Alfred Rossner was born in Oelsnitz in 1906, and grew
up in nearby Falkenstein. Rossner never joined the Nazi
party, and there is evidence to suggest that before the Nazi rise
to power he had belonged to a Socialist youth organization. In the years
before the war, he found employment at a Berlin textile plant owned
by a Polish Jew by the name of Arje Ferleiger. Due to health issues,
he was exempted from army service.
About eight months after the German invasion of Poland,
Rossner arrived in Bedzin, a noted textile center in Zaglebie in annexed
western Upper Silesia, where Jews made up some 80 percent of the town’s
population. The German authorities at that time were appointing German
“Treuhänder” (trustees) to take over the management
of plants that had been confiscated from Jews. These German “trustees”
continued to employ Jewish workers and relied on the expert advice of
former Jewish owners. Before long, Rossner, who had excellent connections
to both the German authorities and to local Jewish experts—among
them his former Jewish boss, Ferleiger, who had settled in Bedzin after
his expulsion from Germany in 1938—became the largest employer
in Bedzin: he was now in charge of thousands of Jewish employees.
In contrast to other German industrialists, who were
acting as private entrepreneurs, Rossner worked directly under the SS.
His chief workshop (or “Shop”), the so-called “Schneidersammelwerkstatt,”
which produced uniforms for the Wehrmacht, belonged to the SS economic
organization under General Heinrich Schmelt. Production there was considered
essential to the German war effort, and, therefore, the Jews who worked
there were entitled to the protection of a special pass (“Sonderausweis”).
The other large employer in Bedzin was the local Judenrat (Jewish Council); and it was somewhat in competition with the Rossner
Shop and offered work in its various offices.
The Bedzin Judnerat, which formed a branch within the
umbrella organization of Judenrats in Zaglebie, became, in the course
of time, a tool in the hands of the German authorities in carrying out
their genocidal policy against the Jewish population. With the progressive
deterioration of the situation, and especially after the onset of deportations
from the ghetto in May 1942, the Rossner special pass—blue in
color—became a much-coveted possession, as it provided a measure
of insurance against deportation. Each worker with a “Sonder”
was allowed to protect two members of his/her family. Thus, single people
could protect their parents, and married ones their spouse and child.
It is within this situation that the activity of Rossner and his rescue
achievements should be viewed.
From the outset Rossner stood out from other German
Treuhänder by virtue of the kindness and humane treatment that
he exhibited toward the Jews under his command. His closest workers
— primarily former Jewish factory-owners, like Ferleiger, Tropauer,
Kaminski, Rolnik, and others — did indeed enjoy his special protection.
He defended them and their families against the SS by giving them prior
warnings of impending deportations and by sending his German staff to
free them at the last moment from the deportation train. He also went
out of his way to protect and to orchestrate repeated opportunities
for escape for Henrietta (Kitia) Altmann and her cousin Aron Ehrlich,
a well-known pre-war Jewish communist. However, his interest and sympathies
were by no means limited to a small entourage of so-called “Machers”
(middlemen) and special wards.
According to Altmann’s testimony, during the
first large deportation from Bedzin, in May 1942, Rossner drove in his
one-horse buggy into the poorest quarters of the town shouting in Yiddish
to the inhabitants not to be fooled by the summons of the Judenrat and
urging them not to report for deportation. Another survivor, Edward
Retman, has testified that after the final liquidation of the ghetto,
in August 1943, as he was standing, along with thousands of others from
the ghetto, on the street near the railway station, waiting to be loaded
onto the cattle-cars, he recognized Obemeister Pajza, the chief German
supervisor, and begged him to save his life. Pajza instructed him to
remove his Jewish badge and then took him through the streets of Bedzin
to the workshop at Kollataja Strasse. Retman later found out that the
other shop at Fabrik strasse was already full of people and that it
had been Rossner’s express order to remove as many Jews as possible
from the waiting transports. In another reported instance, the survivor
Karola Bojm, who, after the liquidation of the ghetto, hid for a whole
week in a coal cellar, appeared in Rossner’s house in terrible
shape and asked him to take her in. He allowed her to wash and eat,
and the next day he took her to the workshop, where Jews were still
Following the final liquidation of the ghetto, in August
1943, the situation of Rossner and his much-decimated Jewish work force
became more and more precarious. In December 1943, he was arrested by
the Gestapo, and one month
later was executed by hanging. The exact course of the proceedings and
the nature of the charges that were brought against him are not clear,
but there is little doubt that help to Jews figured prominently in them.
On September 28, 1995, Yad
Vashem decided to recognize Alfred Rossner (posthumously) as Righteous
Among the Nations.