D. H. Ramsey Library Special Collections and University Archives

Ari Landau Collection

Summary Information

UNC Asheville Special Collections and University Archives
Ari Landau Collection
Date [bulk]
Bulk, 1939-1946
Date [inclusive]
0.1 Linear feet
Physical Description
The collection contains the original July 30, 1945 letter given to Fiszel Landau by a U.S. Army Captain when the Mauthausen camp was liberated as well as a five page biographical history of Fiszel Landau's family (which is reproduced below). It also contains digitized photographs of Fiszel Landau and his family. The original photographs were returned to the donor.
Located in Special Collections, Row 5, Section 1.
Language of Materials
Materials are in English and German.
The Ari Landau Collection contains documents and photographs chronicling the life of Ari Landau’s father, Fiszel Landau, a Polish Ashkenazi Jew who survived the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp and the Mauthausen-Gusen slave labor camp.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Ari Landau Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804

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Biography of Fiszel Landau

By Ari Landau

My father, Fiszel Landau, a Polish Ashkenazi Jew, survived the death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau and the slave labor camp Mauthausen-Gusen. Papa had to survive. He had to fmd his daughter Maria after the war. He had to be a witness of the horrendous Nazi atrocities. He had to defeat the Nazis by starting his new Jewish family.

Papa was born on 30 January 1893 in the village Popien Jezow near the city Piotrkow Trybunalski (Piotrkow). He came from a loving Jewish family of three sons and a daughter. His father and mother Szlama Landau (b. 1857) and Touby Landau (b. 1858) had four children: twins Mendel Szymon (b. 1890) and Haim (b.1890), Mindla (b. 1892), and Fiszel (b. 1893). In 1905, the entire family moved to Bedzin.

Piotrkow was revered for its great synagogue, which was an artistic marvel. Royalty, aristocracy, and possibly even Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte visited the synagogue. Distinguished rabbis, scholars, and students studied in Piotrkow. The city was the Jewish center for printing Jewish holy books. When the Tribunal, Poland's judicial authority, was established in Piotrkow, the city added the name Tribunalski. Two prominent Jewish leaders came from Piotrkow: Israel Meir Lau, who became chief rabbi for Israel, and Naphtali Lau-Lavie, the Israeli ambassador to the United States.

Papa moved to Piotrkow and opened his millinery shop. His successful business provided him financial security allowing him to start his family. On November 12, 1919, papa, age 26, married Fajga Blumstejn, age 23. Their daughter, Maria, was born on July 8, 1922. Life was wonderful; it had order, opportunity and a family filled with love and the blessings of God. During 1925, papa and Fajga purchased their home on Konarskiego Street. The family practiced traditional Judaism and were very active at the synagogue and in Jewish society. Fajga sang in the choir, loved to read, helped with the hat shop, took care of their home, nurtured and raised their child Maria. Papa provided shelter, security, nurturing for Maria and love for his family. Then on September 1, 1939, their ideal life was shattered when Germany invaded Poland and ignited World War II.

On October 8, 1939, Piotrkow became the first ghetto established by the Nazis. While in the ghetto, Papa prayed to God and thanked Him several times every day for his family. In spite of starvation, disease, and death, Papa's family was alive although not together. Maria had "Aryan Papers" signed by the local priest showing that she was a practicing Catholic. The Nazis transferred her from the Piotrkow ghetto to work in a German bomb factory in East Germany. Papa and Fajga did not contract the typhus disease. They had limited food and shared shelter. Fajga survived in the ghetto for over three years. All changed on December 31, 1942. Nazi death squads, the Einsatzgruppen, randomly gathered Jews each day and executed them. Papa and Fajga were able to evade the daily death selections made during role call in the town square by not having eye contact with the murdering Nazis. Then, Fajga was chosen, made to run to a wall, lined up and shot to death by the Einsatzgruppen firing squad. Fajga died at age 46.

Four months later, April1943, orders came from Reinhard Heydrich, Hitler's henchman-in-charge, to make every Jewish ghetto "Judenrein". Papa was taken to the train station and stuffed with 150 other Jews into a box car. The car had only one small window covered with barbed wire. They had one small bucket for the human waste. No food; no water; no heat; no air; no place to sit. It took several days for the train to reach its destination: Auschwitz-Birkenau. Upon arrival, papa was directed to the "Right" to be processed for slave labor. Those too weak, women, children and the elderly were ordered to the "Left" and sent directly to the gas chambers.

Papa shared a barracks with 1,000 slave laborers. The barracks had only 4 small potbelly stoves for heat. During the winter, the stoves 2 could not generate enough heat and many froze to death. The bodies could not be buried because the ground was frozen. There was no wood for coffins. The bodies were collected each day and transported to storage units for incineration.

Each morning and evening, papa and the other prisoners ate a small bowl of soup, mainly warm water with one or two potatoes. On rare occasions, they were allowed to eat from the soldiers' scraps. Every morning roll call was held at Appelplatz, where usually bodies hung from the gallows. Papa and his group marched to the back gate and worked from sunrise to sunset on road and field projects.

After several months, papa was part of a 13 kilometer death march to a train station where he was transferred to Mauthausen-Gusen slave labor camp. Mauthausen-Gusen was located on a stone quarry. The camp had over 200 feeder camps which provided a continuous flow of slave workers. The stones weighing about 1 00 lbs each were carried on hods by five abreast laborers up the infamous "186 stairs". Everyday several laborers fell to death from the top of the quarry. Papa carried the hods of stones, worked on roads, and other physically demanding projects. Papa survived because of his strength physically and mentally.

Papa was liberated from the Mauthausen-Gusen camp on May 5, 1945. As Patton's Third Army soldiers arrived, papa approached them wearing only newspapers held together by a rope. His camp issued uniform had been worn to shreds. He was given to wear an American uniform without insignia and allowed to help with the food detail. Captain Jasper Lasseter gave papa a letter dated July 30, 1945 authorizing papa to wear the uniform. The letter reads that papa is "neat, clean, honest, loyal, intelligent and hardworking" and encouraged all to give papa assistance. Patton's troops pushed into central Germany and came to the city Hof an de Saale (Hof).

Papa relocated to the Hof Jewish Displaced Persons and Refugees camp. Only my half-sister, Maria, and my father survived the Holocaust. Everyone else from Fajga's and papa's families were murdered by the Nazi terror troops, the Einsatzgruppen. Papa spent the year looking for Maria. He returned to Piotrkow, but was abruptly forced out; others now lived in his house. They mocked him and told him he should have died in the gas chambers. He returned to the displaced persons camp. Later that year, the American Red Cross found Maria in another camp. Papa and Maria were reunited.

Papa met my mother, Ursula Wahncau, at the displaced refugee camp. She was a 20 year old German Lutheran who escaped from Hamburg, Germany in 1944 when the Allied ftre bombings started. She ran to the train station with her mother, Oma, and Uncle Puschel. The train ended in Hof. They married and two years later I was born in 194 7. Although papa was 32 years older than my mother, he was determined to start a new life and create his new family.

Papa received money from the US government which he used to open a tobacco and alcohol shop on Ludwigstrasse in Hof. Every few months, papa traveled to the Grecian markets to obtain goods. He hired at least two armed guards for his return journey. Ironically, papa, a Polish Jewish WWII survivor, then lived in the middle of Christian Germany selling goods to the German people which allowed him income to provide for his new Jewish family. Hitler was dead; papa and his new family were alive.

My parents immigrated to the United State of America on September 7, 1950. Papa feared another World War; tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States were escalating. He would not be trapped again. My mother Ursula converted to Judaism and took the name "Rose". Maria had married George, a forest ranger in Stronie Slaskie, Poland. They had three daughters and remained in Poland. The International Jewish Committee relocated us to Denver, Colorado.

When we arrived in America, we spoke German. People didn't know that we were Jewish survivors. Papa always wore long sleeve shirts to cover his Auschwitz concentration number on his left arm. They called us "Nazis" and "Jew haters." We were victimized again.

Papa had great difficulty fmding a job. Eventually, he was hired as a cap maker for the Denver Cap Company. He shaped caps by putting them on a form and steaming them in an oven. After years of work and saving, papa purchased a property that he converted into an apartment house. He continued managing his property the remainder of his life.

Papa died in 1975. Only six people attended his funeral. There should have been hundreds to honor my loving father, my hero, my survivor. I found solace in believing that actually 6 million souls were in attendance. He will be loved and remembered always.


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Donor Biographical Note

Ari Landau, the donor of this collection, is a second generation survivor of the Shoah. His father, Fiszel Landau, survived Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp and the slave labor camp at Mauthausen. Ari's father started his new Jewish life with the marriage of Ari's mother and the birth of Ari in 1947. Ari's career includes three college degrees: Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in history and his Juris Doctorate in Law. He taught about the Shoah in his high school history classes and to numerous groups for over 40 years. Ari served in the United States Air Force as a JAG Officer and as the Chief Commissioner of the USAF Court of Military Review. Ari coached numerous sports teams for over twenty years, served at food banks and shelters and was part of a team that went to Kenya on a medical mission. He is teaching his Lessons of the Holocaust course at the UNCA Olli program and at Blue Ridge Community College in Western North Carolina.

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Historical Note

The Ari Landau Collection contains documents and photographs chronicling the life of Ari Landau’s father, Fiszel Landau, a Polish Ashkenazi Jew who survived the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp and the Mauthausen-Gusen slave labor camp.

Fiszel Landau was born in 1893, and married Fajga Blumstein in 1919. He moved to Piotrkow, Poland, where he owned a successful millinery shop. Piotrkow had a rich Jewish heritage and was known for its Great Synagogue and for being a center for the publication of Jewish holy books. The Landau family purchased a home there and was active in the Jewish community.

The Nazis invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and on October 8, 1939, the Nazis established Piotrkow as the first ghetto in Poland. Fagja Landau was shot by a Nazi death squad in December, 1942. Fiszel Landau survived in the ghetto until April, 1943, when he was taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau where he was forced into slave labor. He was later transferred to the Mauthausen-Gusen slave labor camp, where he was freed when U. S. troops in Patton’s Third Army liberated the camp. Fiszel Landau was wearing rags when the camp was liberated, and U.S. soldiers gave him an American uniform to wear along with a letter dated July 30, 1945, granting him permission to wear the uniform.

This collection includes this letter as well as photographs of Fiszel with U.S. soldiers in the recently liberated Mauthausen camp. It also includes documents from the shop he operated after the war in Hof, Germany, as well as photographs of his family in the 1940s and the 1970s. The collection also includes a 5 page biography of Fiszel Landau and his family written by the donor, Ari Landau, which is the basis for this historical note.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

UNC Asheville Special Collections and University Archives

Ramsey Library, CPO # 1500
One University Heights
Asheville, North Carolina, 28804-8504


The collection is available for research. The photographs and documents have been digitized and are available on the Western North Carolina Heritage website.

Custodial History

The collection was donated by Ari Landau, 2016.

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Collection Inventory

Box 1 

Folder 1: Letter from US Army captain granting Fiszel Landau permission to wear US Army uniform after liberation of Mauthausen labor camp 

Folder 2: "Shoah to the Mountain," a 5 page biography of Fiszel Landau by his son, Ari Landau