In 1997, the film “Life is Beautiful” directed by director Roberto Benigni was released, which tells about a boy who secretly lived in a German concentration camp. It turns out that the film was based on real events and describes the amazing story of the salvation of the Jewish boy Jozef Janek Schleifstein, whom his father hid in Buchenwald.
4-year-old Jozef Janek Schleifstein in Buchenwald soon after the liberation of the camp by the Americans.
Jozef was born on March 7, 1941 in the Jewish ghetto in the vicinity of the Polish city of Sandomierz in the family of Israel and Esther Schleifstein. In June 1942, the family was transported to Częstochowa for work at the HASAG metal products and weapons factory. The children were taken away from their parents, as they were useless for work, but the Schleifstein hid their son in the basement and was not found. For 1.5 years, the boy lived in the basement with a cat that protected him from mice and rats.
Józef Janek Schleifstein with his father and other surviving concentration camp prisoners.
In 1943, Jozef’s father was sent to Buchenwald, and his mother to Bergen-Belsen. Israel offered the child to play a game in which he needed to make no sound and for this he would receive three pieces of sugar. The father put his son in a shoulder bag and so they were together in the concentration camp. Hide the boy helped the Germans, anti-fascists, who brought him water and bread. Thus, for 2.5-year-old Jozef the “game” continued. The father said that he needed to hide from the guards, otherwise he would be taken to the sorceress, and if he does everything right, the reward in the game will be a tank.
During the search of the barracks the child was discovered by one of the guards, but he took pity and did not report it to his superiors. The camp also hid other children, there were a total of 20. Special security measures were taken when the concentration camp leadership was in place. In February 1945, Jozef noticed the deputy chief of the concentration camp and ordered him to be killed, but his father asked him to give him a few days to say goodbye to his son, promising to make the best saddle for an officer who was very fond of horse riding. Józef was lucky again, as several days later the deputy chief was transferred to the Eastern Front. On April 11, the prisoners of Buchenwald were liberated by American troops. Israel Schleifstein found his wife, who was in the camp of Dachau. In 1947, Jozef acted as a witness at the trial of the guards of Buchenwald.
Jozef (center in the foreground) with other children from Buchenwald after liberation.
After the release of the film, Jozef was spotted by journalists and he agreed to give a single interview, since he still did not want to recall those terrible days of his life, because of which he is still sleeping with the lights on.
Shot from the film “Life is Beautiful”.