In 1933, the year Hitler came to power, I was an 18-year-old Jewish lad living in Germany. I witnessed the dreadful rise of Nazism and its growing anti-Semitism. The arrest of opponents and the opening of concentration camps for dissident Germans, including Jehovah’s Witnesses (also known as Bible Students), plunged Germans into cowardly fear. After the burning of the synagogues (called Crystal Night), many Jewish men were sent to concentration camps, most for a few weeks. I remember the frightening reports they gave on returning home.
After Crystal Night, arrests of Jews increased. In fall 1939 it was my turn. Without any court trial I sat almost four months in solitary confinement. Then they put me on a prisoner train heading to a concentration camp, chaining me to another prisoner who told me he was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I learned that he had been arrested because he refused to cooperate with the Nazi war effort. Upon our arrival in Sachsenhausen, SS guards greeted us with a flood of obscenities. But only my travel companion, who had to identify himself as a Bible Student (Bibelforscher in German), was mistreated with extreme violence. A voice over the loudspeaker repeatedly warned that prisoners would get 25 strokes for stepping over a white brick line surrounding the isolation barracks. Dangerous prisoners, including Jehovah Witnesses, were held there. The loudspeaker occasionally warned of a similar punishment for any prisoner caught talking to a Bible Student. The Nazis often justified their persecution of the Bible Students, saying that their beliefs threatened to undermine Nazi ideology.
After nine months in Sachsenhausen, I was sent to Neuengamme to work on expanding the harbor, which we prisoners did with shovels and wheelbarrows. I found some Jehovah’s Witnesses there. October 23 I was put on an extermination transport to Auschwitz, where I got tattooed with the number 69733. Before the Nazis killed me, they wanted to squeeze every last bit of strength from my body. So I was assigned to a construction crew in the camp called Buna. As the Russian Army approached in January 1945, the SS emptied the camp, forcing us to march in a terrible snowstorm. We boarded a coal transport train, and only a few survivors remained by the time we arrived at the Buchenwald camp, which was liberated by the American army.
Question #1 : Since you spent long periods in different camps, did you find a difference from one camp to the other ?
Question #2 : Did the treatment vary according to different types of prisoners ?
Question #3 : Did conditions in the camps change as time went by ?
Question #4 : How did you personally react toward the SS guards? Were they all violent? How could people behave that way? Is there a lesson to be learned?