Move the mouse pointer over a red word in the main text, to view the glossary entry for this word.

Paul Steinberg (1926–1999)

“The doctors [of the prisoner infirmary] let some die to save others. I saw people around me die, but I was saved. That was enough to make me feel uneasy, guilty of being too lucky, of having left the others to their common fate. Of course, these feelings surfaced later, after my rebirth. They stemmed from a morality that had become obsolete in the camp.

Sometimes I imagine that Waitz, Ohrenstein, Feldbaum, and the others discussed my case, wondering if I was still able to recover. Or maybe they did nothing of the sort and simply carried me as far along as they could.

At any rate, with luck on my side, I repaid their efforts, and they won their wager.”[1]


Paul Steinberg, born in Berlin in 1926, was the youngest of three children in a Russian Jewish family. His mother, Hélène Steinberg, died a few days after his birth. In 1933, the family emigrated to France after spending some time in Italy, next went to Barcelona, and finally returned to France because of the civil war in Spain. Paul Steinberg grew up in four countries; he formed no close friendships, changed schools numerous times, and spoke four languages: German, French, Russian, and English. In 1936, his brother, Georges, emigrated to England, and after 1941 his sister, Lydia, using false papers, lived in the unoccupied part of France. Only Paul remained with his father, Joseph Steinberg, and stepmother, Pauline Steinberg, in Paris. Nonetheless he avoided wearing the Star of David, if only to be able to pursue his passion for going to the horseraces.


On September 23, 1943, Paul Steinberg was arrested in Paris by two policemen, alerted to his presence by a letter denouncing him. He was placed in the transit camp in Drancy, where he made friends with Philippe Hagenauer, a boy his age. Together they joined a group of young athletes, at the center of which was the former world boxing champion Victor “Young” Perez. They all were deported to Auschwitz together on October 7, 1943. Paul Steinberg was the only member of the group to survive the Buna/Monowitz concentration camp and the subsequent death march. Still clueless about the rules of camp life, he managed to secure the goodwill and patronage of the camp elder, and after a few days of carrying bricks he was transferred to an easier work detachment, to clean warehouses. In the winter of 1943/44, Paul Steinberg fell ill, first with jaundice and then with dysentery and erysipelas; finally, by now almost a Muselmann, he entered the infirmary. He survived, thanks to the help of several physicians—Robert Waitz, Ohrenstein, and Feldbaum—and of other French prisoners. The bond he forged with them endured even after his release from the infirmary, and a network of mutual assistance was formed. Paul Steinberg, who had claimed to be a chemist when he arrived in the Buna/Monowitz concentration camp, finally was put into the work detachment known as Kommando 23, to which Primo Levi later was assigned as well. On January 18, 1945, together with thousands of other prisoners, he was made to go on the death march to Gleiwitz. From there, he was transported by rail via Prague, where Czech workers tossed bread into the open freight cars carrying the inmates, to the Buchenwald concentration camp, where he succeeded in passing himself off as a political prisoner. Thus he avoided deportation with the approximately 1,200 Jews remaining in Buchenwald, who were killed near Munich. Shortly after the liberation of Buchenwald, American soldiers helped him return to Paris.


After three or four years of erratic living in Paris, Paul Steinberg settled down to 40 years of work as a businessman. He married Simone, and the couple had two daughters. In Primo Levi’s autobiographical novel Survival in Auschwitz (If This Is a Man), Paul Steinberg makes an appearance as the character Henri. Though aware all along of his need to respond to Levi’s characterization, he took his time writing a chronicle of his experiences at Buna/Monowitz and simultaneously a reflection on his memories: he waited 50 years, until he was retired, to write his book. It was published in 1996 under the title Chroniques d’ailleurs: Récit (published in English as Speak You Also: A Survivor’s Reckoning, 2001). Paul Steinberg died in Paris in 1999.

(MN; transl. KL)


Levi, Primo: Survival in Auschwitz: The Nazi Assault on Humanity. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996 [first published as If This Is a Man].

Steinberg, Paul: Chroniques d’ailleurs: Récit. Paris: Ramsay, 1996.

Steinberg, Paul: Speak You Also: A Survivor’s Reckoning. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2000.

[1] Paul Steinberg: Speak You Also: A Survivor’s Reckoning (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2000), p. 76.