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Three stories of Central Coast residents who survived the Nazis

Rolande “Frenchy” Amundson, left, served as a spy with the French resistance, Paul Wolff escaped Nazi Germany after Kristallnacht, and Thomas Blatt survived the Sobibor death camp in Poland.
Rolande “Frenchy” Amundson, left, served as a spy with the French resistance, Paul Wolff escaped Nazi Germany after Kristallnacht, and Thomas Blatt survived the Sobibor death camp in Poland. staff photographer

Today when Hollywood, video games or comic books need an instant villain — zombies and Nazis are the stock fall guys.

Zombies are fictional, Nazis aren’t.

Those who march in the shadow of the Nazi flag carry a violent and sadistic heritage.

Here are a three stories from survivors, excerpted from the files of the Telegram-Tribune:

On April 20, 1985, Teresa Mariani wrote about Thomas Blatt of Santa Barbara.

In 1943 Blatt was a teenage escapee from the Sobibor extermination camp in Poland. He was brought there from a segregated Jewish ghetto to be murdered.

“I feel like it’s my duty as a survivor to talk about this and to show the extent of what the Nazis did,” he said with a shrug.

“I want to make people aware of any sign of prejudice. Prejudice is like a bacteria. If you let bacteria grow, it could explode into an epidemic.”

“It (Sobibor) was a death camp. You went in there and 45 minutes later you died,” Blatt said.

Blatt was selected by the guards as one of the 600 Jews to serve as maintenance workers. At one point he shined shoes for an SS officer.

Blatt’s father, mother and brother all died in the camp. It is estimated that more than 167,000 people were systematically murdered in that camp alone. Almost all executed were Jews, a portion of the 6 million who were put to death at the hands of the Nazis.

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website, Sobibor inmates lured the death camp’s SS officers by telling them new uniforms had arrived. The officers were killed and their firearms taken.

The escapees then shot at guard towers, burned the camp and entered the surrounding minefield. About 300 prisoners escaped, many died in the minefield. Only an estimated 58 survived the war.

Two weeks after escaping, Blatt was shot along with two friends and left for dead by a farmer.

Blatt feigned death then ran away to the forest, a bullet lodged in his jaw.

He would fight with Partisan guerrilla resistance until the end of the war.

“It could happen any place, any time. Any minority is in danger,” Blatt said.

“The crime of the Nazis was that not only did they kill so many people — but the word crematorium is not shocking anymore,” said Blatt. “They made crematorium a household word. That’s the crime.”

A later story by Danielle Samaniego on May 8, 2000, said Blatt was only 15, the age of high school freshmen, when he was imprisoned.

On Nov. 10, 1988, Dan Krieger wrote of Paul Wolff and his wife Marion.

They were children in Nazi Germany when the terror of Kristallnacht was unleashed Nov. 9, 1938.

Paul’s father Charles had been a highly decorated German Army officer in World War I.

Charles was arrested and held in jail for nine days.

Thousands of other Jews were sent to death camps, with homes and businesses ransacked as the Holocaust began.

In January 1939 Paul and his sister were stoned on their way home from school by their schoolmates.

“By that subtle method we were told that our school days were over,” he said.

The Wolffs escaped Hamburg, Germany, and were among the fortunate few who obtained exit visas to England and later immigrated to America.

Paul stripped the silver off of a crystal vase when a Nazi demanded it. Wolff kept the vase as a reminder.

Paul would grow up and became a professor of architecture at Cal Poly and has recorded an oral history archived by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“The best way to ensure that Kristallnacht will never happen again is through remembrance,” he said.

On Aug. 22, 1988, Don Pieper wrote about Rolande “Frenchy” Amundson, who then lived in Paso Robles.

She was named Rolande Colas as teenager, completing her pre-med studies in German-occupied Paris in 1943.

She had become disillusioned by the French government, ignored politics and focused on schoolwork.

“But as long as it doesn’t touch you directly, you don’t react.”

Then one day everything changed.

“The Germans walked into the medical school. They put the boys to one side, then packed them in a truck and sent them to a labor camp. They sent us girls home. So that was the first huge problem in my life. It was very maddening. They had interrupted what I had set out to do.”

Amundson joined the resistance and was spirited to England, where she was trained as a spy.

“I was a cutie who could nose around,” she said.

She survived a parachute jump accidentally landing in a river near Saint-Lô, France. She got a job working at a German supply base in Cherbourg. Numbers of German troops in the region was information critical to Allied planning of the Normandy invasion on D-Day.

“They thought I was a no-brain little lady,” said Amundson who had the code name “Jerry.”

She would carry information back to England and parachute out of a Lancaster bomber with a new assignment.

Her third parachute jump into France was ill-fated.

Her resistance group had been broken and she was turned over to the Nazi secret police, the Gestapo.

She had only been given enough information to carry out her assignment but the Gestapo resorted to torture and began pulling out her fingernails.

“But what you don’t know you can’t tell. After the second nail, you faint anyway, and you don’t feel the rest,” she said matter of factly.

She was sent to the concentration camp at Mauthausen in a railcar designed for cattle.

“That’s where you are reduced to nothing. It’s the lowest you can get,” she said.

She was forced to pour lime on the piles of bodies of Jews executed in the gas chambers.

“They were just skeletons, but the eyes — the eyes kept looking at you, straight through to your soul like an arrow.”

The complex of Mauthausen death camps was liberated in the final days of the war by troops under George Patton.

Rolande Amundson died in 1997 after having been an advocate for veterans, been named an honorary Green Beret and worked as a volunteer French tutor at Paso Robles High School.

David Middlecamp is a photographer for The Tribune. 805-781-7942, dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com, @DavidMiddlecamp

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