Viewing entries tagged
Concentration Camp Survival

2 Comments

A Stone's Throw

Auschwitz Train Entrance

In August of 1944 the Lodz ghetto of Poland was liquidated. That meant all the Jews were sent to Auschwitz. But the Germans kept my father and the people in his factory together. The officer in charge told my father his group was ultimately going to be sent to a Siemens factory in Germany. Apparently my father had created such an efficient team that the Germans wanted to keep them intact.

When they arrived at Auschwitz my father's group was not processed like most prisoners meaning; children and any one frail right to gas chambers, the others shaved, tattooed. etc.  They kept my father's group sitting on grassy hill. The other prisoners who worked for the Germans were stunned. They had never seen something like this before.

A German officer finally came with soldiers who carried a bunch of stuff. The German officer would hold up an item and ask if my father's group could make such a thing.  Eventually the men and women were separated into their individual camps, however for the next 5 days they all remained unassigned in Auschwitz.

At one point my father was standing next to the barbed wire and saw my mother across the way in the women's camp. The distance between them was the width of a typical residential street including the side walks. There was a high fence of  barbed wire on each side. At this point they still had some paper and they would write notes to each other, wrap the note in a rock and throw it across. My mother didn't have much of an arm, and her notes would land in no man's land. My father's notes did reach my mother.

Each day they would meet at a certain time at the barbed wire. But then one day as my father thew a note he was caught by a German guard. "What are you doing?" he barked. My father explained in German he was thowing a note to his wife. My father thought he was dead for sure.  But the guard merely said, "Away from the wire" and moved on.

The next day the Siemen's transfer was cancelled and they were processed into Auschwitz. That was the last time my mother and father would see each other, until a year and half later, after the war was long over.

My mother said she never forgot the last note. She translated it as saying, "My sweet, don't worry, we will be together again and I will kiss you and hold you in my arms."

2 Comments

2 Comments

A Token of Love

Lighter given to Felix by Simone, 11/2/43 My father being the dedicated worker and leader that he naturally was rose quickly to run a telephone repair factory in the ghetto.  As mentioned in an earlier post (The Radio) he understood electricity and had a knack for fixing things.  The German officer in charge of the whole ghetto, hearing about his ability to fix things brought my father to his office. The officer had a record player, a very advanced design for the time, that wasn't working correctly and asked if my father could fix it. Felix said of course (even though he had never seen the inside of one before) and said he needed to take it back to his workshop with a few records for a couple of days.

Felix fixed it in a matter of minutes and as a treat to his employees he brought all the workers at the factory together to hear the music. People didn’t have such things in the ghetto and hadn’t heard music for years. Most of the employees were young women and some of them insisted, “Herr Brinkmann you must dance.” My father chose my mother. A day later he made her his secretary, even though she couldn’t type, but as my dad said, “She sure could kiss.”

They eventually got married against the ghetto's Jewish authorities wishes. The head man said, "I'm not giving a nice Jewish girl to that German!" So they made their own ceremony.

Pictured above is a cigarette lighter that my mother gave my father for his birthday in November of 1943. My Polish is not that good, but as I recall my mother translated the engraving as something like: "My sweet smoochie poochie, Felix on your birthday. Lodz ghetto 11-20-43."

How did this token of love survive? In August of 1944 the Lodz ghetto was liquidated and the inhabitants sent to Auschwitz, My mother's older sister Ola and her husband Kit were part of a small group that was left behind to "clean the ghetto". They found the lighter when they were in Simone & Felix's apartment. The lighter spent time in Poland, Israel, Canada and ultimately came back to my mother just 10 years ago. She gave it to me during one of her frequent visits to Portland.

The next time my father visited I showed him the lighter and true to style his first response was: "So you're the little '$#*%" who stole my lighter!"

2 Comments

1 Comment

Who's Crazy?

Felix, age approx. 21 My father, Guido Felix Brinkmann, was a German from Latvia who ended up in Poland on a program that moved German people into occupied territories. When it was time to join the military he innocently and honestly wrote on his application that his mother was Jewish but converted to Lutheran before he was born. That brought the proverbial "knock on the door" by the Gestapo and he was thrown into the Lodz Ghetto.

Once there he sat on a bench all day waiting to be processed. No one knew what to do with him because to the Jews he was obviously a German (and probably a spy) and to the Germans he was obviously Jewish. Finally at nightfall he was sent to an insane asylum because those people were too crazy to care whether someone was Jewish or German.

Can you imagine that? Too crazy to be bigoted.

What crazy people.

PS: "In an insane world, the sane would naturally appear insane." Mr. Spock to Captain Kirk

1 Comment

Comment

The Radio

My father Felix understood electricity at an early age. That's because his father Richard was an electrical engineer. At one point Richard left home for six months to help South Africa establish electric light. That is the level at which he played. So the  Brinkmann boys grew up around it. Felix also had a natural knack at fixing things.

When Felix was in the Lodz Ghetto in Poland he ran a telephone repair factory. One day in the spring of 1944, while tinkering at his work bench he connected a wire and a sound came out of a speaker. Suddenly he looked at what he was working on differently. He quickly scanned his workshop for parts and viola; he created a radio. A device that was highly prized and very forbidden in the ghetto.

It was early June when Felix and Simone were at a party when suddenly there was a knock at the door. The person on the other side informed everyone that the Germans were doing a sweep looking for radios and two people were already hanged. My mother and father quickly excused themselves and rushed back to their apartment. They took the radio from it's hiding place and turned it on one more time. The last thing they heard before taking it apart forever, was that the allies had landed.

Comment

Comment

Assholes & Angels

If we divide people into two categories, Assholes & Angels, I would say the person(s) who would take advantage of, beat and strangle a 90 year old man (my father) is in the serious "Asshole" category. But for every one of them, I believe there are a lot more Angels. And  you never know when and where you will meet one. In an earlier post I told you about the death march my mother was forced to endure in January of 1945. The German army was retreating west in fear of the advancing Russians. My mother Simone was part of 1000 girls whose job was to dig ditches in the road to slow down the Russian tanks. She subsequently escaped (see Simone's Escape and Escape of Diana). However, that almost never happened because a few days earlier my mother couldn't take it anymore.  She gave up hope and asked a guard to kill her.

Here is what happened in her own words:  Simone Brinkman speaks (1:35)

Comment

9 Comments

Felix Brinkmann 1918-2009

"I feel I had a fortunate life. Even going through the three concentration camps, I somehow was able to make the best out of the worst. I never would have thought growing up as a boy in Riga, Latvia that I would end up in the greatest city (NYC), in the greatest country in the world (USA)." These are the words my father spoke to me two weeks ago, July 14th, when I last visited him in NY. My dad survived three concentration camps for 12 months, Auschwitz, Mauthausen, and Ebensee. He came to NY in 1947 with $5 in his pocket and unable to speak English. Eventually in 1971 he partnered with Mel Steir and Joe Cavalaro to open what would become one of the premier discotheques in NYC, the Adams Apple, (1st Ave and E 61st St.)

Last year my father was hospitalized for the whole month of July with Hepatits B.  I spent most of last summer in NYC caring for him. During the following month of August he couldn't even remember being hospitalized. I took him back to Oregon at the end of the summer. After 1 week of Naturopathic (holistic natural medicine) care at the Center for Traditional Medicine and Nature Cures, he could remember the date and time we were flying back to NY.

To illustrate the kind of guy he was, two months after being freed from the concentration camp he was crossing a bridge in Germany and was stopped by a Russian guard. My father who spoke Russian explained what had happened to him and that his family had been killed. Then another man tried to cross the bridge. The Russian stopped him and because he wore a German army coat pulled back the man's shirt to reveal an SS tatoo. He was an SS officer. The Russian soldier handed the machine gun to my father and told him to kill the German for my father's family. My father said, "No" and handed the gun back to him. The Russian then shot the SS man.

Last November my father celebrated his 90th birthday. (See pictures of the party and pictures here.) Although he didn't "have to" work he loved to work and managed a commercial building in the Bronx owned by his former partner (Mel Steir). He would drive there everyday, seven days a week. Working was one of his pleasures. Three weeks ago when his car was being repaired he walked 6 blocks to the subway station, took the train to the Bronx, walked another 3 blocks to arrive at work on time. In fact the "alarm" that something was wrong was sounded by the superindentent Julio at the buidling. When Felix didn't show up, Julio knew something was wrong. It literally took someone killing my father to stop him from going to work.

His end is certainly a shock to me, but at the same time I know my Dad and even if he survived this attack he would have had no complaints. He knew as I do that we all have to "go" sometime. He told me that, "when faced with death I simply choose life and never gave up." I know my Dad would not have been happy having to be cared for by someone or not being able to live his life functional (working) and independent. Even when I would try to get him to take a week off and come visit me in Oregon he would resist saying, "He didn't want to leave the United States." Going relatively quick is something he would have wanted.

For their amazing stories of survival see:

8/2/09 "Assholes & Angels" an audio of when my mother asked to die and hope came from an unexpected source

7/21/09 "Escape of Diana" (My mother's twin sister's escape from a death march.)

6/2/09 "Simone's Story of Escape and Survival" (My mother's escape from a death march.)

4/3/09 "Priorities in Black & White part 2" (My father's life and his 90th birthday party.

1/28/09 "Happy Birthday Mom" (my Mom, an identical twin survives being picked by Dr. Mengele)

9/11/08 "Priorities in Black & White part 1"

Link to movie about Felix Brinkmann's life made for his 90th birthday last November.

Quicktime version: The Felix Brinkmann Story (16 min) AVI version: The Felix Brinkmann Story (16 min)

Photo Gallery: http://gallery.me.com/dr_rickbrinkman#100088

9 Comments

8 Comments

Priorities in Black & White part 2

I spent the summer of 2008 in NYC taking care of my elderly father. (See “Priorities in Black and White”). Then I brought him to my home in Portland, Oregon for a couple of weeks of intensive naturopathic therapies. When I dropped my father off in NYC in mid September and flew off to the UK for seminars, it was to be the first time in two and a half months that he didn't have someone with him at all times. Here is what happened. He not only survives but he thrives. He has more energy and memory than before he was hospitalized. He is back at work managing a commercial office building for his former partner in the disco nightclub business, not because he has to work, but because it gives him pleasure. He drives to work each day from Manhattan to the Bronx.

Three months after leaving him, I returned with my family to celebrate his 90th birthday. We had a party for him at O’Flanagans bar in NYC where the idea for Adams Apple (the disco he opened in 1971) was born. And being the kind of guy he is, he flirted with the girls at the bar and danced the night away.

My father Felix Brinkmann is a survivor. During World War II he was in three concentration camps. When my family and I visited Auschwitz we saw samples of well-organized handwritten spreadsheets created by the Nazis that showed the profit to the Reich from the slave work of a prisoner. If not purposely killed early, an initially healthy prisoner would be worked to death by the sixth month. My father survived in the camps for a full year.

His father was an electrical engineer so my father, Felix, was very familiar and comfortable with all things electric. In that era, it would be the geeky equivalent of a computer programmer today. He also had a natural ability to fix things, even things he never saw before. It was those skills, his ability to work, and his never give up attitude that allowed him to survive.

When he was in the Lodz ghetto (before being shipped out to the camps) he was in charge of a telephone repair factory. A German officer hearing about his ability to fix things brought him a record player and asked if my father could make it work. Felix said of course (even though he had never seen the inside of one before). He asked the German officer to leave it and a few records for a couple of days. Felix “the electrician” fixed it in a matter of minutes and as a treat to his “employees” he brought all the workers at the factory together to hear the music. People didn't have such things in the ghetto and hadn't heard music for years. Most of the employees were young women and some of them insisted, "Herr Brinkmann you must dance." My father chose my mother. A day later he made her his secretary, even though she couldn’t type, but as my dad said, “She sure could kiss.” And the rest is history.

He spent the next year in the concentration camps; six months in Auschwitz (Poland), two weeks in Mauthausen (Austria), and five months in Ebensee (Austria). While in Auschwitz he was picked for the gas chamber five times and five times got out of it because he could speak perfect German and explain his value as an electrician. This summer and fall when we would discuss his life threatening illness, his response was to show me the numbers on his arm and say, "Big deal. I'm a survivor."

In dealing with my father’s illness I am amazed that we have a medical system that can prevent people from dying from a life threatening disease, but then release them with no care whatsoever to actually help them recover. Out of the ten medications he was prescribed, none of them produce healing. They all just force a certain physiologic response. It would be difficult for a young person to recover from the liver issue my father had, but for an older person, it’s nearly impossible. That's where naturopathic medicine comes in. I brought my father back to Portland for two weeks of intensive naturopathic therapies, which included I.V. vitamins, B12 shots and a supplement regime to support the liver and other vital organs. For the entire month of August following his release from the hospital he didn’t even remember being hospitalized for the month of July. After one week of naturopathic treatment he could remember the day and time we were flying back to NY. Before the illness I could barely get him to walk a block. Now he not only walks six blocks, but he does it with intention like any self-respecting New Yorker.

Although my naturopathic medical course took me into the mind/emotions, relationships and it’s affect on your well-being, this experience re-energized me in terms of what is possible physically.

I want to share the benefit of that with you, so in the coming months I will be interviewing some exceptional holistic healers and posting those interviews. Many of these will be audio downloads, while some will be articles by guest authors within the Conscious Communicator e-article series. Here’s to your health and I’m here to support you.

Dr. Rick Brinkman

-

PICTURED ABOVE: From Top to Bottom:

Felix Brinkmann 1939, age 21,

Felix and Simone 1946,

Felix Brinkmann's concentration camp tatoo 2008,

Felix Brinkman at his 90th birthday part November 20, 2008.

8 Comments

6 Comments

Priorities in Black & White

“I could not llve the rest of my life knowing maybe I could have done something.” After escaping from a Nazi death march in 1945, these are the words my mother said to herself right before she purposely let herself get captured again, so she could tell her sisters about how they might escape. She found her sisters among the 1000 girls in the march, explained how to escape and the next day they all did.

She passed away earlier this year and I spent most of December and January living with her and enjoying her in Arizona. This July my father (also a concentration camp survivor) was hospitalized for a month with a life threatening disease. When he was released August 8th I thought I was going to be in NYC for 5 days to help him get set up. Now thirty three days later I am leaving him for the first time.

Luckily I had space in my schedule to be there for him, although even when I am not traveling there are still plenty of work prioities. Just in the creative category alone there was 5 articles, 4 blogs, 3 podcasts, and a Tele-seminar oh my. Unfortunately they didn't all get done. But what did get done is everything I could possibly do for my Dad. This included de-cluttering his apartment (a six day process), organizing his home so he can function even with impaired short-term memory, taking him to Portland for 2 weeks of concentrated naturopathic therapies, having great quality time with him, organizing home care support and a whole lot more. But today I finally had to leave. So I tagged his ear with radio transmitter and released him into the wild of NYC. ;-) And as I sit here on a plane bound for seminars in the United Kingdom I can hear my mother's words and know for certain that I can live the rest of my life knowing I did all I could. Sometimes priorities are simply black and white.

PS: During the second week following his release from the hospital my father and I went out to our local Chinese restaurant. My fortune cookie was the fortune you see superimposed on the picture to the left. His fortune was, "Forget the stock market, invest in family." So he bought dinner. ;-)

6 Comments