David P. Boder Interviews Otto Feuer; August 22, 1946; Paris, France

  • David Boder: Paris, August the 22nd, 1946. An interview at the offices of the Joint, American Joint Distribution Committee. The interviewee, Mr. Otto Feuer, an executive employee of that committee.
  • David Boder: Also Herr Feuer, or let's try English and then you can go on anyway you want to. [Feuer starts to say something but stops] Will you tell us again what is your profession and where you were born?
  • Otto Feuer: I'm born in Vienna but I have always been living in Hamburg, in Germany.Hamburg was Germany's second largest city and its largest port. It had the fourth largest Jewish community in the country, a community that was vibrant and well-organized. Jews were well integrated into the life of this generally tolerant and progressive city.1
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: I . . .
  • David Boder: What did you study?
  • Otto Feuer: Law.
  • David Boder: You studied law.
  • Otto Feuer: Yes.
  • David Boder: Are you a graduate lawyer?
  • Otto Feuer: No, I made three years.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Then I had to interrupt it because the persecution of Hitler did no more give me any chance to continue the study.Among the many pieces of anti-Jewish legislation enacted by the Nazis were measures barring Jews from various professions such as law and measures designed to make such occupations inaccessible in the first place by restricting Jewish admission to institutions of higher learning and preventing them from sitting for state examinations.2
  • David Boder: Yes. All right. Now, tell me . . . this . . . since when are you in Paris?
  • Otto Feuer: . . . Paris I have been since October '45. Forty . . . forty five.
  • David Boder: Did you ever live in Paris before?
  • Otto Feuer: No, I did not.
  • David Boder: Oh, so Paris is for you a new . . .
  • Otto Feuer: . . . a new country.
  • David Boder: . . . a new place. All right. Will you first give us a short chronological sketch of the time, say from your university years up to the present date.
  • Otto Feuer: [a short pause] Well, after having, after having finished school I studied, when I have to give up my studies . . .
  • David Boder: Where did you study?
  • Otto Feuer: In Hamburg, in Germany.
  • David Boder: Hum. Did you know Professor Stern?
  • Otto Feuer: Only by name.
  • David Boder: Wilhelm Stern. Only by name.
  • Otto Feuer: Only by name.
  • David Boder: Yes. [word not clear] [a short pause] Then when you gave up your studies what were you doing?
  • Otto Feuer: I was playing chess, I was something like a chessmaster and I was giving chess lessons. Then in October . . .
  • David Boder: To whom?
  • Otto Feuer: To whom? To people who . . .
  • David Boder: In . . . in Hamburg?
  • Otto Feuer: In Hamburg, in Germany.
  • David Boder: [words not clear]
  • Otto Feuer: [words not clear] to Jews, in '36, '37 . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . and the beginning of '38.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And I was working in the export, the export branch too.
  • David Boder: In a Jewish firm?
  • Otto Feuer: In a merchant (business), yes. His name was Lissauer.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: In the 28th of October, 1938 all Jews of Polish origin were expelled from Germany, that means we all were arrested in the morning, at five o'clock in the morning and my mother, and two brothers of mine were brought together with all Jews of Polish origin over the German border to Poland where we were stopped in a little town at the Polish border, [name of town not clear] and where we lived at first under . . . Responding to a move by the Polish government to deprive Polish Jews from the right of return from countries under German rule, the Germans drove some 17,000 Polish Jews into a no-man's-land between the two countries on October 28, 1938. The largest number were stranded near the border town of Zbaszyn.3
  • David Boder: Now, wait a moment. Excuse me for interrupting. You were born in Vienna.
  • Otto Feuer: Hum.
  • David Boder: Why are you considered of Polish origin?
  • Otto Feuer: My father was of Polish origin.
  • David Boder: Your father was of Polish origin. Your mother?
  • Otto Feuer: My mother was of Russian origin.
  • David Boder: Of what?
  • Otto Feuer: Russian.
  • David Boder: Your mother was Russian, Russian-Jewish.
  • Otto Feuer: But my mother and all the family of my mother has been living in Vienna since fifty years ago.
  • David Boder: Aha.
  • Otto Feuer: Nevertheless, I, though not speaking a single word of Polish, was considered as a Polish national up to '38, when even the Poles took, Poles . . . Poland took away this nationality and I was stateless.
  • David Boder: Now wait a moment. In '38, was there already a war with Poland?
  • Otto Feuer: No, no it was one year before the war.
  • David Boder: So they took the Russ . . . the Poles . . .
  • Otto Feuer: All the Jews of Polish origin were brought over the German border. Oh that's history, that's known I think . . .
  • David Boder: All right, let's refresh it.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . were brought over the border to Poland.
  • David Boder: And the Poles?
  • Otto Feuer: The Poles didn't . . . didn't give us permission to enter the country . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Because we had to [word not clear] we had to cross the border in such a hurry, we were driven by German policeman with bayonets and so on, that the Polish had no possibility to check our papers.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: So they stopped us at the border.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Then there were negotiations between the Polish government and the German government . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . concerning our eventually going back to Germany, or at any rate that we were allowed to get some of our property out of Germany. And these negotiations were interrupted by the incident in Paris where the German employees of, in the German embassy in Paris . . . Feuer is referring to the assassination of Ernst vom Rath by Herschel Grynszpan. 4
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Von Rath.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Was killed by . . .
  • David Boder: Grynszpan.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . by Grynszpan, it is very interesting, the family of Grynszpan, the origin of this episode in Paris . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: [words not clear] He is cause of our expulsion to Poland, because the family of Grynszpan . . . Grynszpan was not the cause of Feuer's family's expulsion to Poland. The expulsion took place on October 28, 1938, followed by the assassination on November 7, 1938.5
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Was expelled with us, and was together with us.
  • David Boder: From Hamburg?
  • Otto Feuer: No, from Hanover.
  • David Boder: From Hanover.
  • Otto Feuer: And they wrote to a brother of hers . . . of theirs, living in Paris about the experience . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: In consequences of, Grynszpan committed this murder here in Paris.
  • David Boder: Now wait a moment, was he the brother to whom they wrote?
  • Otto Feuer: Yes.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: To draw the attention of the world, that was the motive of the act [?]
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . to draw the attention of the world to the situation and the plight of the Jews.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: So [words not clear] . . .
  • David Boder: By the way, what happened to Grynszpan, will you remind us?
  • Otto Feuer: Grynszpan I know, Grynszpan was kept in prison here in Paris, but I don't know if he was liberated, I think so, he was liberated when the Germ . . . I don't know, at any rate I don't know . . .
  • David Boder: But he was taken by the Germans to Germany.
  • Otto Feuer: I don't know, no, I have not the slightest idea except for . . .
  • David Boder: Yes, well that is what the American papers said . . .
  • Otto Feuer: Yes.
  • David Boder: . . . that when the Germans took Paris they . . . they took him for sometime away I think to Vichy, but he was in Prison.
  • Otto Feuer: Yes.
  • David Boder: You see, and finally the Germans caught up with him and he was executed in Germany.The exact fate of Herschel Grynszpan has not been determined. After the fall of France, the collaborationist Vichy government turned him over to the Germans. Their plan to stage a show trial was not realized, and Grynszpan disappeared without a trace. It is not clear how he died, but it is almost certain that he did not survive the war.6
  • Otto Feuer: So, I never learned about that . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: It must have been . . . at that time I had already been in a concentration camp, and we . . .
  • David Boder: Because in America there was a great movement . . .
  • Otto Feuer: To save him, I . . .
  • David Boder: . . . to save him, and the French gave him I think a life sentence and kept him here.
  • Otto Feuer: Hum.
  • David Boder: Also, that was in '38, you came . . .
  • Otto Feuer: That was in '38 [words not clear]
  • David Boder: [words not clear]
  • Otto Feuer: October the 28th.
  • David Boder: There was no war?
  • Otto Feuer: There was no war, that was before the war.
  • David Boder: All right, so they took you across the Polish border, what did you [words not clear]
  • Otto Feuer: It was together with my mother and two brothers of mine . . .
  • David Boder: Your father?
  • Otto Feuer: My father at that time was already living in Belgium, in Brussels.The interview provides no information as to the fate of Feuer's parents.7
  • David Boder: Hum . . .
  • Otto Feuer: In July '39 my brothers and I and my mother too, we got the permission to re-enter Germany in order to emigrate from Germany to the States.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: We came back to Germany and we had to settle our papers, it took some time because all the papers, all the papers which were required by the American consulate were, were available. And then the war broke out and we were arrested the 9th of September once more, my brothers and me, myself the ninth of September '39, were arrested and were at first interned.
  • David Boder: Now let's clear it up, when did the war start?
  • Otto Feuer: September 1st.
  • David Boder: September 1st the war started with Poland.
  • Otto Feuer: Hum.
  • David Boder: And then Jew or no Jew you were supposedly a Polish citizen.
  • Otto Feuer: Yes.
  • David Boder: So you were arrested, and interned.
  • Otto Feuer: Yes.
  • David Boder: And your mother?
  • Otto Feuer: My mother was at that time at . . . she was free.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: She was living in Hamburg.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: In December '39, let me finish that, one of my brothers even got the permission to emigrate to the States, and in January another brother of mine who has been brought at that time already at Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp in Germany, and in February, February the 10th . . .
  • David Boder: Your other brother was also permitted to emigrate?
  • Otto Feuer: Yes, he was permitted to emigrate.
  • David Boder: [words not clear]
  • Otto Feuer: Yes and is now living in the States.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And . . . the 10th of February '40 I was brought to Sachsenhausen. Up to that time I had been in a German . . . in a prison in Germany in Hamburg . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: A prison, a prison of the SR and the SS, but it was . . . was not yet a concentration camp, so my first concentration camp was Sachsenhausen, Oranienburg.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: There I came in February, the 10th of February 1940, and my papers for the emigration for the U.S. were ready and I was invited by the American consulate at Hamburg to make my formal visa application; that was in April '40, the Germans no more didn't give me the permit . . .
  • David Boder: To emigrate.
  • Otto Feuer: To leave the country. I was in Sachsenhausen up to September '40, and September '40 I came as an invalid to Dachau.
  • David Boder: Why as an invalid?
  • Otto Feuer: Why as an invalid? Well I had some experience in Sachsenhausen which made me an invalid.
  • David Boder: Will you tell us about that experience.
  • Otto Feuer: [Long pause] Well, [pause] it's not to be told in such a short time about the experience of someone in the concentration camp."It's not to be told in such a short time about the experience of someone in the concentration camp" is a poignant, gross understatement. The brutalities he and other inmates endured are beyond description.8
  • David Boder: Well, [words not clear]
  • Otto Feuer: Well, I was working in a . . . I don't understand, what is a Steinbruch?
  • David Boder: In the, in a quarry.
  • Otto Feuer: In a quarry . . . quarry, and of course this work was accompanied by what you already know by about, we were . . .
  • David Boder: Well, you tell us as if we know nothing, all right. It was accompanied by . . .
  • Otto Feuer: Well we were ill treated . . . and at any rate I had wounds on my feet, I had lost about 25 kilos of weight, and I was no more able to work, and so they took one day, they took all those Jews and brought them to Dachau.
  • David Boder: Those who could not work?
  • Otto Feuer: Those who could do no more work.
  • David Boder: Well.
  • Otto Feuer: In Dachau I was from December [he probably means September] '40 to June '41; then I was brought to Buchenwald, and in Buchenwald I was from June '41 up to April 11th '45; then we were liberated by the American troops.
  • David Boder: Hum.
  • Otto Feuer: [pause] Do you want -- I can't . . . I can't tell you in generally, our, my experience in the camp, I could tell you some . . .
  • David Boder: Well, you pick what you think is significant, but of your personal experience.
  • Otto Feuer: Well I should like to [word not clear]
  • David Boder: Suppose you . . . you are a lawyer.
  • Otto Feuer: Yes.
  • David Boder: Suppose you are accusing the Nazis before the American people. Now what do you have to say against them?
  • Otto Feuer: Well what I have to say against them . . .
  • David Boder: Complete, what they have done to you. You see?
  • Otto Feuer: [long pause] I don't want to talk about what they have done to me, I want to talk what they have done to all of us and, for instance, what they have done to men, I also even want to talk . . . Like so many other survivors, Feuer wanted to bear witness. He wanted the world to never forget the crimes of the Nazis.9
  • David Boder: To whom [?]
  • Otto Feuer: Men, to men in general, to German men, to any . . .
  • David Boder: To men.
  • Otto Feuer: To men, yes.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: I want to tell you how they succeeded in changing . . . the brains of normal men, and I should like to give you some example -
  • David Boder: All right . . . go ahead.
  • Otto Feuer: One example. It was one of the most awful experiences I had in Dachau. We were working, in Dachau we were working. Of course we were, as generally, we were awfully ill treated. One day, it was in summer, in May '41, about, I was standing there together working with a friend of mine, a comrade of mine, when the SS man came, a young SS man, he had about twenty years, and he came in behind us and he called my comrade. 'Come', well will you . . . stillgestanden (attention!) will you, will you put your hands on your . . . on your trousers. Well, then he had him stand behind a hole of water, how do you call it in English?
  • David Boder: A puddle, yes a ditch.
  • Otto Feuer: A ditch of water, about a depths of, of two meters . . .
  • David Boder: Yes. Behind or in front?
  • Otto Feuer: In front.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: But with the back to the ditch.
  • David Boder: To the ditch.
  • Otto Feuer: To the ditch.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And when he stands there with the hands on the trousers, on his trousers, he kicked him into his stomach that he fell into this ditch, and he came . . . he came, his face came up, then he took a club . . . a club . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Otto Feuer: . . . and pushed him down, at any rate he pushed him three times, four times, as long as it was necessary, until this man was drowned. And he called me and I, I of course was ready to have now the same experience, but no, he had me draw him out.
  • David Boder: Yes, to pull him out.
  • Otto Feuer: To pull, I had to pull . . . I pulled him out and I had to put him on a little . . . little cart and I had to bring him into the camp. We were working outside . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Yes. We were working outside of the camp.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: That's not so awful. But the most awful thing, that now on the way, this SS man, a boy of about twenty years, he began to tell me how awful he . . . how unhappy he was.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: He had an appointment for the same evening with his sweetheart. And now he had been ordered that he would have to do duty, and he wouldn't, he couldn't go to his date.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: He was speaking to me without any consciousness that he just had commited a murder.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: He was just complaining, he was speaking to me now as . . . as . . . as one comrade speaks to another comrade.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And I think that, that even that, at that time I already was accustomed to a lot of things, but at that time I had the idea . . . how it's possible that a man, a human being, can no more be conscious, can no more be aware of having killed somebody, and speaking to somebody who was only a chance that it's not he who has been killed, like his comrade . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . .
  • Otto Feuer: . . . complaining that he can't go on his date. He has . . . He would have liked to get rid of all the staff and some of [word not clear] and so on, but without any consciousness of having committed a murder . . .The incident related by Feuer regarding the murder of his friend by the SS man reflects the mentality of the SS and the defenselessness of the prisoners. The SS were conditioned to behave with utter ruthlessness and brutality to those who were the supposed enemies of the "master race." These so-called enemies could be killed or exploited to serve the greater "racial good." In the camps, the SS could act with impunity towards the prisoners, give vent to their sadistic passion and exercise to the utmost their "will to power." When the SS man spoke to Feuer after he had murdered his friend, he was not speaking to a fellow human being but rather to an animate object or thing.10
  • David Boder: Now let me ask a question. This SS man . . . what was his rank?
  • Otto Feuer: [several words not clear] it was nothing . . .
  • David Boder: A private?
  • Otto Feuer: One can call him a private.
  • David Boder: All right. Now had any private the right to go in and kill a person?
  • Otto Feuer: Any private, any private had the right to do anything he wanted.
  • David Boder: They could go in . . .
  • Otto Feuer: Of course there was nothing forbidden for those people, and even they were . . . educated to do it. The were educated, and educated to do it. This is (?) those people they were really, they were taught to do a good job in killing. Of course they killed, they have lost any sense of . . . of . . . of consciousness. They . . . Feuer means "conscience." The SS were taught that pangs of conscience stemming from sympathy or compassion for their victims were signs of weakness that had to be stamped out.11
  • David Boder: Weren't there any rules for them? Don't you remember whether any instructions - the Germans like [to] write, weren't there any instructions what the duties, and the rights and the obligations of such an SS man in the camp were.
  • Otto Feuer: No. The duties of his, the duites of an SS man were to pull out of the prisoners, or the detainees the maximum of power - the amount of work which is possible.
  • David Boder: Nu . . . and . . .
  • Otto Feuer: To do this is of course necessary to be very, very strict and to give very rude examples of cruelty to terrify the others.
  • David Boder: Oh . . . it was really an example of cruelty . . . well did that other fellow not work while he . . .
  • Otto Feuer: No he did not. At any rate, of course, this was only a pretext.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: For the insticts of those SS men.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . to do every thing they wanted. That was . . .
  • David Boder: Now, here a man was dead . . .
  • Otto Feuer: Yes.
  • David Boder: Did he have to report that he was dead? Did he have to write him off from the card?
  • Otto Feuer: Yes, yes.
  • David Boder: So what would he do?
  • Otto Feuer: He was . . . [word not clear] . . . died of starvation . . . on the card, or of . . . of pneumonia, of consequences of tuberculosis . . . that was on the card. Of course there was a [half a German word not clear] -karte for each prisoner. It is very interesting. The killed six million Jews . . . Jews, but/when] I had to evacuate [?] the ones who have survived, I found the same costume, the same shoes in which I have been arrested.These fictitious reasons for prisoners' deaths were also commonly used in the Nazis' euthanasia program.12
  • David Boder: Ja.
  • Otto Feuer: I still have.
  • David Boder: Where did you find them?
  • Otto Feuer: It was in der Textenkammer (store room for textiles) It followed me from Sachsenhausen to Dachau; of course I never wore it.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: It followed me. It followed me from Sachsenhausen to Dachau, and from Dachau to Buchenwald. And we were liberated [??] - for prisoner to take, who took care of it. I got it, and I still have it at home.
  • David Boder: Now wait a moment. I understand that when they took away from the prisoners the things they gave it away to others. They took it away . . . they . . .
  • Otto Feuer: Not within the camps in Germany. In Sachsenhausen, Dachau and Buchenwald, they did not. In Auschwitz those people which passed through the chambers of gas, the clothes, and all the belongings were taken away and were distributed to . . . to . . . even to other prisoners; we . . . in Buchenwald, we wore later the [word not clear] suits of people who were killed in Auschwitz.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: But our, our suits, we wore that kind. Those ancient prisoners of '39, we were already considered as, as prominente . . .
  • David Boder: As the aristocrats . . .
  • Otto Feuer: Yes.
  • David Boder: And you were of '39 because you were a Polish -
  • Otto Feuer: Yes.
  • David Boder: . . . subject to be interniert as a Pole.
  • Otto Feuer: Ja.
  • David Boder: All right. Let's fish out another episode. That is one accusation of one Nazi of murder. Now tell me another episode.
  • Otto Feuer: It is not an accusation. It is more a humoristic episode, than . . . On August 24 we were bombed. Buchenwald . . .
  • David Boder: The other one is a humoristic episode . . .
  • Otto Feuer: Yes.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Buchenwald was bombed by American airplanes.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . and the bombing was made excellent. That means that interside the camp not a single bomb fell, but outer of the camp, where all the industry was, the factories were, they were all laid down.Buchenwald had some 130 satellite camps, the most infamous of which was Dora. The camps employed hundreds of thousands of slave laborers who were often worked to death for the German war effort.13
  • David Boder: Hum.
  • Otto Feuer: Nevertheless the SS had forbidden the prisoners to leave those places, to go into the camp.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . and nevertheless we had about four hundred dead.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: While in this moment there were others . . . amongst the dead. There were two . . . about one hundred and fifty SS and of course a lot of wounded.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: At that time . . . This moment, the commander of the camp, he tried . . . Wir sind alle Kameraden - helft uns Kameraden. They cried to the prisoners - we are all comrades . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Helft.
  • David Boder: To do what. What was there to do?
  • Otto Feuer: To help, to dig out wounded ones, and to carry wounded ones, and so on, what kind of . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Well, [word not clear] at that time we were comrades.
  • David Boder: Yes. What happened after the bombing?
  • Otto Feuer: After the bombing? The war continued. The latter part the factories were not more standing . . . (we) were sent to other camps and the other ones were occupied to rebuild the factories . . .
  • David Boder: The factories never worked (again)?
  • Otto Feuer: No, the factories never worked again . . .
  • David Boder: Did you hear a story, they say something about an oak, Goethe's Oak somewhere in Buchenwald?Construction on Buchenwald began in 1937 in a wooded area five miles from Weimar, the home of the noted German poet, Goethe, who supposedly rested and meditated under an oak tree, Goethe's oak. The oak was spared by the Nazis and designated the center of the camp, which was the antithesis of the humanistic and enlightened spirit of the poet and the democratic hopes on which the post World War I Weimar Republic was founded.14
  • Otto Feuer: Oh, of course. There was Goethe's Oak. [word not clear] Goethe's Oak was the only victim of the bombing.
  • David Boder: Oh . . . tell us what the legend [Footnote: The subsequent discussion has direct reference to the interview with Mr. Bramson, micro-cards, p. 823.] connected with it?
  • Otto Feuer: Goethe's Oak was then . . . There was a kitchen of Buchenwald.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And next to this kitchen the was an oak, and on this oak, sitting under this oak, Goethe . . . Goethe is supposed to have written the poem: Über allen Wipfeln ist . . . ruh . . .
  • David Boder: Oh . . . Tell me, is there anywhere in Goethe's biography this oak mentioned?
  • Otto Feuer: Yes, it is.
  • David Boder: It is? One could trace it in . . . /word not clear]
  • Otto Feuer: Goethe has been very often . . .
  • David Boder: . . . in Buchenwald . . .
  • Otto Feuer: In Buchenwald . . .
  • David Boder: That is the verse: Über allen . . .
  • Otto Feuer: Wipfeln is Ruh.
  • David Boder: Wipfeln is Ruh.
  • Otto Feuer: It is one of the most . . .
  • David Boder: in alle. Ja. I know . . . in allen Gipfeln hörest du kaum. einen . . . [hesitates]
  • Otto Feuer: . . . einen . . .
  • David Boder: einen Hauch.
  • Otto Feuer: einen Hauch. Ja.
  • David Boder: Die . . . Vögel schlafen im (recollecting) something . . . im Walde warte nur, balde ruhest du such. (complete text at the end of the interview) Is that . . .
  • Otto Feuer: Ja, that is that.
  • David Boder: Ja. Nun und so, what happened?
  • Otto Feuer: This oak caught fire.
  • David Boder: From the bombing?
  • Otto Feuer: Yes, from the bombing.
  • David Boder: From the kitchen?
  • Otto Feuer: No, from the the bombing.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: It was at the border of the camp Gebau. [installation]
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: At about 200 meters and a single . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Also Brent bomb.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . fell into . . .
  • David Boder: Incendiary bomb.
  • Otto Feuer: Incendary bomb fell into the camp, without doing another harm. But this oak caught fire, and this damaged, and had to be cut . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . directly after the bombing.
  • David Boder: Yes. Now how was that oak cut? I want to verify another story. Who cut the oak?
  • Otto Feuer: Prisoners cut the oak.
  • David Boder: Prisoners cut the oak. Was there a call to them, to come out to . . .
  • Otto Feuer: There was no special call. But it had to be cut.
  • David Boder: Oh, you don't know . . .
  • Otto Feuer: No . . .
  • David Boder: . . . Any legend connected with that oak?
  • Otto Feuer: No, I don't think there will be any legend about this oak, otherwise I would have known it.
  • David Boder: There supposedly is a legend about the oak.
  • Otto Feuer: Could you tell the . . .
  • David Boder: Yes. The legend is that Goethe supposedly wrote to somebody that as long as this oak stands, Germany will stand.
  • Otto Feuer: I don't think . . .
  • David Boder: You didn't hear it.
  • Otto Feuer: No, I never heard it.
  • David Boder: No; I heard that from another Buchenwald man, and he said that they called over the loudspeaker for volunteers to chop off that oak . . .
  • Otto Feuer: Oh, that is not true. I am sure that is not true . . .
  • David Boder: That is not true?
  • Otto Feuer: That is not true.
  • David Boder: All right, they simply called the prisoners to chop off the oak.
  • Otto Feuer: Yes.
  • David Boder: That's all as far as you know. Now any other episodes?
  • Otto Feuer: Well, the most interesting episode of course, is the episode of our underground organization, in Buchenwald, and I wonder if this is already known?
  • David Boder: [not clear, sounds like 'certainly not enough']
  • Otto Feuer: It would be difficult for you to understand that we have built up in Buchenwald an underground organization . . . since . . . since '41.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Even, even earlier.
  • David Boder: In . . .
  • Otto Feuer: You must know, it was one of the tactics of the Nazis, that they were put together . . . there were put together in our concentration camps political prisoners, religious prisoners, there were not only Jews, but a sect, a Christian sect . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: The so called explorers of the bible.Feuer most probably means Jehovah's Witnesses. The Witnesses would not swear an oath of allegiance to the state and as pacifists would not serve in the armed forces. They were persecuted and victimized by the Nazis. In the camps, they were identified by a purple triangle.15
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And of course, criminals too.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Criminals.
  • David Boder: How did the criminals get in there? What did they . . . ? Liquidate the prisoners, or what?
  • Otto Feuer: No, no. When a criminal had finished his term in prison . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . his sentence in prison, and he was considered to be dangerous for the German people . . . for the people.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: They did not give him his liberty.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . but they sent him to a concentration camp.
  • David Boder: Yes. Nu . . .
  • Otto Feuer: Of course, they made those criminals most of which were very, very bad subjects, and very mean and very cruel; they made out of them to . . . our, our masters.
  • David Boder: Trusties.
  • Otto Feuer: [Apparently not understanding the word] Cartys.
  • David Boder: Capos . . .
  • Otto Feuer: Capos. Blockälteste and so on.
  • David Boder: Yes
  • Otto Feuer: Now . . . in . . . this begin already in '38, '39, that a group of the first prisoners of concentration camp, that were the German political prisoners, most of them were communists, who began to build up an underground movement against those criminal prisoners.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . and this was a real fight. A fight between . . . the criminal prisoners had green triangles, -
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: We all had triangles.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And the criminals had green, the political had red ones.
  • David Boder: And what had you?
  • Otto Feuer: We had red ones and yellow ones.The yellow triangle Feuer wore signified that he was a Jew. The red triangle signified that he was a also a political prisoner. Feuer did not reveal his political sympathies in the interview, but he was most probably a left-wing political opponent of the Nazis. He describes himself as a "simple prisoner," but one wonders, given his intelligence and strength of personality, what role he played in the prisoner underground dominated by the "reds."16
  • David Boder: You were considered a political?
  • Otto Feuer: No. We were considered as political Jews.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: That were red . . . it was a Star of David . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . two triangles, one in red and the other one in yellow . . .
  • David Boder: Why? Why?
  • Otto Feuer: . . . so be forming together a Star of David.
  • David Boder: Aha . . . yes, yes . . . quite a color scheme . . .
  • Otto Feuer: What?
  • David Boder: Quite a color combination.
  • Otto Feuer: Yes.
  • David Boder: Red and yellow.
  • Otto Feuer: Yes. Yellow was always the color for Jews . . . in, in the middle ages.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: The Jewish star was a . . . was a yellow star in Germany. That is why they always took yellow for the color . . . to signify Jews.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Now this fight between the political prisoners and between the criminals ended about '42, and it was the political ones who were victorious in Buchenwald, that means that that time the political prisoners had all the decisive positions.Given the system of prisoner "self administration," this was of the utmost importance in saving lives as Feuer's account subsequently illustrates.17
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: They had the positions of the self-administration of the camp, that means most of the capos had become . . . were now political prisoners . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . and most of the people in the . . . for instance in the Arbeitstatistic - those people, who distribute, and who organized the work to be done were political prisoners. The hospital were . . . was in hand(s) of political prisoners, and the circumstances in Buchenwald - that is why Buchenwald compared to other camps, compared for instance to Auschwitz, or compared for instance to Dachau, which I know, or to Sachsenhausen which I know, was really the best camp, with all its atrocities . . . it was the best camp. For instance it was able [possible] that in Buchenwald in '44 and '45 that about two thousand people a day were called . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . should work, did not work.
  • David Boder: Hum.
  • Otto Feuer: Because they had . . . were people in the hospital could give for ill ones . . . papers which would . . . which ordered them for a rest. for three days, for five days, and six days . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And those papers of course were given by prisoners, and they, at that time, they had won the confidence of the SS . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: They were no more checked by the SS - so was able [possible] that about fifteen hundred, two thousand and even more a day of . . . of . . . did not, did not work . . .
  • David Boder: Well, did they favor only political prisoners or did they do it in favor of all prisoners?
  • Otto Feuer: No, they did it in favor of all prisoners. Of course, it can't be denied that political . . . who couldn't work as much . . . when there was a question, . . . for instance, there was a question in December '42.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: All the Jews were checked to be sent to Auschwitz or to stay in Buchenwald. At that time, we shouldn't be sent . . . it was not the intention to send us to Auschwitz; it was the intention to send us to Lublin, to exterminate us there.
  • David Boder: In Lublin.
  • Otto Feuer: In Lublin.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Well we all took (?) at that time a medical, a medical . . . a visitation by the doctor . . . and the prisoners had to make the lists for those people who were determined to go there.
  • David Boder: were assinged to go.
  • Otto Feuer: Were assigned to go there..and those to assign to stay.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And it was quite impossible to say . . . that nobody would go . . . Feuer might be referring here to the follow-up of an October 17, 1942 order by Himmler to transfer all Jewish prisoners in the Reich to Auschwitz. Obviously, he was among those Buchenwald Jewish prisoners who were spared deportation. It is unknown if this was due to any sort of standing he had among the "reds."18
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: This problem even in Auschwitz was not much harder. You all know that in Auschwitz was selection.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And these selections were at first done always by physicians, by SS physicians.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Later, they were not more up to . . . they had to..they had enough of it . . . the older prisoners, the old . . . the chief of block . . . the Blockälteste.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . to do the selection. No you see (the) problem that . . .
  • David Boder: Selection for what?
  • Otto Feuer: Selection for the gas chamber.
  • David Boder: Yes, and the prisoner himself had to select . . .
  • Otto Feuer: The prisoner himself had to select . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: He had to . . . to 'reply' this pri(soner) . . . this man is no more able to work.
  • David Boder: Hum.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . he has to pass through the chas cam . . . [slip of tongue] gas chamber . . .
  • David Boder: Now [word not clear] were they telling them that it is a selection for the gas chamber?
  • Otto Feuer: The prisoner, the Blockälteste was quite conscious, what it was, and the prisoner was quite conscious too.
  • David Boder: Did they give him a quota of some kind?
  • Otto Feuer: No, they didn't give him a quota. They told him you have to . . .
  • David Boder: [apparently calling attention to the position of the micro-phone] . . . in that direction . . .
  • Otto Feuer: You had to make the selection, and you will give us the names and numbers of those people who are not more able to work.
  • David Boder: Oh. And then?
  • Otto Feuer: And then . . . they would do the rest. Now you see, the real problem is this prisoner. If the SS physician makes the selection, he would have selected let's say a hundred . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: If a prisoner makes a selection, he would only select let us say twenty-five.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And this would satisfy the SS, because they were so . . . already annoyed, and too . . . too lazy to check it. All (?) twenty five, is twenty five.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: But if the prisoner wouldn't send anyone, or wouldn't sent even less than this percentage [??] they would become suspected.
  • David Boder: Suspicious..yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Suspicious.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And they would do it themselves.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Now you see the real problem. This prisoner, he could save the lives of seventy five people.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: By doing this selection. But he would be the murderer of twenty-five.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: In this prison, there in Auschwitz, there it was in the most sharpest form. But this pri . . . this problem was always . . .
  • David Boder: In what form would you say . . .
  • Otto Feuer: In the sharpest [this word before did not sound clear] form . . .
  • David Boder: In the sharpest form it was in Auschwitz.
  • Otto Feuer: In Auschwitz.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: But this problem . . . you can do something . . . There were people who were working for . . . in the SS kitchen for instance . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: They could 'organize' [synonym for stealing] they could get some . . . some food stuf . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And they could give some foodstuff to somebody.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: But of course, they couldn't give it to everybody.
  • David Boder: Yes. So who would get it?
  • Otto Feuer: Oh, they gave it ahead to personal friends, and they gave it to their political friends . . . [pause]
  • David Boder: To think, that was a tricky situation . . . eh?
  • Otto Feuer: . . . it was . . . I don't see a way to go out of this . . . situation.This is an indication of the so-called "choiceless" choices often faced by the prisoners in the camps as well as the "grey zone" of morality, so well-described by Primo Levi, in which prisoners had to function. Often survival in the camps meant survival at someone else's expense. In those instances when life saving help could be given, a system of triage had to be employed.19
  • David Boder: Have you ever been a Blockälteste?
  • Otto Feuer: No, I never . . . I have been a simple prisoner.
  • David Boder: How . . . how did one become a Blockälteste? How could one avoid to become a Blockältester?
  • Otto Feuer: How could one avoid to become a Blockältester? Well at first . . . the first Blockälteste were all assigned by the SS.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: When the political prisoners had won this fight against thee criminal prisoners, they had of course a lot of influence. You know there were good . . . good terms . . . For a detailed description of the struggle between the "greens" and the "reds" in Buchenwald and the consequences of its outcome, see Eugen Kogon's The Theory and Practice of Hell.20
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . between the leading political . . .
  • David Boder: . . . prisoners . . .
  • Otto Feuer: . . . between the political detainees in the camps and between the . . .
  • David Boder: SS?
  • Otto Feuer: . . . and the SS. The . . .
  • David Boder: Well, would you not attribute that a bit . . . Well, what do you attribute to such good terms?
  • Otto Feuer: No. Don't think it was attributed because they were against [?? not clear] cruel things or some things like that. That is not that.
  • David Boder: No?
  • Otto Feuer: The SS was not able to organize, and to administrate the camp alone [by themselves].
  • David Boder: Well wouldn't that have been good that the camp would have gone to pieces?
  • Otto Feuer: The camp would have gone to pieces. All the people in the camp would surely have gone to pieces.
  • David Boder: Oh . . . that's so.
  • Otto Feuer: Oh!
  • David Boder: Now . . .
  • Otto Feuer: [excited] They didn't tell. Now you see you have . . . you all have not the right picture. For instance there were lice in the camp and there were some cases . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Of . . . eh . . . spotted fever.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Spotted typhus.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: The SS didn't care. The SS made the quarantine, you see?
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: They didn't care, what was going on in the camp. Yes? The prisoner had to get out of bed. [they] has to bury them, has to burn [??] them. You see?
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: The SS took care of it. The SS wouldn't . . .
  • David Boder: . . . care to touch the . . .
  • Otto Feuer: Wouldn't be in . . . inflicted.
  • David Boder: Yes. Infected?
  • Otto Feuer: Infected.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And that was . . . the prisoners . . . the SS didn't take care if there were . . . toilet and so on. If there were none, there were none.
  • David Boder: Ah . . .
  • Otto Feuer: . . . but if the prisoners, the prisoners took care . . . those prisoners took care, that we, we were [had] orders of prisoners, that every week, twice a week everybody was looked over for lice . . .
  • David Boder: Hum.
  • Otto Feuer: They had to pass this . . . this . . .
  • David Boder: Did the prisoners have DDT?
  • Otto Feuer: No, they had not. We had nothing. Everything . . . We had nothing no . . . no, no such a powder. It was . . . it is unimaginable that we in Buchenwald . . . in Buchenwald it was avoided..an epidemic . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: But it was avoided. It was avoided because twice a week we made the so called, Lausecontrolle [louse check up] where everybody . . .
  • David Boder: [word not clear, sounds like 'the prisoners themselves'?]
  • Otto Feuer: Yes. Where everybody was checked when he . . . when he . . . when a louse was found he was completely shaved and he was bath and so on.
  • David Boder: On your own initiavtive?
  • Otto Feuer: Yes.
  • David Boder: All right. Now . . . that is a very important point. Now tell me this . . . Well about [several words not clear]
  • Otto Feuer: You ask . . . you ask me about what was to be done about not becoming a . . .
  • David Boder: A trusty.
  • Otto Feuer: A trusty, a Blockälteste.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Well later, when those political prisoners [word not clear] had won, I have to tell you another story . . .
  • David Boder: Go ahead.
  • Otto Feuer: [note here the pitch of the reproduction spool becomes markedly higher. The equipment must have been sped up]. It is rather interesting, you know . . . I don't know if you know that, that two physicians in Buchenwald . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . physicians who had killed hundreds of us. I don't say thousands.
  • David Boder: Now . . .
  • Otto Feuer: [word not clear sounds like: 'that I know exactly']
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: They stayed in Buchenwald, on their own will.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: At ten o'clock in the morning there was the order: every SS man has to leave the camp.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And those SS physicians, they remained.
  • David Boder: Were they arrested afterwards?
  • Otto Feuer: Of course. We had them remain. We had them believe . . . when the Americans will come, oh, don't be afraid, we will tell them you have been fine to us.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: They really believed us.
  • David Boder: And then?
  • Otto Feuer: Of course, later when they came heraus, we didn't kill them.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: But we delivered them with all the records, we delivered them to the American authorities.
  • David Boder: Do you know what happened to them?
  • Otto Feuer: I don't know, there will be a trial, there was a trial for Dachau and for . . . for Belsen. I didn't yet hear about the Buchenwald trial.
  • David Boder: Are there . . . [??]
  • Otto Feuer: But these [SS] were delivered to the SS authorities, [corrects himself] to the American authorities.
  • David Boder: Can you explain this to me about Buchenwald, just a kind of a human question that sometimes my temperamental American friends ask. Why was it that when the liberation came and the Americans still did not have things in their hands, why did the prisoners behave so well? Why didn't they go out and say burn cities nearby and took rev . . . take revenge? [There is an interruption. Appparently some co-workers or subordinates of Mister Feuer at the office of the Joint Distribution Committee came in for instructions. However this also coincided with the end of the spool. —D.P.B.]
  • David Boder: We continue on the next spool the interview with Mr. Feuer. We continue on the next spool with the interview of Mr. Feuer.
  • David Boder: This is Spool 65. Paris, August the 22nd, 1946. Mr. Feuer continues. Well, tell me, Mr. Feuer then . . . so . . . I had . . .
  • Otto Feuer: You have asked me
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . about the good behavior of the prisoners [both talk, several words not clear]
  • David Boder: Yes. I am just . . . a question that I hear so often. How is it that the liberated prisoners behaved so well, did not get hold of arms, did not shoot the SS, did not go out and demolish the nearby towns like Weimar, although I think the Air Corps, the Air Force has done that. What accounts for that decent behavior?
  • Otto Feuer: You must know that [word not clear] that there were several groups of prisoners. Two groups, two great groups of prisoners. That means that one group of about 80% of the prisoners who have lived during the years or during the months which they have been in the concentration camps, during the starvation and so . . . any person [word not clear]
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And they were only thinking . . . walk around to find some food.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And to have some [word not clear . . . treat??] . . . And that was all that they asked from . . . from the life. And they had no more any personal will [??] And there were about 20% of other prisoners, who still had something like a will, and still was . . . There was the underground movement in Buchenwald. Now when die [these] were liberated it was not, it wasn't . . . it was not too difficult for us - I belonged to those 20%.
  • David Boder: Hum.
  • Otto Feuer: To martyr the 80%. They were doing what they were ordered to do.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . by us. Up to now it was the SS who had ordered them, and now it was we who ordered them. It was not to our interest.
  • David Boder: Then why did . . . yes . . .
  • Otto Feuer: It was not at all our interest, we didn't . . . we had dreamt of the vengeance for years.
  • David Boder: Hum.
  • Otto Feuer: And we had spoken about vengeance for years. There was not one appell in the evening or in the morning when we were not talking about . . . and we were always convinced, we were always convinced, that Germany would lose the war. We never had any doubt, never. We even had no doubt in 1940, we had no doubt, Germany must lose this war, and Germany will lose this war. We were not so much convinced that we would survive.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: On the contrary. Most of us, and I was completely convinced that I would not survive.
  • David Boder: Nu . . .
  • Otto Feuer: But we were always speaking about the eventual . . . about an eventual vengeance. And we were not looking . . . we don't think that this was the right way to go out and to . . . kill now German children or kill German women, because they have killed Jewish children and Jewish women. We wanted . . . that our idea to have such trials . . . as Dachau, as Nürenberg . . . But now, now of course it's all I could see . . . but that time we had another picture of those trials to be. We wanted [to] watch, we wanted, we wanted to watch to see those SS men moving. We did not want to kill them at once. Those SS men we wanted that they should have the same pain that we had. We don't . . . we want [word not clear] this is nothing, today is nothing, we were longing, we had time when we were longing [to do what??]Concentration camp prisoners often seethed with a desire for vengeance. However, the kind of retribution Feuer describes places him and others who sought to bring the perpetrators to trial in courts of law rather than killing them on the spot on a far higher moral and ethical plane than their oppressors. An American court tried twenty-one leading Buchenwald Nazis in 1947. Two were sentenced to death and four to life imprisonment.21
  • David Boder: Hum.
  • Otto Feuer: There should, these should, at first we wanted them . . . the workers to see, and then of course the German people to see. Who guided the German people, who leaded the German people? And we wanted of course that the German people became aware of the full responsibility. Of course it's not only the Nazis who were responsible. It is the whole German people who knew about the concentration camps, and knew at any rate that they existed, and knew at any rate what was going on there, even not knowing the details [at the time??] when we were liberated. I . . . we were trying to find every SS man, and we . . . we . . . we . . . the Americans arrived about three hours late . . . after the Germans had given up the camp, and for three hours we were completely alone in the camp. And we already were looking around . . . we had arms, and we had arms always, we were looking around . . . The American forces did not have to shoot their way into Buchenwald. Before its liberation on April 11, 1945, the Germans had left, and the prisoner underground was in control of the facility. Unfortunately in the days before the liberation, thousands of prisoners had been shipped out of the camp, many of whom died from starvation, disease and exhaustion or were shot or beaten to death by the SS.22
  • David Boder: What do you mean you had arms always?
  • Otto Feuer: We had . . . since . . . since '43 . . . were armed in the camp.
  • David Boder: And what did you expect to do with it . . .
  • Otto Feuer: We expected to defend ourselves. You don't know that when the order came that every SS man has to leave the camp, there were people around, outside of the camp, and were ready. And in this moment we counted that now they will try to exterminate the camp.
  • David Boder: Oh.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . the guards. For this moment we were prepared . . . to fight against the guard.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: The guards.
  • David Boder: But they didn't do that.
  • Otto Feuer: They didn't do that now.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: [words not clear, sound like 'we sent a message'] to the American army, that . . . to know, that the camp [word not clear] we had a transmitter, a radio transmitter in Buchenwald, and through the camp [word not clear - operator?] we sent a message SOS. We also had a reciever of course.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: We had radio receivers and the . . .
  • David Boder: I [?] mean secret, you mean secret receivers.
  • Otto Feuer: Nu yes. And -
  • David Boder: What kind of receivers were they? Crystal sets or what?
  • Otto Feuer: No. Normal radios.
  • David Boder: And the Blockälteste didn't know?
  • Otto Feuer: No. [about two sentences not clear. Sounds like:] There were normal radio sets. The SS listened to the German news. But we had within the camp, in secret places, in a secret place we had a radio which we always could use and the [word not clear] can use.
  • David Boder: So you knew what was going on?
  • Otto Feuer: Absolutely. And we were much more [informed?] The SS came sometimes to us, and to ask us. Some of the SS were quite conscious that we were better informed by our radios than theirs.
  • David Boder: And the couldn't . . . didn't search, they couldn't find it?
  • Otto Feuer: They couldn't find it. They had no possibilities to find it.
  • David Boder: Why?
  • Otto Feuer: Why? Because even within the camp there was a complete service administration. And then even [??] in those places it was not so . . . not so difficult to dig into a place a radio, it's not such a big thing and . . .
  • David Boder: Why did they respect so much the Buchenwald people?
  • Otto Feuer: Who?
  • David Boder: The SS.
  • Otto Feuer: The SS? Because . . . oh . . . they didn't respect us . . . not exceptionally [???] . . .
  • David Boder: Yes, but why did they take, . . . they had so much consideration? Why didn't they make selections in your place, and kill them off?
  • Otto Feuer: No at that time in '44 and '45 Buchenwald was not an extermination camp. Buchenwald was a camp to work.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And Buchenwald was a great assembly camp . . . From Buchenwald . . . in Buchenwald arrived always convoys coming from Poland, and from Buchenwald they were distributed to all the other camps in Germany.
  • David Boder: Hum.
  • Otto Feuer: So Buchenwald was an assembly for all . . . for all German concentration camps.Buchenwald was not the main assembly point for all other concentration camps. What Feuer might be describing here is that in 1944-'45, owing to the advances of the Red army, thousands of prisoners including many Jews were transferred from camps in the East to Buchenwald. Some remained in the main camp, and others were sent to one of Buchenwald's many satellite camps such as Ohrdruf, which was visited by General Eisenhower and leading Congressional dignitaries.23
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And Buchenwald was not a camp to exterminate people. People - anybody, a Jew - his duty was to do his utmost in working for Germany. And then if he dies while working, well it's O.K. But in Buchenwald itself they didn't exterminate.
  • David Boder: And the selections at Buchenwald?
  • Otto Feuer: That was at Auschwitz.
  • David Boder: And . . .
  • Otto Feuer: That was in Auschwitz.
  • David Boder: Yes. But you spoke about the . . . the responsible trusties who had to make the selection.
  • Otto Feuer: [several words not clear] That has nothing to do. That was in '42. [several words not clear]
  • David Boder: [several words not clear]
  • Otto Feuer: That had to do with selection . . . at that time we didn't yet get frightened [??] There was not yet Auschwitz at that time.
  • David Boder: Hum.
  • Otto Feuer: And then when Auschwitz already was . . . but there was not yet the gas chambers [several words not clear] We didn't quite know. We only were concious that during all the time we were in concentration camps we were always . . . afraid [??] to be unable to work.
  • David Boder: So -
  • Otto Feuer: That we were always -
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: It was always very, very dangerous.
  • David Boder: Hum.
  • Otto Feuer: Never. In this first selection in 1942, it was dangerous to be . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: -under those who were non able to work.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Nevertheless the prisoners had to assign a certain amount, about four hundred peopl . . .
  • David Boder: In Buchenwald?
  • Otto Feuer: . . . in Buchenwald. Of course the SS . . . at that time the SS made it; but the prisoners were able to change in . . . in . . . in . . . several cases [several words not clear] to change the list.
  • David Boder: Tell me this . . . These two doctors who were giving injections . . .
  • Otto Feuer: Hum.
  • David Boder: Lethal injections to people, in connection with what did they do that?
  • Otto Feuer: It was ordered by the SS.
  • David Boder: To do what?
  • Otto Feuer: To kill people.
  • David Boder: Which? The weak ones?
  • Otto Feuer: That was a special kind of people, and it was several special kinds of people.
  • David Boder: For instance?
  • Otto Feuer: For instance. There were Russian officers.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Who were killed this way. Or Russian soldiers.The Nazis treated Russian prisoners of war horribly. They were considered subhuman and bearers of the "virus of Bolshevism." Most Soviet prisoners of war sent to Buchenwald were murdered soon after arrival.24
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And we don't know why these Russian soldiers. Of some we knew it were Russian officers, people of the French Resistance.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . some Jews - and we never knew - there was an incident . . . up to now we don't know what was the reason for it. In '43 . . . at that time there were only one hundred and seventy Jews in Buchenwald, and they all were masons, and that is why they have stayed in Buchenwald, and they were not sent in Auschwitz - to Auschwitz. In '43 it was the Jews who have built up the great [word not clear - sounds like Gussbetrieb - smelters or Gustoff Werke] the factories, it was Jews, they have been . . .
  • David Boder: The Buchenwald Werke (works)
  • Otto Feuer: Thanks to Mauerer - to masons . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: They were masons. They were very good masons, very efficient masons.
  • David Boder: Yes. [word not clear]
  • Otto Feuer: When somebody came to visit the camp, I remember [??] this, the commander of the camp, he showed the factory and he told the high German generals, a German general who told it; 'you see, that is all my Jews who have built this'.
  • David Boder: Yes. Were they Freimaurer?
  • Otto Feuer: No . . . no . . .
  • David Boder: Oh, you called them masons because the were artisan-masons.
  • Otto Feuer: Yes, yes.
  • David Boder: You see, I understood masons in the sense of Freimaurer.Boder here means Freemasons, members of the international Masonic order that was considered by the Nazis to be an enemy of the Third Reich.25
  • Otto Feuer: No, no.
  • David Boder: So they were experienced . . .
  • Otto Feuer: No, they were experienced masons . . . [several words not clear]
  • David Boder: . . . and they built a house . . .
  • Otto Feuer: . . . they built factories.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . in the summer '43, the factories had been built. And without any reason, some Jews, the names of some Jews were written down when working, under the pretext - they have been late.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: The next day they got twenty-five strokes with a club.
  • David Boder: Each one?
  • Otto Feuer: Each one, and then . . .
  • David Boder: When, during the Appell?
  • Otto Feuer: No, after the Appell, after the evening Appell, and then they were sent to the hospital.
  • David Boder: To the infirmary.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . to the infirmary, and there they got the deadly injection . . . by one of those . . .
  • David Boder: Physicians.
  • Otto Feuer: Physicians.
  • David Boder: And you think it was what? An experiment?
  • Otto Feuer: No, it wasn't an experiment. It is . . . as far as we know, it was only the person who was hated [by Lange??] the leader of the camp. [several words not clear]In fact there were a number of barbaric medical experiments that took place at Buchenwald using human beings. They were undertaken with the cooperation of the German armed services and various German firms such as I.G. Farben and the Behring works. SS doctors conducted tests with typhus, yellow fever, smallpox, cholera, diptheria, chemical warfare agents, phosphorus-rubber substances from incendiary bombs, poisoned ammunition, blood too old to be used on "normal patients" and other pathogens. Most subjects of these experiments died agonizing deaths. The most infamous of the experiments dealt with typhus in which hundreds infected with the disease perished. Since the method of the injection was later shown to be unscientific, the medical value of these tests was useless.26
  • David Boder: Hated whom?
  • Otto Feuer: Hatred against the Jews.
  • David Boder: Hum . . .
  • Otto Feuer: So if he wanted . . . he picked up some . . . One day he had picked up five young jews who were very good masons.
  • David Boder: Meaning construction workers?
  • Otto Feuer: Construction workers.
  • David Boder: When you say to an American, a mason.
  • Otto Feuer: It is a Free-mason.
  • David Boder: It is Freimaurer.
  • Otto Feuer: I now know [??] A construction worker.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Well. And they were very strong, and . . . they were very good at work [??] and those five . . . their names were written down . . . and they got about their twenty . . . about fifteen strokes, at that time those numbered only fifteen [??] they were sent to the hospital, and there they got the deadly injection. [about 5-7 words not clear] the last [word not clear] they had already the injection in the arm. And they knew what was going on. And they told a comrade who [??] passed at the window, with the possibility to see them . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: One of them told him - I can only tell you in German.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: 'Ich habe jetzt zwei liter haferflocken gegessen, süss wie zucker' [I have just eaten two liters of oatflakes. Sweet as sugar]
  • David Boder: Nu.
  • Otto Feuer: 'Und die haben mir so gut geschmackt; sie sind ja auch so gesund' [and they were so delicious, they are so good for one's health] . . . You know what . . . ?
  • David Boder: Wer hat das gesagt? [Who said that?]
  • Otto Feuer: [continues in German] The man who had the injection in the arm, was not to live within an hour.
  • David Boder: Ja.
  • Otto Feuer: [in English] You know what that is - cynic?
  • David Boder: What?
  • Otto Feuer: Cynicism.
  • David Boder: Ja.
  • Otto Feuer: Er hat gesagt: 'Ich habe jetzt zwei liter Hafterflocken..!' [I have just eaten two liters of oatflakes] . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: ' . . . sie haben mir wunderbar geschmeckt' [they were so delicious]
  • David Boder: Haferflocken waren eine suppe? [oatflakes were a soup?]
  • Otto Feuer: Haferflocken were a nicer . . . die [word not clear] Suppe, es war eine besondere Suppe [it was a special soup]
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Eine gute Suppe [a good soup]
  • David Boder: [apparently translates] Two liters of flake soup.
  • Otto Feuer: Yes.
  • David Boder: And I feel wonderful.
  • Otto Feuer: [word not clear] and I feel wonderful.
  • David Boder: Don't you think that the injection may have had that kind of [effect]
  • Otto Feuer: No, no, no. The same evening, I can tell you I met a Jew . . .
  • David Boder: Ja.
  • Otto Feuer: That same evening, there was a new prisoner.
  • David Boder: Ja.
  • Otto Feuer: A Jew of about sixty years.
  • David Boder: Ja.
  • Otto Feuer: You must realize that at this time we were all convinced, the only logical conclusion we could make was - it was now the time they wanted to exterminate all of us.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: We were all convinced, now the time is come, it was summer '43.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: We were convinced now [words not clear] we were all convinced . . .
  • David Boder: Why didn't you rebel then? Why wasn't there a fight then?The question regarding the supposed lack of resistance on the part of the victims is asked again and again. It is answered by Elie Wiesel who wrote, "The question is not why there was not more resistance. The question is how so many found the strength to resist at all."27
  • Otto Feuer: How . . . how do you want us to rebel?
  • David Boder: [several words not clear]
  • Otto Feuer: We were hundred and seventy Jews. Arms? How can you fight them - with a revolver. Against machine guns, flame throwers.
  • David Boder: Ja.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . against . . . do you know, how . . . do you know the towers of Buchenwald? How the towers . . . with the machine guns, with armored [word not clear] with flame throwers . . .
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Otto Feuer: How do you want us to fight?
  • David Boder: Hum.
  • Otto Feuer: We had no possibility to make a real fight, to . . . ha . . . before we could approach, we would have been killed.
  • David Boder: Ja. Was it surrounded with electric wire?
  • Otto Feuer: Of course it was surrounded with electric wire.
  • David Boder: Were there cases of suicide at the electric wire?
  • Otto Feuer: Of course there were.
  • David Boder: Often? Many?
  • Otto Feuer: Not too much. No, no . . . the will to live. There were not too much compared with all the things there were not . . . too much suicides in Buchenwald. People wanted to live. With all this they wanted to live. They could no more go, they could no more march, but they wanted to live. They didn't want to stie [correcting himself] to die [a slip of the tongue apparently a fusion of the st from the word sterben meaning die, and the English word die]Despite the horrendous conditions in the camp, the will to live that Feuer refers to should be understood as a form of resistance. Armed resistance, as he indicates, was suicidal, but prisoners could and did engage in moral, psychological and spiritual resistance.28
  • David Boder: Could you tell me what did they call a Mussulman?
  • Otto Feuer: A Mussulman? That is somebody who is unable to work.
  • David Boder: And what . . .
  • Otto Feuer: Who is unable to work, who is no more able to march, ride . . . and to run no more, and no more to behave . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . how he has to behave in this concentration camp - he was called a Mussulman.
  • David Boder: An emaciated person . . .
  • Otto Feuer: Yes.
  • David Boder: Now tell me, have you an idea, what is the philology of the word? Where does it come from?
  • Otto Feuer: Mussulman that is of course . . . it is . . . you know . . .
  • David Boder: You think it means a Mussulman, a Mohammedan . . .
  • Otto Feuer: Of course . . . yes.
  • David Boder: Now why would they give such a name? [a pause] Did you never talk about it, did it never occure to you to get, so to say, the semantics of the word?
  • Otto Feuer: But it is quite sure that this is the origin of the word.
  • David Boder: Ja.
  • Otto Feuer: They had this picture, the German had this picture, the Mussulman is quite strange to the German.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: You see. And this picture was created by German . . . by Germans. By German prisoners.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Or by German SS even. But it is . . . the imagination of a Mussulman is so strange to a German. Somebody who has a particular hat on his head.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And to have [several words not clear] and that is a Mussulman. And you know we had our hats, our caps and so on, might be that this was some like this.
  • David Boder: Now, tell me, I have still this other question. You started telling me something about the character of the capos. You said that before. What were they? You say, not all of them were criminals?As Mr. Feuer shows, not even the capos (the foremen of various camp work details) can be stereotyped.29
  • Otto Feuer: Not all of them were criminals. [were] some of them, and a little amount of them were very good people. But you must, you must see the cause [??] . . . They were simple prisoners, never can . . . I couldn't understand that time [??] and I was kicked enough . . .
  • David Boder: Ja.
  • Otto Feuer: But I am quite sure, that . . . I remember one thing, when an SS man was looking for me . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And was trying to, to ill treat me, to strike me and so on, that the capo came and began to chase me, and began to cry - you lousy Jew, and so on. Was?Willst du machen dass du weg kommst. [get out of here] But by doing that, he chased me away.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And then I . . . I was liberated from the SS man.Some capos used mimicry of SS methods while in the presence of their superiors in order to save lives.30
  • David Boder: Aha.
  • Otto Feuer: You see.
  • David Boder: Ja.
  • Otto Feuer: And that of course a simple prisoner . . . and I at that time, I couldn't understand. The simple prisoner could never understand . . . why the capo ist so, and why the capo ist so. I won't I won't excuse all of them . . .
  • David Boder: Nu . . . Ja.
  • Otto Feuer: There is . . . at least half of them really were criminals, who really did all this work for . . . to have some more bread [word not clear] to have this power, to have the position and to have - don't be forced to work and so on.
  • David Boder: Ja. [pause] Mr. Feuer . . . Mr. Feuer, there is another question that I can not ask the other people. What do you know about the whole sex situation in the camps. First of all, how did the treat women prisoners. You have interviewed here people, here and there, and so to what extent were the women sexually abused, or not sexually abused?
  • Otto Feuer: In reality I never learned that, for instance, [that] a Jewish woman has been abused by an SS man, in the concentration camps.
  • David Boder: You have not heard?
  • Otto Feuer: I have not heard about it . . . that Jewish women, of course in Poland . . .
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Otto Feuer: But not in the concentration camps. They have been abused by SS men, but not in the concentration camps. I was sure that the SS were influential [??]
  • David Boder: What?
  • Otto Feuer: . . . there was greater punishment by the SS . . . it was against . . . this was against . . .
  • David Boder: This was against the law . . .
  • Otto Feuer: . . . against German racial law . . .
  • David Boder: Oh, it was against the racial laws?
  • Otto Feuer: It was against the racial laws?
  • David Boder: Promiscuous sex relations?
  • Otto Feuer: Of course.
  • David Boder: You mean to say, if there were a Jew . . .
  • Otto Feuer: . . . a Jew, a Jew could have been prosecuted in Germany before the war, in 1936 or seven. Before the war there was this law of Rassenshande.The second of the two Nuremberg laws, the Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor, issued on September 15, 1935, prohibited marriages and extra marital intercourse between Jews and Germans. 31
  • David Boder: Yes. But didn't that mean that they should not have children?
  • Otto Feuer: No, no . . . that was even sexual intercourse between a Jew and a prostitute. He was . . . he was condemned to . . . to prison . . . to . . . two years, three years even when having sexual intercourse with a prostitute . . .
  • David Boder: With an Aryan prostitute . . .
  • Otto Feuer: With an Aryan prostitute. And even German have been prosecuted, and have been prosecuted because having intercourse with a Jewish, with a Jewish girl . . .
  • David Boder: Yes. Were then the Polish women and the others differently treated? They say they had the brothels for the officers?
  • Otto Feuer: [several words not clear] Of course the had brothels for the officers.
  • David Boder: And who were they?
  • Otto Feuer: It was no Jewish women. Women of all nations but no Jewish women.
  • David Boder: Deportees?
  • Otto Feuer: Yes.
  • David Boder: women deportees.
  • Otto Feuer: Deportees too . . .
  • David Boder: What did the tell about the brothel in Buchenwald?
  • Otto Feuer: This brothel in Buchenwald, in Buchenwald was created in autumn '43 some words sound like Germanic Club, or one o'clock and at the assembly, after an Appell at two o'clock or about one o'clock . . .
  • David Boder: Nun?
  • Otto Feuer: Nun at one o'clock, and the SS commander of the camp declared to the prisoners, the brothel is open and the prisoners can begin "their work" - "can begin their work, ja" [??]
  • David Boder: Can begin - you mean . . .
  • Otto Feuer: . . . "their work"
  • David Boder: Under what conditions?
  • Otto Feuer: It was only for Germans . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: There were sixteen women at that time in the brothel. So he had to make an application to the Blockälteste.
  • David Boder: Who had to make an application?
  • Otto Feuer: The prisoners. The interested person . . . an application to the Blockälteste, who forwarded it to the Aberstatistik.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And then he got an invitation from the Aberstatistik [?] some day later to show up in the hospital in the [word not clear] where he passed a medical visit.
  • David Boder: Yes, examination . . .
  • Otto Feuer: Exaination, and then he got a clear [?] ticket to go to the brothel where he had to pasy one mark. We got in Buchenwald Lagermark -
  • David Boder: Yes, that was . . . yes . . .
  • Otto Feuer: And he had to pay for it, and then he could use a woman, he couldn't [?] have his choice, his choice . . . when the woman was too weak . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And at any rate . . . he would have to take another woman, and of course that meant [here apparently the interview was interrupted for some reason possibly by some co-worker of Mr. Feuer]
  • David Boder: Well you said he could go over and then . . .
  • Otto Feuer: He then, of course the SS man, one SS man was on duty of the brothel, and he took care that nobody stay too long with his girl there. There was a recognized [word not clear]
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Of course most of the political prisoners tried not with complete success, but at any rate tried to boycott the brothel.
  • David Boder: Yes, who were the women.
  • Otto Feuer: The women, the women, were deportees of the . . . of a women's concentration camp.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . who have been asked to volunteer for it.
  • David Boder: They volunteered. What were they given in exchange?
  • Otto Feuer: They were given - they had not to work.
  • David Boder: Not to work. Were they given better food?
  • Otto Feuer: They got better food. Yes. They got the same food . . . they got the same food as the SS.
  • David Boder: Yes. Were the SS also using the same place?
  • Otto Feuer: There was one [word not clear] Lagerführer Gust who was in this place always in this place and who had a sweetheart in this place, a very interesting story with this sweetheart.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: She furnished the camp with a lot of informations.
  • David Boder: What kind? [??]
  • Otto Feuer: . . . from [?] this girl, which she drew out of the Lagerführer.
  • David Boder: Yes. And why . . . if he was the Lagerführer, how happened it that he couldn't take her out and keep her for himself.
  • Otto Feuer: Because this woman was a deportee and she was assigned to this . . . to this brothel.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: So he couldn't, he couldn't take her [several words not clear] He was not so much interested. You see he was a perverted man who found an interest to have such a woman.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Well the story I wanted to tell you.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Of course most of the prisoners who visited the camp [corrects himself] who visited the brothel, who visited . . . were political . . . [corrects himself] were criminal prisoners.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Well this story went around in the whole camp.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Starting with the beginning of the autumn of '43 we have got the permission to receive packages . . . food packages . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And those German criminal prisoners . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: [word not clear] From relatives, - and of course had some relatives in Germany, and they got food packages. Now one of this prisoners has got a cookie.
  • David Boder: A what?
  • Otto Feuer: A cookie . . .
  • David Boder: Yes . . . a cake . . .
  • Otto Feuer: A cake, and of course everybody of those who frequented the brothel wanted to bring something special to his "sweetheart' to have some nice minutes.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And he brought this cake.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: [several words not clear] He made his application, and [several words not clear] he went to the brothel, and he brought this cake to this woman. After having finished, he came back to us. It was Sunday and nobody worked, and he came back to his barracks[??] and sat down at this table. And then . . . he was doing nothing, and about a half an hour later one of his comrades entered the [word not clear] block, seated himself at the same desk, and he had a little parcel and he began to take out this parcel and it was this cake.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Which one of the [word not clear] criminals has brought to the woman.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: [repeats the same, not clear word as in the previous sentence, sounds like was] which she has given to the other comrade. He was now . . . the prisoner could now see how this comrade was eating cookie . . . [several words not clear]
  • David Boder: Yes. Why did she give it away?
  • Otto Feuer: [several words not clear] She was in love with this guy.
  • David Boder: She was in love with this guy - so she gave him away the cake that the other had brought. Well . . .
  • Otto Feuer: He was [a case of] strictly ignored love. The prisoners who have been for years, and years and years, and of German origninal became . . . because afterwards so-called Ehrenhäftlings . . .Literally, "true prisoners." They had a higher status than the more recent arrivals due to the positions they occupied in the camp prisoner hierarchy and the increased chances for survival these positions could secure. It should be noted that the most prominent prisoners in Buchenwald were incarcerated in an isolated barrack deep in the woods. These celebrities included the former head the German Social Democratic party, Rudolf Breitscheid and his wife, the business magnate, Fritz Thyssen and the former French premier, Leon Blum.32
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: That means they were entitled to have the hair not cut.
  • David Boder: Hum.
  • Otto Feuer: And it was strictly forbidden for prisoners to write a words to one of the . . .
  • David Boder: Women?
  • Otto Feuer: Well. There were orders that almost [??] . . . prisoners who have done it . . .
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Must be [word not clear] prisoners who haven't had a woman for seven years, eight years, ten years.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And of course it was something for some of them. And some of those prisoners lost their hair. Because they have written a letter to one of those girls.
  • David Boder: So they had to shave off their hair?
  • Otto Feuer: That is so [??] They got to have the hair cut.
  • David Boder: Now tell me this, Mr. Feuer. After you were freed from Buchenwald, where did you go?
  • Otto Feuer: After my liberation in Buchenwald, I stayed for about a month in Buchenwald and . . .
  • David Boder: Who took care of you, who was feeding the camp?
  • Otto Feuer: It was the American army who . . . I guess it was also the Russians [?] who made distributions [of prisoners??]
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: We were fed, we were -
  • David Boder: Did you go in the Verwaltung, did you go into the management of the camp.
  • Otto Feuer: Yes, of course. We had..our administration completely continued to exist.
  • David Boder: The -
  • Otto Feuer: Only that we were no more governed by the SS. We were completely self governing ourselves, and there were of course American officers who had the final decision about questions, and so on. But all the other things..we made the requisitions ourselves. The American officers gave us a truck. They gave us some people, some soldiers with arms to make requisitions, and gave us the authorization to requisition.
  • David Boder: Oh, you mean you made [word not clear] requisitions from the Germans?
  • Otto Feuer: From the Germans. Yes.
  • David Boder: Did the Germans have enough to feed such a camp.
  • Otto Feuer: Some of it . . . how have we been fed formerly.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Of course we were fed by Germans too. The un . . . [apparently he wanted to say UNNRA] the American army contributed something, but the basic food was German food.
  • David Boder: Did you regain your freedom, could you start to go out?
  • Otto Feuer: Yes we went . . . we could not . . . just not completely. We could get a paper, authorizing us to leave the camp, for one day.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: To have a furlough.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: For one day.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And we had to come back. Because it was no more so strict, and we could leave the camp. Of course we have cut, we have cut the barbed wire and so on, and we left the camp very often [?] And we didn't leave the camp, most of us, 99% of us came back because nobody knew where to go.
  • David Boder: And the war was still going on.
  • Otto Feuer: The war was still going on, and so on.
  • David Boder: Did you have your radios and could you listen to . . .
  • Otto Feuer: Yes. We all, we all . . . we had it formal. Now we could of course -
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: No more listen to the Germans [several words not clear] they broadcasted, we listened to it. Officially to . . . Landsman [?] to Luxembourg.
  • David Boder: Aha. Tell me this. Were the stores of clothes . . . [??] of so long. Could you get that back then?
  • Otto Feuer: Yes. Yes we could now . . . even we requisitioned two . . . army clothes and so on . . . army stock was requisitioned.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And was given to us.
  • David Boder: German army stuff?
  • Otto Feuer: German army stuff. And even other vital clothes, baby clothes was requisitioned by . . . by the American army, and was given to us.
  • David Boder: Requisitioned from whom?
  • Otto Feuer: From the Germans.
  • David Boder: You mean from the families requisitioned.
  • Otto Feuer: No, no, no, no, no, no . . . from German stores.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: From German stores. There were still German stores.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: [enumerates, not clear] ordinary . . . shoes, and then suits too, and pullovers, and so on . . .
  • David Boder: [word not clear] then you got more or less clothes, and so on . . . and then, when did you go away to France . . . eh, to France?
  • Otto Feuer: Now . . . after the liberation there came a lot of Americans, American army personalities and then were such [word not clear] and press men, and so on, who came to visit the camp, and I guided most of these people through the camp. When guiding one of the American officers through a camp, a certain lieutenant Letva [??] [several words not clear] he was very impressed about . . . the story. He told me, he had been in the States, he had been an isolationist.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And now, after having seen Buchenwald, he now knew, why it was good that he was . . .
  • David Boder: . . . came here.
  • Otto Feuer: That America Has made [was in] this war.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Well, this man this officer was very fond of me, and he offered me to accompany him. And I had nobody, I had nowhere to go, so I went with him and we turned into the vicinity of the little town of Germany of Wetzlar. [next sentence not clear] He had to leave for Marseilles [several words not clear] I stayed with him about one month.Wetzlar is located in Hesse-Nassau Germany southeast of Marburg and north of Frankfurt.33
  • David Boder: What did you do with him?
  • Otto Feuer: I was doing nothing at that time. I was eating very well.
  • David Boder: Ja.
  • Otto Feuer: And I was helping a little bit in the kitchen.
  • David Boder: Ja.
  • Otto Feuer: Then he recommended me to the American Military government it Wetzlar and I was working there . . . from May 22nd on to August 15th.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Then I created in the city of Wetzlar a committee [for people] for persons who have left . . . been in concetration camps, and I was beginning to work for a new German newspaper, the Frankfurter Rundschau.
  • David Boder: Hum.
  • Otto Feuer: I earned [?] a very good living. I had a very interesting job, and I had a car, I had a very fine apartment and so on, but I could no more see the Germans . . .
  • David Boder: The Frankfurter Rundschau could supply you with that kind of facilities, with a car?
  • Otto Feuer: I was working [?] for the Frankfurter Rundschau in combine with this work that I was doing for the Military government and for this committee.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: I had a car.
  • David Boder: Did you learn yourself . . . ?
  • Otto Feuer: Yes I drive, drove myself.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: I drove myself, I was still living in that little town of Wetzlar. Wetzlar is a very famous town because these Leitz Werke you know, Leitz . . .
  • David Boder: Leitz? The optical . . .
  • Otto Feuer: Yes the optical works of Leitz around there . . .
  • David Boder: Ja.
  • Otto Feuer: I made a very good living, but I could no more be with the Germans. I don't I couldn't . . . I do not, I won't tell really that I hate the, but I detest them [several words not clear]
  • David Boder: [not clear]
  • Otto Feuer: The came to me and they were telling me - the knew that I was a Jew of course - and then they came me, to tell me how good they had treated the Jews. In person each German came to me, tell . . . told me how good he had been to [word not clear] Jews. . . . one . . . one German gendarme, a Land [part of word not clear] [obviously meaning village constable] came to tell me that when there was the order to . . . bring all those Jews to the assembly center . . . These cowardly, self-serving responses infuriated Feuer. The German population around Buchenwald implausibly denied knowledge of its existence. But German civilians by the hundreds were brought by the American army to help clean the camp and dig mass graves.34
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: He did not bring them on foot but he brought them with a cart.
  • David Boder: Hum.
  • Otto Feuer: And this was an example of humanity [humane-ity] towards the Jews.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Well, it . . . it . . . it's . . . I don't seem to . . . anybody will . . . will understand . . . it . . . our general feeling, why those Jews . . . why I every . . . most of the other Jews won't stay in Germany . . . Won't stay in Poland, that's we can no more see these people, it's too much for our memory, for our [word not clear] it's too much.
  • David Boder: Hum.
  • Otto Feuer: So I had an opportunity to go to France . . .
  • David Boder: What was that opportunity, how did that come?
  • Otto Feuer: Well there were . . . some remote relations of mine are living in Paris, and got . . . a so called . . . [two words in French not clear, obviously meaning permit for temporary, or transitory visa]
  • David Boder: Hum.
  • Otto Feuer: And of course my intention to go to the States.
  • David Boder: Hum.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . to America. I thought that this time it would go much quicker, being in France. So I left Germany on three days' notice [??]
  • David Boder: Who did you meet [??] with?
  • Otto Feuer: This . . . my . . . my . . . where I was working and so on. And I gave back the car and so on, and I took a truck from UNNRA and came to France, came to Paris.
  • David Boder: Did they give you a truck or . . . ?
  • Otto Feuer: No, there was a [train? Word not clear] there was a convoy of people, of . . . a repatriation convoy.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: And I took part in it.
  • David Boder: Aha. And tell me this. When do you think you will be in America?
  • Otto Feuer: In just learned . . . five minutes ago I learned, wouldn't be there before . . . either the end of this year or the beginning of next year.
  • David Boder: Why? What quota have you? Polish?
  • Otto Feuer: Austrian quota. And I have already registered 10 years [ago?] and I would already been in the States, nearly . . . nearly I'd been in the States . . .
  • David Boder: In '39?
  • Otto Feuer: In '39 or '40. But in '40 I couldn't get visa. When I already was in concentration camp, I had still the photo-copy of the letter which the American consulate of Hamburg wrote me at that time, that he couldn't yet grant me the visa; my . . . my uncle who had sent me the affidavit had to send them out . . . This is an example of the "paper walls" constructed by the U.S. State Department designed to curtail Jewish immigration. These "walls" doomed countless Jews seeking refuge.35
  • David Boder: A paper . . . [?]
  • Otto Feuer: Another paper of the bank otherwise . . .
  • David Boder: A statement of the bank.
  • Otto Feuer: . . . a statement of the bank, otherwise it would not be sufficiently sure how much my livelihood would be secure in the - States.
  • David Boder: Where is your uncle?
  • Otto Feuer: He is in the States [??] But now . . . now I have two brothers in the States. I am going to my brothers.
  • David Boder: Where are your two brothers?
  • Otto Feuer: One of my brothers is in Erie, in Pennsylvania.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: Five hundred, no 23-30 East Avenue.
  • David Boder: Erie, Pennsylvania?
  • Otto Feuer: Yes.
  • David Boder: And the other?
  • Otto Feuer: The other one is in Gary, 320 . . .
  • David Boder: Gary, Indiana?
  • Otto Feuer: Yes.
  • David Boder: Well that's near to me. You want me to call him up?
  • Otto Feuer: Of course I want you to call him up.
  • David Boder: Sure.
  • Otto Feuer: Three hundred twenty two . . . Oh really? He might listen to this.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: He might hear this?
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Otto Feuer: [In ecstasy] Tell him, he is a little bit ill [??] . . . tell him I love him very much, and tell him he shall . . . he shall . . . here, here [he apparently points to a part of the body] sick, you know, I want him to be, I want him to be healthy . . .
  • David Boder: [Both are talking] Is he married?
  • Otto Feuer: He is married, he has two children. I did not yet see the children.
  • David Boder: You know what I promise you to do?
  • Otto Feuer: Ja.
  • David Boder: I take this machine into my car.
  • Otto Feuer: Ja.
  • David Boder: And I drive out to Gary and [word not clear] [interviewer is apparently deeply moved]
  • Otto Feuer: Oh that would be wonderful. Tuen sie es for sure. verstanden, gut, and Lucy, Doris and Peter this is Onkel Otto. You do not yet know me, but once you will know me.
  • David Boder: All right, what is the address in Gary?
  • Otto Feuer: I give you the address: 322 Gary, Ind. Honduras [??] Street [repetition not clear]
  • David Boder: Vanburen Street? [spool is apparently at an end] All right that concludes the interview with Mr. Feuer. It is the continuation of Spool . . . Spool 64, it was very informal, especially, to give the interviewer a general picture, and Mr. Feuer was very helpful in getting other interviewees. I hope he will be there soon but I think I will call up . . . [blank on the wire] in Gary and we will have a good time together. I let them listen to this . . .
  1. Hamburg was Germany's second largest city and its largest port. It had the fourth largest Jewish community in the country, a community that was vibrant and well-organized. Jews were well integrated into the life of this generally tolerant and progressive city.
  2. Among the many pieces of anti-Jewish legislation enacted by the Nazis were measures barring Jews from various professions such as law and measures designed to make such occupations inaccessible in the first place by restricting Jewish admission to institutions of higher learning and preventing them from sitting for state examinations.
  3. Responding to a move by the Polish government to deprive Polish Jews from the right of return from countries under German rule, the Germans drove some 17,000 Polish Jews into a no-man's-land between the two countries on October 28, 1938. The largest number were stranded near the border town of Zbaszyn.
  4. Feuer is referring to the assassination of Ernst vom Rath by Herschel Grynszpan.
  5. Grynszpan was not the cause of Feuer's family's expulsion to Poland. The expulsion took place on October 28, 1938, followed by the assassination on November 7, 1938.
  6. The exact fate of Herschel Grynszpan has not been determined. After the fall of France, the collaborationist Vichy government turned him over to the Germans. Their plan to stage a show trial was not realized, and Grynszpan disappeared without a trace. It is not clear how he died, but it is almost certain that he did not survive the war.
  7. The interview provides no information as to the fate of Feuer's parents.
  8. "It's not to be told in such a short time about the experience of someone in the concentration camp" is a poignant, gross understatement. The brutalities he and other inmates endured are beyond description.
  9. Like so many other survivors, Feuer wanted to bear witness. He wanted the world to never forget the crimes of the Nazis.
  10. The incident related by Feuer regarding the murder of his friend by the SS man reflects the mentality of the SS and the defenselessness of the prisoners. The SS were conditioned to behave with utter ruthlessness and brutality to those who were the supposed enemies of the "master race." These so-called enemies could be killed or exploited to serve the greater "racial good." In the camps, the SS could act with impunity towards the prisoners, give vent to their sadistic passion and exercise to the utmost their "will to power." When the SS man spoke to Feuer after he had murdered his friend, he was not speaking to a fellow human being but rather to an animate object or thing.
  11. Feuer means "conscience." The SS were taught that pangs of conscience stemming from sympathy or compassion for their victims were signs of weakness that had to be stamped out.
  12. These fictitious reasons for prisoners' deaths were also commonly used in the Nazis' euthanasia program.
  13. Buchenwald had some 130 satellite camps, the most infamous of which was Dora. The camps employed hundreds of thousands of slave laborers who were often worked to death for the German war effort.
  14. Construction on Buchenwald began in 1937 in a wooded area five miles from Weimar, the home of the noted German poet, Goethe, who supposedly rested and meditated under an oak tree, Goethe's oak. The oak was spared by the Nazis and designated the center of the camp, which was the antithesis of the humanistic and enlightened spirit of the poet and the democratic hopes on which the post World War I Weimar Republic was founded.
  15. Feuer most probably means Jehovah's Witnesses. The Witnesses would not swear an oath of allegiance to the state and as pacifists would not serve in the armed forces. They were persecuted and victimized by the Nazis. In the camps, they were identified by a purple triangle.
  16. The yellow triangle Feuer wore signified that he was a Jew. The red triangle signified that he was a also a political prisoner. Feuer did not reveal his political sympathies in the interview, but he was most probably a left-wing political opponent of the Nazis. He describes himself as a "simple prisoner," but one wonders, given his intelligence and strength of personality, what role he played in the prisoner underground dominated by the "reds."
  17. Given the system of prisoner "self administration," this was of the utmost importance in saving lives as Feuer's account subsequently illustrates.
  18. Feuer might be referring here to the follow-up of an October 17, 1942 order by Himmler to transfer all Jewish prisoners in the Reich to Auschwitz. Obviously, he was among those Buchenwald Jewish prisoners who were spared deportation. It is unknown if this was due to any sort of standing he had among the "reds."
  19. This is an indication of the so-called "choiceless" choices often faced by the prisoners in the camps as well as the "grey zone" of morality, so well-described by Primo Levi, in which prisoners had to function. Often survival in the camps meant survival at someone else's expense. In those instances when life saving help could be given, a system of triage had to be employed.
  20. For a detailed description of the struggle between the "greens" and the "reds" in Buchenwald and the consequences of its outcome, see Eugen Kogon's The Theory and Practice of Hell.
  21. Concentration camp prisoners often seethed with a desire for vengeance. However, the kind of retribution Feuer describes places him and others who sought to bring the perpetrators to trial in courts of law rather than killing them on the spot on a far higher moral and ethical plane than their oppressors. An American court tried twenty-one leading Buchenwald Nazis in 1947. Two were sentenced to death and four to life imprisonment.
  22. The American forces did not have to shoot their way into Buchenwald. Before its liberation on April 11, 1945, the Germans had left, and the prisoner underground was in control of the facility. Unfortunately in the days before the liberation, thousands of prisoners had been shipped out of the camp, many of whom died from starvation, disease and exhaustion or were shot or beaten to death by the SS.
  23. Buchenwald was not the main assembly point for all other concentration camps. What Feuer might be describing here is that in 1944-'45, owing to the advances of the Red army, thousands of prisoners including many Jews were transferred from camps in the East to Buchenwald. Some remained in the main camp, and others were sent to one of Buchenwald's many satellite camps such as Ohrdruf, which was visited by General Eisenhower and leading Congressional dignitaries.
  24. The Nazis treated Russian prisoners of war horribly. They were considered subhuman and bearers of the "virus of Bolshevism." Most Soviet prisoners of war sent to Buchenwald were murdered soon after arrival.
  25. Boder here means Freemasons, members of the international Masonic order that was considered by the Nazis to be an enemy of the Third Reich.
  26. In fact there were a number of barbaric medical experiments that took place at Buchenwald using human beings. They were undertaken with the cooperation of the German armed services and various German firms such as I.G. Farben and the Behring works. SS doctors conducted tests with typhus, yellow fever, smallpox, cholera, diptheria, chemical warfare agents, phosphorus-rubber substances from incendiary bombs, poisoned ammunition, blood too old to be used on "normal patients" and other pathogens. Most subjects of these experiments died agonizing deaths. The most infamous of the experiments dealt with typhus in which hundreds infected with the disease perished. Since the method of the injection was later shown to be unscientific, the medical value of these tests was useless.
  27. The question regarding the supposed lack of resistance on the part of the victims is asked again and again. It is answered by Elie Wiesel who wrote, "The question is not why there was not more resistance. The question is how so many found the strength to resist at all."
  28. Despite the horrendous conditions in the camp, the will to live that Feuer refers to should be understood as a form of resistance. Armed resistance, as he indicates, was suicidal, but prisoners could and did engage in moral, psychological and spiritual resistance.
  29. As Mr. Feuer shows, not even the capos (the foremen of various camp work details) can be stereotyped.
  30. Some capos used mimicry of SS methods while in the presence of their superiors in order to save lives.
  31. The second of the two Nuremberg laws, the Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor, issued on September 15, 1935, prohibited marriages and extra marital intercourse between Jews and Germans.
  32. Literally, "true prisoners." They had a higher status than the more recent arrivals due to the positions they occupied in the camp prisoner hierarchy and the increased chances for survival these positions could secure. It should be noted that the most prominent prisoners in Buchenwald were incarcerated in an isolated barrack deep in the woods. These celebrities included the former head the German Social Democratic party, Rudolf Breitscheid and his wife, the business magnate, Fritz Thyssen and the former French premier, Leon Blum.
  33. Wetzlar is located in Hesse-Nassau Germany southeast of Marburg and north of Frankfurt.
  34. These cowardly, self-serving responses infuriated Feuer. The German population around Buchenwald implausibly denied knowledge of its existence. But German civilians by the hundreds were brought by the American army to help clean the camp and dig mass graves.
  35. This is an example of the "paper walls" constructed by the U.S. State Department designed to curtail Jewish immigration. These "walls" doomed countless Jews seeking refuge.
  • Contributors to this text:
  • Transcription : David P. Boder
  • Footnotes : Elliot Lefkovitz