'll think bad about the Jew, you'll take away from him, and you'll have better. If you'll make more miserable his life, you'll improve your life.     It also has a lot more to do--I am talking from Lublin, what I remember as a child--has much more to do with the teaching from the church, from the clergy about the Jews, because the Polish men or women was attached to the life of the church, and they was listening more to the priest. And the way what the clergy from the church was teaching in that time was not so good for the Jew.     ML: How do you know what the Polish clergy was teaching?     JF: How we know? Because when you was playing with the little boys, with a Polish little boy, and when he said something what made you think this is not the way what this should be, you asked him, the little boy, "Who told you that?" He said, "The priest told me this." That's how you know.     There was times not only from the little boys, when you played with them ... even much before the war broke out, in the early thirties, '31, '32, if you went to the movies, and the Jewish woman was sitting watching the movie, she was wearing a fur coat. Behind her back was sitting a Polish guy, a Polish boy, a youngster ... with a razor blade he cut. When the woman went home, she saw her fur coat, her Persian lamb coat was cut. She didn't even feel it ... but she knew somebody behind her did this. He was doing this to destroy, not to steal. Copyright © 2000 Mark Lewis. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Illustrationsp. ix
Introduction: Entering Memoryp. xi
1. The Young Needlemanp. 3
2. Tailoring in Lublinp. 10
3. Invasion, Escape, Entrapmentp. 20
4. The Lublin Ghettop. 37
5. In the Hunters' Lair: The Lipowa Labor Campp. 47
6. The Lipowa Tailor Shop: Shop Operations, Management, and Atmospherep. 57
7. Dialogue on Brutalityp. 65
8. The First Leather Coatp. 73
9. The Tailor's Measurementsp. 80
10. Majdanekp. 88
11. Crocodiles in the False Wallsp. 92
12. Hangings, Attitudes, and Suicidep. 95
13. The Impossible Does Not Existp. 99
14. The Photographerp. 109
15. The Steam Bathp. 112
16. The Mavenp. 114
17. Eichmannp. 119
18. The Liquidation of the Lublin Ghettop. 124
19. Majdan-Tatarskyp. 130
20. Officersp. 135
21. The Airport Rebellionp. 146
22. Schama Grajerp. 151
23. Schama Grajer's Weddingp. 154
24. The Liquidation of Majdan-Tatarskyp. 160
25. Dora and Nunyekp. 169
26. Dora's Returnp. 180
27. The Lublin Prisonp. 183
28. The Safe Haven of Despairp. 204
29. The Chicken Coopp. 214
30. "This Is the Last Stop of Your Life"p. 222
31. A Contact from Insidep. 228
32. The Dachau Showerp. 240
33. The Remainsp. 253
34. The Reversalp. 257
35. The Mobp. 265
36. The Consequences of the Gela Laterp. 273
37. Final Words and Thoughtsp. 282
Referencesp. 291
Indexp. 293