Sheldon, Max

Sheldon, Max

Leipzig (Germany), Palestine

Sheldon, nee Sieradzki, was born in 1917 in Leipzig, Germany, the youngest of five children of a Conservative Jewish couple. His father was in the textile business. Sheldon attended a Jewish “gymnasium,” an academic high school, where he excelled in both academics and athletics. His interest in sports led him to join the Bar Kochba Leipzig sports club, a Jewish athletic association and a forerunner of the Maccabia organization, at the age of eight.

Sheldon first experienced anti-Semitism around age eight to ten, when he and others in his sports club won races over non-Jewish competitors and were jeered and called derogatory names instead of being praised. He believes the events leading to the rise of the Nazis in Germany is not adequately taught or understood, even though he believes that they are of equal importance to the events that followed. He was sixteen years old when the Nazis took over the German government in 1933, and it very quickly became evident to him that for Jews life would become intolerable. Many German Jews, including his own family, were not convinced of this since they continued in their businesses and thought that Nazism could not and would not last.

After the enactment of the Nuremberg Laws in January 1936, Jewish life in Germany suffered severe set-backs. Sheldon was unable to pursue his goal of becoming a lawyer since the universities refused him admission. Having become a Zionist, he stressed physical training so that he could become an asset to Palestine. Following a Nazi boycott of the family business, his father had a stroke in 1936 and died in 1937 following a second stroke.

In March 1938 Sheldon went to Palestine, to compete in the third International Maccabia games as a track and field events competitor. Following the annexation of Austria by Germany, Sheldon received a communication from his family not to return to Germany because conditions there had gotten even worse. Within the next few months his three brothers, his sister, and his mother all left Germany. His brothers went to the United States, London, and Paris, respectively, his sister eventually went to Brazil, and his mother to Poland. The beginning of World War II found his mother in Warsaw. She then went back to her home town of Lodz where she was shot and killed by either a German soldier or a member of the SS in May 1941.

Together with other members of the German Maccabia team Sheldon entered a kibbutz in Palestine. During fighting with Arabs approximately half of the 140 members of the kibbutz were killed. Sheldon left Palestine in August 1939 for an almost two-year-long-odyssey through France, Spain, Portugal, and Morocco, ending in the U.S.

Sheldon joined the U. S. Army and served for five and a half years. During the European campaign of World War II, he was attached to SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) and became part of the PWD (Psychological Warfare Division) in Germany as an interrogator.

Sheldon believes that recent events in various parts of the world show that the Holocaust could happen again. He is an ardent supporter of Israel and maintains that a strong Israel must exist to provide a haven for persecuted Jews and a homeland for all. He implores Jews to recognize the signs of future persecutions to avoid hardships and killings.

Interview Information:
Date: December 16, 1992
Interviewer: Hans R. Weinmann
Length: 1 hour 35 minutes
Format: Video recording