Stiffel, Frank

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Nationality: American (originally Polish: immigrated to the United States, 1950, granted U.S. citizenship, 1955). Born: Franz Josef Stifel, Boryslaw, 23 November 1916. Education: Studied medicine, University of Naples, Italy, 1936-37, University of Lieges, Belgium, 1937, University of Brussels, Belgium, 1938, and University of Nancy, France, 1939; studied French philology, University of Ivan Franko, Lwów, 1939-41; City College of New York, 1953-58, B.A. in romance languages 1958 (Phi Beta Kappa); advanced studies in French philology, Columbia University, New York, 1959-60; New York University, 1970-73, M.A. in occupational counseling 1973. Family: Married Ione Sani in 1946; one daughter. Career: Prisoner, Treblinka and Auschwitz, during World War II. Worked for Velpost Import/Export, Rome, Italy, 1946-47; agriculture secretary, American ORT, Rome, 1947-50; laborer and shipping manager, Salton Manufacturing, Inc., New York, 1950-55; import manager, J.H. Frankenberg, New York, 1955-58; president, Wallpaper Originals, New York, 1958-68; counselor, New York State Department of Labor, 1968-83. Award: Editors book award, 1983, for The Tale of the Ring: A Kaddish.



The Tale of the Ring: A Kaddish. 1984.

The Oxymoron Factor: Franek: Stranger in My Land. 2001.

The Oxymoron Factor: The Tale of the Ring: A Kaddish for Civilization. 2001.


Critical Study:

Passages of Annihilation: Holocaust Survivors' Autobiographies As Midrash (dissertation) by Deborah Lee Ames, Oklahoma State University, 1999.

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Frank Stiffel was born in 1916 in Boryslaw, then a city in the Austro-Hungarian Empire's sub-Carpathian region. In 1918, by an edict of the Versailles Treaty, the new Poland was established, and Boryslaw, Drohobycz, and other significant oil centers of the previous Galacia became a part of Malopolska, a southeastern province of Poland. When he was four, Stiffel moved with his parents and three brothers to Lwów (now Lvov, Ukraine), the capital city of Malopolska. There he attended school, studying humanities, history, Latin, and Ancient Greek. He passed his Matura examination in May 1935 and tried to attend the medical school in Lwów but was rejected because of a quota on the acceptance of Jews. He subsequently enrolled in universities in Belgium, France, and Italy. He was studying to be a physician in Naples when the Italian fascist government issued anti-Semitic decrees. Stiffel decided to return to Poland rather than have his passport stamped "Ebreo," for Hebrew. At the end of June 1939, he returned to Poland, hoping to become a soldier in his country's fight against the Nazi invaders.

Three weeks after the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, Germany occupied the western part of the country, and the Soviet Union occupied the eastern part. During the year and half of German rule, Stiffel studied French philology at the University of Lwów. In June 1941 Germany attacked the Soviet Union. Anti-Jewish laws were introduced, and in March 1942 Stiffel, his parents, his eldest brother, and his sister-in-law sought refuge in the Warsaw Ghetto. On 4 September 1942, he and his family were deported to the death camp Treblinka, where one day after their arrival Stiffel's parents and sister-in-law were murdered in a gas chamber. Stiffel and his brother were put on a work detail, sorting the clothes of those who perished in the gas chambers. Seven days after their arrival at the camp, Stiffel and his brother escaped Treblinka by hiding in the bundles of clothes they sorted and riding out on a railway car. It was in Warsaw, after Treblinka, that Stiffel started keeping a notebook of wartime recollections, keeping the book secret by stowing it under the beams of a roof where he was hiding.

In Warsaw Stiffel and his brother aided Jews in illegal immigration to Palestine. Stiffel was arrested in January 1943. He was denounced by the Gestapo, arrested, and sentenced to death, a verdict that was later changed to imprisonment in the concentration camp Auschwitz. In his memoir, The Tale of the Ring: A Kaddish, Stiffel compares the organization of Auschwitz to a small corrupt city. He was assigned to a lumber camp outside of Auschwitz where killings were a daily occurrence. Because he had a degree as a doctor, he was later assigned to a medical unit at the camp.

Stiffel lived to see the collapse of Hitler's empire. The first thing he did after being liberated in 1945 was to begin writing his book. He left Poland for Italy, married, had a child, and, in May 1950, moved to New York City. While working to build a new life in America, Stiffel attended the City College of New York and graduated in 1958. He completed his M.A. from New York University in 1973. He eventually worked as a counselor for the New York State Department of Labor. He continued to work on his Holocaust remembrances, translating them from Polish to English, throughout his working years. In 1983 his Holocaust memoir won the Editors Book award and was published in subsequent years by numerous presses.

—Martha Sutro

See the essay on The Tale of the Ring: A Kaddish.