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1944 Melbourne, Australia
Talk given by Adolf Lustig to a literary audience on his experiences in Nazi Germany during the nineteen thirties.
Ladies & Gentlemen:
I was invited to give a talk on my experiences in Nazi Germany. In having accepted the offer, I feel it necessary to apologize. I am speaking to an audience that is used to hearing literary topics. The cruelties of the Nazis have been told by men more capable than myself.
Having arrived here in Australia at an advanced age it was not possible for me to acquire full knowledge of the English style and pronunciation. I am going to give you a report about my personal experiences, not because they are especially interesting, and not because I was of any prominence, but only because they are really typical and because you can expect to hear things from me that have really happened from the time that I became a barrister and solicitor in Munich, Germany
I was asked years ago to speak on a similar topic and refused. I was then still a German subject, I had relatives and considerable capital over there, and I was afraid of the consequences. I have heard people say that it was bad mannered, or even a sign of a bad character to tell negative things about one's former fatherland.
However, I do not speak about Germany. I speak about the Nazis, and, what is more important, the Nazis deprived me of my German citizenship. Just last week, I took the Oath of Allegiance to the Crown, being now a newly created British subject in the Commonwealth of Australia.
I know when the Nazi movement was founded and developed. It was at a public meeting at election time in 1920 after WWI when I saw Adolf Hitler rise and speak during the discussion. He was then a completely unknown man, the leader of a new Party, with a membership of 7 people. Born in Austria, he came to Munich before WWI and aspired to be a painter. He volunteered for the German army, and advanced during WWI to the rank of Lance Corporal, employed mostly as a messenger on the staff of the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment, in which incidentally, a brother of mine had fought in the frontline for eighteen months without ever having met, heard or knowing anything of Adolf Hitler.
You know of course that the defeated Germany was treated very harshly through the Versailles Treaty by the British and its Allies towards the Weimar Republic. You also know that Germany went through inflation where practically all savings were lost, and later, through the World Depression, when the number of unemployed reached the enormous figure of six million men. Reactionary people joined those suffering economically, and became members of the National Socialist Workers Party, subsequently called the Nazi Party. Speaking to people who are versed in literature, I recommend reading the book "The Success" by Leon Feuchtwanger, whose family in Munich I had personally known very well. It is a most interesting book, written about three years before Hitler came to power, a work of fiction which does not actually mention Hitler or the Nazi Party, though everybody understood who the characters referred to.
By 1923, the German Republic was in such disarray, that an uprising took place by a few hundred thousand hungry, unemployed and disenfranchised men from all over Germany. In Munich, where I lived, the insurrection was crushed within twelve hours by the Bavarian Government with ready assistance of the military forces. Time was not ripe yet. The Allies of the last war still occupied the Rhineland. The shots fired on the 9th of November in 1923 which I heard while I was having lunch, killed about a dozen Nazis and wounded many others, Hitler and Goehring escaping unscathed. They were later arrested and tried for high treason. As a barrister, I was allowed to be present at the trial for a few hours, though entrance cards to the Court House were hard to get. Sentenced to a long term of imprisonment, those who took part were unfortunately granted amnesty and were released after a short time in prison. The man who ordered the release, was later in the 1934 purge made Minister for Justice of Germany.
Hitler started his Movement again as soon as he was released, and was appointed Reich's Chancellor by the then senile President Hindenburg on January 30th, 1933. While Hitler was in the Landsberg, Munich prison, he wrote his famous book "Mein Kampf (My Struggle). There is no doubt that he was assisted in writing his book by fellow inmates in the prison, especially by the well-known Rudolf Hess, the latter a disciple of Professor Haushofer, the exponent of the idea of Lebensraum, "Living Space" for the German master race, and the "Drive to the East". I, and many others did not believe that this scheme could be put into reality. The most important aim which he wanted to achieve was to tear to pieces the Versailles Treaty, to smash the British Empire, and to extinguish the Jewish population of Europe, to destroy Bolshivism in Russia and to make the Nazis overlords of Europe, and finally, the world. I was in good company in thinking he could not succeed, be it in Germany or abroad. I made the same mistake as the Allies who did not stop Hitler in time, for instance when he occupied the demilitarized Rhineland with military forces in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles. Responsible opinion in Germany who were not Nazis thought in 1933 that Hitler had no chance to achieve his alms, and that his cause would be hopelessly lost.
These were not ordinary times. In ordinary times Adolf Hitler and his followers would have been tried as criminals, they would not have been able to reign with terror and establish concentration camps if they would not have been able to establish a secret state police called with the abbreviation "Gestapo", and if they would not have made up their mind to never surrender the power that they had obtained through Hitler being appointed as Reich's Chancellor. They used force with the voluntary assistance of the military. The Nazis started immediately to arrest, kill and to imprison into concentration camps, everyone from whom any opposition could be expected.
Thousands of officials were removed from their positions and replaced by Nazis. Only a few politicians of former prominence escaped, then mostly living in England, Switzerland, Russia and the United States. As a Jew, I had to expect the consequences of Hitler's anti-Semitic purge. There was a wave of anti-Semitism in Germany, people who were prejudiced against Jews as there was in no other country. Anti-Semitism began in Germany in the 1880s, but was, in my opinion, practiced by a tiny minority of not more than 3% of the population before the time in which Hitler came to power. The Nazis, many of them not anti-Semites at the outset, never got a majority at the elections, not even when Hitler was in power, as long as you could speak of regular elections.
Jews had settled in what is now Germany as far back as Roman times. I personally was born in a small village in Franconia where both of my parents were born and where my ancestors had lived peacefully in full harmony with the surrounding population for centuries.
Three months after Hitler came to power, he published a law that Jewish attorneys not yet 50 years of age must be struck from the register of lawyers. I suffered this fate with about 40 other fellow barristers in Munich alone, and with thousands of others in all of Germany. The same thing happened sooner or later to all Jews from all walks of life Those who suffered at the beginning, were in the long run the more fortunate, as those without a job and no other means of earning a living, were compelled to leave and emigrate early. Those leaving in the early 1930s and emigrating then, were in a more fortunate position than those who wanted to leave later, because they were able to transfer some of their savings elsewhere compared to those who left in the latter part of the 1930s who were forbidden to take out their substance and possessions
It will interest you to know that the population at large were for most part not anti-Semitic and that Hitler's anti-Semitism did not spread rapidly during the 1930s. Even with many Jewish businesses intimidated, lawyers, doctors and other professional men who remained in Germany had the unshaken belief that Nazism was a passing phase. Even with S. S. guards standing outside the doors of Jewish businesses to dissuade the customers from entering a Jewishly owned business, and denouncing the customers who ignored them in the press were of no avail. Even the notorious Nuremberg laws which intended to make life for a Jew intolerable, could not influence great numbers to leave the country until it was too late.
I belonged to the great majority who had to turn to other experiences when I lost my legal practice in 1933. I did not think it necessary to leave because I had sufficient means and was able to live comfortably from the income of my savings. I believed that the political thunderstorm would pass. While I was recuperating from serious surgery in April of 1933, 1 was assaulted by two Nazis at my place of residence, storm troopers in Nazi uniform, against one of whom I had won a lawsuit. We were unable to inform or call the police for fear of reprisal. We already had some experience in matters such as this. A friend of mine, a well-known lawyer had done so a few weeks earlier. He was nearly beaten to death at police headquarters, led through the streets of Munich barefooted, with the sleeves and trousers cut and a mob behind him. A snapshot was secretly taken, brought to England and published in the London Times in April 1933. But Great Britain still believed in appeasement five years later when Chamberlain was in power.
During 1938, Hitler confiscated all the homes, property and other assets owned by the Jews of Germany. Hitler made an agreement with the Pope in Rome regarding persecution of believers, but did not keep to his promised agreement. The attitude of the Nazis can be read in Rosenberg's book "The Myths of the Twentieth Century", a validation of the spiritual and intellectual conflicts of our time. Alfred Rosenberg, born in the USSR, in one of the Baltic States, was one of Hitler's educators in the early Munich days and retained influence over Hitler ever since. He is still the educator for the intellectual training of the Nazi Party. His book was the next bestseller to the book "Mein Kampf. It is directed primarily against the Roman and Evangelical faiths. Its various aspects may be studies in many pamphlets published in Great Britain. It preached that the Old Testament must be done away with and all its superstitions. They, and those who were known to have Socialist or Communist leanings were sent to prison or a concentration camp. Many of them were not released even after ten years' incarceration if they survived the treatment meted out to them
The same thing happened to those who had advocated peaceful relations with its German neighbors. The press, the schools and universities, all clubs and sports associations and its members were politically coordinated and governed by the Nazis. If its members refused, the association or organization was either dissolved, and those obstinate enough to refuse, were sent off to a concentration camp. The democratic constitution of the Weimar Republic was abrogated, and there was no freedom of speech, assembly or of the press. Writers who wrote against the Nazi Party were imprisoned. One hundred thousand books, written by Jewish authors and others not in favor of the Nazi regime were publicly burned. The youth, from an early age, was regimented and estranged from their families and educated in Nazi style. Thousands of officials known not to be Nazis were dismissed, especially those in the higher echelons, and were replaced by the Nazis without any regard to their effectiveness in the positions which they now held. It was compulsory to join the Nazi Party unless one was willing to risk the loss of one's position, one's property and one's life, or risk being incarcerated into a concentration camp.
My family and I lived comparatively quietly from 1933 until 1937, in the vain hope that the Nazi tyranny might end one day. My eldest brother, the proprietor of a large clothing factory with 800 employees, had left with his wife and children for Palestine in 1933, as did one of my sisters and her family. They urged me to do likewise, but I did not follow their advice, although at that early time, I could have brought out my not inconsiderable means
I met my fate in 1937. Having been honorary secretary of a Lodge, (B'nai B'rith), an organization similar to your Freemasonry Lodge, the Gestapo appeared at my place of residence at 6 a.m. on April 19th of 1937, searching through my documents for hours.
They took me to Gestapo headquarters where already many of my friends were assembled. We were asked some questions, and were released. Four weeks later they came again, this time arresting me, and then after a few days took me to the notorious concentration camp of Dachau, only ten miles from Munich. There was no warrant, no trial, no information at all regarding why I was arrested. I was not told why or how long I had to stay there.
I anticipate that by now you have read or learnt in the news, descriptions of what a concentration camp is like. I personally have later read during my voyage to Australia, a book by Seeger, titled "Oranienburg". Seeger is a former member of the German Reichstag, who was able to manage to escape from Oranienburg and is now living in the United States.