Helen Jonas-Rosenzweig (born Helena Sternlicht; 25 April 1925) is a Holocaust survivor interned during World War II at the Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp where she was forced to work as a maid for SS camp commandant Amon Göth.
Born in Kraków, she survived the Holocaust with the help of Oskar Schindler, who was credited with saving the lives of nearly 1,200 Jewish forced labourers. After the war, Jonas-Rosenzweig emigrated to the United States. She has been married and widowed twice, and has three children. She resides in Boca Raton, Florida. Jonas-Rosenzweig met the daughter of Amon Göth, Monika Hertwig, and together they were featured in a documentary, Inheritance (2006), made for PBS by James Moll.
Helena Sternlicht was born in Kraków in 1925, to Szymon and Lola Sternlicht. She has remembered her early life as happy. When Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, she and her family were forced to relocate to the Kraków Ghetto.
In 1942, they were sent to concentration camps. Her father died at Belzec extermination camp. She, her mother, and two sisters were sent to Kraków-Płaszów, an arbeitslager (labor camp). On the third day of her internment at Kraków-Płaszów, Jonas was washing windows in a barracks when Göth, the camp commandant, entered the room. He commented on the job she was doing and ordered her to go to his villa on the grounds of the camp to work as a housemaid.
She moved from the barracks to Göth's residence, where she shared a room in the basement with another maid, Helen Hirsch (who was also portrayed in the film Schindler's List). The two women shared the household duties at the commandant's home for the next two years. While working for Göth, Jonas-Rosenzweig saw his notorious sadism firsthand. She said that he would shoot prisoners from the balcony of his villa, and she saw him murder several people and order the deaths of many more. He also beat her. She said that while Göth as depicted in the movie appeared to be interested sexually in his maid, he was not attracted to her in real life.
Jonas-Rosenzweig recalled that shortly after she moved to Göth's home, she saw him suddenly, and without provocation, shoot to death a young Jewish man who worked for him as a valet. During this period Jonas had a boyfriend at the camp, Adam Sztab, who was part of a resistance group. She stole some papers from Göth that she gave to Sztab. Göth was told of Sztab's activities by a guard. Göth shot Sztab to death within earshot of Jonas, and she was certain that he would kill her too, but he didn't. Göth had Sztab's body hung publicly for other prisoners to see, along with a warning about trying to escape.
Oskar Schindler was a frequent guest at Göth's home and he often had encouraging words for Jonas, who recalled his saying to her, "Remember the people in Egypt? They were freed. So you will be, too." After Göth's arrest for embezzling Jewish property from the German government, Jonas remembered, "Like magic, all of a sudden the doorbell rings – Schindler is standing there in his coat and saying, 'You're coming with me'". Schindler, who saved about 1,200 Jews from Auschwitz by claiming he needed them to work in his factory, added Jonas and her sisters, Bronisława and Sydonia, to his list of workers who became known as Schindlerjuden. By that time, their mother had died from pneumonia.
As the Red Army approached Kraków in late 1944, the Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp was liquidated. Schindler made plans to open a munitions factory in Brněnec, Czechoslovakia, using the workers he had at Płaszów. The men on Schindler's list traveled safely by train to Czechoslovakia, but the train of cattle cars on which 300 of Schindler's female workers traveled was diverted to Auschwitz. Of the three weeks that Jonas-Rosenzweig was at Auschwitz, she said, "In my heart, I knew that we were going to be saved." The women eventually joined the men in Czechoslovakia as a result of Schindler's bribery of the SS.
In 2004, Jonas-Rosenzweig met with Monika Hertwig, Amon Göth's daughter. Hertwig had requested the meeting, but Jonas was hesitant because her memories of Göth and the concentration camp were so traumatic. She eventually agreed after Hertwig wrote to her, "We have to do it for the murdered people." Jonas felt touched by this sentiment and agreed to meet her at the Płaszów Memorial Monument in Poland and tour Göth's villa with her for the documentary Inheritance (2006). The documentary's director, James Moll, an associate of Steven Spielberg, helped bring the two women together to make the film for PBS.
Two days after they were liberated from the Nazis, Jonas-Rosenzweig met her first husband, Joseph Jonas. They lived in the Bronx, raising three children, a son and twin girls. In 1980, Joseph, who suffered from survivor guilt, committed suicide. She then married philanthropist Henry Rosenzweig. Widowed a second time, she resides in Boca Raton, Florida.
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