Holocaust Survivor Who Cut Hair at Auschwitz Closes Chicago Barber Shop After 60 Years in Business
A Holocaust survivor whose task it was to cut the hair of concentration-camp prisoners closed his Chicago barber shop after serving the local community for 60 years, local news site DNAinfo reported.
Ben “The Barber” Scheinkopf, 96, posted a sign on the door of his California Avenue establishment, saying that with “great regret” he was retiring, due to “recent major health challenges” that no longer enable him to continue his business. He said the commute and “general physical nature” of his work makes the job “too challenging” — even, he quipped, “for a youthful person of almost 97 years of age.”
Scheinkopf — who served as a barber at Auschwitz and Mauthausen, as well as for American soldiers in Germany — expressed gratitude to his many patrons.
“I have been fortunate to have had a marvelous, long career giving hair cuts to generations of customers who have become my friends,” he wrote. “I have also made many friends with people in the neighborhood who have always waved hello, stopped in just to say hi, or to check on my well-being. I would like to say a heartfelt thank-you to everyone for your concern and best wishes for my continued health. It has been my distinct pleasure to serve and be part of the community for so many years. I will miss you all and I will not forget you.”
He concluded the note by saying that he will now spend his time cheering the Cubs as they make their way to the World Series and spending more time with his family, telling them stories of his “long years working with such nice people.”
George Milkowski, Scheinkopf’s neighbor, who has been going to him for haircuts since 1979, said the barber told him that his expertise in the field was the “only reason” he survived World War II. Milkowski said he “distinctly remembers” the barber telling him Nazis gave him extra rations and “didn’t beat [him] too roughly” because he knew how to cut hair.
“I was really taken aback by that,” Milkowski said. “If you knew him, having seen the guy, and having gone through what he did, you wouldn’t believe this guy could have such an optimistic outlook.”
Milkowski only started learning about Scheinkopf’s past after he noticed a tattoo on the barber’s arm that started with “KLA” and was followed by a number. He asked the barber about the tattoo later on, and over the years, Scheinkopf opened up about growing up in Poland before Jews were forced into ghettos, DNAinfo reported. Milkowski said Scheinkopf told him he cut hair for German soldiers before he was sent to Auschwitz. Nazis later sent him and other prisoners to another camp before were they were liberated at the end of the war.
Scheinkopf was stranded in Germany after the war, and eventually wandered onto an American Army base, where he began cutting hair for US soldiers, according to one of his former customers. Not long after that, he moved to Chicago.