David P. Boder Interviews Max Meyer Sprecher; September 23, 1946; Feldafing, Germany

var english_translation = { interview: [ David Boder

[In English] This concludes the interview with [unintelligible], and we are going over to an interview again with Mr. Max Meyer Sprecher, with whom we started on Spool 146. Munich, September the 23rd . . . Munich, September the 23rd, 1946. We are not working here exactly under very ideal conditions.

David Boder

[In German] [unintelligible] And so Mr. Sprecher will you please tell me again where you were when the war started. Were you over in Germany?

Max Sprecher

[In Yiddish] I was then . . .

David Boder

Yes. Talk Yiddish.

Max Sprecher

I was then in Germany. I returned from the refugee camp in Beuthen on the German-Polish border. I was in '38, the 28th of October, '38, sent together with the Polish Jews from Germany to Poland.

David Boder

From what city were you sent?

Max Sprecher

From Berlin. Together with many thousand Polish Jews over the 'green border' to Poland. ['green border' apparently means the border line away from official points of entrance.]

David Boder

Had Germany then occupied Poland?

Max Sprecher

No, there was an 'action' specifically directed . . .

David Boder

[In English] We were interrupted again. These are quite trying conditions, to work in this camp; but we are beginning now again with Mr. Sprecher.

David Boder

[In German] So let us continue. And so beginning with the 'green border' continue . . .

Max Sprecher

The 'green border' is a field which is located between two countries.

David Boder

Yes.

Max Sprecher

There . . . it is not covered by any border guards. It is open, free. And so, since the Jews who were lead there did not want voluntarily to cross the border, the field, they were surrounded by German police with machine guns, and they were chased and compelled to cross the green field into Poland. For Germany we were Polish citizens. For Poland we were not Polish citizens. Therefore, we were interned in the Polish border city Bedzin, Zbolshin[?] in Polish, and remained there a very long time, almost three quarters of a year.

David Boder

Continue. And then you say . . .

Max Sprecher

In the course of time a possibility was found through an understanding with the German government, that a part of the people should be enabled to return and take with them the most necessary things, which they had left behind in Germany. Because the major part of the people had come simply . . . had brought with them only what they had . . . what they were wearing on their bodies, nothing else. A part returned in order to arrange their immigration into other lands. In this case I returned with the intention [the word is in Hebrew].

David Boder

With what?

Max Sprecher

With the [translates] . . . with the purpose to continue the studies of medicine, and not in Germany, but in Switzerland. I have sent from the camp Bedzin my matriculation booklet to Basel with the hope to be accepted there by the university. But instead of going to Basel, to the university, I landed in a concentration camp.

David Boder

Well. In what lager did you land?

Max Sprecher

It was the 13th of [September]1939. On the 1st of September the war broke out with Poland. Between the 5th and the 10th we had to register in Berlin as enemy aliens. The Gestapo proclaimed specifically, against us personally, a number of security orders, and at dawn the 13th, between four and six o'clock in the morning, we were arrested and taken en masse to Sachsenhausen, Oranienburg near Berlin, fifty-five minutes by streetcar from Berlin.

David Boder

Is Sachsenhausen the same as Oranienburg?

Max Sprecher

Sach- . . . The lager Sachsenhausen and lager . . . and concentration camp Oranienburg were at that time one and the same. At the founding of the lager, the lager was started in a small factory building next to the city Oranienburg.

David Boder

And Sachsenhausen is there nearby?

Max Sprecher

Then, a kilometer farther away . . . one and a half kilometers away is located the large lager Sachsenhausen.

David Boder

Now describe the life in Sachsenhausen.

Max Sprecher

I cannot comply completely with this request, because soon after the arrival, and after the registration we were transferred to a strict quarantine. We were isolated from other lager . . .

David Boder

Yes, but tell me what happened to you there?

Max Sprecher

We were brought in there, seven hundred and fifty Polish Jews, into three blocks, at two hundred and fifty Jews in each block.

David Boder

Did not the Polish subjects have a diplomatic representative, who had undertaken to represent the Poles?

Max Sprecher

In Germanyânobody. Not the Swedish, not the Danish . . .

David Boder

[unintelligible]

Max Sprecher

Nobody to represent us. Officially Sweden was assigned as the one to represent us. A few days before our arrest in Berlin, we have heard already about the actions against the Polish Jews in the various cities of the Germans provinces, Leipzig, Frankfurt. Therefore, we started running in droves to the Swedish counsul. Unfortunately, we were not given there any kind of answer, neither any kind of papers that we are standing under the protection of the Swedish government [pause].

David Boder

And so, continue . . .

Max Sprecher

From the description referring to the earlier times . . . about the large lager . . . I unfortunately am unable . . . I am unfortunately unable to tell anything.

David Boder

No. I mean tell us about what happened to you there? Where were you?

Max Sprecher

We were delivered . . . the seven hundred and fifty Polish Jews . . .

David Boder

Men and women?

Max Sprecher

Only men.

David Boder

Yes.

Max Sprecher

In three blocks, two hundred and fifty people in each block. The youngest prisoners were, according to instructions, fifteen years old. In many cases the Polish Jews came with their youngest children, fourteen or fifteen years old. The oldest were seventy-five or older.

David Boder

And what was done with those who were younger?

Max Sprecher

The younger children were together with the parents [?] in the same block. None of us was doing any work.

David Boder

I have asked you whether there were children ten or twelve years of age?

Max Sprecher

No. Such children were not there. According to instructions only those had to register . . .

David Boder

Oh, they did not register?

Max Sprecher

They did not register . . . only those from fourteen years and older.

David Boder

Oh.

Max Sprecher

Not the younger children.

David Boder

Well.

Max Sprecher

At the beginning we were together in the block. We did not work. Because then the SS was doing the work, and also the indoor service of block elders, organized by them. Their work consisted in 'exterminating' us day in day out, and to eliminate [?] us. They succeeded in this work in a very short time . . .

David Boder

For instance?

Max Sprecher

A third of our blockâsimilar conditions prevailed also in other blocksâhave fallen right at the beginning. And . . .

David Boder

Tell it more specifically . . . What does it mean they had fallen?

Max Sprecher

We were given . . . they have chosen for us various torments, and punishments, which were to reduce our number. I shall describe a few of them.

David Boder

Indeed, go on.

Max Sprecher

It was called . . . it was called 'belly recumbence', lying on the stomach meant that we had to lie from four o'clock in the mor- . . . at daybreak, in the summer, September 1939 until five o'clock in the evening, on the belly without moving, the hands crossed on the back, the cap, the prisoner's cap in hand. The hall was locked, the doors, the windows, the ventilation. And so at high . . . in the warm month of September 1939, there was no air to breathe. Older people 'fell' as a consequence of it, and one may say just like flies.

David Boder

Now tell me, who saw to it that people should lie that way?

Max Sprecher

The block elder, and his assistant the 'room elder' paraded all day from morning till evening before the block, along the rows of windows, and watched. They could 'recognize' us because according to instructions we had to hold the cap in the crossed hands on the back. If someone would move, so the cap would move. And in that they would recognize exactly that one or the other was moving. So he would mark down through the window from the outside which number, or which place was occupied by the prisoner who was moving, and he would come in and administer the punishment prescribed for it by the block-elder. The punishment consisted in calling the prisoner to the front, to the first row, and the block-elder, the room-elder, block-fuehrer in the uniform of the SS alternately belabored the poor prisoner with pieces of wood, pieces of iron until the man would break down. Often he right there 'expired'his life. There were . . .

David Boder

Who were the block-elders?

Max Sprecher

The block-elders were in our Jewish blocks mostly criminals, previously punished [sentenced], who . . .

David Boder

Germans?

Max Sprecher

Germans, who for years have served were years ago sentenced to various lagers as criminals, and were later transferred to concentration camps. My block-elder bore the number 272 from Sachsenhausen. He was one of the oldest criminals, previously punished, in this lager. He was himself a boxer and 'Ringer', using all his strength to exterminate the Jews.

David Boder

What do you mean a boxer and a 'Ringer'?

Max Sprecher

He was by profession outside, at liberty. Next to his vocation as . . . next to his vocation as B-Vauer he also was . . .

David Boder

Oh . . .

Max Sprecher

Next to his vocation as B-Vauer, or a professional criminal . . .

David Boder

Yes.

Max Sprecher

. . . he was also an amateur boxer and a 'Ringer.'

David Boder

[Clarifying the last word] A Ringer is what we call a wrestler in English, of course. All right.

Max Sprecher

This [his treatment] was already a softening up. His predecessor, by the name Zeres [could be a nickname derived from the Yiddish Zores trouble, misfortunes], a man who, for multiple murder, was sentenced to long imprisonment. He served his sentence for many years in various punitive camps. Finally . . .

David Boder

You mean prisons . . .

Max Sprecher

. . . prisons, and finally in the concentration camp Sachsenhausen. He . . . he has distinguished himself in his accomplishments. He has killed in the course of a very brief time a large number of my fellow prisoners in my block, Polish Jews, and then was discharged and set free. He was sent to his relatives in Berlin. Such was the opinion of the SS, that for the accomplishments that he has achieved in the course of such a short time during the month of September, he deserves his liberty, in spite [of the fact] that he was sentenced by a court to life long imprisonment. But the B-Vauers in Berlin thought differently about this [matter]. We had, through a contact . . .

David Boder

What does it mean, the B-Vauers?

Max Sprecher

B-Vauer means professional criminals. [Berufs-Verbrecher.]

David Boder

Aha.

Max Sprecher

. . . we had, through a contact . . .

David Boder

B-V means . . .

Max Sprecher

B-Vauer, means professional criminal [Berufsverbrecher].

David Boder

Yes.

Max Sprecher

Through a contact with the Alexander Platz, that was the investigation [pretrial] prison of Berlin, we have reported that the famous B-Vauer Zeres was released from Feldafing [corrects himself] from Sachsenhausen and that he had in the course of one month killed tens of imprisoned Polish Jews . . . murdered. The B-Vauer tribunal of Berlin has sentenced . . .

David Boder

What do you mean, the B-Vauer tribunal? Was it a secret tribunal?

Max Sprecher

The tribunal of professional criminals has sentenced this man to death. They arranged a supposed celebration for the professional criminal Zeres, and during this celebration the verdict of the B-Vauer union was read, because you must know that the professional criminals of Berlin belong to unions, such organizations were organized . . .

David Boder

These were naturally secret organizations?

Max Sprecher

What?

David Boder

Secret organizations?

Max Sprecher

Secret organizations.

David Boder

Yes.

Max Sprecher

And . . .

David Boder

Underground organizations.

Max Sprecher

Yes. And so judged about this prison the world of professional criminals of Berlin, that the man deserves death, while the SS had judged that for his accomplishments he deserves [his] freedom [pause].

David Boder

So what did the B-Vauers do with him?

Max Sprecher

They shot him to death during the celebration.

David Boder

Aha.

Max Sprecher

This information we have received from people who had arrived in our block from Alexander Platz.

David Boder

What was there at the Alexander Platz?

Max Sprecher

Alexander Platz was the investigatory [pretrial] prison of Berlin.

David Boder

Aha.

Max Sprecher

People who were to be distributed to various prisons, to various lagers, were assembled there. When there was assembled a certain number, they were sent in groups to the corresponding prisons or lagers. Now I shall continue describing our life in the . . . during the first days in the concentration camp.

David Boder

Right.

Max Sprecher

We had a series of punitive sports. One consisted in creeping, like a snake on the ground. Then there was leaping like a toad, like a frog. Do you understand me?

David Boder

Yes, of course.

Max Sprecher

Like a frog, like a toad, leaping, jumping, to half height of a human. The third consisted in rolling [word not clear]

David Boder

What is that?

Max Sprecher

Rolling, rolling. To roll [now it is clear] means, to turn like a tree [log] is being turned. That is how we had to 'cower'. Now, there was something interesting in that 'cowering'. It was fortunate for a Jew if he had a chance to die soon. But there were a lot of 'falling' people who suffered a day or two until they died. In order that these people could get a little bit more air, we usually placed them near the door, because through the cracks in the door these gravely ill people could get a little bit more air.

David Boder

Nu.

Max Sprecher

The pleasure of the SS and the block-elders consisted in coming in intervals from hour, and to make with us punitive sports in these overheated barracks.

David Boder

What does it mean in intervals from hour to hour? [This is a question for verification since his words were not clear]

Max Sprecher

I have told you that we were . . . in our section of the barracks the doors and windows were locked. Thus the air there was very bad. It was impossible to breathe. So it was very difficult for the block leaders, for the SS, to spend all day together with us in this heavy fowl air. So they stayed ordinarily outside. So they would come in from time to time during [?] the day, and made with us strenuous punitive sports. But as soon as they had spent with us a few minutes, it became hard for them to breathe in this heavy air, so they stopped, went out, and in an hour or two [then] the whole drill was 'pigged' over again [the whole procedure would start all over again].

David Boder

So you were rolling indoors, inside . . .

Max Sprecher

In the block, two . . .

David Boder

But there was no room.

Max Sprecher

That was . . . that was the purpose of rolling, it was ordered that we were to roll in twos, in threes, that is one lies [corrects himself] rolls underneath on the ground, the second rolls over him, and the third rolls over the second. You can imagine that in this heavy air, and with these run-down people, they nearly crushed each other in the [process of rolling. There was no other way, because the block-elders together with the SS were compelling the unconscious people, unconscious from suffering, unconscious from the sticking air, and unconscious from the hard 'sport', which these exhausted [?] people were unable to stand. Now there is one thing about it. I have stated that we were placing first of all our sick, our gravely sick peoples near the door, so these people may have still a bit of air in their last hours of life. This by and by was noticed by the SS and the block-elders from outside, and they compelled [us] . . . so when they came in, they soon gave a command to roll, with the intent that we should roll above these gravely sick people, who were in part in coma [?] and so lead them into death. In the first [starting] row were lying a row of very young and well 'sportly' developed [physically strong] people. As soon as we heard the slightest motion in the vestibule, we instantly jumped back a half a meter. So when the command would come: 'roll', we would roll, but not over the sick but only one over the other, over those who were well. The aim of the SS [which] was that we ourselves should murder with our own bodies our gravely ill [?] brothers, did not materialize.

David Boder

Now, continue. What happened to you afterwards?

Max Sprecher

The other punishments, one could think it a light punishment, were [for instance] to lie simply on the stomach. The first day it was still tolerable. The second day many arose . . . many of us arose with torn skin and with blood on the chest. It is not as easy to bear for a few hours . . . to bear tightly pressed one against the other, from various . . . through the various pressures from people who were lying in front, behind and on the sides. The pressure, and the wounds were so acute, that after the first or second day we all had bleeding wounds. The hand was torn and it was bleeding like from a water main. At that there also occurred cases when particularly privileged [?] SS were looking for some special enjoyments. I shall describe one of them. There entered six inebriated SS. They had in their hands various pieces of wood, pieces of iron, and thick pieces of rubber hose. The title of the play was called that day 'blood bath.' A 'blood bath' consisted in the following: We had to line up in one row. Each SS man was given a row which he was to 'belabor'. And he was beating over the face, over the eyes, over the nose, over the mouth until blood started flowing. When blood begins to flow a human grabs instinctively with his hand the bleeding wound, as if to stop the bleeding. In that moment would come the command: stand still. We were prohibited to move our hands, and the blood was flowing down to the ground. And in front of every person was formed a little puddle of blood. And so, since we were standing still, due to this standing the blood too stood still. So there came the command: 'motion', or, 'lie down.' Through the motion, and lying down with an open wound, the blood gushed, flowed again. When there was enough blood for each row, there came the command to lie down and to 'roll' in it with the face. Then we had to get up and all our faces were red from the blood. The SS was satisfied and the program for that day was completed. [Pause].

David Boder

Now go ahead. What happened after this lager?

Max Sprecher

And so, we were submitted to a strong isolation. We were unable to learn from the fellow prisoners in the lager, of whom there were at that time ten thousand, what may happen to us, will happen. We were cut off from the outside [world], cut off from inside, delivered for life and death to a professional criminal as block-elder and to a women merchant, a room elder, as his helper.

David Boder

What is a women merchant?

Max Sprecher

A women peddler is a man from the underworld who occupies himself professionally with the sale of women, and . . .

David Boder

Oh, a women merchant.

Max Sprecher

. . . and with women. And a manager, or proprietor of houses of shame, which deal in women. Our number grew smaller from day to day, and we did not know when it will end. We are at present before Rosh Hashana. So I want to recollect that we were delivered to the concentration camp in 1939 on the eve of Rosh Hashana. So at the evening of Yom Kippur, the SS acertained from calendars which they have found on Jewish prisoners, which were brought in, that it is a great holiday for the Jews. And then they invented a special procedure: The hall, the barrack in the block 38 of Sachsenhausen, the isolation block, was closed shut for the whole day, and no bit of air was let in. In the evening the Jews . . .

David Boder

What was it Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashana?

Max Sprecher

The eve of Yom Kippur.

David Boder

Yes.

Max Sprecher

In the evening when the Jews 'on the outside' were running to Kol-Nidrey [principal prayer for the Day of Atonement], we, the locked in, in our block 37, observed how in front of the block 38 thirteen Jews were layed out, who during that day were suffocated because they did not have [enough] air to breathe.

David Boder

Now, you said before: 'when the Jews from the outside' â does that mean the Jews who were free?

Max Sprecher

We were in the block 37, across from us at a distance of three â four meters was block 38. A corpse would be layed out before the block. Then there would come a wagon and soon transport the body to the cellar. From there he would be transported further to the crematory, which already at that time was in existence in the lager Sachsenhausen, but which should not be compared with the crematories in the camps of Majdanek and Auschwitz, because this one [in Sacheshausen] was predominantly for those prisoners who had died in the concentration camp . . . in the big camp, who succumbed at work, or who were for reasons . . . on special orders of the Gestapo, killed in Berlin, or who have sinned in a petty manner, [such as] moving when there had come an order to lie, had dared [to do] things that were prohibited. And prohibited was anything in the world. The slogan with which we were daily admonished was solely thus: permitted is one thing, permitted is only to die [pause].

David Boder

Where did you go from there? What happened then?

Max Sprecher

However, when in a short time we had lost all those older people whose conditions of health were such [?] that they could not bear the ordeals and hardships of the first weeks, due to shortage of air, due to lack of food, due to beatings, due to hard 'sports' many people had fallen; and there remained a smaller number, of younger, healthier people, for whom to die was not such a simple matter, then other means were found. Every few hours would enter the . . . several SS with various implements, clubs, sticks, irons, rubber and truncheons and were beating [us] continuously until the death of one or two persons would bring it to a stop. I want to recall one case which is especially interesting. We had in our block a Jew in his forties. His name was Hurwitz, from a family of rabbis in Berlin. He was a tall, strong, and very healthy person. He was conspicuous as to height and good appearance. And from the first day the SS started to molest him. Also the block-elder. Thanks to his physical health, he was able to endure all the hardships, the tribulations, the sports, lack of [fresh] air, etc. It was decided, that is the SS and the block-elder.have decided, that this man must die. And for that purpose, use was made of a special method of beating, with different implements. It has taken eight days until the man was brought to the verge of death. On the eighth . . .

David Boder

You say it was decided. How do you know, it was decided?

Max Sprecher

You know . . . we knew it from the fact, that from the moment the door would open and there would enter the block-elder or SS people, they would soon call: 'You, fat Jew, come here.' and although there were several Jews who were stout,âand most of them have perished tooâthey used [word not clear] however to club and beat this [particular] Jew, until he was 'completed.' This was a linguistic designation in the concentration camp: 'completing' meant to torture until the man died. On the eighth day he had not a single healthy spot, not a single healthy centimeter on his body. It was all covered and swollen with blood. I still remember the last night. This pious person recited on the top of his voice the Vida [the prayer for those about to die] and the whole block, whether young or old, joined in the weeping and chanting. In the middle of the night the man had the fortune to die. He fell in a very deep stupor, and in the stupor he tore off all his clothes. And in the morning when we sat up he was lying dead, naked, and around him, like, just like during all the last days, was the blood-[soaked] red straw mattress [paillasse]. During the last few days we were laying that man, since the man had numerous open wounds, on the same straw mattress. On the same day it happened that just by accident the lager fuehrer passed through [the block]. He never used to take an interest in our block, because his interest was limited to the daily report on the conditions and to the mortality report. The first greeting which was dealt out to us the first days in the lager, when we were aroused at three, three thirty in the morning was: 'How many dead are there today?' Not a 'Good morning', not a, 'Get up', only 'How many dead are there today?' And everyone who would ascertain that his neighbor was cold, reported: 'Here is one; here is one more.' And so he would compose his memo [?], his death-report, and with it he would run to the office. His interest in the run of the camp was satisfied for a while with it. And so, there was no interest on the part of the SS, of the lager management, to ascertain how our block looks from the inside. And as said before, by accident it happened that the lager fuehrer just came into the block on that particular day. Then saw . . .

David Boder

What was the name of that lager fuehrer?

Max Sprecher

His name I am unable to recall. I don't know it any more.

David Boder

It was in '38, in '39?

Max Sprecher

In '39. September '39, at the end . . . the last days of September . . . the 30th. We . . . he came in and saw the man lying, naked, with his bloody body, with his open wounds, with the blood-drenched straw mattress, and around the straw mattress a lot of blood had streamed out. I don't know what feelings had come over him at the time. I know only one thing. He looked sharply at the block-fuehrer. He called immediately the lager fuehrer [corrects himself] the block fuehrer and the block elder. The block fuehrer was sent away from our block and we were given block protection. That was not done in order to keep us alive because the purpose was a completely different one. It was done for a completely different reason. Sachsenhausen was located near Berlin. There were arriving frequently various commissions, domestic and foreign, and [so] they terminated the annihilation method, so that they themselves should not disgrace themselves before a foreign commission which could appear sometime unexpectedly and discover such a fact. They then changed to other means in order to continue to annihilate us in an effective, silent invisible manner. A few things.

David Boder

[word not clear]. Yes . . .

Max Sprecher

About this I wish to narrate further a few things. We had market [apparently a brief technical interruption].

David Boder

All right. Go on.

Max Sprecher

We were working in the Klinker works, in Sachsenhausen. That was a brick factory which was planned to become one of the largest in Germany. The Jews formed in this factory the commando [contingent] for the hardest labor. The hardest labors which were to be done in this brick factory were assigned to be done by the Jews. It [the work] proceeded at a rate which exceeds by many times the normal work rate of a men at liberty [In whisper: shall I stop?]

David Boder

[also whispering] No, go on. [Apparently some technical difficulties at the end of the spool].

Max Sprecher

The method [of work] . . . the method used there was most refined, meticulously elaborated. For that purpose was assigned . . . located near our lager Sachsenhausen a special staff under the direction of superior-group-fuehrer Von Eike [?], who has devised and assembled all the annihilation methods for all the concentration camps in Germany.

David Boder

Where is he now?

Max Sprecher

The same superior-group-leader Von Eike [?] was the lager fuehrer in Dachau, in Buchenwald, in various additional lagers in Sachsenhausen, who established himself with a giant staff of various SS, sadists, murderers, scientists who have subtilized [cunninghly designed] an annihilation method which was assembled in the form of 'Regulamin' and strongly . . .

David Boder

'Regulamin' what is that?

Max Sprecher

A collection of rules, which sound liberal, humane, and loyalâtransformed through SS and professional criminalsâ which were not followed as there prescribed, but in a completely different manner, with the aim and with the instructions to extreminate those prisoners, whom they . . . the Jewish prisoners whom they received in their power, in their 'fold.' Unfortunately, they have succeeded with this in the great majority of cases. [Pause].

David Boder

Well, where 'from' did you go from Sachsenhausen? [correcting the sentence] where did you go from Sachsenhausen?

Max Sprecher

We remained there for three years.

David Boder

Three years in Sachsenhausen?

Max Sprecher

From 1939 to 1949.

David Boder

[correcting] '42.

Max Sprecher

'42.

David Boder

Now.

Max Sprecher

We remained there at that time in insulation only for a short time, since September 1939 until the eight of January, 1940. On that day marched in a contingent or company of three hundred Jewish prisoners, for the brick factory. With that instant started the hardest and from certain aspects an easier period of our life in the lager. Harder, because we were transferred as a hard labor contingent, [assigned] to hardest labor with insufficient nourishment.

David Boder

And easier . . . ?

Max Sprecher

And easier because we started to have our first contacts with other prisoners . . . political prisoners of the lager.

David Boder

[In English] This concludes Spool 146 [147], which . . . with the report of Mr. Sprecher. We are going over to Spool 147 [148] with this same report. Feldafing, a camp for displaced people, placed in a former Hitler-Jugend [Hitler Youth] installation, containing now in excess of 4,000 displaced Jews. An Illinois Institute of Technology [wire recording].

David Boder

[In German] Now Mr. Sprecher, will you please continue. Where did you go from Sachsenhausen? And please stick to personal experiences.

Max Sprecher

Now, we shall remain in our further conversation still in Sachsenhausen.

David Boder

[This is a rare case when the interviewer made an effort to redirect the interview. The reason if I remember correctly was the pressure of time under which I worked in Germany and the impatience, at times, of other interviewees who waited outside for their turn. In retrospect this appears unsatisfactory. It would have been better to let him talk in his chosen sequence and then stop the interview in the middle. But this might have evoked some protest and dissatisfaction. However, there are not too many of such 'redirected' interviews, at least not to such a degree. âD.P.B.] Let us now conclude with Sachsenhausen, where did you go from Sachsenhausen?

Max Sprecher

In June . . . [corrects] in the fall of 1942 in the process of general relocation of Jewish prisoners, from prisons, houses of correction, and concentration camps, we were sent away by train to Poland to the famous concentration camp Auschwitz. At that time all Jewish prisoners, from the concentration camps Buchenwald, Dachau, Gross-Rosen, Neugane [this word seems distorted, probably Majdanek].

David Boder

Were you tattooed in Auschwitz.

Max Sprecher

At the arrival . . .

David Boder

What is the tattoo number?

Max Sprecher

Upon arrival in Auschwitz, we were tattooed. The transports from Dachan, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen were given all the numbers from 68,000 to 70,000 [?].

David Boder

Your number?

Max Sprecher

[He apparently shows it] 70789

David Boder

Yes. Well. Go ahead.

Max Sprecher

There we knew already what Auschwitz was, even before we had arrived. I just want to recall a little episode which reveals our mood while we were traveling to Auschwitz. The same day our things were taken away from us. Even in a lager one may have a relationship to his own things [an 'attitude' towards one's own things], even to prisoners' things. There were things that gave a certain [amount of warmth]. It was already autumn and warm things were of importance. [Same whisper] In the preparations for the transport, our warm things were taken away and we were given light summer things. This way the prisoners were usually dressed, when they were led to the 'industrial' yard, near the lager Sachsenhausen to be shot. And [therefore] we all were sure that we are not lead to transport but that we shall be shot at night in the large square at the 'industrial' yard of the lager . . . of the concentration camp Sachsenhausen.

David Boder

[In English]. One gets so absorbed in that what one is telling, that I did not identify the spool at the beginning. This is spool 147 [corrects], oh, no, this is spool 148 and Mr. Sprecher is continuing here from spool 147. Munich, camp Feldafing, September the 23rd, 1946. [In German] Continue please.

Max Sprecher

A small number of young, active people did not want to go voluntarily into death . . .

David Boder

Yes.

Max Sprecher

. . . and attempted to break out of the barrack by force, where we were surrounded by SS. They ran through the lager with the intention to scale the block . . . the fence, which was insulated [he means obviously charged] with electric wires, and to escape from there. And if we have to fall, thern it is preferable to fall resisting, than to let themselves be shot one by one, lined up in the 'industrial' yard. This was in Sachsenhausen near Berlin. Many things that they [the SS could permit themselves in lagers located farther away from Berlin, they could not permit themselves . . . they could not permit the SS to disgrace themselves, that they should have permitted . . .

David Boder

Please do not give the evaluations of situations, we have that. Please give the facts . . .

Max Sprecher

Yes. They made an attempt to break through the lines of the SS, and to leave the lager by force. They were caught, and brought back to us to the assembly place [?]. As the lager fuehrer has told us that time: 'Nothing shall open happen to you, you shall not go . . . you shall not be shot, you are being transported to the lager Auschwitz.' I have recalled this occurrence to reveal the mood that has prevailed in the midst of the Jewish prisoners at that time, when it was decided to take us to Auschwitz. So now we are in Auschwitz. We saw there day after day . . .

David Boder

How did you arrive there? Only men?

Max Sprecher

We were transported in freight [?] cars, seventy to eighty prisoners in one car. We arrived a protracted journey in Auschwitz. Men only. Because the concentration camp Sachsenhausen as well as Meugane [?], Buchenwald, and Dachau consisted only of male prisoners. The transport consisted then only of Jewish prisoners, because, as I mentioned, it was decided at that time to send all the Jewish prisoners to the concentration camps pertaining to Auschwitz. In Auschwitz we immediately presented ourselves for a transport to the Buna industries. We presented ourselves so that we should not have to wait [to idle], to vegetate in that horrible lager Auschwitz. Buna was called Auschwitz II [two], a small lager annex, near Auswitz. It was small in terms of a lager for prisoners, but it was to be built up into the largest industrial project of the I.G. FARBEN industry of that region. It was already in our time a conglomeration of a thousand interconnected factories. Each factory occupied a few dozen [tens] . . . it was planned that each factory should occupy a few hundred [?] prisoners. The whole project Buna Auschwitz II was to occupy five hundred thousand prisoners. At that time . . .

David Boder

You said a few . . . were there a few thousand or a few people?

Max Sprecher

At that time we were there a few thousand prisoners. The Buna Project, the project for manufacture of artificial rubber, was planned and constructed for a half a million workers, mostly prisoners-workers. Already at that time there were working together with the thousand of Jewish prisoner-workers also civilians assembled in various lagers consisting of Italians, French, Poles, Ukranians, and Russians. The whole project was exactly . . . the whole project . . . the industrial project Buna was . . .

David Boder

Well, . . . we have the history of Buna. I want to know what has happened to you . . . just stick to that . . .

Max Sprecher

We worked there [he apparently perceives the word Ihen, a polite form of you singular as a plural and therefore still continues with the history of the group]divided into various details consisting of thirty, forty up to fifty prisoners in a detail, at various work places. The work varied. Artisans worked at their trade. Metal workers [locksmiths], carpenters, electricians . . .

David Boder

. . . but what happened to you? Do not tell me the history of Buna, we know that. I want to know what happened to you.

Max Sprecher

I as a non-artisan, worked in a . . .

David Boder

[remark not clear]

Max Sprecher

I as a non-artisan worked there in a simple detail assigned to transportation of lumber, of concrete, of iron. The tempo of the work was above the average [rate]. The food was insufficient. Putting these two factors together one can understand that the people due to the work and insufficient food perished in the lapse of a very short time. This offered a most radical method of extermination of people.

David Boder

What happened to you?

Max Sprecher

In the course of that time I became so depleted of bodily strength that I was not able any more to execute the smallest, lightest tasks. I was then sent to the hospital [in] Auschwitz. Usually the prisoners who were sent to the hospital Auschwitz, would go at the next selection, at the next transport concentration into the crematories Auschwitz- Birkenau. I found out that a transport is to be assembled within the next few days, and I got out of the hospital.

David Boder

What do you mean, you got out? You . . .

Max Sprecher

There was a Jewish doctor form France. By an understanding with this Jewish doctor he wrote a note that I was already well, capable to work, and I got out, back into the lager. With the help of an old prisoner from the lager Sachsenhausen who was there in the labor service, I was taken into the laundry, because in the lumber yard which belonged to the easiest detail of the lager and which assembled only people who were . . . who had sick feet or were (generally) sick, and could not work hard. But I had no strength to march the fifty meters from the lager to the lumber yard together with the detail. And so the guards, the accompanying SS guards did not want to take me with them, and so the laundry detail was chosen for me [located] in the lager Auschwitz proper. And so I had to go only to the next block, from the block where I lived to the next block where the laundry was located. The laundry washed the prisoners' clothing. Prisoners' . . .

David Boder

What were you doing . . . ?

Max Sprecher

I was washing the clothes which were handed to me from the kettle. The clothing consisted . . . that what I was washing consistd of suits, striped and non-striped, clothing that was given after long intervals to the prisoners to change. And . . .

David Boder

Go on . . .

Max Sprecher

The work there was going on in two shifts. Day shift and night shift. I worked there mostly at night. The day I had free to sleep, I made use of the day for different purposes. There were various blocks. The blocks had room elders, a room service which were in charge of the work. They did not want to do the work, they . . . They wanted to live easily. I then used to go around through the various blocks and do the work, washing the floors, the floors [synonymous repetition - using a different connotation for the same object], sweeping, cleaning the windows. In this manner I worked half a day. For this I got a supplementary portion. [speaking louder] For this I got a supplementary portion, a bowl of oats, or two. At times even a little piece of bread. And that helped me greatly. In a short time I got out of this lager [for the sick] and became again a normal person. Normal as far as a prisoner of a concentration camp could be [???] I was able to walk fifty meters [?] and hundred meters [?] together with people, without lagging behind.

David Boder

Well. What happened then?

Max Sprecher

At the end of '43, December of '43 a detail departed from Auschwitz to Birkenau. It was a construction detail which was composed of various groups.

David Boder

What kind of a detail? [The word designating 'construction' was not clear].

Max Sprecher

A construction [still not clear] detail.

David Boder

A construction detail.

Max Sprecher

A construction detail.

David Boder

Yes . . . yes.

Max Sprecher

I was there the clerk, in that detail, because I was versed equally well in German, in Polish, and Russian - so I was made there the clerk.

David Boder

Where did you learn Russian?

Max Sprecher

Russian I have learned in part before I got into the lager, in part illegally in the lager. There existed in the lager along with the official life, an unofficial, an illegal life. And that in part has greatly 'enriched' a prisoner who lived in the lager, who not only was [existed] in the lager but lived. It gave him a certain satisfaction with [compensation for] his sufferings.

David Boder

Well.

Max Sprecher

I went then with the construction detail from Auschwitz to Birkenau. Birkenau was three kilometers away from Auschwitz, the place [Birkenau] where there were located the five crematories. Our detail worked in various places. In the prisoners' lager, in the SS lager, in the service buildings. As clerk I got around everywhere, also in the crematories.

David Boder

Well, tell me something about the crematories. What have you seen? What do you know?

Max Sprecher

I want to mention a few minor details. One case. One morning we leave [we stand in] the lager. The details are standing in groups. At the head of each detail stands a capo [trusty] who leads his detail through the gate. At the gate sits the Jewish orchestra and plays. That was so ordered, established a few years back in the concentration camps in Austria, in Germany proper. Subsequently it was taken over by the concentration camps in the East at the borders between Germany and Poland, in Silesia, and, for example, in Auschwitz and the many sub-lagers near Auschwitz. All at once there came an order that the labor details which were about to leave the lager should step back. Each one back to his block. The reason was that a very large transport of Jewish prisoners [synonymous repetion] of Jewish prisoners had arrived from Hungary [Footnote: The deportation of the Jews from Hungary represents a special chaper, and is allegedly interwoven with the tragic fate of the Gypsies. There are also substantial repercussions at present (Summer 1955) in Israel connected with the Hungarian deportations. âD.P.B.] Since the transport was very large, they had to be led simultaneously to all five crematories. There arrived a hundred RR-cars, and each was packed with a hundred to a hundred and twenty prisoners. And so the whole road was a mass of moving, newly arrived Jews from Hungary, and [so] we had no room to get through to our work. Only after the Jewish prisoners from Hungary were led through on the way to the crematory were able to pass to work. And while these Jewish prisoners from Hungary marched to the crematory there was sitting in every lager a prisoners' orchestra and played â played the tunes which the SS had selected. Many cheerful Viennese tunes, other tunes, at the wish of the SS were played while the Jews were approaching step by step each one to his creamtory. [Pause]. There was a case. I was going one morning to the crematory two. Crematory one and two. There it was arranged that the gas chambers were underground. The crematories three and four were set so that the gas chambers were above ground. In both, in the four crematories were working hundreds of Jewish prisoners.

David Boder

And others?

Max Sprecher

Few. Four, five Polish prisoners worked there too. Only after the liquidation of Lublin there arrived a small group of 25-30 Russian prisoners, concentration camp prisoners, military prisoners, who worked there in these crematories. On the way to the crematory one and two, I encounter in a deep ditch, in a Rinstein, two Jewish children. They recognized me . . .

David Boder

What is a Rinstein?

Max Sprecher

A Rinstein is a deep ditch [open sewer].

David Boder

Yes . . . yes, [in English] a ditch.

Max Sprecher

Yes. They came up crawling, the two Jewish children, because they have seen there above a Jewish prisoner.

David Boder

[In whispers not clear] How?

Max Sprecher

By the star of David. It was I. I recognized them as Jewish children, because they at their eight or nine years were also wearing the Mogen David with the inscription 'Jew'. They then spoke to me [in German]: 'please tell usâthey were children from Budapest and spoke freely a good Germanâcould you tell us where our parents are? We have arrived here last night, together with our parents and we have lost them. We slept the night here below in the ditch. I knew where the parents were, but I could not reply to the children. Moreover, I was unable to give the children an answer, because at that instant there approaced us from the other side one of the SS men who were working in the lager. In passing at a distance he heard the question which the children have asked me. I went on, as if I have heard nothing, as if they have not spoken to me. He went over to the children and spoke to them: 'Come children, I take you to your father.' He took them to crematory one. There in a short timeâthere was still standing the big transport which arrived by trainâthey were soon burned. They have come to their father.

David Boder

[A pause]. So what happened to you afterwards. Continue with your own story. What happened to you after . . .

Max Sprecher

Hm [a pause]. I made the rounds of various lagers. In a small way I attempted to prepare the people for that which we had to reckon will come over us. We all . . .

David Boder

Reckon with what?

Max Sprecher

We all figured, including myself . . . that we . . . that there will be enough time for the SS to gas-kill us all. The gigantic transports of wood that were brought in day after day was proof that the program [plan] was in preparation . . . [or was deferred] . . . and . . . the stapling up [of wood] . . . before the crematories was proof that the SS still have to go through with a very large program, and that we too were included in that program. Our work consisted of one task, to prepare the people so that they should know what was for sure in store for all of us . . .

David Boder

Why prepare them? What . . . ?

Max Sprecher

The preparation consisted in one thing. We organized there a certain illegal movement, which was devoted to the following thing. First: to collect insulated pliers, annealed for twelve thousand volts, electrical pliers . . .

David Boder

Yes.

Max Sprecher

Which had the purpose to perform, after proper preparation, a break through in the electric wires [fences], with insulated pliers, for twelve thousand volts. At that time we had exact information. We received every day a report from the electricians, how high was the insulation [corrects humself] how high was the electric charge of . . .

David Boder

The current?

Max Sprecher

The current in the wires. So we knew exactly with what kind of tools we would have to work and if our tools could be used for that purpose. Besides we prepared a number of various acts, which consisted of the following. We organized groups to escape from the lager and we supplied them with books from the crematory with names in the hope that if not all, so a part will get through, and the names of the fallen people will get out and remain in existence for the world. We also made attempts to make contact with the [a long pause; it seems that at times the revival of memories was so realistic that even a year after liberation people were hesistant to talk about 'illegal' acts perpetrated in the camps against the Nazis] . . . with the partisans who were active there in that region. We did not succeed in it completely. The contact was made at a time when the partisans started 'working' . . . executing their underground [?] work in the environs of our lager. There came on the 18th of January '45 the evacuation of the lager. What we have accomplished was that a part of the prisoners, Poles [Christians], sympathizers of radical leftist movements, who had escaped from the lager have joined in a short time the partisan movement of the region, have attacked the lager in Bodi [?], and during the shooting fell two former prisoners of the lager Auschwitz. [His sentence construction becomes confused.] From the former prisoners were . . . that they were former prisoners we recognized from their tattoo numbers, from the tattoo number which they had on their hand.

David Boder

For what purpose? . . . what they accomplished by it?

Max Sprecher

The purpose consisted in tearing open the lager and to lead out the prisoners who were in the lager to the partisans in the forest.

David Boder

So did they . . .

Max Sprecher

The exploit did not succeed, because the SS was there in the majority, and they were much better armed than the partisans which executed the attack. Another sector of the work consisted in procuring ammunition and explosives . . .

David Boder

[words not clear]

Max Sprecher

. . . for all eventualities. There was in Auschwitz a factory that was called Union . . . a factory that was called Union, a munitions factory. There they assembled grenades for the army. Through a contact with a few Jewish girls who formed a transport detail, who would bring explosives [?] from the factory especially during the night shift, since then the people were not as precisely controlled. And so a rather large amount [of grenades, explosives] was accumulated in the hands of the 'special commando', which had worked there. When the time of transport [evacuation] came for the special commando, they refused to join the transport because two groups of the transport details to whome it was promised that they will be taken to other places to work, were shipped to the famous [?] gas chamber in Auschwitz and there they were gas-killed. Since they knew what was threatening them, they took their grenades, in their hands, and fighting, four hundred Jews fell with arms in their hands, members of the special commando in Auschwitz. I in part assisted in this thing [project] which was for all of us a satisfaction [to know] that if we shall have to die, we will know that as far as it was possible for us, we have obstructed the work of extermination which they perpetrated on us in the lager. In addition a substantial part of the work consisted in sabotage of the work, of the productive work which we had . . . had to do, be it construction work, be it . . . destruction and breaking of valuable tools . . . and that is how we endeavored through the work of sabotage [he becomes oratorical and fails to find the proper words] a part of the satisfaction . . . a part of the meaning [purpose] for us and the sake of other people.

David Boder

Now then go ahead. What happened to you then? Return to your personal [experiences].

Max Sprecher

The 8th of January we went to transport. The transport proceeded in part on foot. We came from there, and part of the road was already encircles by the Russian army. Rather hastily we were crowded into RR-cars, into open RR-cars, freight RR-cars, and we were taken to Dachau. [Pause].

David Boder

And where were you liberated?

Max Sprecher

I was liberated in Tuzing [?]

David Boder

How did you get from Dachau to Tuzing?

Max Sprecher

We were then . . . from Dachau we marched on to Bolshlager [?] near Muehldorf. There they were building a large subterranean bunker, a concrete bunker. At it were occupied . . . we all worked there. At the approach of the American army, the work was interrupted, and it was decided to send all us Jewish prisoners to the Tirol. We did not know at that time the significance of the Tirol. We only learned after liberation that it was decided that since there the SS fought [held out] the longest we were there to be in some way either outright killed, or pressed into service as auxiliary soliders in the desperate fight of the SS.

David Boder

Now where were you liberated?

Max Sprecher

We were liberated near Tuzing [?], and a train which was designated for the Tirol, but due to the destruction of the railroad tracks by the American Army . . . we were unable to get through, and so by accident we remained alive.

David Boder

And what are you doing now?

Max Sprecher

After liberation I attempted in this lager together with a few other [?] people to devote myself to practical work. Our work consisted in installing a network of shops, trade shops for carpenters, for electricians, for metal workers, for tailors, which . . .

David Boder

In what lager was that?

Max Sprecher

I did not work in lagers . . . [??]

David Boder

But wait a moment, how did you get here?

Max Sprecher

We were then brought here by train from Tuzing.

David Boder

and . . . to Feldafing.

Max Sprecher

To Feldafing.

David Boder

To Feldafing.

Max Sprecher

And,only after a few days, we started our practical work. Partly we were involved in social [community] work before we got into the [KZ] camp, and the first thing we considered appropriate after getting out of the [KZ] camp, to do some community work for the Jews. And the most important work consisted in leading again these declassed, broken-up people toward productive, normal work. And that consists . . .

David Boder

Did . . .

Max Sprecher

In leading the Jews into the shops.

David Boder

Does the ORT have any shops here?

Max Sprecher

At that time there was no . . .

David Boder

But now?

Max Sprecher

At that time there was no ORT, today there is a ORT. The shops which have been built here were not built by ORT. They were built by a small group of people, who have concentrated around the Jewish workmen's committee.

David Boder

All right. But now you don't live in Feldafing.

Max Sprecher

I have left Feldafing in September '45 for Heidelberg. There I have studied, now for two semesters, medicine. I am . . . I have started my studies still before in [I have come to] Germany and am continuing now. I am precisely now just after my physicum examinations [these cover the first half of the medical curriculum] after the interuption. A part of my physicum examinations I passed eight years ago in Berlin and the remaining part I passed last week in Heidelberg.

David Boder

How do the professors behave? How many Jewish students are there now, who were such before they were confined to concentration camps?

Max Sprecher

We are there twenty students. Of them eighteen were in concentration camps. Two have returned from Russia.

David Boder

Is there a quotta for Jews in Heidelberg?

Max Sprecher

There is no quota for Jews, but there is a quota for foreigners.

David Boder

Yes.

Max Sprecher

And this quota for foreigners is not being filled by people from among the DPs. It is being filled in part with people who came here from various countries, especially from the Baltic countries, and the predominant number of students at the universities are from these previous inhabitants of the Baltic states who are concentrated here in very large numbers.

David Boder

Yes. And how do the other students, the German students behave toward the Jewish students?

Max Sprecher

The attitude may be in general characterized as courteous but . . . but not frank. Because we . . . because it is a fact that those students who are studying now, in a large part had the opportunity to conclude their prepatory training [Gymnasium] or to be educated in German universities due to special contacts, or special services in the activities of the National Socialist Party. Even if it is not possible to prove it against one or another, it does not mean that he did not belong [to the Nazi party], it simply has not been proved to date that he did belong. And we have developed a fifth sense [obviously sixth sense] in the lager. And that sense is called instinct.

David Boder

Hm.

Max Sprecher

And our instinct does not deceive us.

David Boder

Well . . . maybe you are just suspicious. Have you not become suspicious in the lager?

Max Sprecher

It is . . . we are strongly suspicious. And our suspicion is only a 'regulator' not a falsifier of our instinct. There are among them officers of the German Army, there are among them many people who feel themselves nowdays insecure in Lithuania. There are gradually returning Jews who recognize [them because of] their previous activities. There are returning other inhabitants of Lithuania, who have not compromised [involved] themselves with the Germans, and out of fear of these Jews, and of those inhabitants of the Baltic States who are now returning home, they hold it appropriate [prudent, safe] to abandon their countries and to come here.

David Boder

Tell me this, who pays for you at the University.

Max Sprecher

For the past semester UNRRA has paid. We . . . I am speaking now about conditions in Heidelberg. For this semester UNRRA has not paid.

David Boder

Yes.

Max Sprecher

We utilized the things which we are getting allotted from the [DP] camp.

David Boder

Hm.

Max Sprecher

We converted them into money, and paid with our own money.

David Boder

How much is the tuition?

Max Sprecher

The tuition amounts for us medical students from 220 to 250 marks a semester. [Note: This fact needs some illumination. UNRRA as an official agency would have to pay for 250 marks about $25.00 in American currency, while a carton of American cigarettes could bring on the black market at that time at least one thousand marks. âD.P.B.]

David Boder

And how was that realized from allotted supplies from the lager? For instance . . .

Max Sprecher

There is a way, not a nice one, but we had to tread on it. The things which we were getting we had to convert into money through people who occupy themselves professionally with swindle, trading, and black marketing, so we should be able to pay the semester's tuition. Otherwise, we were informed, we were threatened with loss, of the semester. And while others may be able to afford to lose semesters, we with the many years [lost] in the lager, who have gotten old not studyingâwe cannot afford such luxury.

David Boder

Now then in how many years will you be a doctor?

Max Sprecher

That is a question . . .

David Boder

No, I mean if everything should proceed normally.

Max Sprecher

We have . . . I am speaking about myself. I still have before me a study period of four semesters, counting the [length] of the study of medicine, eleven semesters, I am now entering the seventh semester.

David Boder

When are you making your 'half-doctor'?

Max Sprecher

My 'half-doctor' I have already made. I have started it [the examinations] eight years ago in Berlin, and finished them a week ago in Heidelberg.

David Boder

They recognized everything [all your credits]?

Max Sprecher

They recognized all that I had covered . . . what [the exams] I have passed eight years ago, and the rest I have passed now.

David Boder

Are there any Jewish professors at the university?

Max Sprecher

At the university Heidelberg there are no . . . there are no Jewish professors. There are two Aryan professors who have Jewish wives. At the other universities, for instance Munich, there is a small number of Jewish professors.

David Boder

And the rector of the university is the same who was [there] during the Nazis.

Max Sprecher

No. The director, the rector of the university was confirmed by the military government. The first rector, rector Bauer is the husband of a Jewish wife. He was the first rector of the Heidelberg university . . .

David Boder

After the . . .

Max Sprecher

After the liberation, after the Americans have marched in. Now there is different one, Baron von Kampenhausen a Jewish [corrects himself] a German philologue . . .

David Boder

[In English] Also, this concludes the interview with Mr. Max Meyer Sprecher, a medical student at the age thirty-seven at the University of Heidelberg, where he is concluding his studies which have been interrupted some eight years ago. This is Camp Feldafing. He doesn't live here any more but has his attachments, belongs apparently to some organizations in this camp. September the 23rd, 1946, Germany, Feldafing, near Munich. Illinois Institute of Technology wire recording.

David Boder

[In German] I thank you very much, Mr. Sprecher, I wish you all the success in your work, and in your studies.