The Szymon Project is a musical composition telling the story of Szymon Hafftka's survival in the Holocaust. Music composed by Michael Hafftka, Susanne Hafenscher (Macu), Jurica Jelic, Johnny Reinhard and Yonat Hafftka. The composition follows Szymon from his childhood in Poland to his incarceration in the death camp Mauthausen to his eventual escape in Germany and his remaining state of mind as a survivor in the United States. This project includes Irena Klepfisz, a poet and a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, reading the dedications for her poem Bashert.
Szymon was born in 1913 in Czestochowa, Poland. He was the child of Mordechai Mayer (Mordka Majer) Haftka (b.1885), a tree surgeon by trade, and Tauba Haftka née Schlesinger (SZLEZYNGER)(b.1883). He had four brothers and one sister. The oldest was David (b.1902), he had wife and two daughters, the other brothers, in age-descending order were, Joseph (b.1904), Fishel (b.1907) and Abraham (b.1914). Szymon’s sister was named Esther (b. 1910) and she had a husband and one daughter. Szymon’s grandfather’s name was Joseph and he had a wife, five boys and one girl. Szymon's great grandfather was named Herschel and he was married to a woman named Sura. Back to top
Germany The following details are a mixture of what was told by Szymon to his children and what they found out after his death. The timeline of these details is impossible to decipher, as Szymon spoke very little about his war experience.
Szymon was drafted into the Polish army in 1939 He was in the Army for 3 days and then a prisoner of war in Stallag 4. He was subjected to “forced labor, beatings and inhumane cruelty by the German guards”. He was sent to a forced labor camp in a Sugar Factory near Hamburg. In the Sugar factory he carried sacks of sugar weighing at least 150 lbs. near a burning hot furnace all day long. He witnesses many people who collapsing of total exhaustion. They were thrown into the sugar furnace alive or dead. Szymon was discharged in six months because, as he said, they did not want to kill him while still a Polish POW.
He went back to his family in Czestochowa where he witnessed the Gestapo storm troopers come into his family home and kill his sister’s baby by tossing her out of the window. He, along with his entire family, was herded into the Czestochowa ghetto. He supported his family by sneaking out of the Ghetto every day to forage for food. If the Germans caught him he would have been killed on the spot. He saw many people killed and everyone was starving. One day his father told him “tomorrow don’t return.” His father had heard that the Ghetto would be liquidated with everyone being sent to Treblinka. He gave Szymon a gold coin, the only thing the family had left. Szymon traded the gold coin for a pencil, a piece of paper and a stamp with the hopeless desire to write to his family. Szymon’s immediate family, their spouses and children, all perished in the death camps Treblinka and Chelmo in 1942.
Szymon met a man from the Polish underground who forged papers for him with a Polish Christian name and identity. Szymon became Anton Matachek. The Nazis subsequently caught that man and tortured him to death without his ever revealing the names of the many people he had saved from the Nazi’s.
With those forged papers Szymon crossed the border into Germany with a guide who betrayed him and left him alone on the border in the middle of the night. Szymon said that making the decision to go forward into Germany and alone was the most frightening experience of his life.
In Germany Szymon worked as a slave laborer on a farm near Furstenberg, Mecklenburg, where he slept in a barrack with Ukrainians, who he said hated Jews more than the Germans. He slept in fear that he would speak in his sleep in Yiddish, his native tongue. He was fearful that his circumcision would be discovered and then he would be killed. A farmer named Barnikoff owned the Farm. Towards the end of the war he asked Szymon into the farmhouse and showed him a newspaper with the headlines “Germany is winning the war”. He then told Szymon to read the white not the black, meaning that that opposite was true. He told Szymon that soon he would be safe. Szymon realized that Barnikoff knew he was a Jew and did not reveal it to the SS.
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Mauthausen In 2011 Szymon's son, Michael Hafftka, found a Members Identity Card no.938, of Selfaid of the Jewish Former Concentration Camp Inmates Upper Austria identifying Simon as a survivor of Mauthausen Concentration Camp. He was #85685. Szymon never spoke to his son about Mauthausen except when Michael was very young. Michael remembers him saying he was in a concentration camp and it was no good to talk about it. Szymon never told him more than that. Szymon's daughter Julia remembers him telling her he was a Sonderkommando whose job was to remove the dead from the gas chamber. Back to top
Diminished Light As the war was ending the Germans forced Szymon into a death march. He escaped and saw a man building a restaurant or bar. He was near death from starvation and he asked the man to trade food for making chairs for his restaurant. The man agreed and it saved Szymon's life. He eventually made it to a displaced persons camp in Austria in 1946 and stayed there until 1948. There he met Eva Hersko and got married in Bad Gastein, Austria. They immigrated to the U.S. by ship to Boston in 1948. All they had was $6 given to them generously by American soldier in the displaced persons camp. He was helped with US immigration and vouched for by his uncle Alexander Hafftka and his wife Ola. Szymon and Eve had two children. Eve passed away at the age of 47 succumbing to cancer when her son was 18 and her daughter was 14. Szymon lived to be 89. Back to top