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The Counterfeit Countess : The untold story of the Jewish heroine who defied the Holocaust - Elizabeth White

The Counterfeit Countess

The untold story of the Jewish heroine who defied the Holocaust

By: Elizabeth White

Paperback | 23 April 2024

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A fascinating biography of the incredible Janina (Pepi Spinner) Mehlberg, a German-Jewish mathematician who saved the lives of many inmates of the Majdanek concentration and extermination camp at Lublin in Poland during the Second World War - which she did by posing as a bogus Polish aristocrat named Countess Janina Suchodolska.

We are all too familiar with the stories of Jews who were tortured and killed in concentration camps throughout the Third Reich. But less is known about the persecution of Polish prisoners housed in Majdanek, a concentration and extermination camp on the outskirts of the city of Lublin in south-eastern Poland.

The Counterfeit Countess tells this story through the lens of the efforts of one remarkable woman, herself a Jew, who passed as Polish aristocracy, became a lead official in a Polish relief organisation and an officer in the underground resistance movement known as the Polish Home Army. Using the false identity of Countess Janina Suchodolska, Josephine Janina Mehlberg persuaded the SS and other Nazi authorities to give her access to prisoners, bringing them soup, clothing, medicine and tending to their needs, and on many occasions having them freed from the camp. This is her story, based upon her own unpublished account.

About the Authors

Elizabeth White, PhD, is a senior historian at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where she regularly speaks to invited audiences and contributes to the museum's online Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. She has also written official statements for the museum, speeches for its top leaders, provided content for its exhibits and social media, and given press, radio, and television interviews.

Prior to working for the USHMM, Dr White spent a career at the US Department of Justice working on investigations and prosecutions of Nazi criminals and other human-rights violators who immigrated to the United States, and has written numerous scholarly articles.

Joanna Sliwa, PhD, works as Historian at the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) in New York, the only organisation that negotiates with the German government for compensation for Jewish Holocaust survivors. She previously worked in the Global Archives Department at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, where she managed academic initiatives to promote the history of the organization. She has taught Holocaust and Jewish history at Kean University and at Rutgers University and has served as a historical consultant and researcher for PBS television programs, including Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr and In the Name of Their Mothers: The Story of Irena Sendler.

Dr Sliwa's scholarship has been featured in American, British, German, and Polish publications, both edited volumes and journals. Her most recent book, Jewish Childhood in Krakow: A Microhistory of the Holocaust, received the 2020 Ernst Fraenkel Award from the Wiener Holocaust Library in London.

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