I got the call around 6:45PM. On the other end of the phone a woman’s voice tossed me a tailor made gauntlet of challenge, “If you’re still serious about meeting Alex, be at the lobby of the Beverly Wilshire by 8:00.”
Considering I lived 45 minutes away in non-traffic time with it being the week before Christmas, the challenge was daunting to say the least.
But this was an opportunity I couldn’t afford to miss.
The call came from one of my clients, a former fashion model known for her associations with Hollywood’s elite, whom, truth be told, she would name drop as often as possible. On her last sojourn to the resort town of Aspen with the purpose of hearing the Dalai Lama publicly speak, my client had befriended a Mr. Alex Kaufman, a business mogul who was ranked the 3rd wealthiest man in North America at that time.
While telling me about her newly made acquaintance, my client mentioned what she knew about him, that being a self-made multi-millionaire with a background in chemistry.
It was his origins which intrigued me.
She said he came from eastern Europe, but wasn’t sure when he immigrated or even from where, exactly. I advised her to find out.
“He’s from Poland”, she later updated me, “Came here in the late 1940’s. From what I can tell he went through a hard time during the war. He survived in the woods by himself as a teenager.”
Being quite the history buff, this was the first time I was hearing about a solitary individual who survived Nazi aggression during the Second World War in the woods of Poland alone, by themselves. That route was successfully undertaken, and seldom at best, by partisan groups working in tandem from what I had known up until that point.
But Alex Kaufman was quite the exception to any given rule.
I informed my client that of all the Hollywood A-listers she hob-knobbed with, the one whom I had a key interest in meeting was said Mr. Kaufman. And because I had gone out of my way to assist my client on more than one occasion in the past, she was meeting her end of the bargain, despite it being so spontaneously last minute.
Returning once more to meeting my 8 o’clock challenge…..
I had managed to throw on an all-black ensemble and had showered in record time when my phone rang yet again. The same female voice was on the line once more and this time around was stipulating another challenge even more fiendishly difficult than the first:
“Brad, listen, one last thing. Do not bring up the war!” she chided, “If Alex brings it up, fine, but otherwise, leave it at that, got me?”
Her warning was duly noted, despite it being akin to placing a working blowtorch in front of a pyromaniac and telling him to act like it wasn’t there.
I managed to power walk into the lobby of the Beverly Wilshire at 8:07PM.
Instead of my biggest fear transpiring of being introduced to this man of high regard and blurting “Hi, I’m Brad. How was the war?”, after warmly shaking my hand upon meeting, Mr. Kaufman alleviated my inner tension by saying, “So I was told you’re interested in hearing about my time during the war.”
Indeed, I was.
Before diving head first into Alex Kaufman’s astounding past, a few details must be stipulated.
For starters, I am a professional astrologer. Prior to our meeting, I was given Alex Kaufman’s birth statistics from which I had made a number of astrological observations that were discussed over the course of our evening together. Secondly, it must be stated that Mr. Kaufman is a staunch atheist who doesn’t subscribe to anything religious or astrological, for that matter.
Despite his beliefs (or lack of them), Mr. Kaufman was gracious enough to discuss my astrological analyses and was in conclusive agreement with my reasons for bringing each of them up.
The Dread Begins
He was born in what was then Poland, which is now modern day Ukraine, in a town bearing three names, each associated with a country which ruled over it: Lwow (L-Vov) in Polish, Lviv (L-Veev) in Ukranian, and Lemberg in German.
Most historians generally assert the Second World War began on September 1st, 1939 when Germany invaded Poland and the town of Lwow played a pivotal role during those early moments of militaristic aggression. Faced with a meager supply of armaments and an assembly of mostly civilian volunteers, the Polish army managed to hold back the well-equipped German First Mountain Division for 10 days. It was only after being flanked by the Red army approaching from the east, after the Russians had secretly aligned with the Nazis, that the Poles were forced to capitulate to surrender.
Despite losing the battle, the Poles of Lwow managed to effectively fight their invaders by making the most of their very limited resources. This same sense of gritty tenacity would be individually mirrored by a teenager from Lwow named Alex Kaufman in his quest to survive the War with not a single resource but the clothes on his back.
“We were the wealthiest family in town.” He began. “Lwow had one of the best Law Schools around and my father was the Dean of Law there.”
Lwow University – Founded in 1661 the school is the oldest institution of higher education in all Ukraine and was where Alex Kaufman’s father was the Dean of Law. In July of 1941 the first Nazi mass executions occurring in Lviv were 40 professors from Lviv University, a group of intellectuals that included Alex’s father.
Throughout the course of our table talk, Alex Kaufman discussed his past with an ease filled, mild mannered demeanor that was both inviting and shocking.
Inviting in the way his powers of conversation made one hang on each of his words, like a gifted storyteller leading one into an alluring fairy tale. Shocking after one realized the fairy tale was, in truth, a hellish nightmare based in the most disturbingly grim of realities.
Alex approached talking about his time during the War with a perspective of light heartedness, where every “challenge” was treated as a temporary obstacle, each pre-equipped with a solution already built in.
This was evident by his repeated use of the phrase “Oh, that was easy.” Unnervingly, that same light hearted manner was applied even when Mr. Kaufman made statements of the harshest kind, such as the following, which was said immediately after describing his almost idyllic pre-War childhood:
“You want to know why my entire family’s dead?” Alex’s eyes glinted.
With a question like that, all I could do was nod.
“We could have left at any time. We had the money and my father had the connections to get us the proper documentation to get out. Why my family is gone is because when Poland was invaded my father said to us, “The Germans are the most cultured civilization in the world. We’ll be fine.”
The law professor would soon enough regret his decision.
Alex’s father was one of the first the Nazis took away. He remembered how on the night before his father’s arrest, the man raced about in a frenzy, desperate to locate his son’s birth papers.
It was here where I felt the need to interrupt with my first astrological observation.
I asked Mr. Kaufman straight out, “May I be so bold as to inquire about your birth information? Astrologically, it seems incorrect.”
Alex’s head turned towards me in a cocked manner of mental curiosity while saying, “Go on.”
I explained how I felt the year given for his birth of 1924 was off and theorized that Mr. Kaufman’s true date of birth was a year later, given the Nazi “cut off” age for adulthood was 16 and Alex would have been one year shy of that when his father was arrested by the Gestapo in 1940.
After cautiously relaying my theory behind his true age, Mr. Kaufman’s eyes squinted as if he was seeing through time, lost in thought. Then slowly and deliberately he said “That… must have been what he was doing….Changing my birth papers at the last minute.”
We mutually agreed that if a legal document had to be falsified, the number “5” as in 1925 could be altered to a “4” as in 1924 without anyone readily noticing.
This subtle little change of digits would prove to be quite the life saver for young Alex Kaufman, since the Nazis eventually came for him next.
Janowska Concentration Camp
In September of 1941, the Nazis set up an armaments factory in Lwow at 134 Janowska (Yah-nohv-skah) Street.
Not too long afterwards, the factory would be expanded upon with prison barracks, watch towers, and electrified barbed wire, eventually becoming one of the most notoriously horrific of Nazi concentration camps.
Alex Kaufman didn’t need to board a cattle car, a concentration camp was established practically in his own back yard.
Despite being quite the history buff as earlier stated, I wasn’t familiar with the Janowska concentration camp. It was only after meeting Mr. Kaufman that I further researched how unspeakably evil the environment was at this terrible place.
Jews had to surrender all valuables upon their arrival at Janowska. Each barrack housed 2,000 inmates. Prisoners slept on the ground or on planks. Sanitation was primitive, resulting in diseased conditions and sporadic outbreaks of various epidemics. Rations consisted of black coffee substitute in the morning, a midday meal of watery soup containing unpeeled potatoes, and 200 grams of bread in the evening. Inmates worked12-hour days.
Acts of suicide were prevalent in Janowska with prisoners often hanging themselves in the barracks rather than face another day of torturous existence there.
To me, Janowska stands out as one of the worst of the numerous Nazi concentration camps by virtue of its overseers structuring its daily existence around the torture and prolonged suffering of its prisoners.
As if that wasn’t horrifying enough, the commanders and guards of Janowska applied their methods of torture with an almost creative zeal, each competing with one another as to whose approach was best or most effective.
To quote holocaustresearchproject.org:
“The manner in which a Jew was killed varied, depending on the executioner; shooting, flogging, choking, hanging, fixing to crosses with the head down, cutting to pieces with knives or axes. Distinctive procedures were adopted when killing women. They were mostly flogged to death or killed by stabbing. The Nazis conducted their tortures, beatings and shootings to the accompaniment of music. For this purpose the SS organised a prisoner’s orchestra…Composers were ordered to write a special tune, which was called The Death Tango.”
Two SS were in charge of Janowska, Fritz Gebauer and Friedrich Warzog with their deputies, Gustav Wilhaus and Richard Rokita being 2nd in command.
All four men were exceptionally bloodthirsty and regularly partook in competitions of extermination between themselves. Countless prisoners were murdered based on the mere context of the SS commanders competing and making bets amongst each other.
An unnamed eyewitness said the following about Gebauer:
“I saw Gebauer strangle women and children with my own eyes. I saw them place men in barrels of water to freeze in the depth of winter. The barrels were filled with water and then the victims were tied hand and foot and put into the water. The doomed people remained in the barrels until they froze to death.”
One of the most diabolical accounts to emerge from Janowska tells of Gustav Wilhaus murdering children for the purpose of entertaining children – his own. According to holocaustresearchproject.org:
“Wilhaus partly for sport, and partly to amuse his wife and daughter, used regularly to fire a machine-gun from the balcony of the camp office at prisoners occupied in the workshops. Then he would pass the machine-gun to his wife, who also shot at them. On one occasion to please his nine-year old daughter, Wilhaus ordered someone to toss two four year olds into the air, while he fired at them. His daughter applauded and cried, “Papa, do it again, papa do it again!” And Papa did.”
Prisoners were often forced to fight to the death against each other for the guards’ entertainment in their barracks at night, with the notoriously worst barracks belonging to the “Railway Jews”:
“The Jews working at the Railway station scrubbing and cleaning locomotives, were housed in Barrack Number 5, and were the subject of intense SS brutality. This brigade also supplied the largest quotas for executions.”
Upon his arrival to Janowska in late 1941, 16 year old Alex Kaufman was given the worst living set up possible by being assigned to the dreaded Barrack Number 5.
He was given the back breaking task of laying down new railroad track.
It was in the process of doing this intense physical labor after 3 months of being imprisoned at Janowska that Fate stepped in by providing Alex with an all or nothing opportunity in the form of a passing empty boxcar.
An opportunity which he utilized to his full advantage.
In early 1942, Alex Kaufman made a most bold and dangerous move. While laying down new railroad track line as a prisoner at the Janowska concentration camp, he looked up to notice a passing train approaching him with an empty box car. Knowing full well any attempts made by prisoners to escape resulted in not only their death but usually the executions of at least 10 other inmates as well just for being in the escapee’s vicinity, Alex made the lightning fast decision to jump onto the train.
Despite being shot at by an SS guard on duty, his risk proved well worth the effort. Alex Kaufman had managed to single-handedly escape one of the most notoriously evil of Nazi concentration camps, relatively unscathed.
Relatively unscathed, with the exception of one of his feet having a bullet from the guard’s rifle lodged deeply within it.
It was at this point where I had to interrupt with the 2nd of my astrological observations. I asked Mr. Kaufman if he had escaped Janowska in the late winter of 1942, approximately mid-March based on my calculations.
Alex responded with a knee jerk reaction of defensiveness that was immediately followed in mid-sentence by a burst of remembered realization,
“You don’t carry a calendar when you’re in a concentration camp! You have no idea what year it is let alone what month or day it is-…..Wait! I remember looking out from the box car and seeing pockets of snow still on the ground, so yes, I think it actually was March.”
I explained to Mr. Kaufman how during that particular moment of time he was astrologically presented with a highly karmic window of opportunity. Uranus is the planet of “sudden, out of the blue events”. On March 15th, 1942 the Sun was by exact degree on Alex’s natal Uranus along with transiting Uranus in the sky was conjunct the planet of action, Mars, at the IC, or very bottom of his chart.
In other words on that particular March day in 1942 the Universe sent the imprisoned teen a life line which was his prerogative to take full advantage of, provided he act upon it immediately, without thinking.
I asked him what was running through his mind when he decided to jump.
“They were killing kids. (Referring to the Nazis killing anyone younger than the cut off age of adulthood of 16). You can do a lot with kids – train them, have them do menial labor, etc. and they’ll have the energy and drive to tackle whatever’s put in front of them. To kill them is pure waste. It came down to realizing it was a mere matter of time before they got rid of me, so I jumped.”
Jews of Lwow are rounded up and humiliated by being forced to clean the sidewalk next to the Lwow Opera House using toothbrushes – November 1941
Considering how on that fated day the planet of death and transformational change, Pluto, was conjunct his North Node, or karmic destiny, by exact degree, Alex couldn’t have made a better decision since Fate was hinting where his path was headed if he didn’t actively change its course.
Life on the Wooded Run
As mentioned earlier, when an inmate as much as hinted they were making an attempt to escape from a concentration camp, not only were they killed but everyone else in their overall vicinity was executed as well. The scant few who actually did manage to make it out alive were almost always hunted down by the SS with a relentless vengeance, and Alex Kaufman knew this.
As his empty railroad box car rolled through the Polish countryside, Alex knew he had to alight from the train before it came to a full stop, but had to stay on the locomotive long enough for it to be well out of range beyond any marauding SS that were actively searching for him.
And it had to be done near as open a clearing as he could find, upon realizing he would be landing onto a foot which had been ripped open with a rifle bullet still embedded deeply within it.
Pinpointing what appeared to be an optimal spot to get off the train from a far distance, after 40 minutes of riding the steam powered vehicle which saved his life, Alex executed his landing with the precision of an Olympic long distance jumper,
….only there was no elongated sand box to break his fall and he had to loudly scream from the earth shattering pain his body weight caused his bullet riddled foot upon hitting the ground.
The 16 year old now had to face surviving in the woods with just the clothes on his back, a badly injured foot, and all while completely and utterly on his own.
Another interruption from yours truly……
I was born with barely a shred of common sense in my entire person. It was at this point of Mr. Kaufman’s tale where I practically began to hyperventilate upon realizing if the tables had been turned, I would have crumpled like a swat fly.
Common senseless case in point – when I was around the same age Alex was when he jumped off the train, my mother who had a bad case of the flu began preparing dinner one winter night for me and my extended family. She went to lay down and asked if I could “mash the potatoes”. I walked up to the stove, saw some white balls that resembled peeled legumes sitting in a pot of boiling water, and thought “Easy, enough.”. I completed my task only to have my TV time abruptly interrupted by my mother holding the pot in her hands while repeatedly asking in disbelief what was wrong with me. I didn’t see what the problem was considering the pot was filled with fully mashed, thick potato water.
The evening’s relaxed table talk now proceeded into me barraging Alex with survival-in-the-woods questions, the first being the one I considered most pertinent.
“How did you sleep in the woods during the winter??” I asked incredulously.
“Oh, that was easy.” Mr. Kaufman said in his relaxed carefree manner. “All you do is make an igloo, like an Eskimo. The snow encapsulates your body heat.”
And here all this time I thought igloos were housed beneath the same realm of make believe as unicorns and leprechauns….
The surviving-in-the-woods roundtable then revolved around that most important of human necessities – Food.
Despite there being no local Polish chapter of the Boy Scouts, Alex appeared to have the knowledge of the most decorated Eagle Scout when it came to awareness of what one should and shouldn’t eat in any given woodland area. Whereas I myself could never get past the “leaves of 3 let it be” rule regarding edible plant life that was non-life-threatening.
Even though he knew what to consume when it came to digestible roots, berries, mushrooms, and even grasses, Alex knew he had to venture to a more populated area if he wished to find food that was more nourishing and substantial.
What I thought would have been a difficult and stressful task to pull off, surprisingly turned out to be quite the opposite, since I had erroneously presumed Alex had no other choice than to steal the food he wanted to eat.
This clearly was not the case.
“There were no men around.” He explained. “They either were killed or forced by the Germans to fight, so entire villages were left without a single man left in them.”
A situation which proved to be quite advantageous for the eagerly ambitious and extremely hungry 16 year old. Alex was paid with both farm crops as well as home cooked meals in exchange for completing various odd jobs which had been neglected and were long overdue. He also provided another “service” on more than one occasion which admittedly I was surprised to hear had taken place.
“Sex.” Alex impishly informed me in between spoonfuls of his vichyssoise. “There were days when I ate well and got paid to do it.”
Truly a man who made the most of his resources, I marveled.
Intriguingly, nobody asked Alex any questions whenever he ventured into any of the nearby villages. It appeared none of the locals wanted to know nor even cared for that matter who he was or where he had come from. Even so, Alex never lingered anywhere past sunset, he retreated back into the woods whenever nightfall approached.
After a few weeks, the bullet still lodged within Alex’s injured foot was proving to be quite the challenging hindrance. Drastic measures needed to be taken.
“My foot was becoming gangrene. I had no choice but to remove the bullet myself. It was really, really terrible.”
I sensed it best to move the conversation right along.
As mentioned earlier, I had read those who survived the Second World War in the woods of Poland were almost always partisan groups, with only a small portion of them being successful at doing so. In spite of Alex making the most of his non-existent resources by utilizing his intelligence while remaining grounded and never overreacting, I still couldn’t remotely imagine how stressful it must have been for him to have been a teenager left completely on his own while living in the constant fear of being caught and immediately killed.
I asked Mr. Kaufman what kept him going the whole time, what motivated him to continue putting out his energies in a situation where so much was stacked against him. His answer was both incredibly simple and a testament to the human will to survive.
“Oh, that was easy.” Alex’s eyes sparkled as he looked into mine. “I wanted to have a baby for Mr. Hitler.”
There were a number of close calls during Alex’s time in the woods. Between campfires being spotted, Jew hunting vigilantes, or Nazi soldiers camping too close for comfort, his safety was put at harrowing risk more times than he cared to remember.
I asked him when he knew the War was over.
“Oh, that was easy. Right after I escaped I saw German tanks moving one way. Then one day I saw those same tanks going in the opposite direction followed by some Russian tanks not too far behind.” He said with a giggle.
Receiving confirmation that the War had indeed ended, Alex made his way back to Lwow in the spring of 1945. He would soon enough discover he wasn’t out of the woods just quite yet.
Coming Home….to Nothing
Since last in his hometown of Lwow, Alex Kaufman had been to Hell and back by not only escaping from one of the most reputedly evil of Nazi concentration camps but also by managing to survive in the woods of Poland for the duration of the War by himself while left to his own devices.
Unfortunately for the war weary teen, coming home fared not much better….
Alex had no one. His immediate family of his father, mother, and little sister had all been killed. That, and his presence wasn’t well received by his neighbors and fellow townspeople. There were those in Lwow including many that personally knew Alex who blamed and deeply resented the Jews for causing both the War and as they saw it, everyone else’s misfortune as well.
At the time of his homecoming things in Lwow were hostile at best.
It was here that Mr. Kaufman’s conversational skills became heart breakingly innocent in a most surprised and naïve tone.
“I came home and do you know what I found at my house when I got there?”
“No, what?” I replied, as if answering the inquiry made by a little boy.
“There were people living there. People I didn’t know.”
Not only did the Nazis set up headquarters at Alex’s family home during the War, the Russians did too. After conquering the Germans, the Red Army had partitioned the large residence into 4 separate living spaces, each occupied by anti-Semites who couldn’t care less whether Alex had lived there before they did.
The next part of the evening’s table talk revealed how great a human being the man whom I was conversing with truly was. Upon coming home only to face another environment of dangerous hostility, rather than give up in an overwhelmed state of self-pity, the teenager left with nothing gave back to those in his community whose needs were greater than his own:
“There were little kids all over the place who were left orphaned by the War and I had to do something about it. I decided to set up a makeshift school because they still had to learn.”
Even so, Lwow was a dead end for young Mr. Kaufman and he knew it.
After wading through miles of red tape in order to gain sponsorship by the Jewish Assistance League, Alex Kaufman made his way to America. With nothing to lose, the Polish teen arrived at Ellis Island towards the end of 1946 unable to speak English, his only possession being a quarter in his shoe.
Since I was now speaking to the man who was ranked the 3rd wealthiest in North America, it’s safe to assume the Polish teen thrived.
Hours had flown by and Mr. Kaufman was left noticeably tired by the evening’s conversation. I apologized for taking up so much of his time and was about to take my leave before realizing I had to ask this exemplary man one last question about his unbelievable past.
The concentration camp where Alex was interred didn’t sound familiar due to him calling it by its Russian name, “Janowsky”. Before leaving this evening of table talk of the most divine and dreadful kind, I begged Mr. Kaufman’s pardon by asking if he could repeat the name of that same place just one more time.
His response permanently altered me.
Alex took both my hands, placed them on both sides of his mouth and proceeded to say slowly and deliberately “Janowsky. J-A-N-O-W-S-K-Y.”
With my hands still positioned on his face, Mr. Kaufman then looked directly at me while tears welled up in his eyes and said in a barely audible voice choked with overwhelming emotion, “I bought a plaque there.”
All I could do to hold back my own tears was to hug this remarkable man as hard as I could while quietly uttering the words “Thank you.”
*Brad Kronen’s book “Love in the Stars” published by Llewellyn Worldwide, Inc. is available for purchase at your local book seller or online at amazon.com at the link listed below.