Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Leo Liffman - May 15, 1985

Krystallnacht, 1938

You were still in Germany during the Krystallnacht?

Yeah, now that happened '38, when I got that new job. And that new job was interesting. And I'll tell you why. Because it was near Weimar and Weimar meant Buchenwald. So I worked in practically...A walking distance would be cutting it a little bit thin but it was about five miles from Buchenwald that I worked. Didn't even know that thing existed. Oh, people talked about Buchenwald but very, very, closely. Closed mouthed about it. There was something going on there but nobody was exactly right what it was. But, I found out what it was. When it started...As I mentioned before that in nineteen hundred and thirty-eight, I finally was, had a chance to uh, go to the United States. But there was some other things I tried besides the Foreign Legion but the United States was really what I wanted to do. And in November, I think it was the seventh of November, that I was invited to Stuttgart the first time, to bring in my papers and have 'em checked and make sure that they were in order. Then I would get a uh, invitation to come for the final uh, doctor's checkup and on the fourth night to bring papers from the police that I have not been uh, uh, anywheres in the prison or so.

Invitation came from who?

From the uh, Consulate. From, from uh, Stuttgart. I went to Stuttgart on the seventh.

Was an American Consulate?

American Consulate in Stuttgart. And it was surprising, I think the gentlemen in charge there, his name was Jensen. And I heard after I was in the United States that he was anti-Jewish. Well that, I must say, I can't say that. That consul, he was very nice to me, checked my papers and everything was all right. And he said, "Come back on, uh..."--they gave me a formal piece of paper--"on the twelfth of December. Come back on the twelfth of December for your final papers." Fine. Beautiful. I took the piece of paper, stuck in my pocket, and went home. In the meantime, I think, it was the eighth or the ninth that, that Grynszpan had shot vom Rath in Paris. Two days later, I went back to Bu...to, to...The name of the town where I worked by the way was Bachstadt, near Weimar. I went back to Bachstadt and went back on my job, worked on a, helped liquidate a Jewish business there. And in the afternoon, I don't know, on the ninth or the tenth, whatever, police knocked on the door and I was taken prisoner in the name of the German Reich. So uh, another Jewish man--all kinds of stories about him, which I don't want to delve into now--and I, were put in a car, in a small car, on straight shot to Buchenwald. I didn't know it was that close but in fifteen minutes we were there. Standing in the front yard of this tremendous thing and one, one sign there said... I think one said, "Arbeit Macht Frei" and another sign said, "Right or wrong my country," "Recht oder unrecht, mein Vaterland." "Right or wrong my country," so somebody else said that beforehand. And then a very unpleasant few weeks started. Uh, that evening, I slept only a little bit, 'cause I was frisked, thing happened that it was actually almost a joke. They told me to turn left and I turned right for some reason. Dumb Jew, don't you know where left and right is? You know, I went psstttt. I... It was beside the point but...So we were standing there. I was think we came in there around five or six o'clock in the afternoon, whatever. We were standing around 'til ten or eleven at night, I don't know. While we were standing there, all the other transports came in by big trucks, little trucks, cars, Jews, Jews, Jews, all standing in a courtyard there. And, finally, we were asked in groups of about a hundred, something like that, people, to go in the actual camp. And when we finally get there, we came to a smelly place, which I didn't know what or why but later on I found out. We were about twenty feet away from the latrines. Now, nobody can tell me that this was not prepared because when we came in there, vom Rath was murdered on what, eighth or the ninth, or something like that, and on the tenth there were five barracks built there, ready to be moved in, large barracks. So, that thing was prepared. It was not an emotional thing that happened overnight because vom Rath was killed. And uh, that was the first night on hardwood floors. It was raining then. The rain came through a little bit, so it was the only kind of water we had, you know, we got a little water. It's...It's unbelievable, you caught it by hand, it kept your mouth dry. I should say that I expected to be taken prisoner because on the way home and by train on the railroad stations, that night when I went back to Buchen...to Bachstadt, it was said over the radio then, blaring loud speakers at the railroad station that a Jew, the Jews murdered, the Jews murdered a German and uh, they have to be taken into protect... the Jews have to be taken into protective cu...custody because uh, in many places the populous is getting acclimated on killing Jews, on hurting Jews, on burning synagogues, and burning libraries, and all the homes and all that what we know what happened. They said that over the loud speakers and then I said, "My golly that...It won't be long now I won't be there too because I live, work in that small town." Everybody knew I was Jewish, short of the yellow star, they, they knew Leo Liffman was a Jew. So, I'm not gonna be long for this. So I got to that place in uh, in the kitchen...I stayed at that place too, where I worked. I went in the kitchen and got myself a sausage and I stuck it in my pocket. I took that long. And I put some money in my sock, just in case. I didn't know what was going to happen. I had some money, I put it right in my socks. And uh, actually the sausage helped me because the first taste... We got a piece of bread and some soup with a lot of saltpeter in it. And you know what saltpeter does it you have too much of it, you get diarrhea. Well, the next morning the whole yard--it's unappetizing to talk about it, but that's what happened--the whole yard, men sitting around and relieving themselves. Now, one old man fell into the latrine and he drowned in it; they wouldn't pick him out. But uh, another guy was hung up on his hands, I don't know why. And this was just the beginning of, of that whole thing that was before they even talked about Final Solution or not. That was in nineteen hundred and thirty-eight, November '38.

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