Holocaust survivor who cut hair in Chicago till he was 97 dies


(JTA) — Benjamin Scheinkopf, a Poland-born Jew who had survived the Holocaust by cutting hair and had worked at his Chicago barbershop until he was 97, has died.

Scheinkopf, who has lived in the United States since 1954, died last Saturday at the age of 98 after working for more than 80 years as a barber, the Chicago Sun Times reported in an obituary for the man who many in the city knew as “Ben the barber.”

Scheinkopf was assigned to cut other inmates’ hair at Auschwitz, the former Nazi death camp the Nazis built in Poland, he recalled in testimony he gave to the USC Shoah Foundation.

He and his brother Josef, who also trained to be a barber, both worked at Auschwitz. And as prisoners came before them to get their hair cut, whether they were from France, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia or Greece, they all had the same worry. “Everybody asked the same questions. . . Everybody wants to know where [their] family is,” he said.

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“I said, ‘Family — you’re not going to see it anymore,’”

Being a barber meant Scheinkopf was not beaten by the Germans as other prisoners were.

He grew up in the Polish city of Plonsk, birthplace of David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel. His father Avrum was a cobbler.

His father wanted him to be a cobbler because he thought it would provide security. “You always need shoes,” he told young Ben. But Scheinkopf and his brother wanted to cut hair.

“The fact he and his brother chose to be barbers saved their lives,” Jeffrey Scheinkopf, Benjamin Scheinkopf’s son, told the Sun Times.

Benjamin Scheinkopf’s weight dwindled to 65 pounds on starvation rations at the camp.

“They’d work you to death and then they’d gas you,” he told the Shoah Foundation.

His brother tried to camouflage his emaciation. Once, “he hid him on a stack of dead bodies” so they wouldn’t send him to the crematorium, said Jeffrey Scheinkopf.

After the Soviets liberated Auschwitz, Benjamin Benjamin Scheinkopf lived in a camp for displaced persons in Germany, where he met Emily, who would become his wife of 66 years.

He had an older brother, Moishe Aaron, who’d ventured to Chicago in 1920. He sponsored Scheinkopf’s immigration to America in 1954.

Of nine Scheinkopf siblings, only two others survived the war: Josef, who wound up in Israel, and Brana, who settled in France.

After a haircut, he’d tell customers, “There — now you weigh less,” according to a 2016 essay by Barth Landor in Hippocampus magazine.

Mr. Scheinkopf rejoiced when the Cubs won the World Series last year. And every night, he enjoyed a shot of Canadian Club before dinner.

Services have been held. In addition to his wife Emily and son Jeffrey, he is survived by his sons Danny and Joe and three grandchildren. His granddaughter Jennifer, who had a brain tumor, died before him, as did his siblings who perished in the Holocaust: Herschel, Chayim, Yosef-Behrl, Yiddis and David.