Meyer, Henry W.

Meyer, Henry W.

Dresden (Germany), Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, Buna, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Ohrdruf

Born in Dresden, Germany, Meyer is a professor of music and a violinist in the United States. He and his younger brother were gifted musically. Their parents, well-to-do business people, nurtured their sons’ talent. Meyer played in the Dresden Philharmonic when only eight years old. He attended lower school, then Gymnasium, and then Realschule. In 1933, when Meyer was ten years old, the Nazis came to power and everything changed. His non-Jewish friends would no longer play with him and the Nazis took away his family’s possessions. Meyer believes that the Germans were basically not anti-Semitic and it took the Nazis awhile to train them to be anti-Semites.

In 1936 Meyer was sent to Prague to study in the conservatory because he was too young for the Dresden school. He performed in Prague, but the Jews were expelled from the general orchestras. They then performed for the Judische Kulturbund only. Meyer was invited to Dresden to be a soloist in a concert. On the day of the concert, November 9, 1938, Kristallnacht occurred. Meyer’s father went into hiding and Meyer was arrested. His father gave himself up to free his son, but Meyer was sent to Buchenwald anyhow. He was beaten in the camp. After his release, he had to report regularly to the SS and was beaten when he did. His family obtained a visa for him to go to London, but unfortunately he reached the German border when war started. He was trapped in Germany and wearing the mandatory star of David to show he was Jewish.

In January 1942 the deportations began. Meyer’s mother became a cleaning woman for a high ranking German officer and eventually died in Riga. His father was sent to Dachau, where he died two months before liberation. Henry and his brother remained in Dresden. There were frequent raids by the Gestapo, who often doled out beatings. Once drunk SS officers threw the boys’ piano over the porch. Another SS officer came to inquire about the piano because he enjoyed Meyer’s brother’s playing. He soon brought another one so that Meyer’s brother could play for him again.

In 1943 the boys were deported to Auschwitz along with the rest of Dresden’s Jews. They traveled in freight cars under terrible conditions and were beaten by the soldiers. In Auschwitz they were immediately subjected to selection by Dr. Mengele. Meyer notes the terrible stench that pervaded Auschwitz, which included Buna, a factory camp, and Birkenau, where gassings occurred and the ovens burned continuously.

Meyer played violin in Birkenau, which was a privileged position. Even so, the SS would throw pebbles at him, which he had to catch with cymbals to the beat of the music. If the SS did not like the music, the musicians were made to roll in the dirt. In the evening, Meyer entertained the SS with his music.

In the late fall of 1944, the Russians were approaching the camp and Meyer was transported to Sachenhausen. After two days there, he was transported to Buchenwald for two days and then to Ohrdruf. Meyer remembers that an SS officer once took him out for Christmas to his girlfriend’s house. On another occasion, a Ukrainian officer took him out, got drunk, and fell asleep. Meyer stole his rifle and ran away. He had seen an internal memo in the Ohrdruf offices that all the Jews in the camp were to be killed. Meyer hid in the woods for seven days and ran to the American front line when it came close. The Americans treated him well, he talked to General Patton, and was sent to Paris for special interrogation. He met General Eisenhower in Paris.

Meyer remained in Paris until 1948, when he immigrated to the United States. He received a scholarship to the Julliard School of Music and afterward worked continuously. Approximately seventeen members of his family were killed in the Holocaust. Meyer was the only survivor of those who remained in Europe during the war. He has no explanation as to why he survived such extreme difficulties. He believes it was luck, destiny, and miracles.

Interview Information:
Date: May 9, 1989
Interviewer: Rabbi Charles H. Rosenzveig
Format: Video recording