The Special Needs Educator Who was Murdered by the Nazis

Meet Sally and Rebeka Bein who ran an educational institution for Jewish children with special needs during the Holocaust, and were eventually killed along with the children by the Nazis.

Sally Bein (background) with some of the institution's children. Photo:  Arthur Feiner, Courtesy of Degmar Drobs

In the early 20th century, in the heart of a pine forest in eastern Germany, a one of a kind institution was established – an educational facility for Jewish children with special needs. The director of this institution, set up in October 1908 near the town of Beelitz, was a 27-year-old Jewish man by the name of Sally (Samuel) Bein, who until then had worked as a teacher for deaf and mute children.

Sally Bein. Photo:  Arthur Feiner, Courtesy of Degmar Drobs

The facility (known as the Israelitische Erziehungsanstalt Wilhelm-Auguste-Viktoria-Stiftung) accepted children ranging from preschool aged to adolescents, most of them with special needs of various types. Others were sent there because of domestic issues at home and an inability of their parents to take care of them, while later on more children arrived because of limitations on the number of Jews allowed at ordinary schools. Sally Bein sought to receive them all, and integrate the different groups, a view that was quite ahead of its time.

In the beginning Sally and his wife Rebeka were the only teachers at the facility, but as the years went by more staff members joined the team, including three additional teachers and a teaching assistant, a cook, a caretaker and a gardener, all of whom contributed to the children’s education in addition to their regular work. Pupils would spend about two years at the institution, during which they studied academic subjects like Hebrew, German, history, and arithmetic, but a heavy emphasis was also placed on more mundane life skills and practices, including proper codes of social conduct, guidelines on order and cleanliness, as well as various arts and crafts like carpentry, cooking, and gardening.

A carpentry class (Photo taken from an album belonging to Arthur Feiner, a teacher at the institution)

Studies took place in a Jewish atmosphere, with Bible classes, observation of the Sabbath and dietary laws of Kosher, as well as the celebration of Jewish holidays. Day trips and games would take place during free time with the participation of all children, and no separation by gender or age, nor any consideration for cognitive differences among them. Throughout the years nearly 400 children studied at the institution, with most of them able to eventually move on to ordinary high schools or to find work. Bein’s achievements gained him a worldwide reputation, with doctors and educators from across Europe and even pre-state Israel coming to visit and learn his work methods.


Rebeka Bein (Photographer unknown)

The skies over the school began to darken in 1933, with the coming to power of the Nazi party. Sally Bein was forced to contend with constant attempts by local authorities to disrupt the institution’s activity and shut it down. The main complaint was that the facility and its children were perceived as a stain on the local population – a supposed negative influence on tourists who visited the area. When the Nazis began their extermination programs, the institution’s fate was sealed. Under the Third Reich, Jewish special needs children had no right to exist.

In April of 1942, nearly 30 children and staff members were sent away to the Warsaw Ghetto. Sally could by then sense the direction the wind was blowing, yet decided to stay put, though he and his family held visas that would have allowed them to leave Germany. In the months that followed, the last hopes of survival were dashed. On the 13th of June, 1942, a “shipment to the East” left Berlin. On board the train were 748 Jews from Berlin, in addition to some 280 Jews from the Beelitz area, including all of the facility’s children and staff members, among them Sally Bein, his wife Rebeka and their daughter Lisa Carola. The train took them to the Sobibor death camp, where they were murdered. The institution, which for 34 years had been full of life and the sounds of children at play, was now silent.

The school building used by the institution’s children which now serves as the Sally Bein Gymnasium (Photo: Ronny Dotan and Tatjana Ruge)

A short time after the eviction, the facility was taken over by the League of German Girls, a Nazi youth movement. For the past few decades, it has been the sight of a high school, named after Sally Bein. The students take part in a number of commemorative activities in hopes of preserving the site’s history for the sake of future generations.

A memorial plaque at the front of the building (Photo: Ronny Dotan and Tatjana Ruge)

We were made aware of this story by Ronny Dotan, who first learned of it thanks to the Holocaust Railway Car Project, and later continued studying the subject along with Tatjana Ruge of Berlin. Their research collected information about hundreds of children and staff members, whose relatives have since been located. If you have further information about the institution or the children who studied there, you are welcome to contact Ronny Dotan: [email protected].

Love Songs From a Poet Who Was Banned From Publication

The poet Dorian, a doctor by profession, devoted his entire collection to his daughter and published it as his first book under the name "Poems to Lelioara," in 1923.

Emil Dorian with his wife Paula (nee Fränkel) and their daughters towards the end of the 1920s

In the framework of the routine catalog activity of the National Library, a special item was recently unearthed from the Collection of Jewish Romanian Intellectuals’ Private Papers. This item sheds new light on the literary activity of one of Romania’s Jewish poets and writers. The 1920’s notebook was used for drafting the first book of poems by the poet and novelist Emil Lustig, who published his works under the pseudonym “Dorian,” which became later his official family name. This archival material contains most of the poems that were published in Dorian’s first book.

Often it catches me a moment of miss
As I still was floating in soft dreams
And you stretched your wing just
To get down in tranquility to us.
I’d like to feel the thrill then
Of those cruel hopes
To be crushed by sorrow again
And to struggle in remorse.
And picking up an armful of stars
To love you more than bold,
Entering into my songs
As into a cradle of gold.
(Translated from Romanian by Shaul Greenstein)


Ades mă prinde un dor de clipă
Când mai pluteam în visuri moi
Şi tu de-abea’ntindeai aripa
Ca să cobori senin la noi.
Aş vrea să simt atunci fiorul
Acelei crunte aşteptări
Să mă zdrobească iarăşi dorul
Şi să mă zbat în remuşcări.
Şi culegând un braţ de stele
Ca să te’ndrăgostesc mai viu,
Să intri’n cântecele mele
Ca într’un legăn auriu.
(The three stanzas of the poem “Longings” by Emil Dorian)

The poet Dorian, a doctor by profession, expressed his longing for the birth of his eldest daughter, Lilia, whom he called Lelioara through the medium of poetry. Dorian devoted the entire collection to his daughter and published it as his first book under the name “Poems to Lelioara,” in 1923.

The poem collection “Poems to Lelioara” published as a book in 1923
The draft-manuscript of 1920 that is to find at the National Library Archives and which is a part of Collection of Jewish Romanian Intellectuals’ Private Papers.

Along with corrections, deletions and additional poems that have not yet been published, this manuscript of poems contains illustrations and poems dedicated to the poet’s wife, Paula. Dorian bridged his tendency to artistic writing and his delivery as a physician and also wrote books in a popular vulgar style on medicine and sexuality.

The poem “Longings” (on the left) from the draft manuscript “Poems for Lelioara”.

Young Dorian was drafted into the Romanian army during the First World War, but it was during World War II, at the time of the fascist reign of Marshal Antonescu, that his works were marked as Jewish works and were banned.

A page dedicated to his wife Paula from the draft-manuscript “Poems to Lelioara”.

Pages from the draft-manuscript “Poems to Lelioara.”
The poem “The Bathing” (on the left) in its non-final version of the collection “Poems to Lelioara” 1920. This song was published separately in the Romanian National newspaper “Gândirea” around its founding in 1921 

 As a poet, Dorian was once again launched to fame two and a half decades after his death in 1973 when two of his diaries were published. These diaries brought to light the Romanian Jewry’s confrontation with rising anti-Semitism from the late 1930s until Dorian’s death in 1956.

When Anti-Semitism Forced a Champion Jewish Boxer to Throw in the Towel

Motzi Spakow was a prize-winning boxer in Romania for many years until he was forced to give up his title after he was attacked by a mob during a match.

Romanian Jewish boxer Motzi (Moți) Spakov and Chief Rabbi of Romania, Rabbi Dr. Jacob Itzhak Niemirower

Motzi Spakow, the undisputed boxing champion in Romania between 1927 and 1940, was forced to give up his title following an anti-Semitic incident in the Romanian boxing scene, where at one of the many competitions he participated in, he was physically attacked by a nationalist crowd.

“I, who fought from the bottom of my heart for Romania in France, Poland, and other countries, am no longer considered as a physical, genuine Romanian in my own fatherland, against that I can no longer fight… I renounce the title and wich that my successor may defend the Romanian flag with the same enthusiasm that I have for the last nine years.” 

Quotations from Spakow’s letter to the Romanian Boxing Federation in the report of the Jewish Telegram Intelligence of September 1936. (Jewish Telegraph Agency – Sept. 18th, 1936)

In October of 1936, just a month after giving up his title, Spakow asked the Chief Rabbi of Romania, Rabbi Jacob Itzhak Niemirower, for financial support and spiritual guidance on immigrating to the Land of Israel where he hoped to acquire the right equipment and train so he could continue his profession as a boxer.

“After nine years of winning the boxing championships, I was forced to give up my position under the circumstances that are known to you, and in light of my current situation, I decided to leave for Eretz Israel, the Holy Land, in order to achieve better results for my efforts than those I achieved in Romania.”

Spakow’s letter to the first Chief Rabbi of Romania, Dr. Jacob Itzhak Niemirower. from the Collection of Jewish Romanian Intellectuals’ Private Papers at the National Library.

 Rabbi Niemirower was himself a victim of an anti-Semitic attempted murder in early 1936, and he later died in 1939.

Rabbi Niemirower waving from the window of his house after an assassination attempt against him, on January 11th, 1936. This archival item was deposited in the National Library a few years after the establishment of the State of Israel.

Spakow managed to maintain his position in Romania until Antonescu’s fascist rule was established in 1940. After that, he was definitively banned from performing in the arena as a Jewish athlete. He immigrated to Israel in 1947 but failed in his efforts to develop the sport of boxing in the Holy Land.

Spakow left Israel for Australia, wherein 1980, he died at the age of 74.

“Muscle Judaism” – What didn’t work?

Another interesting archival item was found in the collection of publications of the National Library – an essay entitled “Physical Education and Sport” by Ignatz Weiss, which may provide a partial explanation for Sapakow’s failure in his attempts to build up the sport of boxing in the Holy Land. The essay deals with the renaissance of Jewish sport as a goal of self-realization, in which the author distinguishes between two types of sports: one for the sake of physical health, and the other for the purpose of competition.

Ignatz Weiss’s theoretical essay, “Sport and Physical Education,” published in the Jewish-Romanian Almanac of 1939-1938

Weiss brings the example of Samson the hero and King David as proof of the importance of physical fitness and competition in Jewish society in ancient times. He also draws attention to the concept of “Muscle Judaism,” Max Nordau’s vision of the need to establish Jewish sports clubs, an idea that Nordau presented during his speech at the Second Jewish Congress in 1898.

Remarkably, even before the start of Jewish Emancipation, the boxing industry had many successful Jewish representatives but Jewish society was not yet enthusiastic about this sport or about the achievements of Spakow and his colleagues.

Weiss admitted in his article that, even after four decades, the innovations of the Zionist Congress in Basel had not yet reached the consciousness of the Jewish public:

“Unfortunately, today, the interest of Jewish society in Jewish sports is not directly proportional to the aspirations of sports representatives in physical education.”

Weiss concluded:

The athletic youth is the commitment to the Jewish future…Only the youth trained in sports, who have been prepared with this dedication can lead Judaism to the desired calm. Even if it sounds paradoxally, but the march to a happier and more peaceful Jewish future is through sports

The Jewish Almanac for the year 5699 (1938-1939), which includes about 19 articles and essays by Jewish authors and thinkers in Romanian, Hungarian and German.


Article on the Viennese “Hakoach”  swimmers Hedy Bienenfeld and Fritzi Löwy

Article on the Viennese “Hakoach” athlete Alfred König and his mysterious identity as Ali Ferit Gören

“Burn them, as my world and everything I loved burned in Auschwitz’s crematorium”

Yehiel De-Nur felt that "Yehiel Feiner" was destroyed in the Holocaust, and so he wished to destroy the book he published before the Holocaust

Author Yehiel Feiner, born in 1909, is known as one of the greatest authors to write about the Holocaust and its aftermath. Feiner renamed himself Yehiel De-nur and later chose a pen name imbued with meaning: Ka-Tsetnik 135633, taken from KZ – the short form the Nazis used for “Konzentrationslager,” German for concentration camp. The name therefore literally meant – “Concentration camp prisoner number 135633”

Before the Holocaust, in 1931, Yehiel Feiner published a book of Yiddish poetry titled “Twenty-Two” (צווייאונצוואנציק in Yiddish). After the war, any time he heard there was a copy of the book available at the National Library of Israel, Ka-Tsetnik would come to the Library, borrow out the book, and destroy it. Ka-Tsetnik did this three times between 1953 and 1993.

Ka-Tsetnik’s letter to Shlomo Goldberg, 1993

In 1953 and 1964 he burned the available copies of his book. In 1993, he wrote a letter to Shlomo Goldberg, the manager of the library stacks at the time, about the third and last time he destroyed the book. He shredded the publication and sent the remains of the book together with the letter in an envelope to Goldberg.

Pieces of the copy shredded by Ka-Tsetnik

“I have another request: I placed here the remains of the ‘book.’ Please, burn them as my world and everything I loved burned in Auschwitz’s crematorium.”

It seems that Yehiel De-Nur felt that Yehiel Feiner had been destroyed in the Holocaust, along with everything dear to him. Moreover, De-Nur viewed everything Feiner created before the Holocaust as meaningless. As far as he was concerned, the Holocaust had utterly destroyed the world that existed before. Ka-Tsetnik, writing after the Holocaust, had nothing to do with Feiner and the work he created and published.

Ka-Tsetnik collapses during Adolf Eichmann’s trial, 1961. Photo credit: GPO

During Eichmann’s trial where De-Nur was a witness, Ka-Tsetnik called Auschwitz “another planet”. For Ka-Tsetnik there were three distinct worlds, before the Holocaust, during the Holocaust, and after the Holocaust and everything that he had created before the Holocaust could not be tolerated.

Yehiel De-Nur passed away on July 17, 2001. The Library still holds an intact copy of the book De-Nur tried so hard to destroy.