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Meister Hermann may have worn ceremonial dress like this on the right [Credit: akg-images]

12th July 2017

The children of a Holocaust survivor who endured seven labour and death camps wish to find and thank the family of Meister Wilhelm Hermann who saved their father’s life at Markstadt Nazi labour camp between 1942 and 1943. Meister Hermann stands out as the main hero in their father Ernst Bornstein’s memoirs. Ernst wrote Die Lange Nacht shortly after the war and it published in Germany in 1967. The Bornstein family has worked with historians to try to find information about their hero but are now calling on the German public to help identify him.

Ernst settled in Munich after the war and married his wife Renee. They had three children Noemie, Muriel and Alain. The children have recently applied for their father’s saviour to be formally recognised as a ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ – an award granted by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum following a rigorous analysis of evidence. Meister Hermann has even been honoured this year with a mention in the UK Houses of Parliament after a senior Government Minister was overwhelmed by his heroism whilst reading Die Lange Nacht.

Die Lange Nacht chronicles Ernst Bornstein’s death-defying survival from seven Nazi labour and death camps. The book provides several tantalising clues to Meister Wilhelm Hermann’s identity which the family hope will encourage his relatives to come forward. It is thought that Hermann had no children so the likely connection would come from his nieces, nephews and cousins or their descendants. Alternatively, anyone with knowledge of any historical records that will help trace Hermann’s identity is urged to contact the family.

From Ernst’s memoirs it is known that Meister Wilhelm Hermann worked for the Schallhorn company at Markstadt camp where he was a master electrician. It was there that he took Ernst under his wing and protected him from the savagery of other camp jobs, gave him much-needed food, helped him recuperate after a serious illness and even tried to help Ernst make escape plans by hiding his personal belongings and trying to obtain false identification for Ernst. Other acts of kindness include corresponding with Ernst’s parents in Zawiercie ghetto (before they were murdered at Auschwitz death camp), sharing news of the war with him and smuggling him into areas of the camp to make contact with relatives. Any one of these acts of bravery could have resulted in severe punishment or even death.

There are several clues in Die Lange Nacht pointing to Meister Hermann’s identity:

  • Against his will he was appointed Obmann of the Deutschen Arbeitsfront (DAF)4 (although he hated wearing the swastika badge)
  • His brother in law had been appointed leader of the Gendarmerie in Zawiercie, Poland around 1942
  • He told Ernst that his hometown was on the German Swiss border
  • He was employed as a master electrician by a company called Schallhorn which is known to have used slave labour from several Nazi camps including Markstadt,  Dörnhau and Wüstegiersdorf.

“Our family has never stopped wondering about Wilhelm Hermann. I have him to thank for my father’s survival and my existence in the world today. My father searched for him unsuccessfully after the war but discovered that he had remained in Poland after the war until the Russians arrived in the mistaken belief that they would treat with sympathy anyone who opposed the Nazi regime. He was probably seized by front-line troops. It would be so meaningful for surviving members of his family to receive our thanks and a potential award from Yad Vashem.”

— Ernst’s daughter, Noemie Bornstein Lopian

Markstadt labour camp was based in the modern Polish town of Jelcz-Laskowice. It was a satellite camp of the Gross Rosen concentration camp. It was established in 1941 and held up to 3000 inmates.

Dr. Dorota Sula, a researcher at Gross Rosen Museum, is supporting the Bornstein family in their quest for information. She said:

“Wilhelm Hermann is surely a person who deserves to hold the title of the Righteous Among the Nations. Meister Hermann undoubtedly placed his life at risk to protect Ernst Bornstein whilst he worked as a master electrican for Schallhorn. Unfortunately, we are not aware of any records from this company to survive the war although I think it was headquartered in Berlin or possibly Głogów (Glogau).”


About Ernst Bornstein

Ernst Israel Bornstein was born in Zawiercie, Poland in 1922. He was the oldest of four children. He was educated in Jewish schools and was a talented student who spoke German, Yiddish and Polish. He was incarcerated in seven concentration camps, enduring the infamous “death march” until finally being liberated by American soldiers near Lake Starnberg in Bavaria on 30 April 1945. His parents and two younger sisters perished at Auschwitz. Of an extended family numbering 72 at the start of the war, by its conclusion only six had survived including Ernst and his sister Regina. After the war he settled in Munich where he trained as a dentist and then again as a doctor. He was the founder of the Association of Ex-Concentration Camp Inmates in Munich and a prominent member of the Jewish community in Munich. He married Renee Koenig in 1964 and they had three children. In 1978 at the age of 55, Ernst died of a heart condition acquired during his years of starvation and forced labour. He left three young children who were aware that their father was special but who did not know the details of what had happened to him during the war. Ernst’s wife Renee now lives in Manchester, England.

Mention in UK Parliament

The UK’s Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid MP recently mentioned Meister Hermann in a speech in the UK Parliament a few months’ ago. This is an excerpt from that speech:

“Throughout his time in the camps and in years that followed, Bornstein simply refused to be beaten. He was determined to fight on. To see justice done. To ensure that the crimes committed against his family were not forgotten. That, in itself, I find very inspiring. But I’m also struck by the many acts of kindness he describes such as Meister Hermann, the electrician who takes Bornstein under his wing which shows that even in the darkest, longest of nights, light can shine through – but only if we choose to let it”

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