The November 1938 pogrom

On 9–10 November 1938, Nazi leaders unleashed a nationwide pogrom against Jews in the Third Reich. Hundreds died. Many more were dragged to concentration camps. Over 26,000 Jewish men were forced into Dachau, Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald, where they suffered disease, hunger and violence. Over 400 Jewish prisoners died over the coming weeks. Most others were quickly released again. The Nazi authorities did not yet want to kill the Jews, or lock them up for ever. They wanted to force them out of Germany. Among those who emigrated was a doctor from Frankfurt, who had spent over a week in Buchenwald following his arrest on 10 November 1938. His testimony was written in early 1939, shortly after he had left Germany.

048 – A German-Jewish doctor on Buchenwald after the 1938 pogrom

After a journey of about 10 km we arrived at the gate of the Buchenwald concentration camp […]. [W]e moved at the double across the assembly ground of the camp, with those who were too slow being again spurred on by blows with sticks. […] Everyone received a number printed on a piece of canvas and we were informed that loss of this number would, along with other deadly or hellish punishments, be punished initially with 25 lashes. […]

Buchenwald roll call of Jews arrested after the November 1938 pogrom

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Robert A. Schmuhl

On the day after our arrival, or rather on the same morning, we were lined up outside […]. The bulk of one’s activity consisted of standing about. In between one’s hair was shorn and personal details were again taken down. Not until 6.30 in the evening did we actually get our first food, a soup with fish, very good in itself. Altogether the food we received was perfectly good. This meant that from 7.30 in the morning of 10 November until 6.30 the following evening I had not eaten or drunk anything. Thirst and the irregularity of food and of the timetable were what we suffered from most […]; sometimes the meals followed closely one after another and sometimes at great intervals. This was due, in my opinion, to the fact the [SS] organization simply could not keep pace with the sudden arrival of some 10,000 people. […]

we always felt that we were cattle

In the camp we were accommodated in large wooden huts […]. They had four-tier bunks, wooden planks on top of each other; one lay on them without any straw and without blankets. All one had for covering oneself was what one happened to have brought along – in my case a thin overcoat. For heating our hut had a small iron stove, in other huts there was none. One lay so close together one could hardly move, really like sardines in a tin. One never changed or took off one’s clothes, one was covered up to one’s knees with a thick crust of clay and could not wash. […] Our accommodation was such that we always felt that we were cattle locked into a dirty cowshed. Also the manner in which we were, after roll call, driven into our huts was entirely the manner in which cattle are driven into their sheds, moreover always with the prospect of receiving a blow with the riding crop from any SS men happening to be standing nearby if, as is natural given the large crowd, things did not go fast enough for them. […]

Any human dignity one possesses has to be pocketed in the camp. […] If an SS man, mostly a Scharführer, asks who one is and one answers, he would say: “You used to cheat the Aryans, you Jewish pig!” etc., and one had to keep silent. Words like Jewish pig were the order of the day. Woe to him who is driven to protest. I have repeatedly watched a flogging of 25 lashes, on one occasion even 40–50 lashes.

Source: Wiener Library, B. 216

Translation: Ewald Osers