Bearing Witness: Stories Behind the Artifacts in the Yad Vashem Museum Collection

Chess pieces and box that Dr. Ernst Furst received in the Friedland labor camp in Poland

Chess pieces that were made in the Friedland labor camp, PolandChess pieces that were made in the Friedland labor camp, Poland Engraving of the Friedland labor camp on a metal plaque attached to a wooden box that Dr. Furst received in the camp Engraving of the Friedland labor camp on a metal plaque attached to a wooden box that Dr. Furst received in the camp

Dr. Ernest Furst, an ear, nose and throat specialist from Topolcany in Slovakia, was deported to Auschwitz with his family in 1944. His wife and children were murdered. Dr. Furst was sent to the Friedland labor camp, a sub-camp of Gross Rosen. The prisoners were sent to forced labor in an armaments factory and as loggers in a saw mill. 

During his time in Friedland, Dr. Furst cared for the prisoners who fell ill. One of them, Israel Lewkowitz, survived thanks to an operation that Dr. Furst performed on him under close supervision by armed Nazi guards. A newspaper article published in Maariv newspaper in 1966 relates:

"A rare case of an operation performed by a Jewish doctor in the conditions of a Nazi concentration camp has come to our attention with the immigration to Israel of Dr. E. Furst… The event took place in the Friedland  camp… Of course it was not a simple feat to perform an ear operation in a concentration camp, every move of the surgeon and his helpers (who by necessity, were Jews) was watched by armed Nazi guards, but the operation was successful and the patient, who was in serious danger, survived the Holocaust and immigrated to Israel."

According to testimonies of survivors from Friedland, prisoners who had experience as carpenters worked in the saw mill. This leads us to assume that the chess pieces kept by Dr. Furst were made by forced laborers in the saw mill who presented the pieces to him as a token of gratitude for his care.

After the war, Dr. Furst returned to Slovakia and worked in assorted hospitals. In 1966 he immigrated to Israel and was reunited with relatives, but he never remarried. He worked in a clinic in the Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood in Jerusalem and passed away in 1972.

Yad Vashem Artifacts Collection
Donated by Meir Ben Zvi, Israel