This biography of Joseph LASK is copied from the one produced by the students of the Lakanal middle school in Sceaux dealing with the LASK family.
When convoy 77 pulled out of Bobigny station on July 31, 1944, it carried off to Auschwitz a French Jewish family of Polish origin, the Lasks —Isacher, Chana and their two sons, Joseph and Robert respectively 20 and 16 years of age.
None of them were to come back alive.
Chana Fajgla was born on November 30, 1903 in the village of Przedborz about 100 kilometers (60 miles) southeast of Łódź. She was the daughter of Michel Koplewicz and Rajzla Dawna, who were bakers. The family seems to have originated there, which is confirmed by the testimony of Eugenia, one of Chana’s nieces1.
Isacher was born into the home of Mendel and Gitla Lask on January 20, 1895 at Będzin in southwestern Poland, where a large Jewish community lived.
The exact date of Isacher’s arrival in France is unknown, but we do know he enlisted in the Foreign Legion at the outbreak of the First World War. He signed his enlistment papers2 in Paris on August 23, 1914 for “the duration of the war”. This document provides a perfunctory physical description of Isacher. He had “dark brown” hair, an “average” forehead, and he was 1.62 meters (5 feet 3 inches) tall. His civil status is succinct: his first name is given as Isaac. His birthplace is “Berdine” in “Russia”3, and his parents’ first names were Maudet and Goutla. He was incorporated into the 2nd foreign Regiment.
France encouraged and warmly welcomed foreign volunteers into the Foreign Legion. 8500 foreign Jews were incorporated into the Legion’s volunteer regiments. 1600 of them lost their lives during the conflict, particularly in the Artois offensives in 1915. The details of Isacher’s enlistment are not known, but certain sources indicate that he received a pension and that his service in the war left him physically marked. The third finger of his right hand was amputated, and he limped from a frostbitten right foot4. This detail is confirmed in a letter5 addressed in 1946 to the Interior Ministry by Félix Caplan, a brother-in-law living in Rio de Janeiro who was seeking news of the family.
According to one of his nephews, M. Koplewicz, who was still a child during the war, he was very proud of his military decorations and wore them on every appropriate occasion.
His elder son Sinisia, also called Ruben and most often Robert, was born in Dobromierz, Poland in 1924, six years after the end of the Great War.
Joseph (the spelling varies; we have retained the gallicized version, which is the form most frequently encountered in the documents pertaining to him), the younger son, was born on July 5, 1928 in Dobromierz, like his brother.
The two boys were thus born in the 1920’s. It would seem hardly likely that Isacher returned to Poland between the wars and then came back to France. It is possible that they were Chana’s children from a previous marriage and that she came to France with them between 1928 and 1933. No document has been found to confirm this hypothesis.
On January 17, 1933 Isacher and Chana married in the town hall of Paris’s 3rd district. Isacher, who was 38, was then a hatter, and Chana, who was 29, was a furrier. The marriage was witnessed by M. Anzlevitch, a furrier in the 3rd district, probably either Chana’s employer or a colleague, and M. Korzex, a tradesman resident in Arcueil. Chana indicated her address as n° 8 cité du Petit-Thouars in the 3rd district, and Isacher lived at n° 4 rue du Moulin-à-Vent in Sarcelles, north of Paris. After the wedding they settled at 6 rue Lesage in the 20th district.
Between the wars many Polish Jews fled from the pogroms in Poland. In Paris these Jews engaged in various professions: peddlers, stallholders, dealers in second-hand goods, tailors, dressmakers, knitters, shoemakers, hatters, etc. They lived in the shtetl around the rue des Rosiers in the 4th district, and also in the Belleville and Ménilmontant neighborhood in the 20th district, the area in which the Lask family made several moves.
1.4 million people died in France during the First World War. This demographic drain was a problem that a loosening of immigration and naturalization policy in 1924, and especially in 1927, sought to remedy. Residence requirements dropped from 10 to 3 years, which led to double the number of naturalizations, rising from 10,000 a year in 1925-1926 to 22,500 in 1928-1929. The economic crisis in 1929 caused a surge of xenophobia; quotas on foreigners in certain professions were established and immigration was curtailed. In the 1931 census France counted around 2.7 million foreigners, about 7% of the population, and 361,000 naturalized citizens. It was then the country with the highest rate of immigration, before the United States, which had introduced quotas in the early 1920’s. From 1931 on, the effects of the Depression were palpable; as unemployment increased, so did racial prejudice and xenophobia. Alien invasion became a recurrent theme. In 1932 a law protecting the “national workforce” was voted, and in 1935 quotas were set up by decree to limit the number of alien workers in practically all sectors of the economy. The government even organized the expulsion of foreign workers to their homelands.
It was in this highly unfavorable context that the four members of the Lask family obtained French citizenship in August, 19346.
From 1933 to 1936 the Lask family lived at 6 rue Lesage in the 20th district. At the age of 6 Joseph started elementary school at 51 rue Ramponneau.
In October, 1936 Joseph was 8 years old. He was enrolled in the elementary school at 9 rue Tlemcen, still in the 20th district. The family was now living quite near, at n° 27 on the same street. He was a good student. His teacher7 describes him as having an alert mind and specifies that his schoolwork is steady. At the age of 14 he left school in July, 1942 to begin his apprenticeship. Thereafter, he was to indicate on all his administrative documents that he was an apprentice pastry maker.
In October, 1938 a first commerce8 was registered in Chana’s name. It was a hosiery/lingerie shop located at 98 rue des Amandiers, at the corner of 62 rue des Panoyaux, where the Lasks were domiciled up to their arrest in 1944.
A few months later in February, 1939 another inscription on the commerce register indicates that the Lasks had set up a new business under the trade name “Aux C Volontaires (sic)”. What does this C signify? Commerce? This time it was Isacher in whose name the activity was registered, with the precision that it still pertained to hosiery and would be exercised from a stall. It is not known whether it had a fixed address9. Both activities ceased on the same date in March, 1941.
On September 27, 1940 the military command published the first order for a census to be taken of the Jews in the Northern Zone by the 20th of October. A few days later, on October 1, the first Jewish Statute was issued, followed by a second one a few months later in June, 1941. Starting on October 2nd the authorities ordered “Jewish nationals” to report to their local police station. Individual and family data sheets were then established. The Lasks, no doubt assured that as good French citizens they were at no risk, complied with the order. They could obviously not imagine that this file, which listed for Paris alone over 140,000 names, would be used to carry out roundups and arrests. Isacher’s sheet states his profession as manual worker, as does Chana’s. Twelve-year-old Joseph is listed as a pastry maker, and Robert, who was sixteen, is put down as a salaried draftsman.
After this count was taken the Jews had to go once again to their local police station with their identity papers, on which the mention “Jew” or “Jewess” was stamped in red ink.
A photo11 of the Lask family was taken in 1941. It shows from right to left: Isacher, Chana, Robert and Joseph. All four look serene and even cheerful. They are well dressed, Isacher and his sons wearing coat and tie, with a pocket handkerchief. Chana is elegant, dressed in a lavallière blouse, her makeup carefully applied. She is wearing earrings and a brooch. On the back of the photo is the following inscription: “In memory of your sister Lask Family, R. Lask April 24, 1941”. Although the occasion of this photograph is unknown, the dedication indicates that it was gift for Chana’s sister, who having miraculously escaped deportation, kept and transmitted it to her son Michel, who gave it to the Mémorial de la Shoah.
The law on “aryanization” in France was decreed by the Vichy regime in July, 1941, five months after the Lasks had closed their business. Madame Chapron-Goberville, residing at 101 rue de l’Université in Paris was named provisional executor on December 4, 1941. On December 26 she wrote to inform the General Commission for Jewish Questions that the business was shut down. Subsequently, until December 1943, she was to write many times to claim her fees and the reimbursement of the expenses incurred by her “mission”. From a letter dated June, 1942 she seems to have met Isacher, since she writes, “no way to determine turnover, the individual concerned stating around 80,000 francs, an unverifiable amount, hence my remuneration set at least at 375 francs per month…”
In the spring of 1942 a German decree ordered all Jews to be identified by a yellow star worn on their clothing.
In September, 1942 Isacher addressed a letter to the administration12 to inquire what had become of his nephews, Georges and Albert Graudens, from whom he had not heard:
“Monsieur le Préfet,
I have the honor of calling your attention to my request.
It is a question of my nephew Albert Graudens, of French citizenship, 16 years old, interned on July 16, 1942 with his parents and his brother Georges, also of French citizenship, aged 9 years, taken from their home at 18 rue de Belleville, Paris 20th.
I am without news of these children and as the children of French citizenship of their age have not been interned in their case, I make bold, Monsieur le Préfet de Police, to solicit my two nephews’ liberation.
I am a Jew with French citizenship, a disabled veteran of the 1914 war, and thus the recipient of a pension.
I assure my ability to provide for these two children.
I thank you cordially in advance for the expected favorable response.
Please accept, Monsieur le Préfet, my most respectful greetings.”
Mr Maurice Lask
62 rue des Panoyaux
Isacher’s letter is written in blue ink on scored paper in a careful, fluid hand. The clumsy style, the spelling and syntax mistakes make it particularly moving. Who actually wrote it? Isacher himself? Or did he give the task to one of his sons? It is to be noted that Isacher, no doubt as a sign of integration, had apparently given up his first name, getting rid its connotations in this summer of 1942 by changing it to Maurice.
This letter furnishes precious information. First of all, it was written more than a month after the tragic events to which it refers, that is the Vel d’Hiv roundup during which around 13,000 Jews were arrested in Paris and the suburbs, most of them at their homes, by the French military police and then deported to the camp at Pithiviers, and from there to Auschwitz to be gassed or put to forced labor by the Germans. Isacher must have made inquiries, probably gone to the Graudens home, talked to the neighbors and sought to whom he should address his request.
The tone and the content of the letter give the impression that Isacher feels no need to fear any form of persecution. While he specifies from the outset that he is Jewish, he immediately adds that he is French. In addition to his citizenship he mentions his status as a war veteran with a pension.
The reply from the police commissioner who commanded the Drancy internment camp, who was directly under the authority of Aloïs Brunner, to the general police chief is terse:
“With the enclosed remittance of a letter from Monsieur Lask, 62 rue des Panoyaux, Paris 20th that you transmitted to me, I have the honor to inform you that the GRAUDENS family was deported on August 17, 1942”.
Isacher Lask’s nephews, Albert Graudens, born on November 29, 1926 and Georges Graudens, born on June 26, 1933, were both born in Paris and lived at 18 rue de Belleville. They were arrested with their parents in the Vel d’Hiv roundup on July 17, 1942 and deported to the camp at Pithiviers. The four members of the family were sent to Auschwitz in different convoys.
It has been very difficult to track down the four members of this family, because their name is subject to many different spellings according to the source: Grandans/Grodens/Gramdans/Graudens/ Grandens and even Granoams…
Szymon/Simon Grandans/Grodens, born in 1901 at Dobra/Kalisch, Poland, was deported from the Pithiviers/Beaune-la-Rolande camp to Auschwitz on July 30-31, 1942. Szymon died at Auschwitz on November 5, 1942, officially of pneumonia.
Frimet / Frejmet Gramdans/Grandans, born at Radomska, Poland in 1904, was also sent from Pithiviers/Beaune-la-Rolande on August 2, 1942. There is no trace of her arrival in Auschwitz, as she was no doubt gassed as she got off the train.
Georges, born in Paris on March 26, 1933, was deported to Auschwitz in convoy n° 20 on August 17, 1942, a convoy made up almost exclusively of children who were murdered upon arrival.
Albert, born in Paris on November 29, 1926, was deported to Auschwitz in convoy n° 23 on August 24, 1942. The absence of any trace of the sixteen-year-old in the archives indicates the probability of his extermination on arrival.
In 1943 Robert was 19. He had his photograph taken for his birthday, elegantly fitted out in coat and tie. He looks like an adult, well groomed and with a cheerful face. On the back of the photo is a dedication: “With my friendliest wishes on my 19th birthday R. Lask”13.
On June 6, 1944 the allies landed in Normandy and the liberation of the national territory commenced.
The circumstances of the Lask family’s arrest were recounted to us by M. Koplewicz, who got them from an account by his mother.
At the beginning of July, 1944, with the allied troops marching on Paris, the two boys were out for a walk (perhaps on Joseph’s birthday July 5th). They were arrested by the French police, who interrogated them and obtained their address; then all they had to do was go and pick up Isacher and Chana.
The Lasks arrived at Drancy on July 6, 1944. They were duly registered upon their arrival14, and their data sheets were filled out. It was noted that they were still French, and had not been affected by the law of July 22, 1940 that revised the naturalizations granted since 1927 and which made 15,000 people stateless.
In the 1930’s tenement housing (the cité de la Muette and five high-rise buildings) was built in Drancy as low-rent lodgings. These buildings were eventually turned into the Drancy holding camp, to be known from 1941 as “Drancy la juive” while still under construction. The deportees occupied the horseshoe-shaped building, while the German officers were lodged in the five towers whose height was impressive at the time. That is where the Lask family was to spend its last three weeks on French soil.
Arriving at Drancy on July 6, 1944, Isacher deposited the sum of 192 francs. He declared himself a steelworker. As the minimum wage for that profession was 1100 francs per month, this sum is ludicrous. Up to June, 1943, the camp cashier clerk, Maurice Kiffer, recorded 7,050 accounts for the prisoners at Drancy. As the sums attained up to 50,000 francs, we can conclude that the Lasks were below the average of the amounts brought to Drancy, even if the dates of the accounts deposited by the prisoners at Drancy are not the same (the Lasks arriving in July 1944 and the accounts dated 1943). By comparison with the lowest salaries of different professions in France, it is seen that the Lasks either had no time to gather a more adequate sum of money when taken from their home, or they simply had no more than that…
The sum was to be remitted after the war to a cousin whose identity is unknown to us.
After a final roll call on July 31st Isacher, Chana and the boys got on a Paris bus that took them to the Bobigny train station, which had replaced the station at le Bourget for the deportations toward Poland since July 1943. Thanks to the testimony by survivors of convoy 77 we can get a pretty precise idea of the atmosphere of the departure. “When our bus started off we began to sing ” Ce n’est qu’un au revoir mes frères” (“We’ll be seeing you again soon, brothers”) […]. Riding through Drancy we sang, or I should say we shouted the Marseillaise. At the station in Bobigny we spied a long freight train off on a forsaken track. […] We were taken off the buses and made immediately to get on the train cars. As soon as we were in, the Germans bolted the door. There were sixty of us in our car”15. This precious testimony also informs us of the conditions of transportation. In addition to the crowding there was the heat of that summer of 1944 and the lack of air. “sixty to a cattle car with a single slop pail. We were given bread, but practically nothing to drink. The heat was suffocating”16 … “At noon the convoy began to roll […] the children were hot and thirsty and there was not enough air17.”
When they arrived at Auschwitz the Lasks were separated.
Isacher and Chana were not “selected” as they were taken off the train and were thus immediately gassed. They have left no trace in the Auschwitz archives and their date of death published in the Journal Officiel (August 5, 1944) is that of their arrival at the camp. Joseph and Robert, on the other hand, were admitted into the Birkenau concentration labor camp18. It is comforting to know that their I.D. numbers (numbers B3834 and B3835) are consecutive, which means they were not separated. The numbers were tatooed on their left forearms.
On October 28, 1944 Joseph was separated from his brother and transferred to the Stutthof camp. There he was attributed a new prisoner number: 0419. The Stutthof camp had originally been a civilian internment camp set up by the Germans in the Polish city of Dantzig. It was a huge concentration camp with some 105 subcamps.
Joseph died there on January 2, 1945. A document made out by the authorities of the sanitary unit specify 6:55 as the time of death. Thus, Joseph did not take part in the death marches and multiple evacuations that took place shortly thereafter. The official “medical” documents on his death established by the Nazi administration of the Stutthof camp indicate that Joseph died of a “cardiovascular disorder”, and that he was in a “general state of physical weakness”. The camp physician confirmed death by natural causes and gave instructions for the body to be burned. On January 3, 1945 Joseph’s mortal remains were incinerated. The “medical” record is obviously dubious. Still it does establish that the date and place of death noted in the Mémorial de la déportation des Juifs de France and then published in the Journal Officiel (May 8, 1945 at Theresienstadt / Terezin) are wrong. Joseph was 16 years old.
In January Himmler ordered all the camps to be completely evacuated. Seven to eight hundred thousand prisoners were thus thrown out on the roads. Around 250,000 of them died of exhaustion during these death marches, or were simply shot. On January 18th the roll was called for the last time at Auschwitz and several thousand (50,000 ?) prisoners were marched off west. Some were transported in open carts; the others walked. The mortality rate was appalling, the temperature dropped to as low as minus 25°C (minus 13°F), and there were no provisions. The Germans’ intention was to transfer them to Ravensbrück, Dora, Bergen-Belsen…
Robert arrived at Buchenwald on January 23, 1945 and was registered as number 120150. After several days in the “Little Camp” he was transferred on February 9th to the work camp “kommando Malachyt” at Langenstein-Zwieberge, near Halberstadt. This “kommando” was one of the many subcamps of Buchenwald. Arms were manufactured there in an underground factory. He was put into block 14. On February 16th Robert was admitted to the camp’s infirmary. He died there the following day, officially of pneumonia. He was 21 years old.
 Testimony from Eugenia Magdiarz in The Last Eyewitnesses: Children of the Holocaust Speak (Jewish Lives https://books.google.fr/books?id=Mle6EmnMDwC&pg=PA105&lpg=PA105&dq=przedborz+koplewicz&source=bl&ots=pIZbm_RptC&sig=JZYAQL0phHAtQpYI_6IZDMVcgSg&hl=fr&sa=X#v=onepage&q=przedborz%20koplewicz&f=false » I was born in the village of Dobromierz, which belonged to the Jewish community of Przedborz. In that village lived my mother’s parents, Michal and Rajzla Koplewicz. ».
 Feuillet modèle n°5. Archives de la Légion étrangère, Aubagne.
 After the partitions at the end of the 18th century and in 1815.
 data sheet 1938, Archives départementales de Paris
 SHD, Division des Archives des Victimes des Conflits Contemporains
 Archives Nationales, décrets de naturalisation n° 8571-34 du 03/08/1934 et 8575-34 du 03/08/1934
 Archives départementales de Paris
 Archives Nationales AJ/38/2021, dossier 7153
 In one of his messages to the Commission for Jewish Questions dated October, 1943, the provisional administrator in charge of “aryanizing” the business specifies that the activity was the sale of “lingerie and cloth cuttings” within an apartment, which adds a bit more precision
 Archives Nationales
 Mémorial de la Shoah, gift from M.Koplewicz
 Archives de la préfecture de police
 Mémorial de la Shoah, gift from M.Koplewicz
 Archives Nationales
 Charlotte Schapira, testimony
 Régine Skorka-Jacubert, testimony
 Denise Holdstein, testimony
 Bad Arolsen Archives