Wiesbaden (Germany), Komaraden, Buchstadt, Buchenwald, United States
Leo Liffman was born in the early 1900's in Weisbaden, Germany near Frankfurt. Liffman was born an only child. He describes his early life as normal. He also recalls many instances of anti-Semitism, some he directly experienced others he heard of indirectly. For instance, in 1920 or 1921 when Liffmann was in third or fourth grade, he first experienced anti-Semitism.
It was around Easter, and on that particular day at school the Rabbi wasn’t there. Since religion was incorporated into school, each religion had their own leader to conduct lessons. As the Rabbi wasn’t at school, the Protestant instructor invited Liffman and the other Jewish boy in his class, to sit in on the Protestant lesson. The lesson consisted of the explanation of the Jews’ role with Christ. The instructor ended the lesson with saying that the Jews were responsible for the crucifixion of Christ. The instructor then posed a question to his class “So, who must we hate?” About eighteen to twenty of the thirty kids in the classroom replied, “The Jews!” Lifmman remembers this as a very unpleasant experience because after that he noticed how the other kids looked at him in a different light.
Liffman also remembers public acts of anti-Semitism that were directed towards others. For instance, in 1922 a two line saying became popular about Germany’s Jewish foreign minister “Shoot down this Walter Rathenau / The cursed g-d-damned Jewish sow.” In June 1922, Rathenau was assassinated. When Liffman’s father heard about it he said to a tenant in their apartment building “Don’t you think it’s awful that we start assassinating people in the government?” The non-Jewish tenant replied “Germany could never allow that a Jew was instrumental in helping the German people.”
Some years later, towards the end of Liffman’s schooling, his class took a class trip from Wiesbaden to the Kyffhäuser monument in Thüringen, located in central Germany. On the way home, Liffman was in a train compartment with six other students, all non-Jews. While the train was in motion, between Nordhausen and Frankfurt, the other students attacked him. They opened his shirt, took it off, and made him bend down over the seats. They then took a bucket of water and poured it over him, saying “Now, you’re baptized.” These boys were part of the Wander Vogel Syndrome and called themselves the migrating birds. According to Liffman, they wanted to show him that something had to be done to him because he was a Jew.
Liffman soon joined the Komaraden, a group were Jews could “fall back on for social affairs.” Liffman had two non-Jewish friends. They were brothers and fairly friendly with Liffman. They went to each others houses and had a good time. But in 1933, Liffman and the brothers stopped being friends because the brothers were the first to join an anti-Semitic student organization when the Nazi’s took over. One of the Nazis’ claims, “the Jews are our misfortune” has stuck in Liffman’s mind.
Other than his encounters in school and with people his own age, Liffman said family life was happy. On Friday the family celebrated and on Saturday Liffman sang in the synagogue choir. On Sundays, the family went out together to theatres, concerts, etc. It was a “normal happy life.” But unfortunately, lasting friendships were not and could not be formed.
In January 1935, Liffman remembers thinking that the Jews had to get out after listening to the Nuremberg Laws. Liffman decided he wanted to go to the United States and he needed papers to do it. In 1938, he was invited by the American Consulate to go to Stuttgart on November 7, and show them his papers. He would then be given an invitation to come back and get a doctor’s physical and finally a background criminal check. He was told to go back on December 12, so he left Stuttgart and went to Buchstadt, where he worked. In Buchstadt, he was arrested by police and taken to Buchenwald. Being being arrested, Liffman had a feeling he would be, so he took a sausage and some money, and hid them on his person. He comments that these helped him get by.
Liffman was in Buchenwald for three weeks. When Liffman filled out personal information upon arriving at Buchenwald, he answered “yes, in three weeks” to the question asking if there was any possibility of him leaving Germany. Because of this, after a three week stay in Buchenwald, Liffman was released. Liffman returned home to learn that his father had been sent to Dachau, but his father was released temporarily in time to see Liffman before he left for the United States in 1939. Liffman’s parents both died in the Holocaust.
Liffman wants people to know that the anti-Semitism and hatred during the Holocaust didn’t just appear, it had started long before. Liffman comments that “the Holocaust wasn’t a Jewish problem but a gentile problem.”
Date: May 15, 1985
Interviewer: Sidney Bolkosky
Length: 57 minutes
Format: Video recording