The sad truth about Jewish informants during the Holocaust - opinion

Polish-born Belgian Jew Icek Glogowski was an infamous Nazi collaborator responsible for the deportation and death of hundreds.

DUTCH KING Willem-Alexander visits Anne Frank House in Amsterdam in 2018. (photo credit: Patrick Van Katwijk/Reuters)
DUTCH KING Willem-Alexander visits Anne Frank House in Amsterdam in 2018.
(photo credit: Patrick Van Katwijk/Reuters)

That Anne Frank could have been caught because she was turned in by a Jew has caused some shock and disbelief to many, but not to me.

I grew up in a household with an extended family that never stopped talking about their experiences in Europe during the Holocaust, and the few that are alive still do. Apart from my uncle Max, who simply could not speak of his years in not one but several concentration camps, as a young man, I heard lots of stories. One of them was about le Gros Jacques (Fat Jacques) or, as he became to be known, Jacques the Musser (traitor).

His real name was Icek Glogowski. He was a Polish-born Belgian Jew and an infamous Nazi collaborator responsible for the deportation and death of hundreds.

On May 2, 1943, Glogowski spied on my grandfather Saul Birnberg, who had an assumed identity and a fake Belgian ID on a tram traveling down a broad Brussels avenue. When Glogowski approached my grandfather he ran, was shot in the leg and caught. Sent to the Malines transit camp, he was put on a train to Auschwitz, gassed to death and cremated three days after arrival. He was 37 years old. He left a wife and two young daughters who waited in vain for him to come home that day and for several years afterwards, until they finally learned of his cruel fate.

I always knew the sad story. My grandfather and many relatives in Brussels were ratted on by a Jew. I never spoke about it outside of my family, and it was certainly not the main story inside of it, without ever being told not to. I understood that this part of our history was a busha far di idn (a shame for the Jews).

 German soldiers are seen marching in Warsaw following the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939. (credit: FLICKR) German soldiers are seen marching in Warsaw following the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939. (credit: FLICKR)

Only in the past few years, since I began to research my family’s Holocaust history from my temporary home base in Berlin and decades since his deeds took place, did I delve into Glogowski’s story. It is yet another horrifying and harrowing Holocaust tale, but unfortunately not unique.

Gologowski was a husband and father. His wife and three young children, ages nine, seven, and five were deported from Brussels to Auschwitz in 1942. Did he think that informing on his fellow Jews would save his family? Himself? No one is sure of his exact state of mind. What is known however, is that after his family was taken, he became a ruthless, cruel, and highly successful informer. He lived with an SS officer and wore an SS pin on his lapel. As he did in my grandfather’s case, Gologowski would drive around with the SS throughout Brussels, a small city, and point out those Jews he knew or those who looked Jewish and who were not wearing their yellow stars, passing as non-Jewish Belgians. He would menacingly leap out of unmarked SS cars and demand to see the ID of those he picked out. If he was relatively certain he found a Jew, he would drag the victim into the waiting car.

My grandfather, a former professional football player, sprinted hoping to get away and came close, but when he was shot by waiting SS men there was no escape. Passers-by later informed my grandmother of the event. Clearly a Jew, my grandfather did not need to drop his pants in front of Gologowski, as he made other men do if he was unsure of their religion despite their fake ID. Sometimes, when he went to homes where he figured Jews were hiding, he would beat and rob them before the SS carted them away. Other times, he would look for Jewish children in convents, boarding schools and orphanages and turn them in.

After the war, the Jewish resistance tried to eliminate Gologowski but he kept getting away, once eluding those who came to get him, once after a gun jammed. No one really knows what happened to him in the end. Theories include an escape to South America, a new life in Germany, or a deportation to Auschwitz in 1944, the place where his wife and children were murdered.

Gologowski was sentenced to death in absentia in 1947.

I’ve carried this infuriating, maddening and galling story with me my whole life. As well, I’ve lived with the fact that my mother and aunt, Saul’s daughter’s, were saved and are still living to this day, due to the amazing bravery of two Righteous Among the Nations non-Jewish women who risked their lives to save two young Jewish girls. The irony never escapes me.

We are still not certain how Anne Frank was caught, but sadly, the new and old evidence of a Jewish informer to blame is certainly not implausible. Not to me.

The writer is the daughter of two Holocaust survivors and president of Kam Global Strategies, a Jerusalem-based strategic communications agency.