Robert was the ‘nom de guerre’ Israel Majer Mandelbaum used in the Jewish Defence Committee (CDJ). A Jew from Lublin, like his wife Estera Wajnmann, he emigrated to Brussels with her in 1932.
The CDJ suffered a severe blow in June 1943 with the arrest of “Joseph” (Ghert Jospa), the communist engineer who had been the driving force behind the establishment of the committee, as the representative of the “Front de l’Indépendance”. Following this collapse, the Brussels federation of the communist party decided that Robert Mandelbaum was too much inclined to seeking compromise with other tendencies. He had to hand over the reins to Richard. The latter, whose real name was Icek Wolman, 36, had just escaped from Transport 20 on 19 April 1943, at Boutersem, between Leuven and Tienen. Wolman, who arrived in Belgium in 1933, had been expelled from France several times before the war. A natural rebel, he had declined to register as a Jew in 1940, and just like Jospa, he did not register with the AJB in 1942. Mandelbaum, registered in 1940, abstained from doing so in 1942. Wolman, even though not identified as a “pure-bred Jew”, did not slip through the net. Flushed out, he was taken to the Dossin Barracks on 3 April 1943 and put on Transport 20, from which he duly escaped.
He returned to the Dossin Barracks in August 1944, after being arrested during a street control, albeit too late to be deported from Mechelen. “Robert” Israel Mandelbaum, then aged 31, his wife, Estera Wajnmann, 32, as well as another activist, “Sonia” Szajndla Wassensztrum, 32, were betrayed and arrested at their secret address in Rue Xavier de Bue, Uccle, on 28 March. However, the man who was harbouring them, Maksimiljaen Barcz, was left alone. This Polish communist, who spoke Yiddish, was in fact the treasurer of Solidarité juive. He had been chosen because he was not Jewish and thus was less at risk. They were deported on Transport 24 on 4 April and arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau on 7 April. Fortunately preference at the time was being given to forced labour rather than execution. Mandelbaum, his wife and their friend, Estera, were all selected for the concentration camp. Mandelbaum remained at Auschwitz, in the Laurahütte Kommando, and later in the Rajsko Kommando. The latter was a health and research institute at Rajsko and was regarded as a “good” Auschwitz Kommando, for deportees with a university education. Mandelbaum was on the death march of January 1945. Passing via Gross-Rosen, he arrived at Buchenwald where he was liberated by the Americans on 11 April 1945. Estera Wajnmann and Szajndla Wassensztrum had a similar experience. A chemist, Estera was also sent to Rajsko, although Szajndla remained in Auschwitz. Both were on the death march of January 1945. They ended up in Ravensbrück. They were sent to the Malchow Kommando, and then to the Leipzig Kommando, which was a munitions plant. On 22 April 1945, they were liberated by the Red Army. Estera Wajnmann arrived back in Belgium on 23 May; Szajndla Wassensztrum, who was in a weaker condition, on 28 July.
ADRIAENS Ward, STEINBERG Maxime (et al.), Mecheln-Auschwitz, 1942-1944. The destruction of Jews and gypsies from Belgium, 4 volumes, Brussels, 2009