David P. Boder Interviews Jacques Bramson; August 16, 1946; Paris, France

  • David Boder: [In English] This is reproduction Spool 9-45B—the beginning of the interview with Mr. Bramson, an executive of the ORT in Paris. The interview proceeds in Russian. November 14, 1950. Boder. Chicago.
  • David Boder: Paris, dieciséis . . . Paris, the 16th . . . [pause] Paris, the 16th of August, 1946, a interview taken from Mr. Bramson, the director of ORT school at 12 Rue de Saules in Paris.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Mr. Bramson, tell us first of all your name, your father's name, and your age.
  • Jacques Bramson: My name is Jacques, my father's name is Alexander.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: I was born in 1911.
  • David Boder: Yes. Now tell me, Mr. Bramson, you are the nephew, or a relative of the Mr. Bramson, the member of the State Duma [parliament around 1908] of Russia?
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes, I am the son of his brother, Alexander . . .
  • David Boder: What was the full name of that member of the Duma?
  • Jacques Bramson: Leonty Moiseievich Bramson.
  • David Boder: And from what district was he a member of the Duma?
  • Jacques Bramson: From the city of Kovno to the first Duma.Kovno is a large city in central Lithuania, which before World War I was part of the Russian empire. At the time of the first Duma, it was a district capital. Kovno was a Jewish cultural and spiritual center with a large Jewish population.1
  • David Boder: From the city of Kovno to the first Duma. And afterwards what were his connections with the ORT?
  • Jacques Bramson: With the ORT . . . one may say to the extent to which the organization has previously existed in principle . . . ORT was put on its feet as an international organization by Leonty Moiseievich Bramson. Because it was he who exported the idea from Russia and has developed the organization on a world scale [unintelligible].Leonty Bramson first began his association with ORT in 1909. In the wake of the communist revolution, he left Russia in 1920 and worked in Western Europe on behalf of the organization. He became the president of ORT in 1923 and remained in this position until his death in France in 1941. The International ORT Committee headed by Bramson established branches in the United States, Canada, South America and South Africa. These accomplishments and others were carried out in the face of many obstacles, including the worldwide Great Depression of the early 1930s and the growth of virulent anti-Semitism.2
  • David Boder: Now, Mr. Bramson I desire that you should tell us in an informal fashion your personal experiences and about the situation in general on the French side of Europe, from the beginning of the war to the [time of liberation]. You may sit relaxed, and simply talk.
  • Jacques Bramson: Before telling about personal experiences, I should like to present for you a picture of conditions in France after the year 1940, in other words after the armistice of Pétain. In spite of the fact that France realized that she [?] was not ready for war, we still never thought that there was such a difference in strength between Germany and France. At the beginning of the war, in 1939, we were in contact only with the German fortifications in the Saar district and with the German materielle. This materielle appeared to us not of very high quality; and possibly it was so. But the Germans used during this war completely new tactics, and they had such an abundance of this materielle that the French army was very soon decimated and the whole people and the whole country found themselves in a state of complete moral confusion.The Germans launched their long-awaited offensive against France on May 10, 1940. Due to the failure of French military thinking and planning and, as Mr. Bramson indicates, the superiority of German military tactics, they rapidly advanced. On June 21, 1940, Marshal Philippe Pétain, an aged World War I hero who had become head of the French government, agreed to an armistice signaling a catastrophic defeat for his country.3
  • David Boder: Mr. Bramson, you talk in terms of we, would you please tell us how long did you live in France that makes you feel that you have become part of the French people?
  • Jacques Bramson: I have resided in France already for twenty years.
  • David Boder: Since 19— . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: Since 1927.
  • David Boder: Since 1927. Where did you come from?
  • Jacques Bramson: I came to France from Poland, but I must tell you that since my early childhood I was brought up to some extent in a French manner, I had a French governess, and in general in our circles French culture dominated so to speak, to some extent.
  • David Boder: That was where, in Kovno?
  • Jacques Bramson: No, personally, I must tell you, I never lived in Kovno. I lived on the estate of my father in the Wolin district. Afterwards, we lived in Kiev and in the Crimea.Mr. Bramson had a privileged early childhood due to his parents' socioeconomic standing. French culture was held in high regard by many in the Russian upper classes.4
  • David Boder: So. That's fine. Now continue with France. The German mechanical and military power . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . .strength.
  • David Boder: . . . strength.
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . has smashed completely French resistance and in that moment when the countury found itself occupied by the Germans the best French elements found themselves in a state of complete moral confusion. This explains the fact that during the first period, the first year and a half one may say that the majority of the French people responded to the call of Pétain. At the beginning it was a very small group consisting predominately of the former socialist elements and of those elements who right from the start were subject to persecution which [this small group] started the work of the so to speak underground resistance within the country. In proportion . . .As Mr. Bramson indicates, during the first two years of German rule the majority of the French population did not actively oppose the Vichy collaborationist government and the occupation. Mr. Bramson was indeed a striking exception.5
  • David Boder: This was what you call the "underground"?
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes.
  • David Boder: Yes. Well . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . I belonged to this comparatively small group. We were a few young military men.
  • David Boder: Oh. You were in the French military service?
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes.
  • David Boder: Tell us about it in a few words.
  • Jacques Bramson: I was drafted as a specialist.
  • David Boder: And what kind of a specialist were you?
  • Jacques Bramson: I am a specialist in what is called in French Minier artificiel, in other words a sapperA sapper can denote an expert in military field fortifications or a demolitions expert.6 specializing in mines.
  • David Boder: What training do you have?
  • Jacques Bramson: By training I am a mathematician and engineer from the University of Toulouse. Besides I graduated from a military school of sappers in [Versailles?]. [word not clear, possibly incorrect]
  • David Boder: That was before the war?
  • Jacques Bramson: That was before the war, when I was complying with [compulsory] military service.
  • David Boder: Oh, you were in military service in France?
  • Jacques Bramson: I was in military service, I am a French subject.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: I was in military service in France and subsequently I was called [mobilized] just a few weeks before the beginning of the war. One could feel already that the situation was bad, and on the third day of the war I was already on German territory.
  • David Boder: So. And you were in officer's uniform?
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes, I was what is called an aspirant.An "aspirant" is an officer candidate.7
  • David Boder: [unintelligible]
  • Jacques Bramson: And I—nobody know anything about it—because I did not want to alarm my family—on the sixth day of the war I was already wounded at the barbed wire installations. After having been wounded I was transferred from the Saar province to the Belgian frontier.
  • David Boder: From what province?
  • Jacques Bramson: From the Saar province.
  • David Boder: Oh, Saar, the Saar district.
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes, the Saar district, I was wounded already on German territory.
  • David Boder: All at once the Tzaar . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: Oh no, the Saar.
  • David Boder: The Saar.The Saar region in western Germany borders France and at the time was a key center of the German coal and steel industries.8
  • Jacques Bramson: We were about sixteen kilometers in the German territory when we encountered the German barbed wires, during the attack in which I was wounded.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: After that I was transferred to the Belgian border where I served until the march of the French army into Belgium, on May 11th, 1940.
  • David Boder: So?
  • Jacques Bramson: I belonged at that time to the First Light Panzer Division, which from the other forces between Namur and Philippeville in Belgium.
  • David Boder: "Panzer" division means an armored division?
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: A few platoons of this division which was completely annihilated had managed to break through the German ring. I was lucky, because I belonged to one of these platoons, and I managed a few weeks later to join the French army at Compiègne.The French military general staff anticipated that the main German offensive would come through Belgium whereas the major thrust of the German attack was further south through the supposedly impassable Ardennes. The rapid German advance caught the French by surprise and resulted in the devastating losses Mr. Bramson describes. He was indeed fortunate to be able to reach Compiègne, northeast of Paris.9
  • David Boder: So?
  • Jacques Bramson: I took part in the battle of the Somme.The French attempted to establish a defensive front along the Somme River, but by this time the war was nearly lost. The Germans breached French lines on June 7, 1940 and on June 14 they entered Paris. Mr. Bramson fought on as the French army retreated south to the Loire River and then even further south to the city of Limoges. It was near that city that he learned that France had signed a humiliating armistice.10
  • David Boder: In what battle?
  • Jacques Bramson: At the [river] Somme.
  • David Boder: At the Somme . . . yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . Where I again was lightly wounded by a shell fragment in the hand.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: And after the battle of the Somme, which one may say decided the war, because there the last French was completely broken through. I took part in the retreat as far as the Loire [river]. When we arrived at the Loire, we were the rear guard contingent, all the bridges were destroyed we had to destroy our materielle, and by means of all kind of tricks get across the Loire, and afterwards we retreated as far as the city of Limoges.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Jacques Bramson: At Limoges, somewhat to the west of Limoges we learned that Pétain has requested an armistice, and I found myself in this locality at [the conclusion of] the armistice.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: The German armies were approaching the district and for this reason we moved southward, because we did not want to be taken as prisoners of war.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: I was . . .
  • David Boder: Now tell me, did they know in the French army that you were a Jew?
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes.
  • David Boder: And how were you treated?
  • Jacques Bramson: Our General was a Jew, and we . . .
  • David Boder: Who . . . ?
  • Jacques Bramson: What?
  • David Boder: . . . What was his name?
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . his name [hesitates] I don't recall, it ended on . . . there is a large number of Jews who are named after Lorraine cities with the ending of "ange." So something like Orange, Creange, something like that.The provinces of Alsace and Lorraine had been annexed to Germany after the disastrous French defeat in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71. They were regained by France after the German defeat in World War I. There was a well-established Jewish population in these provinces.11
  • David Boder: Could you possibly find out that name for me?
  • Jacques Bramson: I shall try, there was quite a large number of us, I know that in my battalion there were about ten [correcting himself] four Jews.
  • David Boder: Well.
  • Jacques Bramson: Of those one was a captain, two lieutenants and I was an aspirant.
  • David Boder: You consider that a "large number"? What is the percent of the Jewish population in France?
  • Jacques Bramson: One has to figure that before the war there were in France a hundred and twenty French Jews [correcting himself] a hundred and twenty thousand French Jews and about two hundred and fifty thousand foreign Jews.In fact, in 1939 there were about 300,000 Jews in France—about 190,000 of whom were French citizens and the rest foreign. Most of the latter were eastern European immigrants. More than 20,000 Belgian and Dutch Jewish refugees entered France after the war began, and the Germans expelled some 6,500 Jews from southern Germany into France after the latter's defeat. These Jews were sent to Vichy French internment camps.12
  • David Boder: And what is the whole population of France?
  • Jacques Bramson: The whole population of France was considered 41 million.
  • David Boder: All right, now continue. You were retreating, and the armistice caught up with you, where?
  • Jacques Bramson: Somewhat southwest of Limoges.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: There I was discharged, and since I had been working before at a plant belonging to the aviation industry, I was ordered to find that plant and to present myself to that plant.
  • David Boder: Who ordered you . . . the French?
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes, after the demobilization. With this purpose I departed for Vichy, where completely by accident I found my family.
  • David Boder: Of whom did your family consist?
  • Jacques Bramson: There was Leonty Moiesievich Bramson . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: The president of the ORT, my uncle, his wife, his daughter, and I found there as well some relatives on my mother's side, who were there and who lived there. They fled from Paris during the war before the German occupation, and had settled in Vichy.Mr. Bramson's uncle and his family were among the massive wave of refugees who fled south from the advancing Germans. Vichy, a famous spa and the city where the parliament of the defeated French Third Republic was dissolved, became the headquarters of the collaborationist French government under Marshal Pétain. It was therefore understandable that organizations such as ORT and the OSE would be based in Vichy.13
  • David Boder: Vichy.
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes.
  • David Boder: And the headquarters of the ORT also was moved there?
  • Jacques Bramson: Completely. The headquarters of the ORT and the OSE were located there in a hotel, in one and the same building.
  • David Boder: The ORT and the OSE?
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . and the OSE.
  • David Boder: Did you manage to transport your files?
  • Jacques Bramson: Everything was evacuated from Paris. And in Paris remained only two schools which continued to exist. The one where you are at present at Rue de Saules, and the other a school for mechanics on Rue de [unintelligible], but all the offices were transferred to Vichy.
  • David Boder: Now continue.
  • Jacques Bramson: During the period of demobilization a whole group of young military men decided to organize a kind of group for common action because we still hoped that resistance will continue in North Africa.At the outbreak of the war, France controlled the countries of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia in North Africa. The desire of Mr. Bramson and some other young military men to continue the struggle against the Germans from North Africa is indicative of their patriotic determination and martial spirit.14
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: I belonged to that group of young military, and when after Vichy I got to Marseille, a member of this group contacted, and asked me to organize in Marseille a cell for the purpose of transfer of military men to North Africa. It happened at that time I worked in a factory which manufactured all kinds of fruit products, from oriental fruits; I made those . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: [unintelligible, reference is made to the kind of products]
  • Jacques Bramson: [unintelligible, repeats the last word] etc.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: And I became the foreman of one section, and that was of great help, because I was able to assemble a very substantial number of young French airmen [hire or hide?] them as workers in this plant.
  • David Boder: Were you occupying such a position that you hire workers?
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes, I hired, since I was in charge of the atelier. I hired the workers.
  • David Boder: An atelier is what—a shop.
  • Jacques Bramson: A shop, yes. And afterwards, and after that I was shipping them within limits of possibility, in all kinds of little vessels, etc. toward North Africa.
  • David Boder: Yes. To French Morocco?
  • Jacques Bramson: No, from the start they mostly were going to Tunisia.
  • David Boder: To Tunisia . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . because in Morocco and Algeria the situation was significantly more difficult, because there were stationed directly German commissions of control which were especially afraid of English landings in this region. Tunisia was more under Italian control, this control was much more negligent, and moreover the Tunisian administration was not so rapidly revamped in Vichy style, like the others. The period comparatively . . . this happened at the beginning of the war, the number of people we sent across was comparatively small, since the army . . .The French authorities in Algeria, Morocco, and throughout most of the French empire, including French Indochina, initially supported the Vichy regime. Hitler allowed Fascist Italy to establish control in Tunisia.15
  • David Boder: How many?
  • Jacques Bramson: Well we must estimate that during that whole period there were shipped across about a thousand men.
  • David Boder: Oh, well.
  • Jacques Bramson: No more.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: They were mostly aviators and artillery men, and many officers. These were the only elements which we were asked to ship across the army of de Gaulle since that army at the time had neither sufficient armaments nor supplies, and did not yet realize its possibilities. Afterwards the transportation [of men] became more substantial, but the sea lanes had become completely blocked for us and we had to take recourse to the Spanish border. This period was significantly more difficult. Vichy has managed to reorganize its police force, and one nice morning I had the unpleasant surprise to be transferred for a day and a half to the fortress of Marseille. I had the good fortune to be arrested at the same time as the son of a prominent French general, who took immediately the necessary steps. And since he could not have been set free alone, I also was released at the same time.
  • David Boder: So. And he too belonged to the movement?
  • Jacques Bramson: He too belonged to this organization.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: I was compelled to stop for a few months, for a few weeks, my activities. This happened to coincide with the difficult period of the death of Leonty Moiseievich Bramson.
  • David Boder: So. Where was he buried?
  • Jacques Bramson: They buried him in Marseille. He was buried in Marseille.
  • David Boder: How old was he?
  • Jacques Bramson: He was—I could tell you exactly—about seventy years old.
  • David Boder: Not older?
  • Jacques Bramson: No.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: He was seventy-one if I am not mistaken.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: In addition I was offered at that time the job of manager of the laboratory of the ORT school for electro-mechanics in Marseille. [A few words not clear—ending with "excuse me"]. I accepted this job because I felt that I could not remain any longer in Marseille, since the police was watching me rather persistently. I left for Périgueux where I made contact with the first organizations of resistance. I made contact primarily with the largest French organization—Condar [?].Périgueux is located in the rural Dordogne region of southwestern France. It lies between the cities of Bordeaux and Limoges. The resistance group Mr. Bramson refers to might be the southern resistance movement, Libération-sud, founded by Emanuel d'Astier.16
  • David Boder: Well.
  • Jacques Bramson: I requested that I be transferred to Africa, so that I could afterwards reach equatorial Africa, or England. I was already assigned space on a little steamer so that I should be landed in a little port [?] not far from Gibraltar. I went to Marseille, took my place on the steamer . . .French officials in French Equatorial Africa were loyal to General Charles de Gaulle and the Free French.17
  • David Boder: In the capacity of an employee?
  • Jacques Bramson: No, in the capacity—I was hidden in the engine room.
  • David Boder: Well, like a stowaway?
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes, in an illegal manner.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: Unfortunately in the last moment the police appeared on board, nearly all my comrades were caught, and since I am a good swimmer, I threw myself into the sea, I managed to swim a short distance under water and hide in a boat. I was pulled out of the water by a port employee, who hid me for a day and a half and afterwards he managed to ship me out of the port right from under the nose of the police. I returned to Périgueux, where I reported about my unsuccessful trip and about the arrest of my comrades. I . . .
  • David Boder: Where did you hide on the steamer that you were found?
  • Jacques Bramson: On the steamer I . . . things happened this way. The steamer was already hitched to the tug, ready to leave . . . In the last moment there was apparently a denunciation—and in the last moment the police arrived.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: We were . . . already before the police made its round on the steamer and we were hidden in a compartment near the engines. There was a steel closet where one could sit through for a few hours . . .
  • David Boder: How many people [men] were you?
  • Jacques Bramson: We were four people and one woman.
  • David Boder: Well [laughing] you mean men . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: Of course four men and one woman.
  • David Boder: So . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: And one of our comrades, when the police departed, i.e., after the first inspection, they left, and he went up [on deck] to smoke a cigarette and all at once he started yelling that an automobile with police is approaching. My friends lost their heads, they came out on deck and when the first policeman jumped on board they immediately raised their hands.
  • David Boder: They surrendered?
  • Jacques Bramson: They surrendered. I hid behind some packages that were lying there.
  • David Boder: Behind the luggage?
  • Jacques Bramson: Behind the luggage and when only the uniformed police remained on deck and the secret police went down to search the steamer, because somebody had confessed that there was still one more person whom they have not yet arrested. I took advantage [of the moment] to jump into water.
  • David Boder: So . . . Did people see you jumping into the water?
  • Jacques Bramson: In all probability nobody saw me except the man who was later hiding me, who was on the pier. He was an employee of the port.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: I swam under water several meters, and hid behind a boat.
  • David Boder: What time of the day was it?
  • Jacques Bramson: This was about one o'clock in the daytime.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: The steamer was to depart in the morning, but it was delayed, on account of all the control, and inspection, etc.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: It was about half past one.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: He hid me, that employee, in his boat, and as I have told you already he got me out the next day morning.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: As I already told you I returned to Périgueux, reported about it to the movement and when I made again my application to go to North Africa, I was told that the process of shipment has lost interest for us, and that people are needed right here. In a few weeks I received orders of comrades whom I considered my superiors . . .
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: To make contacts with the "organizations" in the region.
  • David Boder: Oh. That was in what year?
  • Jacques Bramson: That was just at the beginning of 1942.
  • David Boder: Oh.
  • Jacques Bramson: The organization . . .
  • David Boder: [A few words of question and answer are unintelligible.]
  • Jacques Bramson: At the beginning of 1942 an event took place which caused . . . which became well known. Several English officers who had parachuted down, who were assigned to reconnaissance in France, and a French deputy [member of parliament] who was one of the first to organize the resistance—by the way, he was a Jew . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: His name was Pierre Block.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . were arrested and transferred to one of the lagers in our district.
  • David Boder: And Pierre Block?
  • Jacques Bramson: Pierre Block too. In this district was located a concentration camp.
  • David Boder: [unintelligible]
  • Jacques Bramson: No, that was near Périgueux, and was called Muzac [?]. And they were held in this lager.The two closest Vichy internment camps to Périgueux were Nexon and Cassenneuil Tombelouc, both at the time in the unoccupied zone.18
  • David Boder: Unoccupied France?
  • Jacques Bramson: That was in unoccupied region; and we were given the assignment to liberate them, and give them an opportunity to get across to Africa. This was so to speak the first . . .
  • David Boder: . . . concrete?
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . a concrete, armed task assigned to our organization. We managed to accomplish it most successfully, an English plane was on hand at a pre-arranged place. We managed to accomplish it in a rather original fashion. We masqueraded as gendarmes.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: We arrived at the lager with forged papers and they handed over to us those people.
  • David Boder: Who were handed over?
  • Jacques Bramson: If I am not mistaken, seven Englishmen, Mr. Block and one more, altogether nine men.
  • David Boder: They handed them over. You masqueraded in French uniforms?
  • Jacques Bramson: In French uniforms.
  • David Boder: [unintelligible]
  • Jacques Bramson: No, in gendarmes' uniforms.
  • David Boder: And where did you get the uniforms?
  • Jacques Bramson: Well, very many members of the gendarmerie were active in our organization. Even several members [of the organization] worked in that camp in capacity of officers and the like.
  • David Boder: They were on your side?
  • Jacques Bramson: They were on our side.
  • David Boder: [unintelligible]
  • Jacques Bramson: Everything came out all right. We only had to disarm afterwards one of the gendarmes of the lager, because we wanted to give things a more important appearance, requested a few more men for the escort.
  • David Boder: And so?
  • Jacques Bramson: Well, one of them resulted to be a fool, he started a row. We gagged him with a few handkerchiefs, and we dumped him in a place ten kilometers from [unintelligible], in the forest, and subsequently he managed to return. And the others requested that they too be shipped to England together with the English men.
  • David Boder: And they took them?
  • Jacques Bramson: They took them. They returned afterwards and are now serving as officers in Indochina.In 1946, France still controlled Indochina. French rule was ended in 1954 following defeat in a costly war with native communist and nationalist forces.19
  • David Boder: Now tell me . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes.
  • David Boder: Where was the plane?
  • Jacques Bramson: This plane was located . . . much before the English had requested that we should point out to them some localities where planes could land.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Jacques Bramson: We supplied information by radios to a number of such places.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Jacques Bramson: And we agreed that on one of these places the plane would land.
  • David Boder: Was it a large plane?
  • Jacques Bramson: It was a rather large plane.
  • David Boder: How many people did he take on?
  • Jacques Bramson: The plane took on nine people.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: It was badly overloaded when he took them on, but it was a two-engine plane.
  • David Boder: Yes. How long [how many days] was that plane in France before he took them.
  • Jacques Bramson: Oh, no. He landed only a few . . .
  • David Boder: . . . hours?
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . hours, maybe only a few minutes before, I an unable to tell you, because I participated only in the first part of this action.
  • David Boder: You did not deliver them to the plane?
  • Jacques Bramson: No, we delivered them to the plane, but I was already not present.
  • David Boder: At the take-off?
  • Jacques Bramson: I was not present at the take-off. But I . . .
  • David Boder: Did you see the plane?
  • Jacques Bramson: I did not, but my comrades told me about it. My task consisted in . . . we afterwards had a little organization, which was put in charge to remove secretly the automobile in which these people were transported . . . all of them . . . the automobile which delivered them . . .
  • David Boder: . . . delivered them to the plane. That means you parted where, in the automobile?
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes, well, as soon as they departed from the prison, I did not see them anymore. And two days later I heard a speech by Pierre Block which he delivered over the English Radio, over BBC. [laughter]
  • David Boder: Was there a possibility to hear here BBC clearly?
  • Jacques Bramson: No. The German authorities as well as the authorities of Vichy endeavored to jam by all means these [underground] stations. But there were always one or two stations which one could hear reasonably well in France, and so we had our information regularly, and one may say 90% of the French population listened to the English radio.As the year 1942 progressed, the attitude of the French population towards the Vichy regime became more hostile, and more hoped to see an Allied victory.20
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: Our movement began to grow. At the end of '42 we organized the first Maquis.
  • David Boder: Oh. What does the word Maquis mean?
  • Jacques Bramson: Maquis means in French a brush covered impassable tract, a jungle.The word, "maquis" came from the local word for scrubland countryside on the French island of Corsica. The first Maquis camps were formed in rugged mountainous areas.21
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: It means a jungle.
  • David Boder: Oh, it means people who worked in the jungles.
  • Jacques Bramson: No, that was at first. But afterwards the meaning was expanded. The word Maquis, meant that we were hiding our young people in all kind of impassable places—be it in the mountains, be it in the forests.
  • David Boder: Oh . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: Or in some other places.
  • David Boder: That means the partisans of the mountains and the hills.
  • Jacques Bramson: The partisans. Now at first . . . we had no arms, so we mostly were hiding those people whom the government of Vichy wanted to send away to work in Germany, and we hid the prisoners of war who managed to escape from German imprisonment.By this time, the Germans were pressuring the Vichy government to send French workers to Germany, which was facing an increasing manpower shortage. Eventually, on February 16, 1943, the Vichy government was forced to introduce a compulsory labor service, which conscripted French young men to work in Germany. This development did much to undermine support for the regime and helped secure recruits for the Resistance.22
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: We also were hiding those people who were persecuted. At that time they did not readily join the Maquis. The conditions of life for the Maquis were very, very hard, and the Jews would not come there, save in extreme cases. Our contingent consisted mainly of former military [men], former war prisoners, and first of all of youths who did not want to go to work in Germany.
  • David Boder: Now what, were you simply hiding them?
  • Jacques Bramson: From the start we were hiding them, and with the help of the local population, whom we had subjected to our propaganda, we were feeding them.
  • David Boder: Oh . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: Then follows the year of 1942, the landing in [?] England, and a colossal increase [in scope] of our organization.On November 8, 1942, three Allied landings were successfully made in North Africa—at Casablanca on the Atlantic and Oran and Algiers on the Mediterranean.23
  • David Boder: That happened where?
  • Jacques Bramson: The English and Americans in Africa.
  • David Boder: Oh, in Africa.
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . in Africa.
  • David Boder: Casablanca . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes.
  • David Boder: And North Africa.
  • Jacques Bramson: Then . . . still before that, the French people experienced a colossal change of heart. People saw what [kind of people] the Germans were. The period of low spirit and passivity in the French people . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . which lasted the first year and a half had passed. People began to show passive resistance. Moreover they saw that all the speeches of Pétain, all his appeals, were a matter of propaganda. And the whole peasant population with some minor exceptions, who unfortunately did us a great deal of harm . . .
  • David Boder: The exceptions?
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes, the exceptions [the majority of peasants] rendered us substantial help. I must tell you, if not for the help for the population all our organizations would not have existed at all. One should not forget, one should not forget that we had to feed hundreds and hundreds of people.As the occupation progressed, the hostility of significant segments of the French peasant population towards the Vichy regime grew into active cooperation with the Resistance. In a number of areas on France, peasants supplied food, clothing and hiding places to members of the Maquis.24
  • David Boder: [In English] This concludes . . . this concludes Spool 45 of the report of Mr. Bramson, and we shall continue on Spool 46. Paris, August, 194— [tape break] Paris, August, 1946, the 16th of August. We are changing spools for the continuation of Mr. Bramson's report.
  • Herman Barnett: Spool 46, Spool 46. Recording starts in about one minute. Spool 46, this is Herman Barnett.
  • David Boder: This is Spool 46. This is Spool 46. Mr. Bramson continues. Paris, August the 16th, 1946, at the school of ORT, 12 rue de Saules . . . you say it in French?
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Jacques Alexandrovich, you say in French.
  • Jacques Bramson: [In French] . . . 12 rue de Saules à Paris.
  • David Boder: 12 rue de Saules à Paris. [unintelligible]
  • David Boder: [In English] A recording of the Illinois Institute of Technology.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] And so you told us about the peaceful population; those who were on the side of the Germans who were small in number have harmed you a great deal, but that the rest of the population had helped you to maintain the Maquis, who were mostly escapees from the labor draft and who were afraid of the French [authorities], and that at that time there were but few Jews among the Maquis. Now please continue.
  • Jacques Bramson: I just told you that a change of heart has taken place among the French population. A very important factor in this shift of attitude was the mass deportations of Jews in July of 1942. This fact made on the French population a very deep impression. There were demonstrations of students in Paris, there were protests . . .
  • David Boder: Against the deportations?Following the infamous Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942, the Nazis began to prepare for the deportation of Jews from France and other western European countries to extermination centers in Poland. On June 11, 1942, a key meeting took place in Berlin to arrange for regular deportations to extermination centers. Spearheaded by the French police, roundups of Jews in France took place throughout the summer and fall of 1942 in both the occupied and unoccupied zones of the country. Foreign Jews in France were special targets of these actions, but as time went on, native-born French Jews increasingly found themselves in danger.25
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . against the deportations. In Paris many students were arrested and sent to lagers together with the Jews. In the little town of Périgueux d'Azel [?] crowds of people gathered on the street and literally wept when they saw what was happening.
  • David Boder: Tell us in detail about the procedure of the arrests of the Jews and the procedure of their deportation.
  • Jacques Bramson: As to the procedure of the Jewish arrests there were two procedures. One procedure was followed in the invaded region, in the region occupied by the Germans. In this region the police force was completely under German control, and they had completely to follow instructions. As individuals [in individual cases] the police often forewarned the people, or if they failed to find somebody they were not very persistent. As to the non-occupied zone everything depended exclusively on the chief of the local police. There were such regions, for instance in our district where the majority of the police . . .
  • David Boder: Wait a minute [apparently something went wrong with the recorder and the interviewer continues after adjusting the recorder] there were such districts . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: For instance like ours, where the majority of the police were members of our organization. There out of six thousand people threatened by arrest and out of eight hundred people of whom they had specific orders for arrest, only a hundred and fifty were arrested. And they were satisfied [with this number]. But there were other cities where the chiefs of police either belonged to the anti-Semitic elements—there the arrests were complete and whoever was unable to hide, was arrested.
  • David Boder: Now, here I have a ticklish question.
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes.
  • David Boder: Suppose they had to arrest eight hundred or a thousand people . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes.
  • David Boder: They arrest a hundred and fifty because they sympathize [with the victims]. Who then were those one hundred and fifty? Who were these scapegoats so to speak?
  • Jacques Bramson: These scapegoats were people who did not hide in time; because things proceeded this way; I can tell you exactly because I myself was doing exactly these things.
  • David Boder: Well.
  • Jacques Bramson: Some days before the big raid we received a communication that some kind of a raid is in the offing. Against whom was not known exactly. There were rumors that buses were concentrated, that the police force was concentrated, etc. At the same time, we heard with certainty, an employee of the prefecture has informed us that the police of Limoges had sent a demand for a list of all foreign Jews who lived in the region of Périgueux.
  • David Boder: What police?
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . of the city of . . .
  • David Boder: Say it in French.
  • Jacques Bramson: [He says it in French. I do not recall at present why I made such a request.] The chief of police of Limoges had demanded the list of all foreign Jews located in the district of Périgueux. We then understood that the matter refers to the Jews. We knew already that such raids had taken place in the occupied part, and therefore we communicated, within our possibilities, to all Jews that they be on guard and that they should not stay overnight in their own homes.
  • David Boder: Where then could they spend the night?
  • Jacques Bramson: They stayed overnight with neighbors.
  • David Boder: With . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: With Christians. With French Jews, who were not molested, because these measures at the beginning affected only the foreign Jews. Other few went to the parks, and spent the night in the parks.
  • David Boder: What time of the year did that happen?
  • Jacques Bramson: It happened in July 1942.The most cruel and extensive operation took place on July 16-17 in Paris where some 13,000 Jews—including 7,000 families with small children—were rounded up by French police and deported. Approximately 42,500 French Jews were sent to Nazi annihilation centers, principally Auschwitz, during 1942. One-third of this number were from the unoccupied zone. However, rescue networks, such as the one with which Mr. Bramson was involved, and spontaneous acts of courage by ordinary French men and women, saved many Jews from deportation.26
  • David Boder: Yes. The end of July . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: There were elements who did not heed our warnings. And these elements since . . . since a few hundred scapegoats were needed, predominantly these elements came to suffer.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: I may say that most of the arrested were children, women . . . and adults. Because from the start people were under the impression that they will look only for men. They would hide and would leave the women and children.
  • David Boder: Oh, you mean they took the adult women and the children.
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes the men would hide and leave at home the children and wives. So they took the women and children.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: The treatment of the arrested also depended on the local chief of police. At the beginning the treatment was in most cases very correct. But there were districts as well where the police did not behave decently.
  • David Boder: Yes. When they removed the people, what was done with their things?
  • Jacques Bramson: One may say about this that in the occupied zone their apartments were sealed, and that was in the competence of a special German liquidation committee on Jewish affairs.
  • David Boder: Did they have Jewish employees?
  • Jacques Bramson: No, they had no Jewish employees, that was the business of the French police and the Gestapo.
  • David Boder: Yes. What did they . . . ?
  • Jacques Bramson: They mostly removed all things of value and permitted the rest to be looted. The valuable things they would liquidate themselves, selling them, and the rest they would abandon.
  • David Boder: To be looted?
  • Jacques Bramson: Oh, well, to be looted in an unofficial manner.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: As to the unoccupied zone, the police were more broadminded, they would give a chance to relatives to take things or would hand it over to the Jewish organizations.
  • David Boder: Now if one was deported, why were his relatives not deported?
  • Jacques Bramson: Well that is how things occur in general. Say there was a raid . . .
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: For three days people would hide, on the fourth day the raid was over, they would return again and live for six months in peace. Afterwards the raids would start again and so on. There were periods of lull and again of action.
  • David Boder: Well. Please do not forget to explain to me at the end the graph about ORT, about the attendance of the schools.
  • Jacques Bramson: I would be glad to explain it to you.
  • David Boder: Fine. Now then . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: In general, as I have told you already, this has made a very strong impression on the people.
  • David Boder: On the French?
  • Jacques Bramson: On the French. And the government for a time even reversed its course. For a time, official—there were official communiqués that these measures affect exclusively the foreigner—that they were the undesirable elements, etc. So that . . . but people came to view all this [these explanations] with great incredulity. After these raids significantly large Jewish elements appeared among the Maquis. There began to appear the Jewish youth. And then, as I have told you before, the Maquis represented a rather organized force at the time of the American-English landing in Africa.
  • David Boder: So you had contact with those Maquis?
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes.
  • David Boder: Would you please describe a day in the life of the Maquis?
  • Jacques Bramson: I shall describe it to you because subsequently I was in command of an entire district.
  • David Boder: Hum.
  • Jacques Bramson: In my lager, I must tell you . . .
  • David Boder: What do you mean by lager, lager was . . .Boder's confusion is understandable. The German word "lager" was usually used by interviewees to describe Nazi concentration, extermination, or labor camps. Here Bramson uses it in the literal sense ("camp") to describe the base of operations for the Maquis.27
  • Jacques Bramson: The lager which I shall describe to you, because I know this one best, since I spent there nine months and since there was located there our General Staff, was located forty kilometers from the city of Périgueux. It was located deep in the woods on a mountain from which the roads were well under control [in view]. To reach this lager, as we called it lager, for a person not initiated, was absolutely impossible. I myself lost my way four, five times.
  • David Boder: Hum.
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . on my way there. We were in that lager two hundred people.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: We lived there . . . two hundred people; of these about thirty people worked at our headquarters, we had there radio communication, we had an intercommunicating telephone [system], we had in this lager subsurface stores of ammunition . . .
  • David Boder: So. Where did you get your ammunition from?
  • Jacques Bramson: We got our ammunition by two methods. When the Germans upon their arrival, dissolved the French army of the non-occupied zone, this army did not surrender its arms, but hid it. They hid mainly the stocks, and since much of it . . .
  • David Boder: They hid what?
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . the stocks
  • David Boder: And what is that?
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . that is what was in the "stores" [supply dumps].
  • David Boder: Aha . . .
  • David Boder: [In English] . . . the ammunition dumps.
  • Jacques Bramson: [In Russian] The stores of supplies.
  • David Boder: . . . the supplies.
  • Jacques Bramson: Subsequently a large number of officers and soldiers of the army went over to us. In proportion, they represented an insignificant proportion—because they [the army] were people accustomed to discipline and once they were ordered to do nothing, they did nothing. But at any rate, these were elements which went over to our side, and these elements informed us where we could obtain arms.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: Besides, although we got hold of arms, there were certain things which we could not obtain. For instance small arms such as small automatic [correcting himself] automats as they were called.
  • David Boder: That is what? Automatic arms?
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes, the little ones.
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • David Boder: [In English] . . . automatic rifles.
  • Jacques Bramson: [In Russian] Yes.
  • David Boder: Well.
  • Jacques Bramson: So these things we could not get. On the other hand we had a good quantity of more heavy arms, such as heavy machine guns, golubitzes [a Russian term], etc.
  • David Boder: Golubitzes?
  • Jacques Bramson: Golubitzes.
  • David Boder: Golubitzes—they are what—mortars? [The English word is obviously "howitzer."]
  • Jacques Bramson: Mortars.
  • David Boder: Yes, mortars.
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes, and by that time the English were already parachuting in the region of the Alps . . .
  • David Boder: Oh.
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . a rather large quantity of arms. And so we were able to exchange our heavy arms for lighter ones which were transported in those regions.
  • David Boder: With whom did you exchange it, with other Maquis?
  • Jacques Bramson: With other Maquis, and transported . . .
  • David Boder: How come you "exchanged," would they not have given you it to you without exchange?
  • Jacques Bramson: Well they too needed arms. Moreover a large quantity of arms originated in the German storehouses, which we attacked and looted.
  • David Boder: You . . . ?
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . which we raided.
  • David Boder: And . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: We got also much from killed Germans, with whom we had brawls.
  • David Boder: So, you hid [?] from the Germans. And how did you live, in tents?
  • Jacques Bramson: We even had no tents. We were not that rich. Mostly we constructed "houses" from branches.
  • David Boder: You constructed houses . . . ?
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . from branches.
  • David Boder: . . . huts . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: Huts in a way. We were lucky to have among us many lumberjacks, because somehow all lumberjacks were on our side, and they taught us to build all these dwellings.
  • David Boder: Now, were there not among the Maquis people militarily unfit, as for example [some] Jews.
  • Jacques Bramson: No, the Jews with us were all militarily fit. Those militarily unfit we could not accept. Life was so hard that those of poor health would not hold out more than a week or ten days.
  • David Boder: And how would you get your food supplies?
  • Jacques Bramson: As to food supplies, the local population used to come to our assistance. This occurred in the following way. We had in all villages underground . . . underground organizations. These underground organizations gathered the products from the peasant, or purchased the products, and delivered them to prearranged places. At night small details of us, proceeded to these points, and either by automobiles, or on their backs transferred all these products to the lagers.
  • David Boder: Well . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: We had organized our own slaughter house, because the peasants supplied us with cattle. We had organized our kitchens—and in general we had a real military organization. The days, the day passed in a simple manner. They were called at six o'clock. They were given half an hour to wash and breakfast, at seven o'clock was inspection.
  • David Boder: How about water? Was there any water?
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes, we chose our locations not far from a river.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: At seven o'clock was inspection, and appell. That means everybody without exception was assembled before the flag. The flag was raised.
  • David Boder: Did Pétain change the French flag?
  • Jacques Bramson: Pétain left the same color.
  • David Boder: [correcting] Colors.
  • Jacques Bramson: Colors. The French flag has remained. Only the inscriptions—were, they read before "République Française" meaning the French Republic, they were now changed to the words "État Français" meaning the French Country. Moreover, before all French government agencies had on their seal Marianne.
  • David Boder: What?
  • Jacques Bramson: That is the woman who symbolizes France. Pétain substituted for this woman symbol—a Fascist emblem.
  • David Boder: What?
  • Jacques Bramson: That was not a swastika, it consisted of two crossed axes which were chopping the head off the international [?] hydra.The hydra was often used to symbolize the supposed Jewish, communist, and Freemason conspiracy to rule the world. It was the product of ignorance, bigotry, hatred and paranoia.28
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: And now before the flag . . . they were also informed about the communications which were received overnight by radio.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: Right after that a part, half of them were occupied with various chores in the lager, construction, etc. and the other half would go out on maneuvers.
  • David Boder: So. Did they wear a uniform?
  • Jacques Bramson: The uniform we have improvised. We managed to . . . . in different lagers there were different uniforms. We managed to attack a lager, a French one, where we found very many tunics, and so our detachments were uniformed, even very well uniformed. In other districts our poor young people were nearly going around barefooted. They had completely nothing. We were lucky, because we managed . . . first, we managed once to attack several German trucks which were transporting from a shoe factory a large quantity of boots and shoes, and so we were able . . .
  • David Boder: . . . to supply . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . to supply a complete division. Besides we managed also in one lager—and for that purpose we had to stage a raid two hundred fifty kilometers away—and we managed to bring over three large trucks of tunics.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: And in this manner it may be said that a few months before my arrest, when already more serious military operations had begun, our lager and all Maquis in general in our district were more or less well-clad.
  • David Boder: Good . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: Unfortunately we were only half-armed.
  • David Boder: Now let us return to the story. You told us that after the raids . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes . . .
  • David Boder: The first raids were directed against the Jews, and the Jews became more . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . cautious.
  • David Boder: . . . cautious, and started paying more attention to the Maquis. Well, now continue from here . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: I must tell you after these first raids, the Jews who until then were suffering all their misfortunes with relative passivity—they also underwent a change of heart.The misfortunes Mr. Bramson is referring to were results of the anti-Semitic legislation promulgated by the Vichy regime and its German overlords.29 The Jewish youth was taken by a much stronger desire than before, because they saw that resistance is developing in the world. They felt that America will enter the war; subsequently they saw that she entered the war. And now they were taken by an active desire to resist. Until the time when I had to leave the city for good, because my activities have been discovered, I was teaching in the ORT school in Périgueux.
  • David Boder: How far is Périgueux from Vichy?
  • Jacques Bramson: Two hundred fifty kilometers from Vichy.
  • David Boder: And from Paris?
  • Jacques Bramson: And from Paris about four hundred kilometers. Périgueux is located between the city of Limoges and the city of Bordeaux. And so among these young people, young people between fourteen and twenty-five years of age, among them appeared a desire to actively fight [?] against the Nazis, and I succeeded in organizing of the more reliable elements a complete young detail which remained with me to the end. And I must tell you that . . .
  • David Boder: To the end you mean up to your arrest?
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . up to my liberation. And I must tell you that this was the only normal way out of the situation. Among this young group who were fighting, who took chances with their lives, were significantly less casualties than among the Jews, than among the Jews who were hiding or were sitting with their hands crossed, waiting to be arrested. In proportion there were significantly less losses [among them]. I must tell you that as to the ORT school in Périgueux—it gave account of itself afterward, in the line of resistance. Because we were completely deprived of any kind of radio equipment. At that time we were unable to organize any kind of communication.
  • David Boder: For the Maquis?
  • Jacques Bramson: For the Maquis.
  • David Boder: Well.
  • Jacques Bramson: And the first sets for the Maquis, receivers as well as transmitters, were constructed in our school.
  • David Boder: [In English] . . . for transmission and for reception . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . reception.
  • David Boder: . . . were built in the ORT school. The interviewer obviously intended to impress upon Americans the contributions of the ORT to the war effort.30
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . school
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: [In Russian] And then the young boy who constructed most of the equipment was subsequently arrested, deported, and perished in Germany. This was a sixteen-year-old boy. His last name was Kahn. He was a young . . .
  • David Boder: What was his first name? Kahn . . . ?
  • Jacques Bramson: His first name I don't . . . Jean Pierre, if I am not mistaken. Jean Pierre Kahn.This is obviously not the same Jean Kahn that Boder would interview in Paris on August 21st—just five days after the present interview—though the similarity of the names and ages is intriguing.31
  • David Boder: Jean Pierre . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: He was a young Alsatian Jew.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: And he, that is he with the help of our instructor constructed this equipment. In addition we had in our school . . .
  • David Boder: And who was the instructor?
  • Jacques Bramson: The instructor was a Frenchman, Marcel Guidor.
  • David Boder: He knew about it?
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes, yes, yes, I initiated him into the conspiracy.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: At the end very many of our students were given medals.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: One of these young men is now with me in this school. He has two nedels [correcting himself] two medals. We have here a slip of the tongue. "Nedels" in Russian means "weeks," and "medals," with exception of the ending, is the same word in Russian as in English.32
  • David Boder: Yes. Already after liberation?
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes. After liberation. He was taken prisoner, deported and has returned. Also a large quantity of arms was repaired in our school, in our mechanical shops: machine guns, rifles, revolvers. We reconstructed parts for mortars, etc. All that was done at night, and of course all that was entrusted to the young people whom we could trust completely. There were not many of them; five, six people; and these five, six people were doing a remarkable job.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: And . . .
  • David Boder: Does the French government now recognize it?
  • Jacques Bramson: The French government has recognized it, because all these young men after my return—I made a report about it—all of them were rewarded with decorations.
  • David Boder: Well.
  • Jacques Bramson: Perished . . . and so resistance began to be organized seriously at the end of '42. The period of initial organization was over. And then started the open fight. This open fight was led by many methods. First of all the terror activities. It was accepted that the Germans should not be in peace, that they should feel in France as if on a volcano, and for this reason either their automobiles were attacked, or mines were placed under trains, or the quarters of the Gestapo, were bombed, or the staff offices, etc.
  • David Boder: Now tell me, what were the consequences of such attacks for the "peaceful" population.
  • Jacques Bramson: The results were very great.
  • David Boder: On the peaceful population?
  • Jacques Bramson: On the peaceful population. I must tell you that at the end things [acts of resistance] became so numerous that the Germans were unable to react properly. At the beginning they took hostages . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: They shot hostages.
  • David Boder: The Maquis knew that?
  • Jacques Bramson: The Maquis knew that. Afterward, they seeing that the results were in the reverse direction . . .
  • David Boder: Yes, negative results?
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . negative results, they ceased to take hostages directly but said that they were arresting Jews, or communists, etc. In fact they took any people they could lay their hands on. Well when the shootings . . .
  • David Boder: Did they shoot people in public?
  • Jacques Bramson: Not in public, but they would hang out enormous posters [notifying] that such and such hostages were shot. When they saw that all creates an unfavorable impression, they organized large camps and started to deport all these hostages to a center in Compiègne from which they were re-transported to Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Mauthausen, to all these famous lagers in Germany, where they perished as well. Because only twenty percent of the deportees, have returned. And for the Jews this percentage was still less, because of the hundred and ten thousand Jews deported from France to Germany only about six thousand people have returned.In fact, close to 76,000 Jews were deported from France including those, like Mr. Bramson, deported as resisters. Only about 2,500 returned alive. Mr. Bramson is among the fortunate handful who did. Approximately 12% of French Jews and more than 41% of foreign Jews in France were murdered during the Holocaust.33
  • David Boder: About six thousand.
  • Jacques Bramson: About six thousand people.
  • David Boder: [In English] Of a hundred and ten thousand deported Jews from France there returned approximately six thousand.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] Go on.
  • Jacques Bramson: We pondered over this question for a long, long time, but we decided that we could not stop [the acts of sabotage against the Germans]. We only took recourse to the following measure: we never tried to provoke acts which would lead to a large number of victims among the Germans, in order not to provoke in them excessive wrath. We endeavoured not to attack all kinds of organizations of second order, which did not possess purely police functions. We used to take [one word not clear].
  • David Boder: . . . which did not have . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: purely police . . .
  • David Boder: Then you used to attack organizations which did possess police functions.
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . police functions, or industrial functions.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: The terrorist task was the so-called sabotage. Such factories which still permitted the Germans to work in France.
  • David Boder: [correcting] which the Germans permitted . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes, yes, the Germans, they worked so to speak for Germany.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: Especially the French metallurgical industry, and first of all the French automobile industry. And now we started to sabotage. The most famous act of sabotage was the destruction [by explosion] of the transformer at the largest metallurgical plant in France: Creusot. From then on Creusot did not work anymore.
  • David Boder: And it is still not working?
  • Jacques Bramson: No, it was now repaired and in '44 it was again put in commission.
  • David Boder: When the Germans left?
  • Jacques Bramson: When the Germans left. But between '42 and the year '44 the factory [?] worked exactly one week, after the [first] sabotage it interrupted its work and after the second sabotage the Germans decided not to use it anymore [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: Now tell me what happened to the workers who were thrown out of work when such a factory would stop. How many workers did the factory at Creusot have?
  • Jacques Bramson: The factory of Creusot did not have that time a very large number of workers, but there were about ten thousand.
  • David Boder: . . . ten . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: In normal times there were significantly more.
  • David Boder: Well
  • Jacques Bramson: As to the workers they were first of all immediately utilized locally, in order to put the factory again in commission.
  • David Boder: Yes, yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: But we endeavored as far as possible to set free en route the workers who were sent to Germany. I must tell you about a funny incident about a young man who was at the head of a transport in which there were about eight hundred men. When he arrived in the city of Limoges which is located about eighty kilometers from the city of Périgueux there remained exactly sixty people.
  • David Boder: How were they liberated?
  • Jacques Bramson: Along the railroad tracks were stationed small detachments of partisans, and we ordered the workers to "pull" the brakes. The train stopped five or six times, and they jumped off. When the French police attempted to intervene, instantly would appear a detail of partisans, and the French police it may be said never reacted against the partisans.It should be noted that there was never any attempt on the part of the French resistance to free Jews on deportation trains bound for extermination centers.34
  • David Boder: Now tell me, who accompanied the train, who were the guards?
  • Jacques Bramson: In the train . . . the train was mostly accompanied by the French police who also looked at things "through their fingers" and permitted the people to escape. Of course not in quantities.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: If some twenty people would run away, they would not pay any attention to it. But of course mass deliveries could take place only with the help of the partisans.
  • David Boder: Well. Now then, let us return to the other part . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: The next component of our resistance was propaganda.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: Propaganda—one may say that all the newspapers which you see now being sold in Paris, these are the former underground newspapers.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: These newspapers—the largest among them was the newspaper "Combat."
  • David Boder: Yes. Did this one not exist before the war?
  • Jacques Bramson: It did not exist before the war. This paper appeared in the year '41. It's primary organizer and editor was Rene [?].
  • David Boder: Well.
  • Jacques Bramson: And among the collaborators in that paper were not a few Jews.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: There were other very important newspapers such as "Frontiers."
  • David Boder: And what party was represented by "Combat"?
  • Jacques Bramson: "Combat," during the time of resistance was the party of the Socialist youth.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: But afterwards it was transformed into a non-party newspaper of resistance, and so it remained a non-party paper of resistance. And what is characteristic for "Combat" at the present time is that it is a newspaper which attacks, so to speak, everybody [all parties] without exception. [laughter]
  • David Boder: [The question is unintelligible. It refers to a cross. I do not remember whether Mr. Bramson was wearing it.]
  • Jacques Bramson: This is the emblem of de Gaulle's army. That is the so-called Cross of Lorraine.
  • David Boder: Oh . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: The Cross of Lorraine, as the cross of a province which suffered the most from the Germans at all times, was adopted as a symbol of French resistance. And all soldiers, of the army of resistance [and] French liberation were wearing these Crosses of Lorraine.The "army of resistance and French liberation" about which Mr. Bramson speaks was composed of non-communist resistance groups, specifically the Libération-sud movement to which he belonged and two others which formed the nucleus of the so-called Secret Army to which Mr. Bramson later refers. Jean Moulin, de Gaulle's agent in France, helped inspire the unification of these groups into the United Movements of Resistance (Mouvements Unis de la Résistance, or MUR).35
  • David Boder: So, go on.
  • Jacques Bramson: One of our most important activities was to undermine the influence of the Vichy government, the influence of Pétain. And in this direction we maintained a relentless effort. In addition we were fighting all French Fascist organizations. The French Fascist organizations were many times completely annihilated by us in many cities, and they had to restore them frequently by "artificial" means. We did not stop short of killing people on the streets, etc. in order to directly terrorize them.
  • David Boder: The Fascists?
  • Jacques Bramson: The Fascists. Finally these French organizations were compelled to reorganize into a military organization, into a militia.The "militia" was the infamous milice, a French fascist paramilitary organization composed of many virulent anti-Communists and anti-Semites. Its newspaper, "Combats" (not to be confused with the previously mentioned "Combat") was devoted to defending "Christian civilization" from its supposed enemies. The milice murdered several prominent French Jews in cold blood. The number of those in the milice was closer to 30,000 than to 40,000.36
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: With this militia we entered into a real military struggle. There were real battles, between the partisans and this French militia. The French militia over the whole French territory counted around forty thousand men. From these about eighteen thousand departed together with Pétain to Germany.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: After the liberation of France.
  • David Boder: And where are they now?
  • Jacques Bramson: Now most of them . . . a small part managed to escape . . .
  • David Boder: . . . escaped, where to?
  • Jacques Bramson: They hid in Germany in the various lagers, they changed their nationality, etc. The rest were handed over, of them a small part were shot [executed] and the rest are awaiting trial.
  • David Boder: Who was shooting them?
  • Jacques Bramson: At the beginning they . . . there were courts martial. Mostly these were courts martial of the French Liberation Army of Partisans. And afterwards when the state of war in France was declared concluded, they are now being tried by the, simply by the French normal court and they are being accused of treason against their country.
  • David Boder: So. Now then, what other events . . . I want to start the story of your arrest with a fresh spool.
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes.
  • David Boder: So please, tell us some special episodes about life in France . . . or about the resistance and we shall fill the so and so few minutes [of wire].
  • Jacques Bramson: I may tell you a few characteristic incidents of our life [?]. It happened in the middle of July of '43. We were informed that after our rather unsuccessful attempt to take prisoner the chief of the French Security police Bernan, the German authorities in Vichy organized against us a major regrouping of military forces. I was informed that at ten kilometers from our camp were concentrated several squadrons of the so-called Germer [?]. The Germer [?] were military police corresponding to the SS.It is unclear as to what "Germer" refers to and whether the "Germer" was a French or German elite police unit although it appears to have been the former.37
  • David Boder: Something like the Schutzstaffel.
  • Jacques Bramson: Schutzstaffel. In general, I decided, since the situation was rather awkward, to drive out myself for reconnaissance. I went in a light automobile with a few men, and at one point we noticed the first motorcycle men of these Germer [?]. I noticed among them an officer. I then alighted and invited the officer to come over for negotiations. Imagine my surprise when this officer approached me, stopped at attention, and introduced himself "Officer Germer so-and-so, but a member of the secret underground [army]." I managed to reach with him the following agreement.
  • David Boder: [In English] We have to interrupt at a very interesting point . . . we have to interrupt at a very interesting point [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: Spool 48. [A mistake—this is Spool 47. Such slips would occur under pressure of work, and under conditions not always most favorable for the interview.] Paris, August the 16th, 1946 at the ORT school, 12 Rue de Saules, we continue with Mr. Bramson, the fourth spool [again a mistake, this is the third spool] and this is Spool 47.
  • David Boder: Mr. Bramson, you were telling me that you encountered a detail that was sent out against the Maquis, and you proposed to the officer that they surrender.
  • Jacques Bramson: No that was not exactly so [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: Not so? [?]
  • Jacques Bramson: No [?]. You see I was driving in one car for reconnaissance.
  • David Boder: So . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: And we encountered the first motorcycle men—also reconnaissance men. And among them was one officer. And when . . .
  • David Boder: They were of the enemy?
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . of the enemy. And when I made contact with this officer, he all at once stood up at attention, and says: "Officer Germer so-and-so," and adds afterwards in a low voice: "And of the Secret Army." The Secret Army was our organization.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: And then..
  • David Boder: . . . and this official was with the enemy?
  • Jacques Bramson: And the most funny part of it is that afterwards he tells me: "The commander of our whole detachment, the Colonel is also of the Secret organization."
  • David Boder: So . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: [laughter] And so I managed to arrange with this colonel the following trick: they maneuvered during a whole week around us. We did not see them, and they did not see us. And after a week, after they spent all their gasoline which was given to them, they drove away.
  • David Boder: Aha.
  • Jacques Bramson: And such episodes, we had very many.
  • David Boder: This sounds interesting. The fact is that they did not expend their arms . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes.
  • David Boder: . . . but spent the gasoline.
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes. [he continues with sounds of laughter]
  • David Boder: And then?
  • Jacques Bramson: In general . . . they departed. A second interesting phenomenon of which, most foreigners are unaware, is that we had organized among our Maquis the future Administration of Security of the country. Amidst our Maquis we had the future prefect who in fact after liberation became the prefect of the district. We used to issue orders to the population; we fought the black market, and other things. In most cases foreigners in general are completely uniformed about that.After the liberation, General de Gaulle sought to curb the power of the resistance groups and reassert state supremacy. In some cases, such as the one cited by Mr. Bramson, a former resistance leader became a prefect. In a number of others, de Gaulle's representatives assumed local power.38
  • David Boder: Why did you fight the black market during the Germans?
  • Jacques Bramson: We fought against the black market, because mostly suffered from it not the Germans, but the French population.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: And we considered it our duty to ease the life of the French population, because it must be said that the population suffered very strongly from our presence . . .
  • David Boder: From your presence . . . ?
  • Jacques Bramson: Because the Germans constantly took recourse to reprisals against the peaceful population, against children, women, and in general against people to whom all that was of no concern.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: On the other hand, we fought the black market because we knew that the black market was a phenomenon which corrupted the population and which would leave its imprint for a long time. And we were not mistaken. We see what now is taking place in France.In the post-war period of economic dislocation and scarcity, the illicit trade in goods and services flourished.39 The imprints of this period will remain, I think, for about ten years.
  • David Boder: So. I should like that you tell me later something about the present status of the black market, but now I want you to go over biographically and politically to your own story. Now then, when were you arrested?
  • Jacques Bramson: When I was arrested—that is a whole rather complicated story. In July '43 I was appointed commander of the Maquis of the southern district of Vendôme.
  • David Boder: Where about is that?
  • Jacques Bramson: This is a district located between Limoges and Bordeaux.
  • David Boder: So, what was your rank? Did Maquis have ranks?
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes. There were ranks. If one takes so to speak my rank, so normally it would have corresponded say to a colonel in the service [?].
  • David Boder: Well.
  • Jacques Bramson: It is very difficult to define, establish.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: We had . . . in our inner, inner organization, I was the commander of the camp, I had several officers assigned to me, there were also officers in the other camps which were subordinate to me, but we, in order not to be confused with the official, normal army . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . we officially did not assume any ranks . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . but we called ourselves chiefs, such and such a chief, and such and such . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: At that time, in order to fight our partisan details, with which the regular army was unable to cope . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . because we were hiding in the forests, and they needed to fight us the light [mobile] not the heavy components of the German army, the Germans moved into this district an organized Grusian Legion. [?]
  • David Boder: [with great surprise] Oh! . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: This Grusian Legion consisted of Grusians who were taken prisoners in the Crimea. The Germans either used to shoot them or forced them to join such regiments.Bramson is referring to Georgians. ("Gruziya" is the Russian name for Georgia.) Roughly 700,000 Georgians fought against the Nazis as part of the Red Army during the war. However, a number of Georgians also fought for the Nazis as part of the Georgian Legion, a regiment formed in 1941 that consisted of Georgians who emigrated to Western Europe after the Soviet invasion of Georgia in 1921, along with Georgian prisoners of war from the Red Army.40
  • David Boder: Yes, yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: As soon as this Legion appeared in our . . .
  • David Boder: How many were there of them in this Legion?
  • Jacques Bramson: In this Legion there were around three thousand of them; of them nine hundred men were located in the city of Périgueux.
  • David Boder: And they were there with [their] officer?
  • Jacques Bramson: They were there with [their] officers.
  • David Boder: . . . mounted on horses?
  • Jacques Bramson: No, they were "light" infantry details, which were transported on trucks.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: These Grusian details appeared to be not too loyal to the Germans. Just in a few days, after their arrival in our district we had already turncoats.
  • David Boder: They spoke Russian?
  • Jacques Bramson: They spoke mostly Grusian. There were some intelligent elements, not very numerous, and they spoke also Russian.
  • David Boder: And so they started to turn over?
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . to turn over, and we then formed a special small Grusian detail.
  • David Boder: From these turncoats?
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes. The turncoats were mostly officers.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: And through these officers I managed to make contact with the colonel, the Grusian who was in command.
  • David Boder: . . . Well.
  • Jacques Bramson: He was in command only theoretically, he maintained the "inner" discipline. The real command was in the hands of a German officer. Each company had a German officer, and the "inner" discipline was maintained by Grusian officers. And then I conceived the idea: would it not be possible to get over this whole Grusian Legion on our side?
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: And so the chief who was in command of the whole district . . .
  • David Boder: . . . a Frenchman?
  • Jacques Bramson: A Frenchman—went to obtain permission for it from the central command which was located in Limoges.
  • David Boder: And why was a permission necessary?
  • Jacques Bramson: Well, we needed the means to maintain nine hundred men more.
  • David Boder: Oh . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: We needed the means to clothe them, to "shoe" them, for all that we needed a budget, etc. This was a very complex organization.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: After that Limoges made inquiries in Paris, the permission was given . . .
  • David Boder: The underground in Paris?
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . the permission was given, and we then entered in contact with the Grusian officers. Everything was prepared beforehand, and I left for the city of Périgueux by automobile with my chief, and with one of my officers—assistants, in order to settle finally the matter with the Grusian colonel—to plan this changing sides in a body. Unfortunately one of our co-workers who was on the inside of this work turned out to be an agent of the Gestapo. And he betrayed us. When we arrived at the square in Périgueux we were attacked from all sides by hidden German SS, or members of the Gestapo. I together with my chief and my assistant had the misfortune to have alighted from the automobile.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: I was wounded, and before being wounded the chief of the Gestapo in the act of defense, and our men who remained in the car, had time to open fire and to break through the encirclement.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: I was half-conscious, I was transferred first to the Gestapo and afterwards—since I was taken prisoner by the military—[I was taken] to a German military hospital. There I was given first aid, I suffered here a broken bone. [he apparently points to his forehead]
  • David Boder: Where—above the eye?
  • Jacques Bramson: Above the eye [unintelligible] and besides my eye was hanging out, and I also had a bayonet stab in my hand.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: The German military, the actual military treated me most correctly, exceptionally correctly. The German officer at the scouting detail [?] was also very correct [a correct person] and during the two days that I spent in their house—I have no right to complain—they treated me like any military officer. But afterwards I was transferred to the SD prison.
  • David Boder: What is SD?
  • Jacques Bramson: Of the Gestapo.
  • David Boder: Why was it called SD?
  • Jacques Bramson: Sicherheitsdienst.The Sicherheitsdienst (also called SD, or Security Service) was an intelligence organization which served the SS and the Nazi party. At the outbreak of the war the Gestapo were brought into the same overall Nazi police organization as the SD, so the barbaric SD torturers who inflicted so much pain on Mr. Bramson could also be viewed as officers of the Gestapo.41
  • David Boder: Oh . . . yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: The Gestapo abroad was called Sicherheitsdienst.
  • David Boder: Well.
  • Jacques Bramson: There the treatment changed markedly. But in Périgueux we were still treated with sufficient correctness, except for the grillings. At the questions I suffered less—at the first grilling—than my comrades . . .
  • David Boder: Why?
  • Jacques Bramson: Because I was wounded.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: So that although I was beaten, they did not submit me to great tortures at the first grilling.
  • David Boder: What do you call great torture?
  • Jacques Bramson: In great tortures, you were hung for several hours by your hands; you were put into cold water, you would be submerged in water until you would lose consciousness, they would beat you . . .
  • David Boder: What did they have there, bathtubs?
  • Jacques Bramson: They used ordinary bathtubs.
  • David Boder: So, and what . . . ?
  • Jacques Bramson: And besides they would beat you terribly. I at the first questioning was simply crippled [?].
  • David Boder: Who was doing that? The grilling personnel themselves or did they have helpers?
  • Jacques Bramson: During the grilling that was done by the questioning officers themselves.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: But when blows would not help, the tortures were performed by agents of the Gestapo.
  • David Boder: Yes. And so at the first grilling . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: The first was comparatively . . . at the first grilling I got away with a few slaps in the face, a few kicks, etc.
  • David Boder: Do you remember the dialogue at that grilling? Were you grilled in French?
  • Jacques Bramson: I was grilled in French because I pretended that I do not understand any German. That gave me a chance—knowing already the question while the interpreter translated it—to prepare the answer.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: And so, the question . . .
  • David Boder: And the interpreter behaved neutrally?
  • Jacques Bramson: The interpreter in most cases was some wounded German officer, who knew the French language, and in most cases they were rather correct.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: Or there were civilian interpreters. There were even some French Gestapo interpreters.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: And so. I . . .
  • David Boder: What did they ask you?
  • Jacques Bramson: The first grilling took place when I was wounded, and I was very lucky, because it was a so-called questioning about identity.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: They asked for name, surname, rank, whether or not I was an officer of the regular. They asked whether I consider myself as a partisan. I said I was a "regular" officer; I wore my uniform.
  • David Boder: So. What name did you give?
  • Jacques Bramson: I gave my right name, because I had on me all kind of papers forged as well as authentic.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: But my military papers were in my real name.
  • David Boder: So. And they stated that you were from Russia?
  • Jacques Bramson: It was stated that I was born in Russia.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: But this was not important since my name sounds sufficiently French—it was of no importance.
  • David Boder: Bramson [pronounced in Russian].
  • Jacques Bramson: Bramson [pronounced in French], and so that was not important.
  • David Boder: Well.
  • Jacques Bramson: But I had . . . I wanted it that way, because I was wounded . . . I had on me official military documents. I did not want to be taken for a partisan. Since I considered myself anyway a doomed man, since I had wounded the Chief of the Gestapo, at the moment of arrest, I said to myself, let them better shoot me as a military, than hang me like a dog. [he laughs] . . . At the first grilling I managed to avoid an important fact. I was grilled by an officer of the German counter-intelligence.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: And to him the question of a Jew or not a Jew was of no interest whatsoever. So when he came to the section where the questionnaire dealt with race or religion, he all at once asked me such a question: "Are you a Protestant or a Catholic?"
  • David Boder: Oh . . . ! And what did you say?
  • Jacques Bramson: And I calmly replied that I was a Protestant.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: And so I was registered and since then I was not questioned about race up to my transfer to Compiègne.The Nazi racist ideology incorrectly viewed the Jews as a "race" when in fact they are members of a religion and a people. Mr. Bramson uses this racist terminology common at the time. The camp at Compiègne, located in north central France, was founded in December, 1941. As he later relates, it was from Compiègne that Mr. Bramson was deported to Buchenwald.42 In Périgueux I spent ten days. During these ten days there was an attempt to deliver us [from captivity] and the Gestapo in Périgueux went up in the air.
  • David Boder: That is it was bombed?
  • Jacques Bramson: It was bombed. The Gestapo and the quarters of the Gendarmerie in Périgueux.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: But since very many German officers were wounded on the occasion we were tried and sentenced to death.
  • David Boder: Who was tried, all who . . . ?
  • Jacques Bramson: Three [persons], the three of us.
  • David Boder: You, your French chief, and . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . and my assistant.
  • David Boder: [unintelligible]
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . and were sentenced to a military execution. The next morning after the bombing, (we were tried in the evening), they came to look for us, and I thought that we were lead to be shot. But instead of leading us to be shot we were transferred to a prison in Limoges.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: This was a larger town, there was relatively a large garrison, where they were less in fear of an attack by the partisans, because after the incident with the Gestapo they were afraid that in Périgueux that partisans may attack the city and set us free.
  • David Boder: Now I have a question, I want to ask you a question as a psychologist.
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes.
  • David Boder: You were expecting during the night to be shot, is that so?
  • Jacques Bramson: I thought that we will be shot in the next morning.
  • David Boder: Did you then make some evaluation . . . what were you thinking about before "being shot."
  • Jacques Bramson: I, I must tell you, hardly thought of anything.
  • David Boder: You were suffering of wounds.
  • Jacques Bramson: I was wounded, and when I was told, when they told me "condemned": so I figured—we had so much talk among ourselves about such indescribable tortures, about such unusual beatings to which people were subjected before being shot—so that I, so to speak felt that now everything was over, I was even contented.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: I even may say that I slept marvelously well.
  • David Boder: You slept through . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: They came afterward to look for us at ten o'clock in the morning, and they had to shake me in order to wake me up.
  • David Boder: So . . . and then you went through [unintelligible] . . . obviously for them it was not a night before an execution, they . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: No, apparently we . . . they had decided not to shoot us. I later found out that great representations were made in our behalf, and that the government in Algeria had declared that if we should be executed [shot] they in turn will retaliate by shooting a large number of German officers—prisoners. This obviously saved our lives.By this time, Algeria was under the control of Free French forces, and General Rommel's German army had been defeated by the English and Americans in Tunisia.43
  • David Boder: Oh . . . So.
  • Jacques Bramson: So we were transferred to Limoges and in Limoges the grillings started anew. The grillings in Limoges were terrible. I was "hung up" three times.
  • David Boder: How did they "hang up"?
  • Jacques Bramson: They hung us up simply this way. They would handcuff your hands behind you . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . a hook between the handcuffs, and you were raised up in the air.
  • David Boder: What was then the position of the hands?
  • Jacques Bramson: [apparently demonstrating] That is how you would hang, the hands behind the back.
  • David Boder: The hands could not . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . stretched out above the head . . . no that was impossible . . . If one would raise his hand a fracture would immediately occur.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: The majority of my comrades to say in passing—had their hands fractured, as a consequence of it.
  • David Boder: In what place were they fractured?
  • Jacques Bramson: Right here . . . .
  • David Boder: In the shoulder?
  • Jacques Bramson: In the shoulder.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: In that period—now it is hard to recognize me—I was much healthier, and I was a very good sportsman.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: I managed all three times—in spite of the fact that at the end I would lose consciousness—still to support myself somehow on my muscles.
  • David Boder: So there was a special trick to it, to prevent fracture in the arms.
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes. This was only possible if one maintained his body so that it's weight should not pull too much on this place.
  • David Boder: That there be not too much tension on the shoulders.
  • Jacques Bramson: On the shoulders.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: And so I managed to save my hands.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: After these three sessions of grilling.
  • David Boder: What were they grilling you about?
  • Jacques Bramson: Well, they wanted first of all military information, and first of all the names of the members of the secret organization.
  • David Boder: And what would you say to them?
  • Jacques Bramson: I said nothing.
  • David Boder: And you did not try, so to speak to bluff to them?
  • Jacques Bramson: The first time even did not I try to bluff them because I knew they will check up, they checked on all information.
  • David Boder: So . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . and I did not have yet a sufficiently prepared plan. They caught me by surprise.
  • David Boder: Oh yes. And how about afterwards?
  • Jacques Bramson: Afterwards they—after the three sailors [?]—when they had tortured me beyond measure, they decided to give me some rest. And I had a week's rest, during which I, so to speak, I had a chance, so to speak, to recuperate a bit.
  • David Boder: Yes. And where were your two comrades?
  • Jacques Bramson: My comrades were grilled separately. One of them attempted suicide, and the other succumbed during the grilling. He could not stand the torture.
  • David Boder: Meaning what—he died?
  • Jacques Bramson: Oh, that I could not tell you. I was not present at the incident.
  • David Boder: Oh yes. What did they beat with generally?
  • Jacques Bramson: They beat with rifle butts, with clubs, with whatever they could lay their hands on. Once they smashed over my head a piece of marble which covered a night table, which happened to stand around.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: You know these little night tables at the beds.
  • David Boder: Yes. So he broke that marble over your head? So?
  • Jacques Bramson: After that I was again taken for grilling. This time I had a prepared plan . . . [there is a break in the interview].
  • David Boder: You had a prepared plan.
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes this time I had a prepared plan, and I told them approximately things of which I was sure that they knew already.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: I did not give them anything new, but on the contrary directed them toward a completely false track.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: This gave me a breathing spell of three weeks, after which they had made a check-up and recognized that I had told them cock-and-bull stories.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: After that they simply [unintelligible] took me over there and beat me up like a dog, and after that there was no more grilling. However after this beating, instead of keeping me in a "normal" cell, I was thrown, I was isolated in a cellar, without light, without air, without anything. And I . . .
  • David Boder: What kind of a cellar, in what kind of a building?
  • Jacques Bramson: That seems to have been in a prison, in prison.
  • David Boder: So. And were there other people?
  • Jacques Bramson: No, I was there alone; I was kept isolated all the time.
  • David Boder: And did they bring you food?
  • Jacques Bramson: Food. They fed me well, because we were fed by the French Red Cross.
  • David Boder: Oh, the Red Cross was permitted . . . ?
  • Jacques Bramson: No, not to visit, but to feed us—yes.
  • David Boder: They permitted?
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes, all political prisoners were fed by the Red—French—Cross.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: After that I spent two months in this dungeon after that, before we were transferred to Compiègne, a month before I was transferred to a common hall . . . This common hall was a cell of three meters by two, where we were seven people together. We, one may say, were piled up one over the other, but after several months of complete isolation, this give us a chance to talk to each other, and moreover, they began to take us for walks. We were able to promenade for a quarter of an hour daily in a little yard, in the prison.
  • David Boder: Where was that?
  • Jacques Bramson: In Limoges.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: One nice morning we were told that we will be transferred from Limoges to Compiègne, from which we were to be transported further into Germany. Compiègne was a central lager where were concentrated all prisoners without exception, before being shipped to concentration camps. The Jews were transported instead of Compiègne to a special lager, Drancy.Initially, there were Jews who were held at Compiègne and suffered greatly from horrible conditions there. This occurred in December 1941 during a reprisal action. Subsequently, as Mr. Bramson indicates, Drancy, a transit camp located in a northern suburb of Paris, became the key transportation point for Jews to annihilation camps in Poland, mainly Auschwitz.44
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: In Compiègne I spent only one day. By some miracle I passed the examination for race . . . race qualification, and registered as a Frenchman, I found myself in a train with twenty-five hundred men destined for Buchenwald. We were placed about a hundred people to each teplushka. The Russian term "teplushka" means a small four-wheel freight car with a stove in the center, adapted for the transportation of soldiers and people in general.45
  • David Boder: A freight car.
  • Jacques Bramson: A freight car. On the way there were several attempts at escape. Several people were killed. Several people . . . at our arrival we found several people suffocated in the car.
  • David Boder: How long were you in the car.
  • Jacques Bramson: We spent in the car three days.
  • David Boder: Did they let you out for the toilet?
  • Jacques Bramson: No, the car was locked. It was opened only once when we arrived in the city of Trier.Trier is a city in far western Germany not far from the border of Luxembourg on the Mosel River.46 There the door was opened for ten minutes, and that was the only time when we were given a bit of soup . . .
  • David Boder: So . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: To sip. Otherwise the car was all the time sealed.
  • David Boder: And how about your toilet needs, how were they satisfied?
  • Jacques Bramson: The toilet needs were unfortunately taken care of in the car.
  • David Boder: Were there only men?
  • Jacques Bramson: There were only men. The cars of the women were behind.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: The women were transported further.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: In Buchenwald . . . we were shaved.
  • David Boder: How?
  • Jacques Bramson: We were washed all . . .
  • David Boder: . . . the whole body?
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . the whole body and we were sent to the so-called quarantine lager. The quarantine lager was a real nightmare. And we were . . . to describe it to you: there were blocks calculated for a hundred and twenty people. We were allocated approximately seven hundred to each.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: On plank-beds calculated for three people they would assign eleven.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: There was no medical service whatsoever. We were dressed in those terrible frosts—in a shirt; above that some pajama-like clothes . . .
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: And the head was completely shaved.
  • David Boder: Now tell me, did you have any clothes with you?
  • Jacques Bramson: All our things were taken from us at the entrance to the Buchenwald lager.
  • David Boder: Well, did you have some things before [when] you were arrested accidentally on the street?
  • Jacques Bramson: At the beginning I had no things. But afterwards when my arrest became . . .
  • David Boder: . . . known . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . known, they sent me through the Red Cross a package of things. Officially the Gestapo did not want to deliver to me this package of things, but one of the keepers on his own initiative brought me a part of the things.
  • David Boder: So . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: And . . .
  • David Boder: And in Buchenwald they again took it away.
  • Jacques Bramson: And in Buchenwald they took away completely everything.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: They gave us each a spoon, which we had to drag all the time in our pocket, and like I have described—for shoes they gave us "step-ins".
  • David Boder: That is what?
  • Jacques Bramson: They are a kind . . . wooden soles, with cloth above, which hold them to the feet.
  • David Boder: Slippers.
  • Jacques Bramson: They are not slippers.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: They are something undefinable, resembling Dutch footwear.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: I did not remain for a long time in this lager. The whole inner management of the lager was organized by the prisoners themselves. The SS entered the lager almost exclusively to supervise the chores which were done, in part, inside the lager, or for roll call. Otherwise we almost never saw them. We were ruled by the so-called supervising [?] capos, who were appointed by the SS from the midst of the prisoners.Buchenwald was established in 1937, and up the end of 1938 the camp's capos were largely criminal prisoners. When these capos became involved in corrupt practices, the SS removed the criminal prisoner capos from their posts, and gradually political prisoners were able to take over the camp's internal administration under SS supervision.47
  • David Boder: So, you were in a French block?
  • Jacques Bramson: From the beginning it was a general quarantine block.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: But thanks to the fact that I had numerous acquaintances among the members of the French Resistance, those comrades who were already for a comparitively long time in Buchenwald took steps that I be transferred as soon as possible to the large lager.There were several resistance groups formed in Buchenwald on the basis on nationality, among them the French resistance group about whom Mr. Bramson speaks. By 1943, these groups united in a general underground movement called the International Underground Committee.48
  • David Boder: From the quarantine?
  • Jacques Bramson: From the quarantine. And I spent only a month in the quarantine, and that possibly saved my life.
  • David Boder: And how much time did the others spend there?
  • Jacques Bramson: There were people who spent there five or six months.
  • David Boder: Why? What was going on?
  • Jacques Bramson: Because there was not enough room in the big [main] lager. In the big lager living conditions were comparatively better, since [there] people worked, so they were given more or less a chance to sleep, or eat . . .
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: So for this reason not all were transferred but very many remained for good in this quarantine lager.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: During this period in the quarantine lager, I shall never forget the scene when we were sent to be photographed. I have described already how we were dressed. During a bad snowstorm we were left in this clothing for a whole day on a completely open square.
  • David Boder: Why?
  • Jacques Bramson: To lead us one after the other to be photographed.
  • David Boder: What for were you photographed?
  • Jacques Bramson: To complete our dossier.
  • David Boder: Oh.
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . for the lager.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: And the result of it was that approximately half of the new arrivals caught pneumonia. Our block of eight hundred people was transformed into a block of two hundred fifty, three hundred people, while all the others without exception "went through the chimney."
  • David Boder: What do you mean by "went through the chimney"?
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . "through the chimney," in other words they died from pneumonia and similar causes, and they had to be sent to the crematories.
  • David Boder: And were there crematories in Buchenwald?
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes. There were crematories in all the lagers. In all the lagers where there were more than six thousand prisoners, there were crematories.
  • David Boder: And did they have in Buchenwald also installations for the extermination of people?
  • Jacques Bramson: Installations of the kind that existed in Auschwitz were not available in Buchenwald. Because Buchenwald was not an extermination camp. In Buchenwald there was a gas chamber, but it was not located in the lager, it was located behind the lager.It was believed by some that Buchenwald had a gas chamber, but this has not been substantiated. However, even though prisoners were not killed by gas, they were murdered in other ways: beatings, tortures, phenol injections, shootings and strangulation. There was an execution chamber beneath the crematorium where victims died by being hung from meat hooks suspended from the ceiling. It is possible that this execution by suffocation is what Mr. Bramson heard about.49
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: It was used only when they wanted to annihilate somebody inconspicuously. But official mass exterminations such as in Auschwitz did not exist in Buchenwald.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: I myself know of a case when an entire group of three—four hundred people were annihilated there on the spur of the moment.
  • David Boder: In Buchenwald?
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes. Buchenwald. But this did not have a systematic character as in the eastern [?] lagers.
  • David Boder: What kind of a group of three hundred people was that?
  • Jacques Bramson: For instance, they brought over a group of Russian officers. And the next day it was ordered to annihilate all of them. They were led to the little house which we called the "little house of miracles," where the gas chamber was located, and there they were asphyxiated. We learned about it—exterminations took place daily—but I only know—I may speak only about cases at which I was present myself.
  • David Boder: Which . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: Which I know. For instance I was present at the shooting of eighty parachutists, mostly Canadians and Frenchmen.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: It was already after the Anglo-American invasion of Europe.That is, after D-Day, June 6, 1944. This account of the execution of an Allied airman has not been substantiated. However, there were Allied airmen held at Buchenwald for some months, and some did in fact perish there.50
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: And they were young men who formed the small squads of reconnaissance who parachuted [behind] enemy lines.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: They, eighty men . . . they were brought to us, and after two weeks a search started for them all over the lager. We endeavored as far as possible to hide them in the lager, but we succeeded to save only two.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: All the others were found by the SS with the help of the management of the lager and they were all shot.
  • David Boder: Where were they shot?
  • Jacques Bramson: They were shot wherever it would happen. They were killed—when they would catch one, they would lead him outside the lager, and they would shoot him just any place. A few of them, since the SS were vexed, were hanged, and this in spite [of the fact] that they were sentenced to be shot.
  • David Boder: And where did they hang them?
  • Jacques Bramson: They hanged them—in our crematory—in the basement there was an execution hall. And in this hall they had hooks on which they hanged.
  • David Boder: So. And now, what happened to you afterwards?
  • Jacques Bramson: In the lager . . . compared with that which I went through in Limoges, my subsequent experiences in the lager were less . . .
  • David Boder: So. And when were you questioned again about being a Jew?
  • Jacques Bramson: About that I was questioned again in Compiègne. But I don't know how it happened—in spite of the fact that the grillings were mostly very severe, when my turn came, I was one of the last, he scrutinized my ticket, on the ticket it said that I was a Protestant; so he asked me only a few questions and next to him stood a doctor. Only those who appeared to him suspicious the doctor ordered to let down their pants. I did not appear suspicious to him, and so I passed.
  • David Boder: So . . . And afterwards? When were you liberated?
  • Jacques Bramson: I was in the lager . . . I spent there fifteen months.The fifteen months were from early 1944 until April 1945.51
  • David Boder: So. What were you doing there?
  • Jacques Bramson: At the beginning I worked in the quarries.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: Afterward I managed with the help of French comrades who belonged to the management of the camp to . . . and since I was one of the responsible members of the French organization [underground], I managed to be assigned to the [unintelligible] factory, as an assistant.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . a factory located within the lager.Buchenwald had over 130 satellite camps where prisoners were ruthlessly exploited doing slave labor. Mr. Bramson worked in one of them, which was an armaments factory. Many larger German businesses profited obscenely from prisoner slave labor in this and other camps.52
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: This greatly improved my condition, and thanks to that I managed to survive, and even rally my strength somewhat because all my wounds which I suffered during the war started to open up in the camp. At the factory our situation greatly improved, I managed even to construct of all kind of odd parts a radio, so that we, with some comrades were able to pick up military [?] communications and we knew about all the movement in France, etc.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: In addition we formed in the lager an inner organization, and since factories of arms were located within the lager, we managed also to conceal some arms. These arms came in handy for my comrades at a moment of an uprising in the lager just before the occupation of the lager by the Americans.The liberation of Buchenwald took place on April 11, 1945. By this time, the underground was in control of the installation. The liberating Americans found 21,000 prisoners, including about 4,000 Jews and several hundred Jewish children. One of them was Moses Lau, who went on to become a chief rabbi in Israel.53
  • David Boder: What kind of an uprising was there?
  • Jacques Bramson: The fact was that the SS had everything ready to destroy the camp.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: When they departed, they left only a small detail of SS who were to set fire to the lager, and throw all [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: To kill the people?
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes. This detail was disarmed by the inner organization of the lager under the command of Colonel Manes [?] who at present is head of the council of the ministry of commerce in France.
  • David Boder: Oh.
  • Jacques Bramson: When this occurred I was not anymore in Buchenwald.
  • David Boder: One moment please . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: [continues] The fact is that about ten days before liberation, no earlier than that, about three weeks before the liberation in Buchwenwald . . .
  • David Boder: [In English] This is Spool 47. Mr. Bramson's report.
  • David Boder: Spool 48. Paris, August the 16th. Continuation of Mr. Bramson's report.
  • David Boder: [In Russian] You told me that at the end you were not anymore in Buchenwald. How did that happen?
  • Jacques Bramson: It was like this. Before surrendering the lager Buchenwald to the Americans, the Germans selected fifteen thousand people, whom they said they had decided to send away as hostages.Before the arrival of American forces, the SS evacuated prisoners of various nationalities from the main camp and the satellite camps on what became death marches.54
  • David Boder: So? . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . to a region where the American forces were not yet near. This was a part of Germany where they still hoped to resist. And I belonged to this group.
  • David Boder: Why were they called hostages?
  • Jacques Bramson: Because at that moment the opinion of Goebbels was such, that it was indispensable to have people who would be responsible for the lives—because there were all kinds of reports that the Americans and the Russians were momentarily [?] killing the SS whom they were taking prisoners, etc.
  • David Boder: And was that not true in certain cases?
  • Jacques Bramson: In certain cases it might have been true, but what concerns the Americans, the French and the English the SS were not being killed. They were treated more strictly than other prisoners but still they were considered prisoners of war.
  • David Boder: And the Maquis?
  • Jacques Bramson: Well, the partisans and also the population used to exterminate [them] most frequently. The partisans were completely without mercy.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: On this trip we were driven on foot. We made about three hundred kilometers on foot.
  • David Boder: In how many days?
  • Jacques Bramson: We marched for about two weeks.
  • David Boder: Oh.
  • Jacques Bramson: They fed us . . . We were given a glass of grain each . . .
  • David Boder: What was that?
  • Jacques Bramson: It was non-crushed [?] grain.
  • David Boder: What does it mean non-crushed [?] grain? Non-milled?
  • Jacques Bramson: Non-milled grain.
  • David Boder: What was it rye, barley?
  • Jacques Bramson: It was mostly wheat.
  • David Boder: Wheat. You ate the grain?
  • Jacques Bramson: We ate the grain. Most people got dysentery.
  • David Boder: Oh.
  • Jacques Bramson: Beginning with the third day people started falling on the road and the SS finished them off on the spot. Behind each column marched a squad of exterminators who killed all those who fell behind.
  • David Boder: How would they kill them?
  • Jacques Bramson: Simply with a shot from a revolver, or from a rifle.
  • David Boder: So. Men and woman?
  • Jacques Bramson: We were only men.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: There were no women with us.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: I myself had to carry to the ditch on the road my comrade Zjousse[?] a very-known aviator, who first flew the South Atlantic with Hermose [?].
  • David Boder: With whom?
  • Jacques Bramson: Hermose [?].
  • David Boder: Hermose? [?] French plane? They crossed . . . ?
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes, Zjousse [?]. He was Hermose's assistant.
  • David Boder: How is this name spelled?
  • Jacques Bramson: [he spells the name] His name is spelled: Zjousse [?].
  • David Boder: That is his name?
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . his name is Zjousse [?]
  • David Boder: And he was an old-timer in aviation [?].
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes, he is very famous. It is he, who together with Hermose made the first flight across the South . . .
  • David Boder: Atlantic.
  • Jacques Bramson: Atlantic.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: So, I myself had to carry him to the ditch, where an SS finished him there, and then before my eyes, because he could not walk anymore, I took him . . .
  • David Boder: You mean he was first transferred to the ditch, and then . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: He had to be transferred there, because otherwise he would have been trampled by the crowd, in case he would have fallen among them, and in order that the crowd does not trample him to death he had to be carried out.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: And so our group consisted at first of five thousand people.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: Afterwards . . .
  • David Boder: You told me before fifteen . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: No, in my group there were five thousand.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: Afterward the number became smaller every day, at the end there remained of us, after one week . . . there remained two echelons of one thousand each.One estimate is that the number of prisoners from the Buchenwald main camp and satellite camps who perished on the death marches was in excess of 25,000.55
  • David Boder: So. And . . . ?
  • Jacques Bramson: All the rest were killed on the way.
  • David Boder: They were killed on the way. Now, were they buried, or what?
  • Jacques Bramson: No, they were left lying. They were still there . . . I afterward passed through my automobile, fifteen days later, and nearly all the cadavers were lying there, in process of decomposing.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: Subsequently, at the end we remained around the 20th of April a small group of about one thousand men, which marched in five columns. One must say that the SS who conveyed us were in no better situation than we. They were horribly weakened, their situation became more complicated due to the fact that we have thrown away all our things, while they had to drag along their ammunition, arms, and bags.
  • David Boder: And what did they eat?
  • Jacques Bramson: They ate better than we, but still they too ate very badly. They would steal in the villages a bit of potatoes, etc.
  • David Boder: The SS?
  • Jacques Bramson: In fact we had no supply service of any kind. The American army advanced behind us at the same rate as we. We were all the time at about fifteen-twenty kilometers from the front, and every half hour we hoped that we will be liberated. And every time our hopes . . .
  • David Boder: . . . were not realized . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . were not realized. Once when we were on a hill we saw down below the attacks by American tanks of a German anti-tank battery.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: But the Americans made a two day halt and we again moved on for thirty kilometers south during this time.
  • David Boder: Did you show any signs of gladness, of pleasure?
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes. In general [?] it made no impression. Our guards were already so exhausted, so tired, that they automatically executed the orders of the officers who were cruising on automobiles and bicycles.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: And there was no reaction whatsoever. They automatically killed people, when they were ordered to feed they fed them . . .
  • David Boder: So. These were SS?
  • Jacques Bramson: Those were SS.
  • David Boder: So then . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: We saw our group melting away. One nice day we heard machine gun fire, and from that [?] we concluded that the fighting was not far away, about fifteen or twelve kilometers.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: For this reason we decided to take a chance.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: We gathered a group of men who were acquainted with each other and began to lag behind. We gradually lagged behind, formed a small column which remained with about a dozen [ten] designated [?] SS.
  • David Boder: Oh.
  • Jacques Bramson: The machine gun fire continued to approach . . .
  • David Boder: Who were these, all Frenchmen, or were there others?
  • Jacques Bramson: There were a few Poles, Russians and Frenchmen.
  • David Boder: Were there any Jews?
  • Jacques Bramson: There were no Jews among us.
  • David Boder: There were no Jews?
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . none among us.
  • David Boder: Go on.
  • Jacques Bramson: The Jews were in a group which was one kilometer ahead of us.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: They were liberated one day after us.
  • David Boder: So. And then?
  • Jacques Bramson: We then overpowered the SS.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: A few of them attempted to resist themselves, the other dropped their guns and ran away.
  • David Boder: And the ones who attempted to resist?
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . to resist, those were finished up.
  • David Boder: So. And . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: We then took their arms and escaped into the woods.
  • David Boder: And how many men were you?
  • Jacques Bramson: There were of us between sixty and eighty people.
  • David Boder: [unintelligible]
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes.
  • David Boder: And you ran away into the forest. Well.
  • Jacques Bramson: In about four hours the first American detachment passed the forest. And then we came out of the forest.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: We then came out of the forest.
  • David Boder: Well, did they recognize you?
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes. We were in striped clothing—of the lager.
  • David Boder: And then?
  • Jacques Bramson: And then the Americans took over the same day the two columns which were ahead of us. One consisted predominantly of Jews, and the other was mixed, and they too were liberated.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: Upon advice of the American officers we proceeded northward, where we were promised help. In fact we were not given any help. But the Americans permitted us to requisition everything we needed, and we organized—mostly the French—in the little town of Freising [?] which is located not far from the city of "Hausen". He possibly refers to Schrobenhausen. Both Freising and Schrobenhausen are located in southern Germany between Munich and Regensberg.56
  • David Boder: A German city?
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes, a German city, a Bavarian city . . .
  • David Boder: How . . . ?
  • Jacques Bramson: Freising.
  • David Boder: How do you spell it?
  • Jacques Bramson: F- O- [?] -s - ing. [he enunciates the letters differently]
  • David Boder: . . . s - i . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . n - g.
  • David Boder: Freising.
  • Jacques Bramson: Freising.
  • David Boder: What did you organize in that city?
  • Jacques Bramson: Afterwards, with consent of the American command we took over the management of the whole district.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: And so we organized there a hospital for the wounded, for the sick. We organized the supplies, we organized a police force which handled our business as well as the business of the city and nearly all its surroundings. We preoccupied ourselves with making attempts to contact—evacuation was still out of the question, the front was still too long [deep] and we attempted to make contact with the French forces, which were also not far away from [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: And how did the Germans react to that?
  • Jacques Bramson: The Germans completely lost their heads. For three days they either wandered with white bands on their sleeves, or with little white flags on their hats.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: We . . .
  • David Boder: Were there any attempts to arrest them . . . ?
  • Jacques Bramson: All young . . . yes, SS without exception whom we encountered, were instantly killed. We also caught several former . . .
  • David Boder: [unintelligible]
  • Jacques Bramson: No, people who occupied positions as foremen, capos, etc. in the lagers—many of them were also killed. We arrested . . .
  • David Boder: Why the capos, why . . . ?
  • Jacques Bramson: It was they who more than anybody persecuted us in the lagers, in spite of the fact that they were prisoners, just like us.
  • David Boder: Were they French [unintelligible]?
  • Jacques Bramson: There were very few of them among the French, moreover the French . . .
  • David Boder: They, who were they?
  • Jacques Bramson: Moreover . . . they were mostly Germans.
  • David Boder: [both speak at the same time] So, Germans [unintelligible].
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes, Germans and Poles mostly. There was a small number of Czechs, but the Czech, French, Belgians behaved very decently in most cases.
  • David Boder: And were there any Jews?
  • Jacques Bramson: The most terrible thing was . . . there were no Jews in Buchenwald. This is just an example of cases where prisoners were little informed about doings in other parts of the same concentration camp. In fact, there were Jewish men sent to Buchenwald in the wake of the Kristallnacht pogrom, November 9-10, 1938. A number of Hungarian Jews were sent to Buchenwald in 1944, but the largest Jewish influx into the camp occurred in the wake of the Russian 1945 winter offensive which threatened camps in the east. It was then that thousands of Jews, among them Elie Wiesel and his father, Shlomo, were sent to Buchenwald.57 There were many Jews in other lagers, but in Buchenwald there were no Jews among the capos.
  • David Boder: Why were they called capos? What kind of a term is that?
  • Jacques Bramson: That is from the Latin word "caput," meaning "head."
  • David Boder: Oh . . . "caput."
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes. "Caput": head.
  • David Boder: So. Go on.
  • Jacques Bramson: And so, these same people . . . many of them we recognized, and many of those who did not manage to hide, were immediately hanged. In addition we arrested all the Germans endeavoring to change into civilian clothes, in order not to be taken prisoners.
  • David Boder: So you . . . ? [unintelligible]
  • Jacques Bramson: So we arrested all young men without exception and delivered them to American camps for prisoners of war.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: And . . .
  • David Boder: And what did you eat?
  • Jacques Bramson: We ate what we requisitioned from the local population.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: And . . .
  • David Boder: And how did the population take it?
  • Jacques Bramson: The population behaved very quietly, and in general behaved humbly. I never expected from the Germans such a measure of humbleness.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: We made contact with the French forces.Free French forces were fighting with the Allies.58
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: And when our situation began to adjust itself, a French column of supply arrived in our little town and after bringing a proper militia, took us all away.
  • David Boder: You mean they took you with them?
  • Jacques Bramson: They took with them all the French, Belgians and Dutch and all people without exception who were transported from, were arrested in France. Among them were not a few Jews.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: I traveled with them as far as the city of Bromberg [?]
  • David Boder: A German city?
  • Jacques Bramson: A German city.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: In the city of Bromberg [?] my comrades were sent to a center from which people were repatriated to France, while a few of us, not wishing to wait, decided to get back on our own.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: I went to present myself to the French commandant who was the liaison officer with the Americans. He introduced us to the American general—I don't remember his name—and he later requested the physicians of the military transports, that they take us with them. And in this manner by way of military transports we reached the city of Mainz.Mainz is located on the Rhine, not far from Frankfort and south of Koblentz.59
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: Behind the city of Mainz were already stationed the French garrisons, so that the French officers drove us in their automobiles to the first reception point for refugees from Germany. There we were clothed, disinfected and transported to Paris.
  • David Boder: So. Well, what did you encounter in Paris?
  • Jacques Bramson: In Paris, of course, we were greatly disappointed, because you understand, when we were launching the fight, when we were fighting etc.—maybe it was not very logical—but we were persuading ourselves . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . that we were doing something . . . [he laughs]
  • David Boder: . . . very important.
  • Jacques Bramson: Something for the future, for ideals, etc. and now we found Paris in a very bad economic situation, a resign of real starvation. We were given a remarkable reception indeed, but there was suffering everywhere. [unintelligible]
  • David Boder: Who gave you a reception?
  • Jacques Bramson: The population, on the streets, everywhere. Everywhere they brought us presents.
  • David Boder: And how did they recognize you.
  • Jacques Bramson: We were easily recognizable. We were so emaciated. I for example lost more than twenty-five kilograms, we all had shorn hair, and we still walked in striped clothing.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: We were given a remarkable reception, with great enthusiasm, they sent us . . . unfortunately many of our comrades died after their return to France.
  • David Boder: What did they die of?
  • Jacques Bramson: Mostly of malnutrition.
  • David Boder: Was it not possible to build them up?
  • Jacques Bramson: The majority were [physically] depleted. In addition many were further weakened, because in the first moments after liberation they threw themselves on the food, which resulted in various complications such as dysentery, etc.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: Five of my comrades passed away in the hospital in Paris.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: In spite of all the efforts of the best professors, etc.
  • David Boder: And . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: And so our disappointment was also due to the fact that, as before, reigned the nightmare of France, the black market . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: And it was very hard for the poor elements, while all kind of the "newly rich" permitted themselves unheard-of things.
  • David Boder: And who were these "newly rich"?
  • Jacques Bramson: These were mostly people who enriched themselves either by collaborating with the Germans, or by trafficking on the black market, or by entering in all kind of manipulations with the Americans, etc.
  • David Boder: So . . . go on.
  • Jacques Bramson: Moreover we were badly impressed by the fact that right after the liberation of France there had appeared again an undercurrent of a political struggle. Officially, that is openly, it did not exist, openly there was a common front, but on the inside there were constant intrigues, and many ugly things were occurring, inappropriate for such a period [of history]. Moreover, it happened in France, what unfortunately, was bound to happen by the logic of events. The best elements of the Resistance were at the head of military elements. And as the heads of these military elements they were fighting at the front. At the same time the whole administrative machinery was taken over by secondary elements. This resulted in the weakening of the influence of the forces of the Resistance, the weakening of the moral force which was represented by these elements [of the Resistance]; and the worst of it was that these [secondary] elements had joined the movement in the last moment, and did not see in the whole situation anything more than an opportunity for a most successful career . . .It is true that following the liberation there were, as Mr. Bramson notes, internal political struggles within the Resistance. However, the major political struggle at the time was between de Gaulle's provisional government and those elements of the Resistance which sought to retain their independent authority. De Gaulle strove to bring all elements of the Resistance under his authority. In the immediate postwar years, staunch members of the Resistance were also frustrated that their idealistic expectations following the victory over fascism were not fulfilled.60
  • David Boder: Who were all these . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: Well all of them . . . For example, the best elements served as ordinary officers at the front . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: Because they were at once together with their contingents, with their details, incorporated into the army. But it was necessary to organize the administrative bodies, to organize the forces of supply etc., and for these posts there appeared people who, up to that moment had in fact done nothing, because all the others were at the front. And so, the moral reconstruction of France fell in general into the hands not of those who should at this moment have taken it in their hands, but of elements who were completely undefined. This brought about the fact that the purge within the administration, etc. proceeded at a comparatively slow pace, and was not executed properly [?].
  • David Boder: So. Now tell me why did not the forces of the Resistance insist on better management?
  • Jacques Bramson: Of course, but the fact was that the whole resistance was at the Front, either at the Atlantic front or in Germany. The First French Army consisted mostly of elements of the Resistance. This Army was [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: The First Army was formed after . . . the liberation of Paris?
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes, she [?] was made up of our men . . . No she was formed much earlier, because the south of France, three quarters of it was liberated before the liberation of Paris.Indeed, by the spring of 1944 much of southern rural France was in the hands of the Resistance rather than the Vichy government. However, the Germans still had substantial forces in the area, and the Resistance did not possess the military strength to defeat them in open battle.61
  • David Boder: How come?
  • Jacques Bramson: As a consequence of the insurrection of the Partisan forces. In the district in which I was located, there were never any Englishmen, Americans or de Gaullists. All the cities, such as Bordeaux . . .
  • David Boder: In what district? The one when you were after . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: No . . .
  • David Boder: The invasion [?]
  • Jacques Bramson: No . . . before the invasion [unintelligible].
  • David Boder: Oh . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: In that district . . . there were independent [?] partisan forces, for instance in cities such as Bordeaux . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . Limoges, La Rochelle, Toulouse; in none of these cities was there a de Gaullist, nor were there Americans or English.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: This whole part of France was liberated exclusively by the partisan forces.On June 6, 1944 (D-Day), Allied forces landed in Normandy in what was the greatest invasion in military history. Eventually they fought their way into northern France. Local resistance forces provided aid in this operation. On August 15, 1944, Allied troops, including Free French forces, landed on the Riviera and began moving up the Rhone valley. They joined with French troops coming from the north. The Resistance provided significant aid in this campaign of liberation, but the liberation of France could not have been accomplished without Allied military might. The most important contribution of the Resistance to the liberation of France was political and moral.62
  • David Boder: And what was the relationship between the partisans and de Gaulle?
  • Jacques Bramson: All partisans without exception were theoretically under the command of de Gaulle, and all were de Gaullists [obviously in name only].
  • David Boder: And what accounts for the fact that de Gaulle finds himself now, so to speak, in the shadow?
  • Jacques Bramson: I would not say that de Gaulle is in the shadow. De Gaulle withdrew himself.From September 1944 until December 1945, General de Gaulle and his cabinet governed France by executive decree. De Gaulle ruled as a kind of benevolent dictator. However, a constituent assembly was elected in the fall of 1945, and the autocratic de Gaulle was soon at loggerheads with it. In January 1946 he abandoned his governmental post and retired to his home in the country.63
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: And this came about because de Gaulle is not a politician, he is a military man, and some of his views do not coincide with the French democratic concepts. And for this reason he withdrew himself.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: As a matter of fact de Gaulle has committed, in spite of the great respect and devotion that is being accorded him, many gross political mistakes, as a consequence of his purely military temperament. And for the good of the inner affairs of France, and, in part, for the sake of the foreign situation, he acted completely right in his decision [to withdraw].
  • David Boder: So. Now tell me, what did you undertake to do when you returned to Paris?
  • Jacques Bramson: When I returned to Paris my health was badly shattered, and I was ordered to leave. This was a very moving event. The organization of the resistance arranged for a few of my comrades and myself a special home of rest, which was erected at the same location where once was located our staff quarters in the forest in which I served.
  • David Boder: What did they do, build a new house?
  • Jacques Bramson: Nearby was a little castle which they requisitioned for us. We lived there, and spent our time. The castle was located a few kilometers from the place of our [former] headquarters [?].
  • David Boder: So. How long did you stay there?
  • Jacques Bramson: I stayed there six weeks.
  • David Boder: Six weeks . . . and who supplied you with food?
  • Jacques Bramson: Oh, that was done by the French organizations. We had company all the time, people came around by bus all the time and we were treated very well.
  • David Boder: And afterwards when did you renew your connections with the ORT?
  • Jacques Bramson: When I returned ORT again made me an officer. At the start I was vacillating, because I was also offered a responsible post in the War Ministry.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: But I was not entirely in accord with the political trends which then prevailed in military circles, and for this reason I refused the post and accepted the management of the ORT schools in Paris.
  • David Boder: Tell me one thing, Mr. Bramson, now in retrospect . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes.
  • David Boder: What special instances . . . you never got to Dachau?
  • Jacques Bramson: I never got to Dachau.
  • David Boder: Well. Tell me some instances which you consider, so to speak, important or interesting.
  • Jacques Bramson: In what sense? In a personal sense or . . . ?
  • David Boder: Let us take both. There are questions which I could not ask the others, which I reserved for you, and I wish that you would tell me something about it.
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes.
  • David Boder: What is known, and what occurred with reference to sex matters, let us say in Buchenwald.
  • Jacques Bramson: With reference to this question I must tell you that people have to be divided first into categories, and then these categories must be subdivided again.
  • David Boder: Well, go ahead.
  • Jacques Bramson: Of these two main categories one consisted of those who were in such a physical and moral state as a consequence of exhaustion that for them the sex problem practically did not exist. I know about myself that after a month of life in the lager this problem practically ceased to exist.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: It was such a physical state that this problem did not exist. However there were other elements in the lager; those who did not work hard, who were able comparatively—because they were stealing—[were able] to nourish themselves comparatively well.
  • David Boder: Whom were they stealing from?
  • Jacques Bramson: They were stealing from their own comrades. These were the capos, the foremen . . .
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: They were stealing packages. They were stealing in the kitchen.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: All the administration of the lager, as well as some people who were playing up to them, these were the elements for whom this problem . . .
  • David Boder: . . . existed . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . existed.
  • David Boder: And how were they solving it?
  • Jacques Bramson: They would solve it in two ways. I must tell you—many people do not believe—but since 1943 brothels were installed in the lagers.The Buchenwald brothel—like those in other camps—was staffed by sex slaves from German occupied countries. At times, German "asocials" such as criminals and communists were assigned to brothels. Brothel clients included SS staff, capos, and prisoners who, as Mr. Bramson indicated, could earn admission.64
  • David Boder: Yes, that is known.
  • Jacques Bramson: One may say that there were elements who frequented those brothels regularly.
  • David Boder: Now did they pay for it?
  • Jacques Bramson: They paid for it.
  • David Boder: And where did they get the money?
  • Jacques Bramson: They did not charge money, but the fact was that for our work in the lager we were "theoretically" paid in lager coupons. And so the prostitutes were also paid in lager coupons.
  • David Boder: So. Were they under medical . . . ?
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . under medical supervision and under police supervision as well.
  • David Boder: So. Did one have to get permission?
  • Jacques Bramson: One had to apply to the commander of the lager of the block for permission. He would give you a note, then you would go to the doctor for inspection; the doctor, finding that you might be sent there, afterwards they would give you an injection, and that was all.
  • David Boder: That was all. Well, and the other category?
  • Jacques Bramson: The other category was people who were in the lager for a very long time. They were mostly Germans and Poles . . .
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: Among when prevailed extensive practices of all kinds of perversions, masturbation, etc.
  • David Boder: So. And . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: Such practices were very common.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: I never could imagine such a number of perverts [unintelligible]. I may say without exaggeration that among the German political prisoners of long standing at least twenty percent were such perverts [?].
  • David Boder: So. Among the political prisoners?
  • Jacques Bramson: Who were there many years. I do not refer to the others.
  • David Boder: Oh . . . So. There were about twenty percent . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes.
  • David Boder: And they satisfied their . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: That took on a rather funny aspect. You know that there were in the lagers not only political prisoners. We were thrown together with criminal offenders [unintelligible]. And we were differentiated only by the color of the triangle which we were wearing on our chest.For example, criminals had green triangles, political prisoners had red triangles and homosexuals had pink triangles. Jews had a Star of David consisting of a yellow triangle and a triangle of a different color, for instance red.65
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: And so there was a special category: the sex offenders.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: Among the sex offenders there was included the category of sex perverts.He uses the term "sexualists." This is apparently the word which could not be clearly distinguished in the previous sentences. It is unclear to whom Mr. Bramson is referring when he speaks about sexual deviants, though he might have had male homosexuals in mind. He appears to be referring to male homosexuals here.66 Since there were many sex perverts, they theoretically were also sent to the lagers. And so at the beginning they had their own blocks.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: Separate blocks. But they led there such a libertine life, that the SS appeared rather fooled. Because it was considered that instead of having imprisoned them in a lager, they were placed in a paradise. [he laughs]
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: So, subsequently they dispersed them over almost all the blocks.
  • David Boder: So. And they exercised an influence . . .
  • Jacques Bramson: "Exercise an influence" would be an exaggeration, but at any rate they did not behave nicely in the other blocks, instigating brawls, difficulties, etc.
  • David Boder: Now tell me, did you have any contacts with the young groups, with those young people like the ones I am interviewing now at Boucicaut?Earlier in his trip Boder had conducted a series of interviews with a number of youths who had been liberated from Buchenwald. These interviews were taken at Chateau de Boucicaut, an OSE home for adolescents in Fontenay-aux-Roses, France, from July 31 to August 2.67 Where were they, in separate blocks?
  • Jacques Bramson: You see, these were not the old Buchenwaldians. These were young people who were detained before in Auschwitz and other lagers.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: They were transferred to Buchenwald only after the Russians had occupied that region.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: So these young people were located—they intermingled—part were located in the Large Lager, [where] there were two special blocks for young people.Among the children imprisoned in Buchenwald at the time Mr. Bramson is referring to was Elie Wiesel.68
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: And part were located in the Small Lager. With these elements I had much less contacts, since by the time when they were brought over, I did not work anymore in the Lager Buchenwald, but I was led every morning to work in Weimar, and was returned only in the evening.The city of Weimar was associated with the German liberal, humanist tradition and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, one of the giants of world literature, who made his home in Weimar for many years. It gave its name to the German republic which existed from 1918 to the Nazi takeover in 1933.69
  • David Boder: To Weimar.
  • Jacques Bramson: [changes his accent] Yes, to Weimar.
  • David Boder: Wasn't Weimar bombed [one word not clear]?
  • Jacques Bramson: Weimar was bombed three times. But this is one of the German cities which comparatively did not suffer very much.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: Much more severely suffered the Lager Buchenwald, because in the Lager Buchenwald were located the factories in which were constructed the Vau-eins [read Fau].
  • David Boder: What?
  • Jacques Bramson: Vau-eins, these flying German bombs.
  • David Boder: Oh, Vau-eins, V-1.
  • Jacques Bramson: V-1.
  • David Boder: Yes. They had the factories in the lager and therefore the Americans . . .The notorious camp, Dora, where the V-1 rockets were constructed, was a subcamp of Buchenwald.70
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . bombarded it. One must say that the bombardments were astoundingly executed. The factory was located twenty meters away from the lager.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . and extended in length for one and a half kilometers.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: And the whole factory was destroyed to the last stone, while only one bomb fell into the lager, which too did not cause any casualties within the lager.
  • David Boder: [unintelligible].
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes. And in this manner there were casualties only among prisoners who happened to work at that moment in the factory. About two hundred fifty SS and two hundred prisoners were killed.
  • David Boder: That was [unintelligible].
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes—yes. Come to think [of it] I may tell you an interesting story about this bombardment.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: The place where the Buchenwald Lager is located is a hill above the city of Weimar.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: On this hill above the city of Weimar used to be the favorite spot of Goethe.
  • David Boder: So. Goethe lived in Weimar, go on.
  • Jacques Bramson: In the center of the Lager Buchenwald right in front of the kitchen [he makes a slip in grammar and repeats] right in front of the kitchen, was located the famous oak, which was called the Goethe Oak . . .
  • David Boder: Yes, the Goethe Eiche.Goethe's Oak in Buchenwald is also mentioned in Boder's interview with Otto Feuer, taken on August 22 in Paris. The stump of Goethe's oak remains as part of the memorial to the camp.71
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes. And so, all trees in the lager were chopped down, but there was an order not to touch this particular oak.
  • David Boder: They were chopped down by the Germans?
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . by the Germans. And so there exists a legend. It is not only a legend, but there exists a letter . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: . . . which Goethe has written to one of his friends.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: And in this letter Goethe states, "When I am in a sad mood, I go up to Buchenwald, I approach my oak and look at it and hope . . . "
  • David Boder: . . . returns.
  • Jacques Bramson: ". . . returns to me. It is so mighty, so strong, that to me it is an embodiment of the might of our people."
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: "And as long as the oak stands, the German people also will stand."
  • David Boder: Well.
  • Jacques Bramson: And so all impatiently were waiting for the end of this oak. [This sentence is not clear, due to the laughter of Mr. Bramson] because this legend was widely circulated in the lager. And the simple American bomb, which fell in the Lager Buchenwald, hit possibly this oak.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: And the oak caught fire.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: Since it was half-burned down and since it managed to fall against the kitchen, the commandant of the lager ordered to announce over the loud speaker, that he is calling for volunteers who would wish to come to chop down this tree.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: And a regular onslaught was staged against the tree.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: There was a strict rule in the lager against the possession of axes, saws and what have you. And I don't know where from saws, axes appeared in the hands of "all" the prisoners, and several hundred people, within two minutes of this announcement, appeared on the square to chop down the oak.
  • David Boder: And they chopped it down?
  • Jacques Bramson: They chopped down this oak. [laughter]
  • David Boder: So, that is interesting. And how long after that did you remain in Buchenwald?
  • Jacques Bramson: [calculating] We were liberated . . . this happened in August . . . it is August now?
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: We were liberated in April, in April, seven months.
  • David Boder: Oh, seven months after?Boder is possibly referring here to the seven (or more precisely, eight) months between the destruction of the oak in August 1944 and the liberation of Buchenwald in April 1945.72
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes.
  • David Boder: . . . the oak was destroyed. Wasn't that kind of a disappointment?
  • Jacques Bramson: Oh well, Germany started coming to an end.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Jacques Bramson: There was another agreeable incident. When we were leaving the lager on our way to work, we marched through the so-called Tarachoweg [?]
  • David Boder: Tarachoweg?
  • Jacques Bramson: Yes, Tarachoweg was a street with a steep upgrade [unintelligible]. And in times past [unintelligible] was destroyed. One could not walk on this street, one had to run. The prisoners were compelled always to run.
  • David Boder: Why?
  • Jacques Bramson: Just for purposes of annoyance. There were . . .
  • David Boder: How do you spell "Tarachoweg"?
  • Jacques Bramson: "Taracho." Just how it is pronounced.
  • David Boder: Tara . . . Tarachoweg. Well.
  • Jacques Bramson: And so, in the middle of this Tarachoweg stood a monument. This was a German eagle holding in his hand a swastika.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jacques Bramson: And every time one passed this eagle, one hand to take off his hat, and one was not to keep his hands in his pocket.
  • David Boder: What kind of hats did you have?
  • Jacques Bramson: Most unimaginable ones. We had even women's hats [laughter]. Whatever one could get. It was an impossible masquerade. And every time we happened incidentally not to remove our hats, or keep our hands in the pockets, one was beaten up . . . and at times one even was shot at. And after a bombing [unintelligible] the "birdie" fell down, and nothing was left of the eagle [hearty laughter].The interview concludes on a triumphant note most fitting for a man who survived so much at the hands of the Germans. Mr. Bramson's hearty laughter reflects the great strength and great luck of a man who surmounted incredible obstacles and lived to tell the tale.73
  1. Kovno is a large city in central Lithuania, which before World War I was part of the Russian empire. At the time of the first Duma, it was a district capital. Kovno was a Jewish cultural and spiritual center with a large Jewish population.
  2. Leonty Bramson first began his association with ORT in 1909. In the wake of the communist revolution, he left Russia in 1920 and worked in Western Europe on behalf of the organization. He became the president of ORT in 1923 and remained in this position until his death in France in 1941. The International ORT Committee headed by Bramson established branches in the United States, Canada, South America and South Africa. These accomplishments and others were carried out in the face of many obstacles, including the worldwide Great Depression of the early 1930s and the growth of virulent anti-Semitism.
  3. The Germans launched their long-awaited offensive against France on May 10, 1940. Due to the failure of French military thinking and planning and, as Mr. Bramson indicates, the superiority of German military tactics, they rapidly advanced. On June 21, 1940, Marshal Philippe Pétain, an aged World War I hero who had become head of the French government, agreed to an armistice signaling a catastrophic defeat for his country.
  4. Mr. Bramson had a privileged early childhood due to his parents' socioeconomic standing. French culture was held in high regard by many in the Russian upper classes.
  5. As Mr. Bramson indicates, during the first two years of German rule the majority of the French population did not actively oppose the Vichy collaborationist government and the occupation. Mr. Bramson was indeed a striking exception.
  6. A sapper can denote an expert in military field fortifications or a demolitions expert.
  7. An "aspirant" is an officer candidate.
  8. The Saar region in western Germany borders France and at the time was a key center of the German coal and steel industries.
  9. The French military general staff anticipated that the main German offensive would come through Belgium whereas the major thrust of the German attack was further south through the supposedly impassable Ardennes. The rapid German advance caught the French by surprise and resulted in the devastating losses Mr. Bramson describes. He was indeed fortunate to be able to reach Compiègne, northeast of Paris.
  10. The French attempted to establish a defensive front along the Somme River, but by this time the war was nearly lost. The Germans breached French lines on June 7, 1940 and on June 14 they entered Paris. Mr. Bramson fought on as the French army retreated south to the Loire River and then even further south to the city of Limoges. It was near that city that he learned that France had signed a humiliating armistice.
  11. The provinces of Alsace and Lorraine had been annexed to Germany after the disastrous French defeat in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71. They were regained by France after the German defeat in World War I. There was a well-established Jewish population in these provinces.
  12. In fact, in 1939 there were about 300,000 Jews in France—about 190,000 of whom were French citizens and the rest foreign. Most of the latter were eastern European immigrants. More than 20,000 Belgian and Dutch Jewish refugees entered France after the war began, and the Germans expelled some 6,500 Jews from southern Germany into France after the latter's defeat. These Jews were sent to Vichy French internment camps.
  13. Mr. Bramson's uncle and his family were among the massive wave of refugees who fled south from the advancing Germans. Vichy, a famous spa and the city where the parliament of the defeated French Third Republic was dissolved, became the headquarters of the collaborationist French government under Marshal Pétain. It was therefore understandable that organizations such as ORT and the OSE would be based in Vichy.
  14. At the outbreak of the war, France controlled the countries of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia in North Africa. The desire of Mr. Bramson and some other young military men to continue the struggle against the Germans from North Africa is indicative of their patriotic determination and martial spirit.
  15. The French authorities in Algeria, Morocco, and throughout most of the French empire, including French Indochina, initially supported the Vichy regime. Hitler allowed Fascist Italy to establish control in Tunisia.
  16. Périgueux is located in the rural Dordogne region of southwestern France. It lies between the cities of Bordeaux and Limoges. The resistance group Mr. Bramson refers to might be the southern resistance movement, Libération-sud, founded by Emanuel d'Astier.
  17. French officials in French Equatorial Africa were loyal to General Charles de Gaulle and the Free French.
  18. The two closest Vichy internment camps to Périgueux were Nexon and Cassenneuil Tombelouc, both at the time in the unoccupied zone.
  19. In 1946, France still controlled Indochina. French rule was ended in 1954 following defeat in a costly war with native communist and nationalist forces.
  20. As the year 1942 progressed, the attitude of the French population towards the Vichy regime became more hostile, and more hoped to see an Allied victory.
  21. The word, "maquis" came from the local word for scrubland countryside on the French island of Corsica. The first Maquis camps were formed in rugged mountainous areas.
  22. By this time, the Germans were pressuring the Vichy government to send French workers to Germany, which was facing an increasing manpower shortage. Eventually, on February 16, 1943, the Vichy government was forced to introduce a compulsory labor service, which conscripted French young men to work in Germany. This development did much to undermine support for the regime and helped secure recruits for the Resistance.
  23. On November 8, 1942, three Allied landings were successfully made in North Africa—at Casablanca on the Atlantic and Oran and Algiers on the Mediterranean.
  24. As the occupation progressed, the hostility of significant segments of the French peasant population towards the Vichy regime grew into active cooperation with the Resistance. In a number of areas on France, peasants supplied food, clothing and hiding places to members of the Maquis.
  25. Following the infamous Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942, the Nazis began to prepare for the deportation of Jews from France and other western European countries to extermination centers in Poland. On June 11, 1942, a key meeting took place in Berlin to arrange for regular deportations to extermination centers. Spearheaded by the French police, roundups of Jews in France took place throughout the summer and fall of 1942 in both the occupied and unoccupied zones of the country. Foreign Jews in France were special targets of these actions, but as time went on, native-born French Jews increasingly found themselves in danger.
  26. The most cruel and extensive operation took place on July 16-17 in Paris where some 13,000 Jews—including 7,000 families with small children—were rounded up by French police and deported. Approximately 42,500 French Jews were sent to Nazi annihilation centers, principally Auschwitz, during 1942. One-third of this number were from the unoccupied zone. However, rescue networks, such as the one with which Mr. Bramson was involved, and spontaneous acts of courage by ordinary French men and women, saved many Jews from deportation.
  27. Boder's confusion is understandable. The German word "lager" was usually used by interviewees to describe Nazi concentration, extermination, or labor camps. Here Bramson uses it in the literal sense ("camp") to describe the base of operations for the Maquis.
  28. The hydra was often used to symbolize the supposed Jewish, communist, and Freemason conspiracy to rule the world. It was the product of ignorance, bigotry, hatred and paranoia.
  29. The misfortunes Mr. Bramson is referring to were results of the anti-Semitic legislation promulgated by the Vichy regime and its German overlords.
  30. The interviewer obviously intended to impress upon Americans the contributions of the ORT to the war effort.
  31. This is obviously not the same Jean Kahn that Boder would interview in Paris on August 21st—just five days after the present interview—though the similarity of the names and ages is intriguing.
  32. We have here a slip of the tongue. "Nedels" in Russian means "weeks," and "medals," with exception of the ending, is the same word in Russian as in English.
  33. In fact, close to 76,000 Jews were deported from France including those, like Mr. Bramson, deported as resisters. Only about 2,500 returned alive. Mr. Bramson is among the fortunate handful who did. Approximately 12% of French Jews and more than 41% of foreign Jews in France were murdered during the Holocaust.
  34. It should be noted that there was never any attempt on the part of the French resistance to free Jews on deportation trains bound for extermination centers.
  35. The "army of resistance and French liberation" about which Mr. Bramson speaks was composed of non-communist resistance groups, specifically the Libération-sud movement to which he belonged and two others which formed the nucleus of the so-called Secret Army to which Mr. Bramson later refers. Jean Moulin, de Gaulle's agent in France, helped inspire the unification of these groups into the United Movements of Resistance (Mouvements Unis de la Résistance, or MUR).
  36. The "militia" was the infamous milice, a French fascist paramilitary organization composed of many virulent anti-Communists and anti-Semites. Its newspaper, "Combats" (not to be confused with the previously mentioned "Combat") was devoted to defending "Christian civilization" from its supposed enemies. The milice murdered several prominent French Jews in cold blood. The number of those in the milice was closer to 30,000 than to 40,000.
  37. It is unclear as to what "Germer" refers to and whether the "Germer" was a French or German elite police unit although it appears to have been the former.
  38. After the liberation, General de Gaulle sought to curb the power of the resistance groups and reassert state supremacy. In some cases, such as the one cited by Mr. Bramson, a former resistance leader became a prefect. In a number of others, de Gaulle's representatives assumed local power.
  39. In the post-war period of economic dislocation and scarcity, the illicit trade in goods and services flourished.
  40. Bramson is referring to Georgians. ("Gruziya" is the Russian name for Georgia.) Roughly 700,000 Georgians fought against the Nazis as part of the Red Army during the war. However, a number of Georgians also fought for the Nazis as part of the Georgian Legion, a regiment formed in 1941 that consisted of Georgians who emigrated to Western Europe after the Soviet invasion of Georgia in 1921, along with Georgian prisoners of war from the Red Army.
  41. The Sicherheitsdienst (also called SD, or Security Service) was an intelligence organization which served the SS and the Nazi party. At the outbreak of the war the Gestapo were brought into the same overall Nazi police organization as the SD, so the barbaric SD torturers who inflicted so much pain on Mr. Bramson could also be viewed as officers of the Gestapo.
  42. The Nazi racist ideology incorrectly viewed the Jews as a "race" when in fact they are members of a religion and a people. Mr. Bramson uses this racist terminology common at the time. The camp at Compiègne, located in north central France, was founded in December, 1941. As he later relates, it was from Compiègne that Mr. Bramson was deported to Buchenwald.
  43. By this time, Algeria was under the control of Free French forces, and General Rommel's German army had been defeated by the English and Americans in Tunisia.
  44. Initially, there were Jews who were held at Compiègne and suffered greatly from horrible conditions there. This occurred in December 1941 during a reprisal action. Subsequently, as Mr. Bramson indicates, Drancy, a transit camp located in a northern suburb of Paris, became the key transportation point for Jews to annihilation camps in Poland, mainly Auschwitz.
  45. The Russian term "teplushka" means a small four-wheel freight car with a stove in the center, adapted for the transportation of soldiers and people in general.
  46. Trier is a city in far western Germany not far from the border of Luxembourg on the Mosel River.
  47. Buchenwald was established in 1937, and up the end of 1938 the camp's capos were largely criminal prisoners. When these capos became involved in corrupt practices, the SS removed the criminal prisoner capos from their posts, and gradually political prisoners were able to take over the camp's internal administration under SS supervision.
  48. There were several resistance groups formed in Buchenwald on the basis on nationality, among them the French resistance group about whom Mr. Bramson speaks. By 1943, these groups united in a general underground movement called the International Underground Committee.
  49. It was believed by some that Buchenwald had a gas chamber, but this has not been substantiated. However, even though prisoners were not killed by gas, they were murdered in other ways: beatings, tortures, phenol injections, shootings and strangulation. There was an execution chamber beneath the crematorium where victims died by being hung from meat hooks suspended from the ceiling. It is possible that this execution by suffocation is what Mr. Bramson heard about.
  50. That is, after D-Day, June 6, 1944. This account of the execution of an Allied airman has not been substantiated. However, there were Allied airmen held at Buchenwald for some months, and some did in fact perish there.
  51. The fifteen months were from early 1944 until April 1945.
  52. Buchenwald had over 130 satellite camps where prisoners were ruthlessly exploited doing slave labor. Mr. Bramson worked in one of them, which was an armaments factory. Many larger German businesses profited obscenely from prisoner slave labor in this and other camps.
  53. The liberation of Buchenwald took place on April 11, 1945. By this time, the underground was in control of the installation. The liberating Americans found 21,000 prisoners, including about 4,000 Jews and several hundred Jewish children. One of them was Moses Lau, who went on to become a chief rabbi in Israel.
  54. Before the arrival of American forces, the SS evacuated prisoners of various nationalities from the main camp and the satellite camps on what became death marches.
  55. One estimate is that the number of prisoners from the Buchenwald main camp and satellite camps who perished on the death marches was in excess of 25,000.
  56. He possibly refers to Schrobenhausen. Both Freising and Schrobenhausen are located in southern Germany between Munich and Regensberg.
  57. This is just an example of cases where prisoners were little informed about doings in other parts of the same concentration camp. In fact, there were Jewish men sent to Buchenwald in the wake of the Kristallnacht pogrom, November 9-10, 1938. A number of Hungarian Jews were sent to Buchenwald in 1944, but the largest Jewish influx into the camp occurred in the wake of the Russian 1945 winter offensive which threatened camps in the east. It was then that thousands of Jews, among them Elie Wiesel and his father, Shlomo, were sent to Buchenwald.
  58. Free French forces were fighting with the Allies.
  59. Mainz is located on the Rhine, not far from Frankfort and south of Koblentz.
  60. It is true that following the liberation there were, as Mr. Bramson notes, internal political struggles within the Resistance. However, the major political struggle at the time was between de Gaulle's provisional government and those elements of the Resistance which sought to retain their independent authority. De Gaulle strove to bring all elements of the Resistance under his authority. In the immediate postwar years, staunch members of the Resistance were also frustrated that their idealistic expectations following the victory over fascism were not fulfilled.
  61. Indeed, by the spring of 1944 much of southern rural France was in the hands of the Resistance rather than the Vichy government. However, the Germans still had substantial forces in the area, and the Resistance did not possess the military strength to defeat them in open battle.
  62. On June 6, 1944 (D-Day), Allied forces landed in Normandy in what was the greatest invasion in military history. Eventually they fought their way into northern France. Local resistance forces provided aid in this operation. On August 15, 1944, Allied troops, including Free French forces, landed on the Riviera and began moving up the Rhone valley. They joined with French troops coming from the north. The Resistance provided significant aid in this campaign of liberation, but the liberation of France could not have been accomplished without Allied military might. The most important contribution of the Resistance to the liberation of France was political and moral.
  63. From September 1944 until December 1945, General de Gaulle and his cabinet governed France by executive decree. De Gaulle ruled as a kind of benevolent dictator. However, a constituent assembly was elected in the fall of 1945, and the autocratic de Gaulle was soon at loggerheads with it. In January 1946 he abandoned his governmental post and retired to his home in the country.
  64. The Buchenwald brothel—like those in other camps—was staffed by sex slaves from German occupied countries. At times, German "asocials" such as criminals and communists were assigned to brothels. Brothel clients included SS staff, capos, and prisoners who, as Mr. Bramson indicated, could earn admission.
  65. For example, criminals had green triangles, political prisoners had red triangles and homosexuals had pink triangles. Jews had a Star of David consisting of a yellow triangle and a triangle of a different color, for instance red.
  66. He uses the term "sexualists." This is apparently the word which could not be clearly distinguished in the previous sentences. It is unclear to whom Mr. Bramson is referring when he speaks about sexual deviants, though he might have had male homosexuals in mind. He appears to be referring to male homosexuals here.
  67. Earlier in his trip Boder had conducted a series of interviews with a number of youths who had been liberated from Buchenwald. These interviews were taken at Chateau de Boucicaut, an OSE home for adolescents in Fontenay-aux-Roses, France, from July 31 to August 2.
  68. Among the children imprisoned in Buchenwald at the time Mr. Bramson is referring to was Elie Wiesel.
  69. The city of Weimar was associated with the German liberal, humanist tradition and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, one of the giants of world literature, who made his home in Weimar for many years. It gave its name to the German republic which existed from 1918 to the Nazi takeover in 1933.
  70. The notorious camp, Dora, where the V-1 rockets were constructed, was a subcamp of Buchenwald.
  71. Goethe's Oak in Buchenwald is also mentioned in Boder's interview with Otto Feuer, taken on August 22 in Paris. The stump of Goethe's oak remains as part of the memorial to the camp.
  72. Boder is possibly referring here to the seven (or more precisely, eight) months between the destruction of the oak in August 1944 and the liberation of Buchenwald in April 1945.
  73. The interview concludes on a triumphant note most fitting for a man who survived so much at the hands of the Germans. Mr. Bramson's hearty laughter reflects the great strength and great luck of a man who surmounted incredible obstacles and lived to tell the tale.
  • Contributors to this text:
  • Transcription : Olga Collin
  • English translation : David P. Boder
  • Footnotes : Eben E. English, Elliot Lefkovitz