David P. Boder Interviews Victor Ferdinansk; September 24, 1946; München, Germany

  • David Boder: [In English] Munich, September the 24th, 1946, at the UNRRA University of the Deutsches Museum. The interviewee is Mr. Victor Ferdinansk, a Lithuanian, who will talk to us in German.
  • David Boder: [In German:] Now tell me, Victor, what happened to you when the Russians had come to Lithuania?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: [He speaks rather fluently, but it is the German of a foreigner.] And so the Russians came to Lithuania. They came in 1940. At that time I was a gymnasium pupil of third grade [possibly counting from the top], and in the autumn of that year I came to Tallinn and entered the eighth year of the Ritter Seminary [Seminary of the Knights; origin of the name is not clear, but possibly named after the Crusaders].
  • David Boder: What is your religion?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: I am a Roman Catholic.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: And it was clear to all of us that the Ritter Seminary will not continue to exist for long.
  • David Boder: In what city was that seminary?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: In Tallinn . . . [correction] in Kovno.
  • David Boder: In Kovno? A so-called [in Russian] theological seminary.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: A theological seminary.
  • David Boder: Near Riga? Well . . .
  • Victor Ferdinansk: And as a member of the Franciscan Order, I was sent by my superiors to Germany with instructions to go to Italy, since at that time a number of our compatriots studied in Italy, and they had already obtained for us the [proper] documents.
  • David Boder: Now what does that mean, "the documents"? What kind of documents did you need?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: That means entrance documents [permits] to Italy.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: But we were deeply disappointed when we came to Germany.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: I had the intention to get to Italy, but instead of that something different happened. At the illegal crossing of the border I was . . .
  • David Boder: Oh, you had crossed the border to Germany illegally?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Yes. I was arrested and placed in a lager where I spent seven days. But then it was established [?] that I was not a spy. So then supplied with a pass, I was sent to Berlin where I had to render services as a prisoner [?] together with French prisoners who were in Germany.
  • David Boder: Oh, so you did not get a traveler's permit to Italy?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: No.
  • David Boder: You were simply taken prisoner?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: I was arrested and taken to work.
  • David Boder: Now go on.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: After I had worked approximately three or four months . . .
  • David Boder: Did you live in a lager?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: That was a work lager.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Very many slept in one room. I believe there were fifty people, at least.
  • David Boder: Yes. Nu, and . . .
  • Victor Ferdinansk: And once the whole building where we lived together was searched, and of the basis of my nationality [Lithuanian] I was again arrested by the Gestapo and taken to the police headquarters of Berlin. They questioned me at length for three hours, asked about various things, but it was established then that I was not a dangerous person, but just a student of theology . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: . . . and I was released after the three-hour questioning.
  • David Boder: Nu.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: But the whole story was very unpleasant to me, and I did not want it to have possibly any [bad] consequences. For that reason I went from Berlin to Munich.
  • David Boder: Now how come? Ille— . . .
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Illegally . . .
  • David Boder: Illegally. Now tell me, could you not come to an understanding with the Catholic clergy in Germany that they should help you? With the Franciscans?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: No. In Berlin that was hardly possible, because all the authorities were badly set against religion, and there was nothing one could do.
  • David Boder: Now . . .
  • Victor Ferdinansk: I was then very young, and was in very poor command of the German language.
  • David Boder: Were you permitted to go to church?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: One was permitted to go to church.
  • David Boder: Could you not talk there with the priest?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Practically [in fact] they could not help much. And then in order to be able to admit [to the parish] all the foreigners, they also had to have a police permit. And without such a police permit they could not admit one at all. That is why I decided to flee to Bavaria, where the whole country is Catholic.
  • David Boder: Nu.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: And . . .
  • David Boder: You came then to Munich?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: To Munich. In 1941 in the spring I came to Munich where I was accepted by a Franciscan monastery, where I was working until 1945 as a Lithuanian and foreigner.
  • David Boder: Ah. So afterwards the Germans knew that you were there?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Later on . . . They did not know it. But later on, when I was registered, that was . . .
  • David Boder: Cleared up?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: An employee of the Gestapo arrived. The whole affair was cleared up, and he gave the following orders: I have no right to go out into the city in "civvies," that means in civilian clothes, only in the habit of the order . . .
  • David Boder: Nu.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: . . . which [although it] then was permitted, that people of the order could go into the city in civilian clothes.
  • David Boder: Nu.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Then, second, it was ordered that every week I had to present myself to the nearby police station.
  • David Boder: Nu.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: It was prohibited for me to speak Lithuanian on the street.
  • David Boder: Oh, yes.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: And [I] was also not permitted to write Lithuanian letters to others, in the Lithuanian language.
  • David Boder: Hm. But you could write in the German language.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: In the German language I was not [?] permitted to write.
  • David Boder: To whom could you or did you want to write?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Ordinarily I maintained no other correspondence with my friends, with other . . .
  • David Boder: Where, here in Germany?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Here in Germany.
  • David Boder: In lagers, et cetera [?]?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Yes.
  • David Boder: Aha. Now continue. During all that time did the Germans ever beat you?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Thanks to the fact that I was a student, it is self-understood that I did not have the occasion to get into beatings.
  • David Boder: Why is that so self-understood? You have told me that the Germans did not respect religion too much.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: That is of course correct.
  • David Boder: But . . . but as far as you are concerned?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: In the monastery . . . in the monastery I still had a Catholic environment, and it did not come to it [to beatings].
  • David Boder: And what were you doing in the monastery?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: In the monastery? That is very hard to tell. We were . . .
  • David Boder: Were you treated there like all the others?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: That cannot be said. I always felt that I was a foreigner. And they always gave us [?] to understand that we are foreigners, and we were in all . . .
  • David Boder: . . . respects.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: . . . respects slighted, for that reason.
  • David Boder: By the other people, by the other Franciscans?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: As well, as well.
  • David Boder: By the brothers?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: By the brothers as well.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: And that is why I decided in 1945, when the Americans arrived and had established the civilian [?] camps, to enter the monastery . . .
  • David Boder: To leave?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Yes, to leave, and that is what I did.
  • David Boder: Hm. And what do you study here now?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: At this university I study jurisprudence, and I am now in the second semester.
  • David Boder: Then you have given up theology?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: I have given up theology, and only for the reason that I did not want to remain in Germany, and work among the Germans as such, as a clergyman.
  • David Boder: Now tell me this. That you . . . It is very interesting to have met you. What did the Franciscan brothers think about the Nazis? I mean in general. What was the mood during the war? It is very important for us that you give us such an appraisal. I don't ask the others about it. I just want personalia [personal experiences]. But you are a theologian. You have lived in a monastery. What was their attitude towards the war, towards the Nazis and all that?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: This mood [attitude] varied greatly. It depended on what kind of a person one was. The older ones were, so to speak, avowed enemies of Nazism.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: But there also were younger ones, Germans, [among whom] we as foreigners did not count. We were left in the monastery, but the young German clergy were incorporated . . .
  • David Boder: What does that mean, "incorporated"?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: "Incorporated," that means in the army.
  • David Boder: Oh, they were taken?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Taken, and were to fight also for the Hitler cause.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: These of course have passed through the Hitler school, had military . . . had gone through military service, and as young people they were not shrewd enough to appraise the events properly.
  • David Boder: Now when did you see those, after they were through with the army? How was that all?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Yes. We . . . during the war they time and again, repeatedly, were coming on furlough.
  • David Boder: Oh, yes. Well . . .
  • Victor Ferdinansk: And so one could, through brief conversations, gain an insight into their way of thinking. All of them, one might say most of them, were inspired by Hitler.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: The young people.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: But I also have met others who understood the Hitler cause differently than Hitler himself.
  • David Boder: Nu.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: They . . .
  • David Boder: Now tell me, where was Bishop Faulhaber?Boder is referring to Michael von Faulhaber, a Roman Catholic Cardinal and Archbishop of Munich from 1917 to 1952. Faulhaber was an outspoken ideological opponent of the violent and racist policies of the Nazis. He was involved in Reichskonkordat negotiations of 1933, an agreement between the Holy See and the Nazi government that guaranteed Catholics freedom of religion in Germany. Although on the surface, this agreement appeared to sanction the activities of the Nazis, but in fact most Catholic leaders remained fundamentally opposed to Hitler's rule.1 Where was he, in Munich?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Yes. At that time Bishop . . . [correction] Cardinal Faulhaber . . .
  • David Boder: Cardinal Faulhaber.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: . . . was in Munich. He was in Munich.
  • David Boder: Well, he was not pro-Hitler.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: No. Definitely no.
  • David Boder: Well, and the others? Tell me, what did you [they?] know about the persecution of various nationalities? Say, for instance, what did you know about what was done with the Jews, with the Norwegians, with the Gypsies, and so on?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Yes. Well, what was done with the Jews has become clear to everybody. We all knew that the Jews were incarcerated and murdered. That all the Germans knew as well. It is self-understood that against that there was nothing to do . . .
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: . . . since we, as foreigners, could feel fortunate that we [ourselves] could in some way live as humans and are not locked up.
  • David Boder: Hm. But the Germans, the German clergy, they knew it, and what did they say about it? Did they say "it serves them right," or . . .
  • Victor Ferdinansk: The German clergy never approved of it, and at the lectures about the Old Testament, the question was often brought up concerning the Jews. So I can well remember that the Herr Professor had categorically expressed himself against the mistreatment of the Jews.
  • David Boder: And what did the German students say?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: The German students too rejected the humiliation [degrading] of a certain nation. As theologians they did so always.
  • David Boder: Now tell me, what was their attitude towards the war? Did they want Germany to win the war and the like?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: That varied a great deal.
  • David Boder: You understand . . .
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Yes.
  • David Boder: . . . that I ask only you such a question . . .
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Yes.
  • David Boder: . . . because I think that you were a better observer than the others.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Yes, yes.
  • David Boder: You were not in a lager. You were in a way free. You could talk with the Germans. The others could not. True? Now then, go on.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: And so it varied. Most of them wanted the war to be won [by the Germans]. Then in it they saw their own chance of existence.
  • David Boder: Oh, yes, and they were . . . they belonged to the country, true?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Yes.
  • David Boder: And one cannot take offense against a person if he wishes that his country should win a war. You understand that?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Yes, I understand.
  • David Boder: Well, they wanted to win. But how was it when the end [of the war] approached? Well? [Pause.] Were you in the monastery when the Americans arrived?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Yes, I was still in the monastery.
  • David Boder: And how did things look then? Tell me.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Well, most remained calm and were very satisfied that the Hitler reign had finally come to an end.
  • David Boder: And they knew that the Americans won't do anything to them?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Yes, of course. But I have met quite a few young soldiers [German], that is former soldiers, who were greatly saddened that soldiers of other countries have entered their land.
  • David Boder: Now, well, weren't they themselves in other countries?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: That certainly is correct. But as children of their fatherland, they were not especially gladdened. I at least could observe that from aside.
  • David Boder: Now have you observed among the clergy or the Germans [in general] that they felt a certain war guilt?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: [Pause.] That I could not ascertain exactly. But I believe that if one thinks broader [deeper], that [then] every man is in some way guilty of the deeds of his fellow man . . .
  • David Boder: Well . . .
  • Victor Ferdinansk: . . . and in so far they too have felt guilty.
  • David Boder: Now have you observed that there was a kind of a feeling that one has [they have] to make good for that which one has [they have] done to the world?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: That exactly I have not noticed, that it unconditionally could be made good.
  • David Boder: [as if correcting him] Must be made good.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Or must. That I did not notice.
  • David Boder: Now tell me, for instance, this. We are now being asked in America to send clothes for the Germans. Isn't that so? And so much is being sent.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Yes.
  • David Boder: Now, did the Germans themselves give everything that they could have given?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: For whom? For whom?
  • David Boder: For the poor Germans, and for the other "dragged-away" [vershlepte, a standard term in Germany] people.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: No. Because the Germans have all the time truly mistreated the dragged-away, or us foreigners. And I as a theologian have always felt that very deeply, and had to carry with pains this whole misfortune for five, six years. Because on every step, whether I was in the monastery or at any magistracy, it was always given to me to understand that I was a foreigner and have nothing to do [expect] here.
  • David Boder: Now tell me, for instance, why do you attend now the UNRRA University and don't go directly to a German university to study law?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: I know the Germans very well, and it would hurt me indeed should I have to seek refuge with them as I had to. Just for this reason I don't want [to have] anything to do with the Germans.
  • David Boder: But you had . . .
  • Victor Ferdinansk: They were my enemies all the time. Because I know them well. I had the opportunity.
  • David Boder: [some whispers] Now where do you think then to practice law?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Well, that is a question to which, for the time being, I can't give any answer. At least . . . I hope at least that the time will be favorable, and that we in a few years will be able to return to our homeland.
  • David Boder: How do you imagine that? Do you think that the Russians will leave, or they will change for the better? Or . . . what do you think?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Yes, that is my personal viewpoint, that the present situation could not prevail for long.
  • David Boder: In what sense?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: That means all . . . the political situation of the whole world.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Because this is a transition from one state [of affairs] to another.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: And as such it cannot last long. That is a [unintelligible], an eternal march forward. And I believe that by peaceful or military means the possibility will be created for us to return to our homeland.
  • David Boder: Do you have any communication with your homeland? What do you hear from your . . . Do you have there . . . you had parents there, true?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Yes, I had my parents in my homeland.
  • David Boder: When did you hear from them last?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: The communication with my parents was broken up in the year 1944, when the Russians stood [already] at the Lithuanian border . . . [correction] at the Estonian border, and all postal communication between Germany and Lithuania was broken.
  • David Boder: Hm.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Since then I heard nothing from my parents. And I fear greatly that they are not alive any more.
  • David Boder: Is there no way of any kind to make contact, through the Red Cross, or in some other way?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Even if there were, I would not try it.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Because I am afraid to ask [tell] my parents that I am alive and live at present in Germany, because then the Russians, or the communists, will come to see in my parents something they dislike.
  • David Boder: Now tell me, how are things here at the [UNRRA] University?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: I am very enthusiastic about this university, and I give myself to it with my whole heart. But every start is difficult, and so the start at this university is very difficult. We also have very little money, scarce [study] facilities, also no laboratories . . .
  • David Boder: How does it stand with books?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Too, there is no library.
  • David Boder: Now you are a student. You study law. Do you study German law? Or what kind of law do you study?
  • Victor Ferdinansk: As jurists and students in the third or second semester, we usually study the introductions to law, that means Roman law.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: Introduction to law, sociology, general economics, statistics, and with it the general subjects which are common to all nationalities and nations.
  • David Boder: Now then, I am sorry we have to stop. I would like indeed to have every one of you for an hour or two, and probably that would have been better, but you see . . . I should have preferred to have two persons or three persons for three hours [each] than each one [more people] for half an hour. True? But since there are here [so many] diverse groups, I don't want to hurt [offend] anybody. True? And maybe I would be able to make a composite from the whole story [from all the stories]. True? My name shall remain here with your director in case you want to write to me sometime. I don't know whether I could do much, but I shall forward it [your letter] to somebody who should be able to do something. It was indeed a pleasure to get to know you. Thank you, indeed.
  • Victor Ferdinansk: I thank you, too.
  1. Boder is referring to Michael von Faulhaber, a Roman Catholic Cardinal and Archbishop of Munich from 1917 to 1952. Faulhaber was an outspoken ideological opponent of the violent and racist policies of the Nazis. He was involved in Reichskonkordat negotiations of 1933, an agreement between the Holy See and the Nazi government that guaranteed Catholics freedom of religion in Germany. Although on the surface, this agreement appeared to sanction the activities of the Nazis, but in fact most Catholic leaders remained fundamentally opposed to Hitler's rule.
  • Contributors to this text:
  • Transcription : Dagmar Platt
  • English translation : David P. Boder
  • Footnotes : Eben E. English