David P. Boder Interviews Jaques Matzner; September 26, 1946; Wiesbaden, Germany

  • David Boder: [In English] Wiesbaden, September the 26th, 1946. These are the last spools we are taking in Germany and they are about the last spools of the project. I am now interviewing Mr. Jack Matzner, forty-two years old, an important member of the Wiesbaden community, which is primarily supported by UNNRA, but lives in pri— is billeted in private homes. The billeting, of course, as I understand, is about 1.6 people per bedroom.
  • David Boder: [In German] Mr. M., will you tell me again what is your name and where you were born?
  • Jaques Matzner: My name is Jack Matzner. I was born in Wiesbaden. My parents were of Polish descent, and up to the year 1938, I was a Polish subject.
  • David Boder: In spite of the fact that you were born in Wiesbaden?
  • Jaques Matzner: In spite of the fact that I was born in Wiesbaden.
  • David Boder: Will you please tell me what happened to you that you may consider as direct consequences of the Hitler regime?
  • Jaques Matzner: First of all, my business activities, which I pursued up to the year 1933 with complete freedom, were completely halted on the day of Hitler's ascent to power.
  • David Boder: Continue
  • Jaques Matzner: In 1938 . . .
  • David Boder: What kind of business was it?
  • Jaques Matzner: I had a mail order business in textiles.
  • David Boder: Where to did you ship you merchandise?
  • Jaques Matzner: Within Germany, especially to greater Hessen, Rotenberg, Bavaria, and Baden. [Regions South West of Germany]
  • David Boder: Was it what we call a mail order house—would they order by mail?
  • Jaques Matzner: They would order by mail, and we would ship by mail. In 1938 the Polish Jews were deported. One night the Gestapo arrived, and within twenty minutes, we had to leave our home. My brother, my two sisters, the two children of one of my sisters, and myself were forcibly taken to the police, leaving behind all our belongings, a comparatively large amount of cash, and a quite large amount of jewelry. It all was taken away from us, and we regarded it as most fortunate that both of our old parents were not taken with us because they had doctors' affidavits to the effect that they were completely unfit for transport. We were then deported to Poland in cattle cars, crowded together, sixty to seventy people in one cattle car, and arrived on the morning of a Sabbath in Beuthen at the Polish border.
  • David Boder: What is the name of Beuthen in Polish?
  • Jaques Matzner: It is the last station in Germany at the Polish border, near Katovitz.
  • David Boder: Oh, yes. That is near Sosnovitz, Katovitz
  • Jaques Matzner: Yes. Yes. It appears to be in that region. We were pushed over the Polish border and arrived on a Sunday at the main depot in Katovitz. The reception given to us by the Jews in Poland, who had been informed about us, was so warm and marvelous that for a moment one was able to forget the pain, the misery, and the want, but I . . .
  • David Boder: What do you mean by the reception of the Jews? What did they do for you?
  • Jaques Matzner: The people sacrificed everything. Day and night they provided us with food, nourishment, clothing, and everything possible. Don't forget that we were not permitted to take a thing with us.
  • David Boder: Were you admitted to Poland?
  • Jaques Matzner: Poland admitted us. However, I had to same night a telephone conversation with a rabbi, Dr. Ansbacher, in Wiesbaden, trying to arrange that nothing should happen to my two old parents and to comfort them, telling them that we had arrived well and endeavoring to create the impression that we were all right. Shortly afterwards, in about six weeks, I managed to return illegally from Poland to Wiesbaden, with the intention of taking care of my house and moving my parents to Holland because . . .
  • David Boder: That was in 1938?
  • Jaques Matzner: That was in December, '38, and January '39.
  • David Boder: And when did Germany start the war with Poland?
  • Jaques Matzner: September the first, 1939.
  • David Boder: So that was still before the war?
  • Jaques Matzner: That was about nine or ten months before the war.
  • David Boder: Go on.
  • Jaques Matzner: I returned illegally to Germany.
  • David Boder: Did you have false papers?
  • Jaques Matzner: No. I simply smuggled myself through. And we were a group of thirty-one people. We were even shot at when we crossed the border, on which occasion a six-months old baby of a young woman was killed. I arrived—
  • David Boder: What kind of a group was it? Tell me something about it.
  • Jaques Matzner: These were all people who lived formerly in Germany. Polish Jews who, were deported that time to Poland.
  • David Boder: And in spite of that, they decided to return?
  • Jaques Matzner: They decided to return in order to be able to salvage something of their belongings they had left behind.
  • David Boder: And then to return to Poland?
  • Jaques Matzner: Yes, and then to return to Poland. Or, there was also the illegal emigration to Belgium, Holland, France and Italy. At any rate, for me the deciding reason was a wish to save my parents. I returned illegally to Wiesbaden and was a witness to the burning of synagogues in Leipzig, in Dresden, in Aschaffenburg, in Mainz, in Frankfurt, as well as in Wiesbaden.
  • David Boder: When was that? Was that after that fellow was killed in France—that fellow Raat?
  • Jaques Matzner: Those were the dark "synagogue fires" in Germany, which were set off automatically as a consequence of the shooting of Herr Von Raat in the Paris embassy. The affair was represented by the then Minister of State Goebbels as a plot attributable to the Jews, and he put into effect the well-prepared pogroms against the Jewish synagogues and temples of Germany by instructing the members of the Nazi party to set fire to the synagogues. The temple of Wiesbaden was counted among the six most beautiful synagogues of Germany.
  • David Boder: Is that this building?
  • Jaques Matzner: No. That isn't this building, but a building in another location, of which now absolutely nothing is left.
  • David Boder: Was it destroyed by bombs?
  • Jaques Matzner: No. That was destroyed by the Nazis then in power. Petrol and gasoline were poured on it and set on fire.
  • David Boder: And so?
  • Jaques Matzner: This synagogue here was not set on fire only because such a fire would have threatened the neighborhood. This synagogue was only plundered completely and looted. The sacred scrolls were thrown on the streets, spread out and trampeled on the pavement. My old father who came daily to the synagogue . . .
  • David Boder: To this one?
  • Jaques Matzner: (To this synagogue,) came that morning as usual to attend the services—there still remained Jews in Wiesbaden who attended the services in the synagogue and worshipped their Lord. He was turned back. He recognized that there was danger and returned.
  • David Boder: Well?
  • Jaques Matzner: My father himself still saved one of the holy scrolls, which I later, with the help of my father, shipped away to Switzerland, where it still remains, and with the help of the chaplain now stationed here, Chaplain William Darling, we shall get this holy scroll back again to Wiesbaden. I hope that for the coming dedication of this synagogue, which is to be reconstructed, we shall also have this holy scroll here.
  • David Boder: Well?
  • Jaques Matzner: And so—
  • David Boder: So what happened to you? You came back.
  • Jaques Matzner: I came back, and in July 1939, we decided to leave the country and—that is, illegally,—to Belgium. My father, my mother, and I. In the meantime my two sisters and their two children returned from Poland, also illegally. So I arranged for them too an illegal departure to Belgium. An outsider may not be able to comprehend what kind of difficulties such an undertaking presents, to leave the "German soil", as the Nazis called it, especially in secret. First of all, there was the enormous cost of it. Second, we could not take with us anything, because one actually had to crawl across the border. One had to creep on all fours across the border. But at least one would save his life. We arrived then about the ninth of July, 1939, in Antwerp. We were very well received by the Jewish Relief Committee then functioning in Belgium. We obtained an apartment, and we remained in peace in Antwerp until Easter, 1940.
  • David Boder: Well?
  • Jaques Matzner: On the tenth of May, 1940, Hitler executed his attack on Belgium. The first bombardment started at night, and my late mother pleaded with me to flee to France, so that I could at least prepare in France a further refuge for the rest of the family.
  • David Boder: And the part of the family that was in Holland?
  • Jaques Matzner: Meanwhile we had all reunited in Antwerp.
  • David Boder: In Belgium.
  • Jaques Matzner: In Belgium. And so, on the fourteenth of May, I left for France. I bade good-bye to my father, my still-living mother, to my two sisters, and to their two children, and I did not know that that was a goodbye forever. On the twenty-sixty of July I arrived in France. A few days later I was arrested by the local secret police as a suspect.
  • David Boder: But Hitler wasn't yet in France.
  • Jaques Matzner: Hitler was not yet in France, but the prospect of an influx of refugees apparently worried France, and so all the refugees that arrived were considered suspects. And so I was placed in that infamous prisoners' camp, Le Verne in the department of Ariege. I was forced to spend eleven months there along with nine thousand Jewish refugees, among others with the International Brigade which fought in the Spanish Civil War, and all in all I should say there were possibly nineteen thousand prisoners, who had to live day and night, weeks and months, under most heavy guard, behind five rows of barbed wire. My brother, who lived in France, and had been in France since 1931, and who occupied a very high post as a rabbi, as slaughterer, as dajin, and as teacher in the city of Strassburg, was at that time evacuated to the south of France. My brother was able to vouch for me; I gained permission to settle in a small village, where my brother lived, where various other Jews of Strassburg were evacuated, and thus through the efforts of my brother I was released from this horrible lager. That was Purim [the feast of Esther, which is celebrated four weeks before Easter], 1941. I arrived at that little village.
  • David Boder: Oh, that was before the Americans entered the war?
  • Jaques Matzner: The Americans had not yet joined the war. Also the zone in which I lived was then not yet occupied by the Germans. It was the so-called "non-occupied zone".
  • David Boder: Non-occupied France.
  • Jaques Matzner: Yes. I arrived on Purim, in 1941, in Besancon. I was very well received, and I spent a short time in Besancon and I received . . .
  • David Boder: What about your parents? Did they remain behind?
  • Jaques Matzner: My parents were during that time still in Belgium, still in Antwerp. I had corresponded with them, and on Rosh Hashona [New Year's], oh, no, I am mistaken, it was on Sukkoth [Feast of the Tabernacles] 1941, I received word through relatives who were living in Switzerland that my mother (may she rest in peace) had passed away in Antwerp on the eve of Rosh Hashona. I thought -
  • David Boder: So you have a "in memoriam" today?
  • Jaques Matzner: I had the "in memoriam" yesterday. On the eve of Rosh Hashona. I thought then that I should not survive it, because my mother [and here he sobs bitterly] who was the dearest to me, had passed on without me. ["Passed on" is a conjectural translation; the word is not really comprehensible. His voice now gains new strength.] But today, after I have fifty-five months of concentration camps behind me, and after learning that my father and my two sisters and their two children were sent to Auschwitz, and probably shared the fate of millions, now I am consoled to know that my mother passed away in Antwerp, in her own bed, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. I myself was deported on the twenty-sixth of August of the same year to Paris, Drancy.
  • David Boder: Where from?
  • Jaques Matzner: From Besancon in southern France, by order of . . .
  • David Boder: Why?
  • Jaques Matzner: By order of the German Gestapo. I was arrested one night by the French mobile guard.
  • David Boder: You mean that in spite of the fact that the town was not in the occupied zone, the Germans exercised pressure to have the Jews arrested there?
  • Jaques Matzner: Yes, indeed. The Germans had their fingers stretched as far as the Spanish border, and at that time with that particular transport sixty-three thousand Jews, who had fled from Germany, from Austria, from Hungary, from Holland, from Belgium and from everywhere, as well as from the occupied zone of France, into the non-occupied zone—at that time a transport of Jews in the number of sixty-three thousand people were deported in cattle cars to Paris-Drancy. In Paris-Drancy we were immediately taken over by the German Gestapo and there for the first time we underwent a selection, which we later recognized as the "selections" like in Kobel, in Gogolin, and in Auschwitz, and in Grossrosen and in Bergen-Belsen. I, too, was included in the first "selection", and eighty-one of us were crowded into a cattle car, men, women, and children, together, all . . .
  • David Boder: How do you know that the number was eighty-one?
  • Jaques Matzner: We knew the number because actually many more were supposed to get in this car, and in this particular car many more people were supposed to get in.
  • David Boder: But?
  • Jaques Matzner: But we, in our car, had created in a few minutes, a little organization, and what you might call a car leader took charge, so that there would be order in the car, and he counted up eighty-one people. This man became later one of my friends in the concentration camp, Ludwig Lash from Hamburg. He too had lost his wife and his two children. This is how I knew there were eighty-one persons in the car. When we got in motion—and I must say in passsing that the car was plumbed [sealed with a lead seal], locked, and sealed. [What the D.P.'s called cattle cars were in fact freight cars, closed box cars, also used for the transport of cattle.]
  • David Boder: But how did it happen that the Gestapo paid attention to this car leader, so that they did not put any more people into the car?
  • Jaques Matzner: We were yelling, we were making noise.. We yelled, "There are eighty-one of us. There is no room for anymore. There is no room for anymore." With wooden beams, with guns, with clubs they tried to crowd in more and more, but there was indeed no more room. We had eighty-one in our car. In other cars, where they were luckier, they had possibly only seventy-five. There may have been cars with as many as eighty-five. At any rate the average load for each wagon was about eighty people.
  • David Boder: Were these the French forty-and-eight cars?
  • Jaques Matzner: They were French cattle cars.
  • David Boder: Yes. Forty-and-eight.
  • Jaques Matzner: I don't know
  • David Boder: Those "forty men and eight horses."
  • Jaques Matzner: Oh, yes, yes. That is correct. Forty person or eight—quarante hommes ou huit chevaux.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jaques Matzner: That was the inscription. We traveled about five days and five nights without interruption. That is, the train stopped several times, but we never knew where we were. We got no nourishment. We received not a single drop of water. There wasn't a single hygienic convenience in our car, nothing for a man to satisfy his needs. We managed as we could, during this trip to Kosel. In Kosel the train stopped. During this time we had nine deaths, three women, four men, and two children. In Kosel the train stopped. We had to disembark-not all of us, only the men between sixteen and forty-five. All men older than that, and in general all the women, had to remain in the cars.
  • David Boder: Were you married?
  • Jaques Matzner: No, I was not married. And I was among those who jumped out. To say jumped out is an exaggeration, because we could hardly move by then. I remember clearly that while I was getting out of the car an SS man came running by and said the following words: "We will give your testicles the works." Soon we were lined up in groups, and immediately we had to get down on our knees. There was a total of about nine hundred persons lined up in the form of a little square. There were about twelve or fifteen such blocks of people, and in mine there were about nine hundred men. We had immediately to get into the position of "bended knees."
  • David Boder: What is that?
  • Jaques Matzner: That meant that we had to get down on our knees, that is not standing and not sitting, but in a position with our knees bent. That is, the knees are bent in a manner that the buttocks almost touching our heels, but we could not . . .
  • David Boder: And you had to remain that way?
  • Jaques Matzner: Yes, we had to remain that way. That's how we had to remain.
  • David Boder: Not moving up and down. Not like in calisthenics?
  • Jaques Matzner: No, not like in calisthenics.
  • David Boder: And what was that for?
  • Jaques Matzner: That was expressly for the purpose of torturing us. Some people tried to put underneath some little piece of baggage that they had salvaged, so that they could sit on it, but immediately these pieces of baggage were pushed out from underneath them, they were thrown to the ground and had to get back in the bended knee posture. (It would be erroneous to attribute the procedure of keeping multitudes of prisoners in bended knee position only to Nazi perfectionism in torture. There is evidence that the SS guards were themselves greatly frightened while handling such crowds of hostile humanity. Keeping the prisoners in an awkward position near the ground was of course an assurance of their helplessness, and consequent safety for the guards. The added wanton cruelty was an effective stop gap against being overcome all at once by pity and compassion for the victims.) And so we were sitting there for about forty minutes. In forty minutes there arrived an automobile, and an SS man alighted, all decorated with plenty of gold around his neck and on his chest, and we inferred from that that he must have been a higher sort of animal. I myself had been in Germany [during the Nazis] for about five years and was able to recognize the special insignia. And so I recognized the SS ober-sturm-fuehrer or an ober-sturm division fuehrer. A man whose name I learned years later. He put on his gloves . . .
  • David Boder: What was his name?
  • Jaques Matzner: His name was Liepner.
  • David Boder: Well, did anything happen to him subsequently?
  • Jaques Matzner: I hope he was killed, and I believe he was.
  • David Boder: Well, killed by whom?
  • Jaques Matzner: By the prisoners who were later liberated by the Allies. This Liepner put on his gloves and made some remark to his side, which we of course couldn't hear, but we saw him make a gesture like throwing away something, kind of abruptly.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Jaques Matzner: And we were ordered to get up, were loaded into trucks, and were driven to a lager. This was in Gogolin. There we were registered in the books, and the next day we were distributed into barracks. During the night we had to sleep in the yard. The barracks had a capacity for about thirty-five to forty people in military cots, which were stacked up in threes, one over another. But into each room they shoved eighty to ninety people. Each group had to pick a room trusty, and these room trusties were subordinated to the lager trusty. This was a system entirely unfamiliar to us at that time. Our attention as then called by the lager trusty to the following [this was also a Jew, a prisoner who had already spent some time in that lager]. He told us, on that morning at the appell, the following: "You have no business of any kind with the Germans and with the German supervisory personnel. Your supervisory personnel is the room trusty, the block trusty, and the lager trusty."
  • David Boder: All these were Jews?
  • Jaques Matzner: All these were Jews. "If you have some trouble, report to your room trusty. Don't report too often, and don't become conspicuous. Do not talk much, and do what you are told to do. Don't talk much to each other, and don't try to do anything which is against the order of things in the lager. Here one doesn't talk much. Here one doesn't say much. Something may happen to anybody that he does not wish to happen to him." The next morning we were led for the first time to work. This was work on the autobahn of the Reich. For five prisoners (at that time I did not yet consider myself a prisoner) . . .
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Jaques Matzner: For every five people there were two guards. These two guards were armed, with rifles, with a revolver, with a sword, dagger, and with a watch dog for each one of them. These watch dogs are really the most terrible thing that I can imagine. These watch dogs were trained on human beings, on particular people not in uniforms. And it almost appeared to me—of course it seems ridiculous to say it—that these watch dogs, but indeed it appears to me, that these watch dogs were trained against anything that was Jewish.
  • David Boder: For God's sake! How many watch dogs did they have? Did you say two watch dogs for every five people?
  • Jaques Matzner: There was a dog for each guard.
  • David Boder: And how many people were taken care of by one guard?
  • Jaques Matzner: Five people had two guards. It was that way. Five people, two guards, two dogs.
  • David Boder: What were they? German shepherd dogs?
  • Jaques Matzner: They were German shepherd dogs mostly. But they also had bulldogs among them. As a matter of fact, I can remember to have seen only German shepherd dogs.
  • David Boder: And they really had to many dogs? Would it not be a problem to feed so many dogs?
  • Jaques Matzner: In the lager which I passed later, that was the lager Grossrosen, that is near Striegau, a lager with a capacity of ninety thousand prisoners . . .
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Jaques Matzner: They had a special guard contingent which was exclusively in charge of the dogs. There was an SS superior troop leader and a SS troup leader, and then a certain number of SS men whose only duty it was to provide for the dogs, their care, their training, their lodging, and their wonderful nourishment. Where they managed to get that food, I don't know. At any rate, we were definitely sure that the dogs were trained so that anyone who attempted to escape would be found immediately within a distance of a hundred or two hundred meters. And prisoners who would escape at night, if such a thing were possible at all, or from the various construction jobs, would have been followed by the dogs with their supervisors until they were found. During the fifty-five months of my imprisonment I never heard of a single case where a prisoner succeeded in escaping. He might have been away one day, he might have been away even three or four days and nights, but he would always come back, dead or alive.
  • David Boder: Now let's return to your work, at the autobahn . . .
  • Jaques Matzner: Yes. The work at the autobahn was really all right for us. It appeared to us very easy. Why? Because we did not know yet the pace which was to be set only a little later. They thrusted shovels into our hands, and we were ordered to shovel. The futility of this work appeared to us obvious, because some of us were throwing the gravel from left to right while others were throwing it from right to left. The whole thing appeared . . .
  • David Boder: Then you were not on the autobahn?
  • Jaques Matzner: That was when the autobahn was under construction. It was not yet a complete autobahn. It was just the preliminary highway.
  • David Boder: Now why did they make you do useless work?
  • Jaques Matzner: The gravel had to be shoveled. There was dry gravel, there was wet gravel. There were small stones, and there were big stones. Each one had his assignment, and it appeared to us completely purposeless.
  • David Boder: It appeared so to you; it was not really "useless" work.
  • Jaques Matzner: Possibly it was not so useless.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Jaques Matzner: In about fourteen days we were transferred from Gogolin to the lager Fürstengrube, near Katowice. There the task was to dry up a flooded mine, and at Fürstengrube begins the saddest chapter of my experience. It was in November, 1941, when we arrived there, and right from the start we had the feeling that here the end has to come to everything. The guard was very strict; it consisted of SA men. The lager Fuehrer, who was in charge of things, was a certain Mareck, and he had an assistant who was at that time a police sergeant, Lapke, whom we gave the name of Messiah, because every morning at four o'clock at appell—the appell started at about three o'clock in the morning and lasted until five, and we had to stand outside in the yard at attention, and during these one or two hours, this sergeant Lapke was in the habit of making speeches in a horrible tone of voice. One had the impression that that man . . .
  • David Boder: Did he have an address system?
  • Jaques Matzner: No. He walked from group to group. He yelled all over the yard, so that it was clearly audible, and one always had the impression that he was drunk. "What do you mean, you have come here for a rest? Soon you will see your Messiah. That's all you want to see, your Messiah? You will all land back in Jerusalem, but not back there in the Jerusalem that you hope to see. You will all remain here. Here is your Jerusalem. And soon you will all see your Messiah." And that was the reason why we gave him the nickname, Messiah. He was one of the most feared men that ever lived. And sure enough, on the second day of our arrival, this Lapke shot a prisoner, a certain Mr. Lagro, a perfume manufacturer from Berlin who fled to Belgium and was deported from Belgium afterwards, and was also in our group. This Lapke shot him, right on the second day.
  • David Boder: He, in person?
  • Jaques Matzner: He shot him in person. He took out to the place of work, he gave him the order—we all saw exactly how it happened—he ordered him to bring something from the woods, Lagro went into the forest about thirty meters deep, and then there was a shot, and that was the end.
  • David Boder: Did Lapke go with him?
  • Jaques Matzner: Lapke went with him and shot him in the back, and afterwards, that evening it was said that Lagro, that prisoner Lagro, was shot in an attempt to escape. We saw then which way the wind was blowing. Then we had a lager trusty, a Jew. His name was Cohen, a very fine fellow. He himself was in despair over the situation of the people for whom he had taken the responsibility. And so the winter came. Every day we had dead. People frozen, killed, or dead from starvation. We worked then in the . . . plant. There was a chief engineer, Reichman, who put on the appearance of being a decent person. He was the general work manager, and was always ready to help and so on and so on. But in the meantime this man tortured the prisoners to death by means of work assignments. At night and in fog, day and night, we had to work outdoors. We had nothing to wear. Our overcoats were taken away from us and were deposited in the storeroom of the lager, and we were not permitted to wear them.
  • David Boder: Why?
  • Jaques Matzner: Because we had to keep in action. They said that when a Jew is warm, he does not work, therefore they should not have any overcoats. They should generate warmth through motion and through work. And at work it was always demanded - motion, motion, motion. Always in motion, davay, davay, davay [Russian and Polish for give, give, give]. On with the work, on with the work. Then there was a foreman from . . . His name was Bielka. This man daily killed people with his own hand. He killed them with shovels. Not those long shovels, but the short spades. He beat people with them daily, who most frequently died afterwards from such injuries. This Bielka also got after me, and only through a fortunate accident I was transferred to another work division and got out from under Bielka's eyes. Otherwise he finally would have killed me, too.
  • David Boder: Were you personally mistreated?
  • Jaques Matzner: [hesitantly] In this lager,.. Since I have shown myself very willing and have presented myself for any kind of work, I was never beaten inside the lager. But of course, you must remember that we had a Jewish lager trusty and as Jews we still had a certain amount of solidarity. Inside the lager we were rarely beaten. Only in cases where disciplinary punishment was administered for disobedience, which may have happened to all of us. It was only at work that we were beaten regularly and that was by the SA and by the foreman. The foremen were mostly Polish and non-Jews. I remember well how we got an order to dig holes for telegraph poles. To this job they assigned a Dutch Jew by the name of Hammerschlag, and three other Jews from Poland, and myself. And so there were five of us. Now, to dig in December or January in clay soil that was frozen harder than granite, in the beastly cold of thirty to forty degrees [centigrade] frozen harder than granite—and here we had to dig a hole. And we had to do it, there was not way out. And I must say we worked half naked to get it done. The sweat poured from us in torrents, and we had to do it, and we had to do the job. So we got it done, but at what sacrifice! Of the five people who worked at that hole, two Polish Jews froze to death, and also this Hammerschlag, that Dutch Jew. I myself had signs of frozen legs, and I myself was one of those who carried the dead from the place of work into the lager. I shall never forget the impression that is made by the face of a man frozen to death. I got the impression that these people were laughing. One notices on the faces a kind of transition, as if at the beginning of the agony the people distort their faces, and for the onlooker it creates the impression that he is laughing. This dead man—and that already is the dead from freezing - and this expression remains on the face as if they were laughing; and those dead had to be buried immediately, because in this lager we had no crematory, and so there was a special detail. Their duty was to dig graves in the near forest. And it wasn't worth the trouble for the SA to assign a detail for each dead man; so the dead were kept in the lager until they has accumulated ten, twelve or fifteen dead. And that never took long; it always happened within five or six days. And then the ten of fifteen dead would be carried out, naked as they were, dirty, and filthy, in a terrible state. They were simply thrown into the pit, etc., etc. At the beginning we were still permitted to say Kadesh.[This is a prayer for the dead]. And we would throw in there the dead. Later appeared, an old Schlomask. Schlomasks is what we called the foremen and guards. And so this old Scholomask prohibited it. "What are you mumbling there? Nonsense. Stop that nonsense. Do your work and go." We were in this lager until the end of summer 1942, and during the summer of 1942 this lager was evacuated. It was to be used for Russian war prisoners. And we came to the lager Gleiwitz. Gleiwitz lies near Gliwice. Gleiwitz was an old mill which never was fit for people to live in. It was a mill full of rats, mice; the floors full of holes; high ceilings, such as mills have. We were established there. We were lying over each other in five tiers.
  • David Boder: What does that mean—in five tiers?
  • Jaques Matzner: In stacked up bunks, as stacked up trays are constructed.
  • David Boder: Were you near to each other?
  • Jaques Matzner: This is really impossible to describe. We were lying next to each other like sardines in a can.
  • David Boder: So then they were sleeping scaffolds, so to speak.
  • Jaques Matzner: Yes, they were scaffolds. The first one about eighty centimeters high, the second one at about one meter fifty, the third one at about two meters fifty, the fourth one three meters fifty, and the fifth one at about . . .
  • David Boder: But how was it arranged? Were they separated?
  • Jaques Matzner: No, these were just wooden scaffolds. Made out of board.
  • David Boder: Pritschen? ( In the peasant homes, old prisons and laborers' barracks of Eastern Europe the sleeping facilities consisted of wooden scaffolds or shelves on which numerous people slept all together. The German name for them is Pritschen, the Russian Polati.) [Plank-beds]
  • Jaques Matzner: Pritschen. Yes. They were covered with straw, and we lay next to each other, about five men within a distance between posts, all on scaffolds.
  • David Boder: What posts?
  • Jaques Matzner: Posts that supported the building. And five tiers one over the other full of lice, full of fleas, full of bedbugs, Horrible conditions. It is unbelievable that people can survive such a thing. At three o'clock in the morning we had to get up. At four was the appell. That lasted until five. At five we marched out, and we had to march an hour and a half to the station. There we were put in box cars, which would take us to the place of work. We worked in the famous textile plant, Christian Berig in Oberlangen, Bilow. We also worked in Reichenach, in various textile mills. And so the night followed the day—when we returned it was nine o'clock in the evening. Then we had to struggle to get our food, because the people there were frozen stiff and starved, and the people had to stand in line until they got a bit of soup. Water soup with turnips. And when they had gulped down their soup, they had to get back into the halls to bed. There they handed out that little piece of bread. For eight, nine or twelve people a two-pound loaf. And when everything had been passed around, it was already eleven or twelve o'clock at night. And at three o'clock we were waked again. Every day we had dead. It was an intolerable situation. And only because I was on very friendly terms with the lager trusty, a certain Zehngut from Sosnovitz, he assigned me to a labor transport which was sent to Hirschberg in upper Silesia. We arrived in Hirschberg, thirty-three people, in November, 1943. We arrived in Hirschberg; there I worked in the Frik industries.
  • David Boder: What kind of industries were they?
  • Jaques Matzner: The Frik industries were making wool out of wood.
  • David Boder: Was that really possible?
  • Jaques Matzner: That was possible. Of course, I don't want to pass judgment as to the quality of such wool, but they really made wool out of wood.
  • David Boder: And they were able to weave cloth out of it?
  • Jaques Matzner: They made afterwards cloth out of it, uniforms, general goods, wool that was used to manufacture clothing. From Hirschberg I went to—In Hirschberg I was awakened one night and was called to the office. And before me stood the commander of the lager, the SS superior commander, Weigel. Then he asked me: "You are German?" And I said: "Yes, Herr Superior Commander." So he asked me: "Can you write?" And I said: "Yes, Herr Superior Commander." "Can you type?" "Indeed, Superior Commander." "Well, sit down. We shall give you a trial." And he placed before me a typewriter and I had to write something that he dictated.
  • David Boder: Could you type?
  • Jaques Matzner: Yes, I could type. And so he said to the lager trusty, and to all the others present, the ones who were present that night—it was a puzzle to me what was going on—so he said, "I think he's good. I believe we should take him." He had some kind of Bavarian dialect. He was a Sudeten German. And so he said, "I believe we should take him."
  • David Boder: [In English] This is Spool 164. This is Spool 164. This is Spool 164 of Jack Matzner and Anna Kaletski. There is quite some defective wire . . . empty wire . . . but this is Spool 164
  • David Boder: This is the . . . This is the . . . This is the Maztner and Anna Kaletska original spool, number 164. I've simply attached about a minute of wire at the beginning and at the end so that the actual original text be well-protected. Run about a minute and the text begins.
  • David Boder: Wiesbaden, September the 26th . . . spools that we are taking in Germany. I am here in the eh . . . rehabilitative synagogue, not the main synagogue of München, but that was the eh . . . second shul, so to say. And Mr. Jack Matzner is continuing his story from Spool 163. Hm, we are rather under pressure but I don't want him to hurry, I want him to be as specific and detailed.
  • David Boder: [In German] Please give me all the details, the way they were.
  • Jaques Matzner: I was found suitable to be assigned as clerk. The lager foreman told me afterwards, "That is a great opportunity for you. This may be your lucky moment." The same night I was dressed up. That is, I was given clean clothes. Up to then we were wearing sheer rags, and early in the morning at about four o'clock I had to depart, accompanied by the same Obershaar-fuehrer Weigel. We traveled then as far as the station Striegau in upper Silesia, and from there we marched on foot. On the way that Obershaar-fuehrer told me in his Sudetenland German dialect, "Don't you dare to disgrave me. Stand at attention, don't ask any questions, and keep your mouth shut." All at once I noticed a sign "Gross-Rosen", and a chill went through my body.[He uses the expression: "I got pale inside of me"] I was checked in, and here are the subsequent events.I was put in prisoner's uniform, the blue-white uniform. I was given the number 20-201. Meanwhile there were delivered from other lagers twenty-four Jews and a few days later we were assigned to lager Wüstegiersdorf, also in Upper Silesia. In Wüstegiersdorf we were taken over by Obersturm-fuehrer Lichtemeier. This man made a speech, telling us that we were now to erect the camps, to build them, and that any instance of misbehavior would be punished by death without delay. We were ordered to select from our midst a lager deputy, who was to be responsible for the whole lager, and we were sent to lager Wolfsberg. Wolfsberg was really an empty stretch of hills and valleys—bare grounds and we were to build a lager. We were given the material, and within the next day or two arrived the first eight thousand Greek and Hungarian Jews. And they arrived from Auschwitz. These Jews were immediately checked in. They all had tattoes and were assigned to build the lager with the material at our disposal, and shortly the lager was ready. It did not consist of "blocks" but of some type of round eskimo tents. We called them Finnish tents.
  • Jaques Matzner: Within a short time we had a population of about twenty-one thousand persons, all Jews. Rabbis, shochets ( Slaugters of cattle and fowl according to hebrew ritual. ), scholars, chazidim, ( An ultra orthodox Jewish religious sect. ) artisans, judges, lawyers, workingmen—Poles, Hungarians, Rumanians, Germans, French, Greek—a wholly international conglomeration of humanity. But in spite of that, we the leaders had decided to hold together, and to help and save everyone. We established a hospital under the direction of the Hungarian physicians Dr. Friek and Dr. Deutsch, and we put there all the rabbis, all scholars, all chasids, even if they were not sick, simply to protect these people who had never worked/physically/ from the heavy labor in the tunnel. You see, a tunnel of twenty-five to thirty kilometers was being constructed, and we were the ones to construct it. Every day we had deaths. Construction accidents, cave-ins, the excavating machines killed people daily; the foremen were clubbing people; they knew it was a question of life or death. And only because we had a good organization were we able to see to it that inside of the lager itself nothing should happen contrary to our intentions. There we remained until January, 1945. In January 1945, the lager was abandoned. We knew already why. Our exploratory senses and our eyes were directed toward the outside world. We knew the Russians were on the march. Ever night we saw how Breslau was bombed. We saw the allied fortresses flying over our lagers, who knew for certain that the people there below, in the blue and white uniforms, were their own and that no bombs should be dropped on them.
  • Jaques Matzner: In January, 1945, the lager was abandoned. We were transported to Schimberg. These were all just small villages, stations that received us until we came to the lager Bergen-Belsen. En route we had, not dozens, but hundreds of deaths. People who were old and sick and weak and unable to stand the march would fall on the road. We had to drag them with us and bury them at night. We had orders from the SS to break out the gold teeth before burial. So we marched on and on. Piles of corpses and mountains of corpses rose, which were just buried anywhere or scarcely covered with sand. And then one night we arrived at Bergen-Belsen. Bergen-Belsen—at first we did not see this lager in its true light. But the next day we understood; we saw the treatment accorded us. Undress, give up everything, lie down, stand up, appells lasting for hours. By appells lasting for hours is to understand appells lasting fifteen to twenty hours, in mud, in snow, in ice, in water, Nightly we had people in the barracks who had gone to bed in the evening and were dead by the morning after. In darkness we were unable to see what was going on in these pestilent and over-crowded blocks. One was killing the other. The population of the lager must have reached the hundred thousand mark. Gentiles and Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Engligh, parachutists, French volunteers who were fighting on the side of the allies, Jews, Maquis—all of them were here, and every one knew it was merely a matter of minutes. In Bergen-Belsen I saw for the first time how people were burned on open pyres. Apparently the gas or gas piping stopped to function; so they piled the people in mounds and poured gas over them and burned them on open pyres. ( I apparently was in such a trance that I did not interrupt him to ascertain that those "people" were corpses only. Presumably they were. ) One got accustomed to such a sight as if it was something ordinary. It is terrible to say that. And up to this day I can't conceive how I was able to bear this stench which would not only come through the nose but would stick to one's palates as if it were something palpable; this repugnant, pestilent stench that filled the air.
  • Jaques Matzner: One day it was announced that a labor transport was being formed for some other lager. We wanted to get away from Bergen-Belsen at any cost. We reported accordingly, and we had the good fortune to be among the three thousand persons that were chosen. And we marched to the railroad, and after a trip lasting a full day and a full night we arrived at Messantine. Messantine is a small place near Frankfurt-on-the-Oder or Stetin. After all, we never knew where we were. At any rate we were working now in the industries in Pohlitz. This is a plant as big as a city. They manufactured there benzine and fuel. A foreman under whom I worked told me that this plant was producing four and one-half million liters of fuel daily, until there came one night nearly two thousand English and American planes in waves and within an hour or so demolished the whole plant. At any rate, it was our duty to clean the place up. We had to remove the wreckage and mountains of rubble, and the work had to go on. However, we were already under artillery fire of the Russians who were located on the opposite shore of the Oder. Our lager and plant were on this side of the Oder, and the Russians were already on the opposite side. The locality was under artillery fire, and one day we had as many as twenty-five or twenty-six dead and injured, among them guards who were also killed by bombs and missiles of the Russian artillery. So we cleared also this lager, and then we came to Barth. Barth was a small town near Wismar. And there we were located in the Heinkel aircraft works. The Heinkel aircraft works looked very beautiful. The lager was very beautiful, but what occurred there defies any descriptions. I noticed there for the first time that I was beginning to weaken. I could not stand it any more. And my friend with whom I had been together all the time, all these years, Fischel Wiener from Sosnovitz, was telling me "Matzner, hold out, brace up, keep up your strength; it cannot last much longer; you must."
  • David Boder: What year was that, 1945?
  • Jaques Matzner: "You have to hold out, you have stood it so long. Keep your strength." And meanwhile every day my best friends were dying. My best buddies perished. I was together with a Hungarian landowner, Ludwig Biro, from Szatmár.
  • David Boder: A Jew?
  • Jaques Matzner: A Jew—he was there with his brother. His brother had perished, there. And how did the people die? One of my best friends, Moishe Rotbart, hanged himself, a pious man, who said, "I can't stand it any more." At work he was gnashing his teeth. He was eager to survive, but he couldn't, and he took his own life. A day later we saw him lying, down there in the cellar, a corpse. And so we had suicides daily and daily more people were killed. One "fine" morning I felt that I had fever. I have been having fever most of the time, but that morning it was especially high, and I went to the hospital to have my temperature taken, and the attendant measured a temperature of 39.6 degrees. With the slip on which he had written that I had a temperature of 39.6 I went to the lager foreman and pleaded with him to let me remain in the lager since I had such a high temperature. He gave me a kick in the stomach.
  • David Boder: And that was a Jew?
  • Jaques Matzner: No, that was a Christian, a so-called BV-er; (Befauer) that means a professional criminal. He gave me a kick in the stomach and said, "You Jew-pig, get out of here. For you it is high time that you croak." Because of that kick, I fell, and remained lying on the ground. I felt only that I was trampled in the face and on the back. And so I was lying there, and when I came to (you see, I lost consciousness) I found myself in the cellar. This cellar was an invention of this Befauer. The cellar was about chest-high under water. In the water at the time of my arrival were lying and standing about ninety or ninety-five people.
  • David Boder: They couldn't lie there!
  • Jaques Matzner: Those who were lying there were already dead. And these who were standing had arranged the bodies of the dead in such a manner that they could stand or sit on them; otherwise the ones who were still living would also have drowned. I did the same thing. I found myself a place at the wall. I dragged one or two bodies which were under the water and arranged them under the water against the wall, and I sat on them. And so I remained in the water, counting from that morning exactly two days and two nights. During this time my buddy drowned, who stood next to me, Ludwig Pasternak, from Hungary, who constantly pleaded with me. "Matzner," he would say to me, "if I should not be saved, tell my cousin who lives in Toulouse that I have died and that my last thoughts were with my father, my other, and my family. Tell my cousin John Hillman that I could not stand it anymore." This John Hillman was in the same lager. And so my friend died. So died my friend Ludwig Pasternak. I think a relative of his was the famous opera singer Louis Pasteur. (He apparently has confused the name.) And then all at once it began to happen. I myself don't really know how. I was almost unconscious throughout these days and nights. I just breathed instinctively; I just lived instinctively. I had nothing to eat or to drink, but I was still alive. And all at once they were yelling: "Out! Out!" And people from upstairs came down, and all at once I found myself in a room. And there was not water, and I was lying on the floor, and afterwards on a table. And again my friend Fishel Wiener was standing before me, and he was just saying to me, "Matzner, you will live, you will live. The Russians are at the gate, the Russians are coming." Then I knew I was lying in a real bed, where everything was white, and then it was night. And there came to me a man. He stroked my head, and I only recognized a uniform of the color worn by the American soldiers. He stroked my head and spoke to me, but I could not understand him. Then he called a nurse. She was all in white. I did not know that he was calling a nurse; I understood that he had called a nurse only when I saw her there. She wore a white cap over her head and spoke Russian, and he said something to her, and returned after some time with two bottles, and he poured the content of these two bottles over me and washed me with it. It was cognac. Today I know that it was whiskey or cognac. Then I didn't know what it was, but it refreshed me miraculously.
  • David Boder: He washed you with it?
  • Jaques Matzner: He washed me with it. He removed my bedcovers and washed me with it. The nurse had placed a rubber sheet under me and he washed me from head to foot with whiskey. It refreshed me miraculously. Next to me, on the next cot lay a Greek lawyer. His name was Nissin—I just called him Nissim. ( Nissim means in Hebrew "miracles". He used it apparently as a nickname for Mr. Nissin. ) He was just calling, "Adonai, Adonai, Adonai! Matzner that is good for you, that is good." "Ce hace bien, Ce hace bien!" He spoke French, "Ce hace bien pour vous, ce hace bien." And I came to, and I later came under the treatment of a Russian physician—I have forgotten his name. At any rate I went through a violent attack of typhus.
  • David Boder: Spotted typhus or intestinal?
  • Jaques Matzner: Intestinal. And under the care of this Russian physician—he treated me marvelously, indeed—I was healed. From the Russian hospital I came to the International lager and from there . . .
  • Jaques Matzner: . . . I was sent to a French hospital and I convalesced in Bart. I did not want to remain in Bart.
  • David Boder: Where is Bart?
  • Jaques Matzner: It is somewhere in Silesia. I pretended to be a Frenchman.
  • David Boder: You were free by the Russians?
  • Jaques Matzner: Yes, I was freed by the Russians. But that man, that soldier who washed me with cognac, he was an American pilot. That I found out afterwards. They were there with huge American flying machines. I did not see them myself but from the description—they were just giant flying machines. And I presented myself to be a Frenchman.
  • David Boder: How did that man get into the hospital?
  • Jaques Matzner: I don't know that. At any rate there were Americans present. The best proof of it is that many of our patients who could already walk were given by these . . .
  • Jaques Matzner: American soldiers bandages, pieces of underwear, shirts, chocolate, grapefruit, and food and drink. And our people were repeating the only word, "OK, OK, OK." They were all Greeks and Hungarians, etc. who did not know any English. The only word they knew was, OK, OK, OK. Today I know that these men were American soldiers. And so I came to the French hospital and I presented myself to be a Frenchman, to be transported to France.
  • David Boder: Do you speak French so well?
  • Jaques Matzner: Yes, because I lived a long time in France. This little trick was successful; I came with the last French transport to Bad Schwartau. There I was accepted in a lager of the British Army, where I encountered the first Jew in uniform. This was a certain Mr. Henry-Harry Dumbrand, from London, at any rate from England. He gave me cigarettes. He was glad to meet a Jew. And from Bad Schwartau I came to an UNRRA lager in Geldern, which is near Kevelaer at the Dutch border, and from there I returned to my home town Wiesbaden. ( From here a few paragraphs of the interview are missing due to technical failure in the recorder. ) It drove me to Wiesbaden first because I believed that from there I might start the search for my family. Also because it was in the American zone. I returned to Wiesbaden. And I was still very sick, very weak, and I gradually recovered only due to the help of some American friends whose acquaintance I had made, especially a Captain Dave Le-Melman, from Miami, who took a special interest in me.
  • David Boder: A Jew?
  • Jaques Matzner: All Jews. And last, but not least, the crown of my acquaintances, the wonderful Chaplain William E. Darling, a man who stood up not only for me personally but for the whole Jewish community of Wiesbaden . . . And so I, as a Wiesbadener, got the inspiration to rebuild anew the House of the Lord, which served as a holy place for my parents and for the oldest Rabbi of Germany, Rabbi Dr. Leo Kahn (may he rest in peace). I consider it almost the calling of my life to rebuild the house in which my father and my mother (may they rest in peace) have stood, the house in which I was confirmed, the house in which my sisters and brothers had worshipped for decades. And to rebuild it again as it was. I consider it my life work to rebuild this house for the sake of the dead, for the sake of those who shall not return any more, and for those who were able to leave this country in time, so the word of God may spread over all the world, a memorial to all who knew Wiesbaden and who once lived in Wiesbaden.
  • David Boder: [In English] This concludes a report—rather condensed—of Mr. Jack Matzner. There would be a number of questions I would like to ask him and he could probably give me some very intelligent answers, but since it could be done by mail, I think I will call in one and the other of the two ladies who are waiting for the interview. It's a very difficult thing to have . . . to stagger the interviewees—you don't want to interrupt, it takes always more times than you expect. We are now going over to the next interview [unintelligible] start Mr. Matzner at twenty-five minutes of Spool 164.
  • David Boder: This concludes Spool 9-164A—the interview with Jack Matzner. The second part—the interview with Anna Kovitzka—is put on separate spool, 164B. The 14th of November, 1950, Boder.
  • Contributors to this text:
  • Transcription : Dagmar Platt
  • English Translation : David P. Boder