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“Please don’t forget me.
Heartfelt greetings and kisses to you all”

Closing words of the letter written by Feliks Ryba at the Neu-Dachs subcamp of the Auschwitz concentration camp

Letters from Auschwitz

For the relatives of prisoners, letters from the camps were important signs of life. But sometimes every last trace of them just disappeared - as in the case of Feliks Ryba.

I was a research trainee at the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp Memorial when we received an inquiry from Munich in October 2021:

There were two screenshots attached to the email showing the conflicting information in our online database about the place of death - one says Markt Schwaben:

… and the other says Auerbach:

Addressing the German occupation in Poland is personally important to me. Together with Sandra Brandner, who was volunteering at the memorial at the time, I took on Ms. Kopoczyńska’s inquiry.

We also wondered why our database has conflicting information about the place of death. And why was Feliks Ryba laid to rest in the Memorial Cemetery in Flossenbürg? As far as we could see, he hadn’t been imprisoned in the Flossenbürg concentration camp.

Researching in the Arolsen Archives

Since we didn’t have any prisoner documents from Feliks Ryba, we had to start researching in other archives.

First, we searched for his name in the online database of the Arolsen Archives. We got thirteen hits, including documents from just after the war.

Starting in 1945 by order of the Allies, local governments had to create lists of foreign persons who had been in their administrative areas during the war - for instance as forced laborers, prisoners of war, or concentration camp prisoners.

Over the course of what was called the “Ausländersuchaktion” (search for foreigners), hundreds of thousands of lists were created that were also used to clarify what happened to people during and after the war.

List of persons with Polish citizenship who died in Auerbach, dated August 7, 1946 (Arolsen Archives)

This document can be viewed in its entirety in the online archives of the Arolsen Archives.

One such list from the Eschenbach district gave us the important information that Feliks Ryba died in DP Camp 147, in Auerbach, on May 18, 1945. The cause of death is given as malnutrition and cardiac arrest. He was initially buried in the Auerbach Cemetery.

In the online database of the Arolsen Archives, we also found documents from Buchenwald concentration camp:

Upper half of Feliks Ryba’s prisoner registration form from Buchenwald concentration camp, 1945 (Arolsen Archives)

This document can be viewed in its entirety in the online archives of the Arolsen Archives.

The prisoner registration form shows that Feliks came from the town of Tomaszów Mazowiecki. The entry “Au 162344” means that he was initially in Auschwitz with the prisoner number 162344. A stamp was used to note that he arrived in Buchenwald from the Gross-Rosen concentration camp on February 10, 1945. The number he was given in Buchenwald was 129601.

We thus turned to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and the city archive in Tomaszów Mazowiecki to find out more information about Feliks’ arrest and deportation.

Deportation to Auschwitz

We quickly received an answer from the Tomaszów Mazowiecki City Archive:

The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum was also able to provide additional information:

Having arrived at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, Feliks was given prisoner number 162344 and was sent to the BIIa quarantine camp.

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After quarantine, Feliks was sent to the BIId men’s camp.

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An Important Letter

From the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, we also received a digital copy of a letter that Feliks sent to his family on March 5, 1944:

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The sender field contains important information about the further path of his imprisonment:

“Work camp EWO Jaworzno – Post Jaworzno Block 6”

Jaworzno. This means that Feliks must have been deported to one of Auschwitz’s largest subcamps no later than four months after his arrival: Neu-Dachs, which was established near Jaworzno in June 1943.

The prisoners had to perform forced labor in the nearby coal mines.

Death March to Buchenwald

The information that Feliks Ryba was imprisoned in Neu-Dachs is important for figuring out where else he was imprisoned.

As the front moved closer in January 1945, the Auschwitz camp complex was evacuated. On January 17, the SS forced around 3,200 prisoners on a death march from the Neu-Dachs subcamp that led from Jaworzno over Myslowitz, Beuthen, and Gleiwitz to the Blechhammer subcamp. On the second night, the SS murdered 200 prisoners who were unable to keep marching.

Exhumations and Reburials

As the allied troops gained ground in areas previously under the control of the Germans the spring of 1945, the SS in charge of the concentration camps aimed to prevent the liberation of the prisoners. Increasingly, prisoners were transferred to concentration camps further away from the front. The war made it more and more difficult to organize orderly prisoner transports by rail. Instead, prisoners were forced on chaotic foot marches for days, or sometimes even weeks. Tens of thousands of prisoners died; whoever was too weak to walk was left behind to die or was murdered. Because so many people died, these marches have become known as “death marches.”

Hastily dug graves lined the routes of the death marches. After the war, the occupying forces interviewed German townspeople, asking whether concentration camp prisoners were marched through their villages, whether they were buried and where, and how many people were buried in these graves. Their aim was to reconstruct the routes of the marches and the crimes of the final phase of the war. They also wanted more dignified final resting places for the victims. The bodies that had often been thrown into holes dug at the side of the road were exhumed and reburied in local cemeteries or in new, dedicated memorial cemeteries.

In the 1950s, there were further exhumations, and the dead were reburied in memorial cemeteries or returned to their homelands for burial. Sadly, the people who died were never all identified. Where identification had been possible after exhumation, the information was often lost in the process of reburial. In the late 1950s, when the last memorial cemeteries for victims of the Nazis were created, “anonymity” was built into the design. The graves were meant to stand as a symbol for all those who had died—who were seen as victims of the war—and not just for those whose corpses were buried there, even when they could be identified.

The SS then drove the exhausted prisoners further to Gross-Rosen concentration camp, which they reached on February 2. On February 7, the prisoners were then transported by train to Buchenwald concentration camp.

What happen to Feliks after his arrival at Buchenwald?

On his work assignment card, he was delegated to the “23/2 Sal” commando:

We decided to send an inquiry to the Buchenwald Memorial for clarification, and quickly received an answer:

So Feliks was taken from Buchenwald to Bad Salzungen.

There, the surrounding potash mines were to be used as underground production facilities for the aircraft industry. Prisoners of the Heinrich Kalb and Ludwig Renntier subcamps were forced to perform hard labor, underground, to prepare the mine for production facilities for BMW. In some cases, they saw no daylight for the entire period of their imprisonment. They also suffered from respiratory problems caused by the salty air of the potash mine.

As the Red Army moved closer, the Buchenwald camp complex was also evacuated. Feliks was initially returned to the main camp, and then sent on a death march towards Flossenbürg concentration camp between April 7 and 10.


In the weeks before the war’s end, the concentration camp administration broke down more and more. Newly arriving prisoners were no longer registered. That is why there are no documents that can confirm Feliks’ arrival at Flossenbürg concentration camp.

Was he liberated on the death march or only from the camp itself? Or was he again forced on a death march from Flossenbürg towards Dachau?

Unfortunately, we were unable to answer these questions.

Feliks was certainly in Flossenbürg, however he may no longer have been a prisoner. We found a personal effects card from the concentration camp, re-used by the American liberators:

A stamp on the card notes that Feliks was brought to Auerbach on May 11, 1945. This refers to the camp for displaced persons there.

This is confirmed by a transport list:

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Just a few days later, on May 18, 1945, Feliks died at the age of 47. His health was ruined by his imprisonment, and he only survived the liberation of Flossenbürg concentration camp by a month.

Finding the Grave

As we know, Feliks was initially interred in Auerbach Cemetery. How did it come about that today he is interred in the Memorial Cemetery at the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp Memorial?

And would we be able to find the exact location of the grave for his relatives?

In the early 1950s, the graves of concentration camp victims were scattered across the country. The neglect of many such cemeteries provoked international protest. In Bavaria, most of the smaller cemeteries were subsequently closed. The victims from Auerbach were reinterred in the newly established Memorial Cemetery in Flossenbürg in 1959.

Many reinterments were only incompletely documented. In Feliks’ case, however, we were lucky to find his name on a reinterment list:

List of reinterments at the Memorial Cemetery in Flossenbürg, 1959 (Flossenbürg Concentration Camp Memorial)

Even the exact location of the grave in the Memorial Cemetery in Flossenbürg is noted: Field H, Row 4a, Grave Number 4682.

To find the gravesite on the grounds of memorial, we first looked at a map from the French Tracing Service:

We were initially unable to find Field H.

However, in our archive we found another map, upon which Grave Field H is shown in detail—and Feliks’ grave is listed with the number 4682.

French Tracing Service grave map for Field H at the Flossenbürg Memorial Cemetery, ca. 1957–1960 (Flossenbürg Concentration Camp Memorial)

Grave Field H is directly next to Field I. Feliks’ grave was quickly located.

Grave Field H at the Flossenbürg Memorial Cemetery, 2023 (Flossenbürg Concentration Camp Memorial)

This allowed us to finally answer the relatives’ inquiry. We now knew for certain that Feliks was interred at the Flossenbürg Memorial Cemetery and could even inform his son and his great-granddaughter of the grave’s exact location.

Family Memorial Stone

Relatives can have a memorial stone placed on the gravesite. Feliks’ family decided to have a stone created in Poland and to then visit the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp Memorial.

In May 2022, the time had come.

Sandra and I went through the research one last time before the meeting to be able to answer any questions.

We welcomed Feliks’ son Józef, his great-granddaughter Monika plus his great-grandson Mikołaj and showed them the memorial.

The family was finally able to place a memorial stone on the gravesite. It was an extremely emotional moment and Sandra and I, too, were extremely moved.

Feliks’ Legacy

The family bequeathed to the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp Memorial several letters Feliks wrote from Auschwitz and Neu-Dachs, providing insights into his emotional state of mind.

Many of his wishes remained unfulfilled:

“If God helps, I will return and then I will take the burden from you,” Feliks wrote to his wife Irena.

He never again saw his sons Stanisław and Józef, whom he lovingly nicknamed Stasio and Józio.

With the memorial stone on his grave, however, his son Józef and his great-grandson were able to fulfil the wish with which he closed one of his letters:

“Please don’t forget me. Heartfelt greetings and kisses to you all”

Letter written by Feliks Ryba from the Neu-Dachs subcamp, dated July 2, 1944 (Flossenbürg Concentration Camp Memorial/Private property of the Ryba family)

Feliks Ryba, born on May 7, 1898, died on May 18, 1945 (Flossenbürg Concentration Camp Memorial/Private property of the Ryba family)
Feliks Ryba, born on May 7, 1898, died on May 18, 1945 (Flossenbürg Concentration Camp Memorial/Private property of the Ryba family)
Letters from the concentration camps aren’t just moving testaments providing insights into the prisoners’ emotional states of mind, they can also assist in reconstructing pathways of imprisonment.

René Wennmacher was a research trainee at the Flossenbürg Concentration Camp Memorial from 2022 to 2023.