Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Leo Liffman - May 15, 1985

Pre-War Life and Anti-Semitism

Could you tell me your name and where you're from please?

Uh, my name is Leo Liffman. I was born and raised in Germany. Wiesbaden, which is near Frankfurt. Matter of fact, there's a large Air Force base right near my home...former hometown. I came from there into the United States, with stops in between, naturally.

Uh, when did you come to the United States?

Nineteen hundred and thirty-nine.

Do you remember the years in the Weimar Republic, the 1920s?

Yes, I sure do. It was pretty much my formative years when I started to go to school and uh, live through these years.

What... Tell me what, what was like life, life like in the 1920s in Wiesbaden?

Well, actually, I should say there are two things parallel going in my life as a young fellow, as a young boy, was uh, nothing unusual except that in around nineteen hundred and twenty, nineteen hundred and twenty-one, I was first faced with anti-Semitism. Not only in school but publications started to name Jews and Communists in one breath and one heard about the so-called dolchstoßlegende "the stab in the back". The Jews and Communists were responsible for the lost war in nineteen hundred and nineteen, 1918, 1919, the First World War. And my first experience basically to be faced with the fact that I am Jewish, came comparatively early, nineteen hundred and twenty, nineteen hundred and twenty-one, I would say. I was in the third, fourth grade, something like that. And as you most likely know, the curriculum in, in German schools is a little bit different than here, where the religious instruction was part of the uh, daily plan of hours. So, it so happened the Catholics had a, a priest coming in giving to their people, religious instruction and Protestants had somebody and we as Jews had a Rabbi coming in giving our instruction. It was around uh, Easter time, nineteen hundred and twenty or nineteen hundred and twenty-one that for some reason Rabbi one day could not come and instruct two Jewish kids, that was all in our class with Jewish...two Jews against thirty uh, Christian people, couldn't come, so we were invited by the Protestant instructor to attend his class. Whether or not they were only, uh... What was behind to invite us, whether it was goodwill or just matter of uh, as I said, a matter of courtesy or whether he wanted to show us what the Christians think about Jews, I don't know that, I mean, I was too young to fathom that. However, being Easter time, a lot of time was spent by him to explain the role of the Jews in the Jesus Christ story and ending up with the fact and stating that the Jews were responsible for crucifying Christ and that...Then he asked the class, he said, "So who must we...Who must we hate?" About eighteen or twenty kids yelled out, "The Jews." That was the first time, I mean, I know I was Jewish but that I was supposed to be hated because of the Christ story, that was a strange situation to me and a very unpleasant experience because everybody looked at us in a different light. Really. The College, other Jewish boy that was in with me, his name happened to be Freddie, I don't know what happened to him but I don't forget that. I, I won't ever forget that, too impressive.

Did you um, did you tell that story at home?

Yeah, but it uh, it was told at home but...See the reaction of all the peoples, actually, don't rock the boat, to some extent. It was discussed, yes but, there was another little story actually and there was a little fuss made about. One instructor at one time, and I think it was drawing, he was a little older, I, uh...He went to a bakery store and uh, he wanted to buy a piece of cake in the bakery store. While he was in there, a lady came in. And he said she was a Jewish woman and she wanted to buy from the same cake that I bought and she said she wanted the other end of the cake because it was well baked, it was better baked than mine but the Jewish woman knew that it was a little bit larger that piece, that's why she wanted it. Now imagine, that was in high school. Now I was upset about that story too and some action was taken at the time but I think the teacher was called into the office of the principal and was told not to make this kind of remarks again, you know. Then around the area, going back a few years again, now to '22 or so, politics entered the picture too, to some extent, and one little uh, poem sticks in my mind. I'll tell you the poem first in German, it's a little rhyme for two liner and then in English sounds almost the same. "Knallte ab dem Walter Rathenau, die Gottverfluchte Juden Sau," which means, "Shoot down this Walter Rathenau, the cursed goddamn Jewish sow." Now I should inject here that Walter Rathenau was a politician, very active in trying to help the German economic situations but many people in Germany, and especially the younger crowd, had a latent anti-Semitism in them. And one, at that time, had the impression already, that the Jews were not welcome to do anything for the fatherland. Even so, they were in a war, they had percentage rights, the same amount of people killed and hurt as anybody else, and later on one talked about it and said that Hindenburg actually re... requested uh, Armistice because he knew the war, war was lost and he wanted to keep the German army intact. And Ludendorff, his buddy, so to speak, the second in command, said all right, let's blame the Jews for it and the Communists, so that they don't blame the General staff for losing the war. I mean, this story was going around, I was conscious of it, then, in that, that...I should rather say, at that age I became a little bit more interested in the life around me besides just playing in the dirt or building, building houses, you know, or playing with a mechanical set. My father and mother, they explained it to us, that it was a lie, that Dolchstoß lie, the "stab in the back" lies started right then, after that lost uh, uh, war. And then, naturally, Versailles was mentioned, that was all uh, treason that the German people, the German government at the time, signed Versailles, but then, then uh, on second thought, that's good they do. The French and the English were ready to march into Germany so that was either a sign or be occupied completely. So, it was unfortunately the lesser of two evils.

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