Sigmund (Asher Zelig) Schmatnik was born in 1908 in Czernowitz to Ioil/Joel ben Schmuel (Proprietor of Galanterie Schmatnik) and Rosa Gittel.
1908 in Czernowitz
1908 was the year of the first Yiddish Language conference in Czernowitz, from 30 August to 3 September, known as the Czernowitz Conference. The agenda addressed Yiddish spelling and grammar, a Yiddish dictionary, Jewish youth and language, the Yiddish press, theater, writers and actors. The conference brought great momentum to Jewish nationalist movements in the area.
Back to Sigmund/Asher Selig – research reveals that he married Regina Kinsbrunner, probably in the 1920s – also from Czernowitz. Regina was born in 1913, to Abraham Lieb and Taube Her siblings were Fanny (b1909), Carl (b1906-d1907) and Rachelle (b1907).
#6 Avram Iancu
Their wartime address in Czernowitz was Avram Iancu #6. In the Soviet era, the street was renamed Zankovetskoy, and now is named Zankovetskoi. VIEW MAP
Sigmund and Regina lived for a time in the Balta Ghetto, Transnistria, as both appear on lists showing their deportation to Transnistria and then the receipt of financial aid there from relatives, in 1942.
Forced Labor in Cernauti
By 1943 it seems that they were back in Czernowitz, as they were recorded in the August 1942 Cernauti census as residents. In January of 1943 Sigmund appeared on a list showing that he held a work permit, and then in October of the same year, he appeared on a list of Jews recruited for forced labor in Cernauti.
Documents from the Romanian Claims Conference after the war reveal more details of their journey. They were both evacuated from Bucharest and Sigmund was interred in the Văpnearca camp. Money was sent to him at the camp, as he appears on a list of 25 prisoners of that camp in a handwritten list with receipts of sums paid to them. In the camp, he was assigned to the Camera De Munca (Workroom).
The concentration camp of Vapniarca was composed of three cabins with two floors each. In 1941 a group of around 1,000 Jews from Odessa were the first prisoners. Between 1942 and 1943 it was a camp for Jewish and political prisoners. The prisoners were fed an animal feed, which had a sad side effect of a physical and neurological syndrome including bone pain and palsy. The camp was closed in October 1943.
According to Sigmund’s sister Mina’s Yad Vashem testimony, Sigmund died in Auschwitz Camp, Poland.
Yad Vashem has a must-see digital resource titled “the Auschwitz Album”, the only surviving visual evidence of the process leading to the mass murders at this camp. The photos were taken in May/June 1944 by two SS men who were taking ID photos of the inmates. The 193 photos show the arrival of Hungarian Jews from Carpatho-Ruthenia. It can be viewed HERE.
Arrival shows inmates at Auschwitz disembarking from the cattle car trains and to their right, in the distance, the crematoria towers can be seen. Selection shows the men and women lining up for the selection process – slave labor or worse, with males and females separated. Some look directly at the camera. Their property is put to the side, and prisoners in striped uniforms mingle with the new prisoners. The new prisoners have gold stars on the left breast of their coats. Some of the people are identified in the photos, by relatives. After selection for labor, their heads will be shaved and a registration number tattooed on their left arm. This is shown in the section titled Selected for Slave Labor. Other men and women cross through the camp on their way to the showers, with prisoners behind barbed wire, watching them. In the section titled Assignment to Slave Labor, the men undress and register, before being taken to the barracks. They are then shown, lined up, in their striped uniforms. The section Kanada shows the Kommando Kanada at work, a group of prisoners assigned to the sorting out of the new prisoner’s possessions. The Kanada warehouse was full of clothing and jewelry, to be sent back to Germany. The prisoners working this job had the benefit of taking extra food or clothing from the loot, for themselves. The final album shows Last Moments before the Gas Chambers. Old men and women and children are forced to walk to the gas chambers. They wait en masse to undress. The gather in groups to talk, and sit in the grass grove nearby. It is nearly all mothers and children.