Resistance fighter Szmul Zanvel Wolman

The story of how a Polish representative of Belgian companies became a member of the resistance. Szmul spent time in many different camps, but managed to escape several times.

Resistance fighter Szmul Zanvel Wolman
Szmul Zanvel Wolman

Szmul Zanvel Wolman (born 12/07/1906 in Warsaw) regularly travelled between Poland and Belgium in the 1930s. He was the representative of the Belgian companies Buriez-Thanz and Weerens in Poland. Because of his profession, Szmul regularly appeared in the Foreigners’ Registers of Belgium. When he is in Belgium, he always stays at a different address, but mostly in the cities of Liège or Brussels. In 1936, some of his employers write a letter, such as François Lambrecht from Herstal, Burziez-Thans and G. Gramme, pleading that Szmul’s presence in Belgium is of business importance. After all, Szmul would like to stay in Belgium longer, as he intends to study at the Institut supérieur de commerce. Initially, Belgium is reluctant to grant him a longer residence permit, but he can show that he has enough money to pay for his studies. We do not know whether he started or finished his studies. However, after this, Szmul continues to work as a representative of industrialists, mainly in the car and motorbike parts industry. Besides being a representative, he also works as a mechanic.

In February 1939, Szmul Wolman was asked to leave Belgium; he left and travelled to England. Under unknown circumstances he returned to Belgium. When he wanted to travel on from Belgium to Poland, the Polish authorities refused to extend his passport. This makes Szmul unwelcome both in Poland and in Belgium. As a result of this refusal, Szmul remained in Belgium and went to live in the Brussels area. On 10 May 1940, Nazi Germany invaded Belgium. Szmul flees to France on 13 May. Here, he is active as a resistance fighter, helping British pilots and escaped prisoners of war to flee the country. In January 1941, however, Szmul was arrested and locked up in Reims prison. In March of the same year, he was transferred to Breendonk, where he was held for 26 months. In Breendonk, he made several escape attempts, but all without success. As a result of package fraud among prisoners in the Dossin Barracks being discovered in January 1943, 37 Jews from the SS-Sammellager Mecheln were transferred to Breendonk by camp commander Philip Schmitt. As compensation, the same number of Jewish prisoners were transferred from Breendonk to Mechelen. One of these 37 transferred Jews was Szmul. On 15 January 1943 he was taken to Mechelen and that same day deported with transport XIX to Auschwitz-Birkenau. He managed to escape from the train between Berlin and Sagan (Poland). However, he was arrested again and placed in a camp for prisoners of war. Via Berlin, he finally arrived in Auschwitz on 13 March 1943. Here it was decided he was strong enough to work and he got the number 107985 tattooed on his left arm. On 27 November 1944, Szmul was transferred to Buchenwald. He managed to escape from the train during this evacuation. He was arrested again and handed over to the Gestapo in Erfurt. Szmul was punished with forced labour for his escape and arrived in Buchenwald on 2 December 1944. Eventually, Szmul was liberated in Buchenwald and repatriated to Belgium. He registered here again in November 1945, the only survivor of the 37 Jews from Breendonk deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau on transport XIX from the Dossin Barracks.

Once he was back in Belgium, he tried to pick up the thread again and went to work as a representative. He also indicated that he wanted to stay in Belgium permanently. On 18 December 1948 Szmul married Lisa Bornstein (°14/05/1916, in Nürenberg). Lisa had been living in Belgium with her parents and sister since 1935. She was not deported during the war. The couple settled in Brussels and welcomed a daughter in 1951.

Kaatje Langens