Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Leo Liffman - May 15, 1985

The Assassination of Walter Rathenau

What, what happened to Walter Rathenau?

Well, actually the people who made up that little ditty of that, that little two liner, must have been very happy because in June nineteen hundred and twenty-two, Walter Rathenau was assassinated. May I inject a little bit of a story too...When he was assassinated, we were very much upset. We lived in an apartment house in Wiesbaden and my father and I one day walking down right uh, in the evening of that day, and in the hallway we met another occupant of the uh, the apartment place we lived, and he was an Oberstleutnant in uh, First World War. My father said, uh--well, his name was Lindhurst--he said "Mr. Lindhurst, don't you think it's awful that we start assassinating people in the government?" This ??? then said, "Germany could never, never allow that a Jew was instrumental in helping the German people." So spoken in nineteen hundred and twenty-two. I mean, this thing really got a little bit upsetting and, uh...but life went on I suppose. Going to school.

Were there any other incidents in school, specifically anti-Semitic incidents that you recall that had to do with you?

Yes, but it actually happened a little bit later in the...In the final school years, it is a set pattern in Germany that the uh, classes then took a uh, study tour, which is, was called a study tour. And uh, we took a study tour, tour from um, Wiesbaden to the Kyffhauser monument, which is in central Germany. On the way there, one could already...Actually, it started not just then, the uh, attitude of German pu...pupils in school, in our age group, was very, very völkisch. Is there an English word for that? Uh, folksy but actually it should be... It's a stronger word than folksy. It's a combined between folksy and uh, nationalism and anti-Semitism, if you will, existed already at that time. Nevertheless, we took that trip when I was...Going along on this trip, I was the only Jewish man in that class and on our way home, trip home in the railroad...The German railroads have compartments as you may know or not know, they're not like the American railroad cars, one long cars, that's not the way it is. They have compart...I was in a compartment with about six other kids my age. And while the train was in mo...motion between Nordhausen and Frankfurt, the guys got a hold of me, opened my shirt, took off my shirt, made me bend down over the seats and poured some water over me and said, "Now you are baptized." Now I know the people that did it in that group were all part of that Wandervogel syndrome in Germany, the migrating bird, they called themselves. The kids, anti-Semitic, and they wanted to show the Jew that something isn't right, something had to be done about him, so they baptized me in that railroad compartment. I will never forget that either. Definitely, I mean, the attitude of the kids was cliques. I hardly was invited to join any of these cliques. I never was, I mean, I mean the Sunday outings, had special picnics and all that and...Around that time, however, I think in order to offset that shock, that racial shock a little bit, a Jewish group entered the picture too. They were called the Kameraden, which means the Comrades. And if I'm not mistaken, I'm not too sure, but I think it was sponsored by the uh, Reichsbund jüdischer Frontsoldaten, which was the uh, Association of Jewish World War Veterans to... Half the kids feel that they are having something too they could fall back on for uh, social affairs.

Did you join that group?

Yes, I joined that group. Matter of fact, I have that, I saw it only the other day, I still have that emblem. Uh, I just remembered, I should have brought it and showed it, it was a little silver emblem, you wore, you wore it up here on the lapel, and it said RJF, actually.

What, again, when you told what happened on the train at home, what was the reaction of your father, say?

He said, it's, it's an awful thing. I mean, there's nothing that really could be done, it's a good question but I was flabbergasted. What could I do? I was one against six. I couldn't... They had my feet, and one guy held down my head, and then they shwest. It was well prepared, again it was well prepared, because all of a sudden there was a big canister full of water. Where did it come from? Trains didn't have any water on 'em.

© Board of Regents University of Michigan-Dearborn