David P. Boder Interviews Joseph Freinhoffer and [first name unknown] Borgman; August 28, 1946; Genève, Switzerland

  • David Boder: [In English] August 28, 1946. Geneva, at the school of the ORT. I shall try now to interview two instructors. [Unintelligible] . . . a good Russian name, that makes one homesick, and Mr. Joseph Freinhoffer. Eh, Mrs. Borgman is, eh, Mrs. Borgman is the secretary of the, eh, place and Mr. Freinhoffer is the chief of the, eh, shop.
  • David Boder: [In German] So, Mr., eh, Freinhoffer. Can you tell me how long you've been working here at the ORT school?
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: Since the beginning of May 1944.
  • David Boder: You are Swiss, Mr. Freinhoffer?
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: That's right.
  • David Boder: And what was your job before you began your work here?
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: I was a technical instructor at the vocational school, Zurich.
  • David Boder: You are a trained technical instructor, then?
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: A trained, eh, professional, that is, who further qualified himself as a technical instructor.
  • David Boder: I see. Are these two different things in Switzerland?
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: No, basically not. A technical instructor is made out of a good professional.
  • David Boder: I see. Now, tell me, eh, and, eh, Mrs. Borgman, how long have you been with the school?
  • [first name unknown] Borgman: I have been here since August 15, 1944.
  • David Boder: I see. How old is your school, then, altogether?
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: The school opened its doors at the end of 1944.
  • David Boder: I see. And it is an ORT school?
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: Yes.
  • David Boder: Now, tell me Mr. Freinhoffer, how many boys do you have?
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: We have thirty-six boys now.
  • David Boder: Yes. You were also a teacher before you came here, weren't you?
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: That is, yes, at the vocational school Zurich.
  • David Boder: At the vocational school, Zurich. Tell me, do you find a difference between the students you had at the vocational school and the boys that you have here?
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: I can only say that when it comes to effort, the stu—, the eh, students here, who have come out of the camps, work harder than those I have taught in Zurich, than those students who live with their parents and grew up in, eh, comfortable circumstances.
  • David Boder: But tell me then, the boys were in circumstances that were entirely adverse. What idea do you have, what impact, what general impact did the concentration camp have on the character of the boys?
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: These boys largely find that they have lost many years. That is why they see to it that they can progress quickly and, eh, learn a trade in order to become free men, in order to be able to earn their own bread and not be further dependent on, eh, organizations.
  • David Boder: Now tell me then, they really feel that they have lost time?
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: That's right.
  • David Boder: What's the situation regarding the education of these boys? Are they able to read, to write? Have they nevertheless learned something in the camp?
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: Most of them had to leave school at age eleven to twelve and have not had a theoretical education since. As to on-the-job training, that was also very [unintelligible], since they only performed handy-man work at the machines and, eh, outside.
  • David Boder: Tell me this, eh, what is your observation [unintelligible]? Some of the boys spent two, three years in Germany in several camps. Do they speak German?
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: They all speak German but, eh, always bad German.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: One can communicate with them, that is.
  • David Boder: Yes, but you wouldn't really call that German, would you?
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: No, it is not good German.
  • David Boder: Yes. For, you see, if some other young boy was in Germany, say, for two or three years he would have learned the language, wouldn't he?
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: Of course. He had, eh, they only had the opportunity to learn, eh, the language because they simply had to talk. They had to be able to talk and learned it in the process. Nobody helped them, though.
  • David Boder: What do you say, Mrs. Borgman?
  • [first name unknown] Borgman: In the camp, they were only among Jews, I think . . .
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • [first name unknown] Borgman: . . . and spoke Jewish. And Jewish actually is their native language, whether they are from Poland or Czechoslovakia or Romania . . .
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • [first name unknown] Borgman: . . . and so it developed into a kind of Jewish-German.
  • David Boder: I see. Well, the "capos" were also [unintelligible]. Yes, and then, they never spoke much anyway.
  • [first name unknown] Borgman: They weren't to talk to the Germans at all. They only had to receive orders and answer with "yes" or "no." You cannot learn German like that.
  • David Boder: I see. Well, tell me this. I will ask you a question that I, to which I already know the answer. But anyways; eh, the boys that you have, how did they choose their subjects? Why did they come to your department and not, say, to the joinery?
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: Well, a majority have already worked in factories. In Germany somewhere in the concentration camps and in ordnance factories, of course. But more than le—, more or less as handy-men.
  • David Boder: Yes
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: Of course they saw, eh, how the metal was worked with and that gave them [unintelligible] to work as free people and be able to learn, the job will be interesting.
  • David Boder: I see. Do they have a talent for mechanics?
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: The majority have a talent for mechanics. Those who work less precisely will [unintelligible], and they can still become good fitters, building fitters.
  • David Boder: And, eh, how are the people here at school? Yesterday morning, I observed a class for the last few minutes. It was very interesting. How much theoretical education do the boys get here, then?
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: As regards theoretical education the boys are educated in drawing, arithmetic and occupational studies. Apart from occupational studies, which they have, eh, two hours a week, they have workshop studies. That is, on-the-job education they are given while they work.
  • David Boder: I see. What do you understand by occupational studies?
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: That is the theoretical knowledge that, eh, is related to the job.
  • David Boder: But tell me, when the boys finish their training, will they be able to take a drawing and construct something according to that drawing? We call it "blueprint" [he uses the English word] in America.
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: From the very beginning the boys have to learn to read a drawing and to work according to drawings. The small, eh, the simplest tasks of the basic curriculum are dictated and from this sketch, they are asked to work.
  • David Boder: Tell me, at least in the beginning, how did you find the boys? [unintelligible] Were they quiet, were they friendly, and how are they now?
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: They were, of course, different, depending on how they had been, eh, treated. Some were shy as deer. They didn't dare come near anyone or talk. There were others that were more open. It was [unintelligible]. [Unintelligible] I cannot say that someone was. But they were simply very different in their, eh, freedom of movement and speech.
  • David Boder: Tell me, are the boys honest?
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: I believe they are honest. They have access to all tools . . .
  • David Boder: Yes
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: . . . without strict control, that is, they're only checked on from time to time. And I have to sa—, to say that nothing of ours and none of the tools that are in the, eh, workshop have disappeared so far.
  • David Boder: Are the boys generally healthy?
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: You, eh, they are, generally, you can say yes. But you can see the consequences of the concentration camps. One suffers from this, the other from that. Illnesses that boys who have grown up in a normal, a normal life don't suffer from or less often.
  • David Boder: Well, tell me, when the boys are done here, they will be, eh, what in this department?
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: Those who are more talented will be machine fitters and the others building fitters.
  • David Boder: I see.
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: Both groups can also learn how to weld. Gas fusion and electric welding, which is a great advantage. It is an advantage for machine fitters that they don't enjoy anywhere else in another apprenticeship, and for building fitters it is, of course, an absolute necessity.
  • David Boder: Tell me, if such a boy were to go to Brazil or to Argentina or wherever, could he set up a small workshop or would he have to work in a factory?
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: When a student leaves school, then he is of course a young worker who is, of course, eh, not as independent as an experienced worker who has already gained a few years of practical experience. Vocational school education is not quite the same as vocational training in a workshop.
  • David Boder: And most boys think that they will make it through these two-and-a-half years in [unintelligible], don't they?
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: That's right, the majority.
  • David Boder: Are there any who have given up, who began here and went away?
  • Joseph Freinhoffer: Previously, this used to be the case, because, eh, those were boys who had their parents and mostly didn't go through the concentration camps. Who had their parents here in Switzerland or somewhere else or found them in the meantime and then drove off with them to other countries where the parents established themselves again. The boys that are here now are mostly without parents and, eh, have set their minds on learning the trade to be able to stand on their own two feet.
  • David Boder: So, tell me, Mrs. Borgman, what would you add to this conver—, to this interview? How do you have with the boys, in what way do you come in contact with the boys?
  • [first name unknown] Borgman: I see the boys here in my office when they have injured themselves. Then they come to me for treatment, when they need anything or if they desire anything, they come to me first and then I inform Mr. Freinhoffer. I also see the boys, because I give them lessons in French.
  • David Boder: I see. How do they learn French?
  • [first name unknown] Borgman: Most of them are extraordinarily talented. They learn very quickly. But, I don't know whether it's because they, eh, suffered in the camp. They learn very quickly and they forget very quickly. They no longer have the memory.
  • David Boder: And you've observed that they have no memory, no good memory?
  • [first name unknown] Borgman: Not all but some of them . . .
  • David Boder: [interrupts] Yes . . .
  • [first name unknown] Borgman: . . . regarding practical work
  • David Boder: [interrupts] But this could also occur at other schools, couldn't it?
  • [first name unknown] Borgman: Of course, I also have boys here who've gone to other schools . . .
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • [first name unknown] Borgman: . . . and I didn't observe anything similar with them. These boys, on the other hand, are especially talented to do practical work. There are boys who arrived here four months ago and have already exceeded some students, regarding practical competence.
  • David Boder: Yes, and? [The spool ends abruptly.]
  • Contributors to this text:
  • Transcription : Claudia Deetjen
  • English translation : Claudia Deetjen