David P. Boder Interviews Jacob Button; August 5, 1946; Paris, France



Jacob Button was born in Salonika Greece, the cultural center of the Sephardic Jewish world at the time, on August 5, 1905 and worked in the pharmaceutical business in that city. He, along with his wife and two children, survived the Holocaust due to their Spanish citizenship. Spain was neutral during World War II and was able to afford some diplomatic protection to those Spanish Jews with Spanish citizenship who lived under German rule even though they had not lived in Spain. Boder's interview with Mr. Button was conducted in German in a refugee residence in Paris. At the time of the interview, Mr. Button and his family were hoping to immigrate to Palestine. The interview was conducted in German.

Jacob Button and his family made an abortive attempt to escape from German occupied Salonika by boat to Athens when deportations of Jews began in March, 1943. Athens was under the benevolent rule of Fascist Italy who at the time was allied with Nazi Germany. A second attempt to escape to Athens by train succeeded for Mr. Button's wife and children. However, he was arrested, brutally interrogated and incarcerated for four months. He was freed with the help of the Spanish government. Mr. Button reached Athens in the summer of 1943 just before Italy surrendered to the Allies in September 1943, and the Germans occupied the city.

Approximately seven months later, Mr. Button and his family were sent to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and interned in the so-called neutral camp for prisoners who were citizens of neutral countries. Although these internees were treated better than other prisoners, food rations diminished during the last month's of the camp's existence as more and more prisoners were shipped to Bergen-Belsen from camps in the east in the wake of the Red army's offensive. Mr. Button recounted the cruelty and brutality he witnessed in the treatment of the general prison population in Bergen-Belsen. The camp was liberated by British troops on April 15, 1945.

Mr. Button's interview attests to the efforts by some Spanish diplomats to call upon the Germans to respect Spanish sovereignty by exempting Jews with Spanish citizenship from persecution. The Spanish embassy in Greece interceded to secure Mr. Button's release from prison. Spanish diplomats also sought to protect their nationals after the German takeover of Athens. However, the promises by the Germans that the Button's would be sent to Spain proved hollow due to the reluctance of the Spanish government headed by Francisco Franco to allow Jews into the country. This policy resulted in the loss of Jewish lives.

—Elliot Lefkovitz