Prisoner meetings and morale

Secret prisoner gatherings – with stories, dances and plays – helped to boost morale. For a brief moment, a prisoner might forget the camps and feel human again. Leon Szalet, taken to Sachsenhausen as a Polish Jew in autumn 1939 and released the following year, described the effects of such prisoner gatherings in memoirs written in the early 1940s.

085 – The Jewish survivor Leon Szalet on prisoner “recreation” in Sachsenhausen

Wherever one was, all the talk finally got around to the subject of food. But this only made the feelings of hunger even more excruciating and in the end intolerable. It seemed to me that it was possible to cope with this situation only by diverting our attention from hunger to some other subject of conversation. I, therefore, proposed the introduction of recreation hours. Every individual should contribute to these recreation hours whether through a poem, a song, a lecture from his sphere of knowledge, stories or personal experiences, anecdotes etc. The proposal was enthusiastically received […]. The window cleaners took on the role of look-outs and our security was so successful that we were never discovered [by the SS].

we felt restored to life

Although these recreation hours could only be held sporadically they had the effect I intended. Soon they were the only bright spot in our hopeless existence. […] When it was the turn of our comedians, these were often such hilarious occasions that even the most gloomy amongst us could not help enjoying them. And sometimes there were moments of real inspiration. When our suffering was really getting the better of us individual comrades could with a few thoughtful words once again raise our hopes and we felt restored to life.

Source: L. Szalet, Baracke 38 (Berlin, 2006), pp. 141–2

Translation: Lesley Sharpe and Jeremy Noakes