Joseph Schleifstein
A three-year-old in Buchenwald

Joseph was born to Israel and Esther Szlajfaztajn on 7 March 1941 in Sandomierz, Poland. At the end of 1942, the German occupiers established a ghetto for Jews in the city, and the family remained there until its dissolution in January 1943. In January 1945, the entire family was deported to the German Reich. Esther was sent to the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, and Israel and three-year-old Joseph arrived at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp on 20 January 1945. With the help of his father and other prisoners, he survived until liberation.

In 1946, Joseph and his father reunited with his mother Esther in Dachau, which was now a DP camp. In 1947, the family emigrated to the USA and built a new life for themselves in New York.

The story of Joseph Schleifstein, who is said to have been smuggled into the Buchenwald camp in a sack, served as the basis for Roberto Benigni’s internationally acclaimed Italian tragicomedy La vita è bella in 1997.

Joseph Schleifstein in the liberated Buchenwald camp, after 19 April 1945.

The boy spent his fourth birthday in Buchenwald Concentration Camp in March 1945, making him one of the youngest prisoners in the main camp.

(Buchenwald Memorial)

Joseph Schleifstein with his father Israel at the German-Polish border, May/June 1945.

The joint search for Esther Szlajfaztajn began immediately after liberation.

(Buchenwald Memorial)

Joseph Schleifstein in a group of children and adolescents from the liberated Buchenwald Concentration Camp in the Rheinfelden quarantine camp in Switzerland, June 1945.

Joseph and other juvenile Buchenwald survivors were taken to Switzerland for recuperation on a Kindertransport (children’s transport). He later rejoined his father.

(Buchenwald Memorial)

Joseph Schleifstein being interviewed by a journalist in Dachau and photographed in his prisoner suit, 1946.

(United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Reunited. Joseph Schleifstein with his mother Esther and father Israel in Dachau, around 1946.

The US Army had set up a DP camp in the liberated Dachau Concentration Camp. There, the family reunited. In 1947, they emigrated to the USA.

(United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)