Radical anti-Semitism was a cornerstone of Nazism. The vicious hatred of Jews – vilified as racial threats, economic exploiters and political traitors – hit the small Jewish community hard after the Nazis took power. From 1933, German Jews faced frequent intimidation and abuse, at school, at work and on the streets. Arrests were still rare, however, and relatively few Jews (no more than 10,000 in 1933) were dragged to early camps. Most of them were held as left-wing opponents, not as “racial enemies”. Once inside, they suffered extreme torment at the hands of SA and SS guards. This is illustrated in an account by rabbi Max Abraham, written in 1934, not long after his release from the early camps.
The Jews mainly on the Sabbath were assigned to work in the latrines […]. “Today you have Shabbes again, you bastards. We’ll see where your God of vengeance is when we teach you a thing or two in the pigsty.” The Jewish high holidays were approaching. We asked ourselves nervously whether the dates were known to the SS men, because we were fearing even worse torments. We agreed therefore to avoid any hint of the approaching [religious] holidays. I had originally had the firm intention of requesting the camp commandant to release the Jewish company from work, but had to let myself be convinced by my comrades that such a request would not only be in vain, but might have regrettable consequences.
Stop, you swine, we’ll teach you what’s meant by neighborly love!
We had not made allowance for our relatives who, ignorant of what was happening in the camp, sent us good wishes for the New Year. As the letters went through the censorship the dates became known to the SS and there was now nothing to keep secret. So I went to the camp commandant after all and asked for exemption from work and for permission to hold divine service. Answer: “There’s no such thing here!” On the first holiday, at six in the morning, we Jewish inmates were called up into a special squad. At quick-march speed we were chased across the courtyard. In front of a dung pit the command “Halt” was given. We had to step down into the pit and form up in it. I was snatched from the ranks of my comrades and put in the middle of the pit. SS Scharführer Everling yelled at me: “Well, Rabbi, you can hold your divine service here!” Everything in me rebelled against having our faith – quite literally – dragged into the mud. I remained silent.
Everling: “You refuse to obey the order?”
“I don’t hold divine service in a dung pit!”
Everling got me out of the pit – rubber truncheons and rifle butts crashed down on me. Unconscious I was taken to my bunk. For two hours I lay there unconscious. In the afternoon we were taken to the same dung pit where the others had had to work in the morning. Now Everling invited me to give a lecture on Judaism and other religions. I began: “The Jewish religion, like other religions, has as its basis the Ten Commandments and the beautiful Biblical sentence: ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself!’” Everling interrupted: “Stop, you swine, we’ll teach you what’s meant by neighborly love!” Now I was ill-treated so terribly that I developed high fever and went into spasms. My body was beaten bloody. I could neither sit nor lie. Thus I spent a frightful night full of confused and cruel hallucinations. Next morning I was taken to the sick bay in an alarming condition.
Source: M. Abraham, “Juda verrecke: Ein Rabbiner im Konzentrationslagerˮ, in I. A. Diekmann, K. Wettig (eds), Konzentrationslager Oranienburg (Potsdam, 2004), pp. 153–4
Translation: Ewald Osers