The three Galperin brothers: Wolf (bottom left), Shlomo and Feive (standing) in Vilna, 1965. All three, along with their father Yehezkel, were in the Landsberg Concentration Camp together when Wolf broke away to join his youngest brother Shlomo and 129 other children in what he expected would be their last moments before liquidation by the Nazis.
The B’nai B’rith World Center and the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jewish Rescuers During the Holocaust (JRJ) this week will jointly honor concentration camp survivor Wolf Galperin for his valor and sacrifice.
The two organizations will present their Jewish Rescuers Citation on Thursday, Jan. 26 (the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day) to Galperin, 89, a native of Kovna, Lithuania now living in Sderot, Israel.
The event will be held in cooperation with the Sderot municipality in the presence of Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi and local youth groups at the city’s main cultural center.
Although he was only 17 years old, Wolf Galperin made the decision to support and safeguard, to the best of his ability, a group of 130 Jewish children from his hometown of Kovna, Lithuania between the ages of seven and 14, including his younger brother. The children were some of the last Jews who were captured by the Nazis prior to the liquidation of the ghetto in 1944.
The women, men and children were taken to and separated at Stutthof, a concentration camp in Sztutowo, Poland. The men and children continued on their journey to the Landsberg concentration camp, where 130 of the youngest children were segregated in a barbed wire holding area, presumably to await their deaths. Galperin, who was not among them, crawled under the barbed wire to be with his brother.
A day later Galperin and the children were taken to Dachu, and in an effort to maintain their morale, Galperin worked to divert the children’s attention from the barbarity surrounding them. Recognizing that the Nazis valued order and obedience, he taught the children to march in formation.
On July 31, 1944, the children were transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau, along with Galperin, and once again they began to march. It is generally believed by the survivors that their orderly behavior among the chaos, grief and hysteria that was the norm, was what drew the Germans to allow the group into the camp and to be assigned for work detail. The children were tattooed with sequential numbers B-2774 to B-2902.
During the High Holidays in 1944, 90 members of the original group were removed from the camp and never seen again. Galperin himself was also taken away, surviving in forced labor and death marches until he was liberated on May 2, 1945. Of the 40 survivors from the initial group of children, 28, including Galperin, made their way to Israel.
The Jewish Rescuers citation was established in 2011 by the B’nai B’rith World Center and JRJ to rectify the historical record regarding Jewish rescue. To date, some 150 rescuers who operated in France, Hungary, Greece, Germany, Slovakia, Yugoslavia, Russia, Poland, the Netherlands and now Lithuania, have been recognized.