Family Kempner-Rozen

The tragic story of the Kempner-Rozen family. Only father Moszek survived the war.

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Moszek Kempner and Marjem Rozen were both born in Pabianice, Poland, he on 12/24 January 1895 and she on 16/28 February 1891. Moszek Kempner was arrested as a civilian prisoner in Pabianice in 1915. He was imprisoned in the labour camp of Breslau in Silesia (then in German hands) and released in December 1918; later that month he arrived in Belgium. Once in Belgium, he was joined by two of his brothers, Lajb and Hersz, who had also left Poland, one in December 1923 and the other in July 1926. Marjem Rozen, from Düsseldorf in Germany, came to Belgium with her sister Chaïa in 1921. Her brother Alter Jacob left Pabianice for Belgium in September 1923, and sister Ruchla in November of the same year.

Moszek Kempner and Marjem Rozen had a daughter, Brandel, who was born in Düsseldorf on 29 September 1922. Moszek and Marjem were legally married in Liege on 30 October 1926. After his career as a street photographer, Moszek Kempner founded a small soda water and lemonade factory with his brothers Hersz and Lajb; Marjem worked as a hosiery merchant and pedlar. In March 1938 the family moved to the municipality of Grivegnée, to 13 rue des Pipiers, which was their last known address.

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Onder de bezetting

Moszek Kempner remains active in the family business as a truck driver; his wife works as a hosiery saleswoman. After three years of studying at the École professionnelle en Féronstrée in Liège, their daughter Brandel becomes a dressmaker. On 31 October 1940 Brandel marries Abram Josek Grub, born in Drobin on 18 July 1911 and also a Pole, in Grivegnée. He came from Poland to Belgium in 1932 and lived in Sint-Gillis (Brussels), where he started working as a tie maker.

By order of the Germans, the Kempner-Rozen and Grub-Kempner families were registered in the Jewish register of the municipality of Grivegnée on 29 November 1940. On 9 March 1942 they were entered in a second register, that of the local committee of the Jewish Association in Belgium. Moszek Kempner was deleted from the trade register on 4 April 1942. With the exception of Marjem Rozen, the family members were put on the list of Jews forced to do forced labour. On 16 July 1942, Brandel Kempner was put to work at the National War Weapons Factory (FN) in Herstal.

On 3 August 1942, Moszek Kempner and his son-in-law Abraham Grub, his brother-in-law Alter Jacob Rozen, his brother Lajb Kempner and the latter’s son Abraham, together with dozens of other Jews from the region were summoned by the Liège Labour Office. They were then deported to the Organisation Todt camps in the Pas-de-Calais.

On 31 October 1942 the Germans emptied these camps of foreign Jews, whom they deported the same day with transport XVI via Mechelen and Auschwitz-Birkenau. But the Kempner-Rozen family was able to escape this persecution: Lajb Kempner was released from the Dannes-Camiers camp for medical reasons and his son Abraham escaped (he would later join the resistance). As for Moszek Kempner, Abraham Grub and Alter Jacob Rozen, they managed to jump off the Mechelen-Germany train at night and reach Liège.

Moszek Kempner and his family decide to go into hiding in various houses in the region: he himself finds shelter with the Renard-Gresy family in Grivegnée, the others with the Hanon-Lenaerts family in Angleur. This is only a brief respite: on 13 April 1943, probably following a complaint, Pierre Telgmann, auxiliary officer with the Sicherheitspolizei in Liège (section IV B), carried out a raid in both Grivegnée and Angleur. Moszek Kempner hid in a false attic and managed to escape arrest. This was not the case for his wife, daughter, son-in-law and brother-in-law. They were first interned in the Liège Citadel, a military barracks converted into a high-security prison by the German occupiers. From here Brandel Kempner could send a last message to her father on 15 April, to inform him of their situation.

On 17 April 1943 they were transferred and locked up in the Sammellager Mecheln, an assembly camp in the Dossin Barracks in Mechelen. Marjem, Brandel, Abram Josek and Alter Jacob were deported with transport XX on 19 April 1943: Marjem Rozen was number 1568, daughter Brandel Kempner number 1570, son-in-law Abram Grum number 1569 and brother-in-law Alter Jacob Rozen number 1571 on the list of the convoy. The train was attacked by three young resistance fighters and Brandel’s husband, Abram Grub, managed to escape. He was arrested again and deported with transport XXI on 31 July 1943: he was number 825 on the transport list.

Marjem Rozen and Brandel Kempner arrived in the Auschwitz camp on 22 April 1943: four months later they were subjected to Professor Hirt’s project. Professor Hirt wants to build a collection of Jewish skeletons and presents a research plan to Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler, who approves it. Men and women are selected for this “research” in Auschwitz in August 1943 and sent to the Struthof-Natzweiler concentration camp in Alsace. Divided into four groups, the prisoners were gassed there between 11 and 19 August, after which their bodies were handed over to Hirt. Marjem Rozen was murdered on 11 August 1943, together with her daughter Brandel Kempner.

Son-in-law Abraham Grub did not return from deportation, nor did brother-in-law Alter Jacob Rozen. Only Moszek Kempner survived the Nazi persecution.

Thierry Rozenblum