Claire Steinberg Portrait

This is Claire Steinberg

She was born on July 1, 1918 in Hîncești, Romania.


Her parents, Idel and Paia Steinberg, gave her the name “Hala”. She had an elder sister and an elder brother – Samuel.

In the mid-1930s, antisemitism made it dangerous for them to stay in Romania.

Miscarea Legionara Bucuresti Legionary Movement Bucharest Romania
Like the rest of Europe, Romania had a long history of antisemitism. Jews had been subjected to increasing levels of marginalization and oppression since the 1920s. In 1938, the Romanian government passed the country’s first antisemitic laws. Many Jews fled the fascist regime in Romania.

Hala followed her brother and sister to France. She began calling herself “Claire.”

Claire Steinberg Map

They built a new life for themselves in Toulouse.

Claire's brother Samuel worked as a doctor and had become a French citizen already.
Claire's brother Samuel worked as a doctor and had become a French citizen already.

But in those days, Jews were not safe from attack anywhere in Europe.

In 1940, the German Wehrmacht invaded France and occupied the north of the country.

The Vichy regime collaborated with the Nazis.

Toulouse is in the south of France, the part of the country ruled by the so-called Vichy regime. The government of Marshal Philippe Pétain collaborated with the Nazis. They arrested resistance fighters and deported Jews to concentration and extermination camps.

Claire’s older sister was active in the Résistance – she was arrested in 1944.

Members of the Maquis in La Tresorerie
The word Résistance is used to refer to the various French resistance movements against the German occupation and the Vichy regime during World War II. The Résistance was involved in a range of activities: its members carried out armed operations and acts of sabotage, but they also helped victims of persecution to escape and distributed underground newspapers.

Claire tried to liberate her sister. But the Gestapo arrested her, too.

Claire had two brooches with her.

They were taken away from her.


The Gestapo did not know that Claire was Jewish.

That saved her life.

Female prisoners loading lorries at Ravensbrück concentration camp
Although Claire was imprisoned and had to perform forced labor as a political prisoner, her chances of survival were better than those of many other Jewish prisoners who died in concentration and extermination camps, in mass shootings, or as a result of grueling forced labor.

After three months imprisonment in Toulouse, Claire was deported to the German Reich via the Compiègne transit camp.

Claire Steinberg Map

Three days
on a train.

She arrived at Ravensbrück concentration camp on February 3, 1944.

Ravensbrück Memorial, photo no. 1642/1643

She was given prisoner number 27979 – her name no longer had any importance.

Prisoner card
Prisoners in concentration camps were given a registration number on arrival. It was stitched to their clothes. They had to report with this number, and it was also used to call them up.

Four months later, Claire was transferred to the Hanover-Limmer

Claire Steinberg Map

She had to perform forced labor there until shortly before the end of the war in 1945.

Prisoners after the liberation of the Hannover-Limmer labour camp
From 1943 onwards, German industry relied increasingly heavily on concentration camp prisoners as a source of labor. They had to do hard physical work under inhumane conditions just like deported forced laborers and prisoners of war. The system of forced labor was a central pillar of the Nazi regime and the German war economy.

Claire probably had to make
“people’s gas masks.”

People's Gas Mask Instructions for Use

In the summer of 1944, the Allies were advancing.

And the Nazis began to clear the concentration camps.

The SS sent hundreds of thousands of people on death marches.

Death march
Concentration camp prisoners were driven across the country on foot or crammed into freight cars. Many of them died on the way.

Claire and the other women from the camp too.

They had to walk over 60 kilometers from Hanover-Limmer to Bergen-Belsen.

Claire Steinberg Map

Those who were too weak to go on were shot.

Those who survived arrived at
Bergen-Belsen concentration camp two days later to die.

Bergen-Belsen was the final destination for about 100 death marches and other evacuation transports. At least 85,000 people arrived there in the last months of the war, and the camp was soon overcrowded. The SS left the prisoners to their own devices. There was not enough food or clean water. And epidemics of typhus and typhoid fever broke out. Bergen-Belsen became a “death camp” in the sense that so many died there.

The British army reached the camp a week later and
liberated 53.000 people.

53.000 people

But for many, help came too late.

USHMM Bedding
About 13,000 of the liberated prisoners were so sick and so weak that they died within a few days.

Claire had
typhus too.

She survived.

She returned to France in May 1945.

Carte postale - Boulogne-Billancourt - Avenue J-min

She met Mejlach “Michel” Wajnapel.

He, too, had survived the Holocaust.

They got married on December 18, 1948, in Boulogne-sur-Seine, a suburb of Paris.

The couple had two sons and built a new life together.

Her brother Samuel had been
deported to Auschwitz.


Claire saw him just once more – in a documentary film that included footage from Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp.

By that time, he had already been dead for years.

None of
the family
talked about
the past.

Arolsen Archives, Doc. ID 130582392

Claire and Mejlach’s children hardly knew anything about the traumatic experiences their parents had lived through.

Years later,
two mementoes
found their way
back home.


The Allies recovered Claire’s brooches in 1945. After a long and circuitous journey, they ended up at the Arolsen Archives.

The aim of the #StolenMemory campaign is to return stolen mementoes to the families of victims of Nazi persecution. Eventually, the team at the Arolsen Archives managed to make contact with Claire’s sons and give them the brooches their mother had been wearing when she was arrested.

Go to Claire’s personal effects

Educational projects

The “effects” & the fates of their owners provide a very concrete starting point and interesting opportunities for research-based learning about Nazi persecution in history lessons and project work. Groups who want to get more involved can help find families.


What are effects and what stories do they have to tell? Material for a short introduction to the topic to use at the beginning of a lesson or project day.

Unit 1

A critical examination of Nazi persecution on the basis of individual fates: teaching unit on the three individuals featured in the section titled "Memories" materials for creating a timeline.

Unit 2

Personal effects of concentration camp prisoners as a key to studying Nazi persecution: teaching unit with dossiers on 20 life stories and a map of Europe.

Unit 3

Help us return personal effects! Using Instagram posts to search for relatives: teaching unit with an interactive map; how to write your own appeal for information.

About us

Our website can tell you more about the work we do. And about how you can help us to keep memories and keep history alive.

Arolsen Archives

Cookie hint

This website uses cookies to improve your user experience. By clicking the “Agree” button, you accept the use of all types of cookies. If you do not wish to use some of the cookies during your visit to our website or if you require more detailed information about cookies, please click “More information”. For more information, please refer to our privacy policy.

We use cookies: