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Everything that you have heard and read about concentration camps is only a shadow of its cruel reality. The purpose of such a camp is not to merely to detain you. Germany still has regular prisons where criminals are locked up after trial for theft, murder and other crimes of that type, where you are still treated like a human being. Concentration camps are torture camps for political reasons, where you are brought to be broken mentally and bodily or often to be murdered. The guards of the S. S. are chosen only for their capability to be sadistic, with nothing in mind other than to torture the prisoners.
When I was in Dachau, there were 2,000 prisoners in the camp, many incarcerated for being Jewish. A good many of them were there already for four years who had no chance whatever of their being released. You found people from all walks of life, many among them from the Reich and State Parliament, doctors and writers, clergymen and business men, men with the finest character and from the cream of society, and of course some bad people too who would sell you to the guards for a glass of beer. You were compelled to do pick and shovel work for 11 hours daily, apart from the work you had to do in the huts cleaning and washing seven days a week without a break. The ages ranged from 16 years to 75 year olds. Food was insufficient and lodging inadequate. There were 8 guards for each group of 200 men working, standing behind you, watching, shouting and driving you with lashes to a mad tempo which you would find unimaginable. With notebooks in their pockets, they would report you to the camp commander for pretended laziness or other trifles, very often for nothing at all, possibly because they did not like your looks, especially if you were a newcomer to the camp, such as an intellectual, or if you wore glasses, or only if you wore the yellow badge which distinguished you as a Jew, a badge which was visible for 200 yards. Being reported on, had many serious consequences. You were sent to a special solitary prison within the camp. You received 25 lashes, tied to a tree, and after that you were put into solitary confinement in a dark area for a long period of time, slept on wooden boards, and fed on bread and water without a hot meal for three days at a time. The guards came and manhandled you. The sanitary conditions were indescribable. I personally was confined in such a cell for the first two weeks that I was incarcerated at the camp for undisclosed reasons. I heard the nightly screams of fellow prisoners in neighboring cells and I saw the wild dogs which was used to tear prisoners to pieces. I saw the chains in my cell with which others were battered. I know of tortures which surpass the worst chapters of cruelty in the Dark and Middle Ages. I saw persons arrested in the camp and witnessed their burial the next day. Many did not survive, and this was in 1937, two years before WWII. Last week's issue of the Pix pictorial magazine showed photographs depicting how prisoners were treated. I can only tell you that after my own experiences, these illustrations are certainly genuine and true.
You will certainly ask why were these people treated in such a way, and why were they brought to the concentration camp? Some knew the reason, some did not. Some were told, and others were not. At the beginning of 1933 they brought in Communists or those antagonistic to the Nazis. In later years you were brought in at the will of the Gestapo. The reason might have been that you were more successful in winning the attention of a girlfriend than a competitor Nazi, you might have won a lawsuit against a Nazi, you might have been the proprietor of an estate or a business which you refused to sell to an envious Nazi. I could tell you for hours the stories that fellow prisoners told me. A good number were brought in for being a members of Christian churches which did not favor the edicts of the Nazis.
When I was released, my wife and family were fortunate to have relatives here in Australia who obtained for us the papers to enable us to emigrate here. Before I left, I was honored by the Bavarian Association of Jewish Congregations to take with me to my future community a scroll hand written on parchment containing the Pentateuch, the Old Testament, used at services in all synagogues and now at the Liberal Temple Beth Israel on Alma Road, St. Kilda, in this community.
I want to mention what happened to my former Rabbi, a man who was highly respected and beloved by his congregation in Munich, Germany, who escaped, and who is now the leader of a large congregation in New York. I want to mention what happened to him, and you will get an impression on how they treated clergymen and priests. He was arrested and taken to the Gestapo. They told him that he would be shot and placed him against the wall with rifles aimed at him. They were amazed when he told them calmly that he was not frightened at all, and that he believed in a Higher Power. He was a bearded man, and I was told that they started to try and pull his beard out.
One strange feature of one's stay in the concentration camp at that time, was that this was not damaging to your reputation outside. You were only there to be in protective custody. This had a double meaning. You might be quite an honorable person, but you were for political reasons dangerous to the Nazis, and the Nazi covenant had to be protected. Another reason might be that a Nazi or a group of Nazis had a grudge against you and they felt that you must be put away into a concentration camp.
Having told you the reasons why many were incarcerated, the sense of fair play became a farce, the longer the Nazi government reigned. Although you were treated like the worst criminal, worse than an animal while in camp, nobody would keep you in less respect, on release. You were only regarded as a political prisoner, incarcerated for political reasons. A friend of mine, a retired mathematics professor from Goettingen University was compelled to return to Germany. He had lived in Paris for some time and wrote a letter to the German Government asking for his retirement pension to which he was entitled. The reply came that indicated that he could and would receive his retirement pension only if he would return to live in Germany. He returned, received his pension, and was promptly sent to Dachau concentration camp as a returned emigrant. like others who fell into the same category.
When I was released, the camp commander asked me whether I had leant enough during my incarceration. I did not reply. However I was cured of the love of my country where my ancestors and I were born and had lived for centuries. I had made up my mind that we had to leave. After my release and with the permit to emigrate to Australia, we arrived here eight years ago. To enable us to leave, we were compelled to pay the German government a statutory tax of 25% of my capital which I had accumulated. Additionally, I had to pay a ransom sum of money to enable my family to take out our furniture and personal effects. Nine months after my arrival in Australia, my wife and I as well as my children were deprived of our German citizenship, and at the same time they confiscated all my capital that I was compelled to leave behind as well as valuable real estate. I was not informed of this fact, but this was published in the German Government Gazette, which an uncle of my wife"s, himself a barrister and solicitor had spotted and sent to me here just before WWII broke out. The Nazi government could do as they pleased and one had no recourse as people who were considered as having acted against German interests.
Beginning in 1933, there were very prominent persons on this list, including the scientist, Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann, the writer. Later on, they considered it a crime to have left funds behind when you emigrated and they appropriated all assets of those who had left the country. I had left Germany just before the time in 1938 when Hitler invaded Austria. Things became worse after that. One day, Hitler passed by the Synagogue in Munich, a magnificent Gothic building. He ordered it destroyed within three days. After that, this was a signal to his followers. The Gestapo was let loose to plunder and smash homes, warehouses and factories, and to set fire to all synagogues throughout Germany. The Jews did not receive any reparations for the damage done, just the contrary. They were held responsible for the damage done and had to pay the equivalent of the damage to the Nazis, and besides that, pay a 20% fine of their capital out to the Nazi party. By this time, I was already out here in Australia with a legitimate passport issued by the Nazis. However, they confiscated 20% of all my taxable property. It did not make much difference to me since the remainder of my assets were taken some time later
Speaking of Germany during Hitler's time, I want to give you a short picture of its Administration. The German Empire, was, before WWI, constituted of more than 20 larger or smaller states. After WWI, in 1918, all of them became single Republics, some of them no larger than greater Melbourne, today. Each of the small states had its own Legislation and Administration, although all Germany is only a little larger than our own State of Victoria. When there is a referendum about increasing the power of the Central Government, you will be interested to learn that Hitler did not break completely with the past. But a general centralization followed. Germany was for all practical purposes a Dictatorship governed by Hitler and his group. The greatest gangsters were appointed to the Reichstag, which was only occasionally assembled to listen to a speech by the Fuehrer and to rubber stamp a resolution. Germany was divided into about 20 Districts, with one of the most trusted Nazi chiefs as District Leader. However, they did not care at all for law and justice. Each district was governed in its own way by the leader with the assistance of the Gestapo. There was no appeal, no remedy at all against the actions of the leadership.
A few weeks after Hitler had been given power, all constitutional rights were abrogated. There was no freedom of the press, speech or assembly. As a former barrister and solicitor, I will give you a glimpse of the administration of law. A former solicitor in Munich by the name of Frank, ten years younger than I, a most mediocre man whose father had been a solicitor too, and who had embezzled money belonging to his clients, was struck from the list of those practicing law. This man re-instated his father a few days after he was appointed Attorney General of Bavaria. This created a stir among all ethical and decent persons in the legal profession, but no one dared to say a word in public. He told the German judges and lawcourts that there was no need to adhere to laws at all. He told a meeting in the city of Leipzig that justice is what serves the interests of the German nation. Goehring told the German people, "The Law and the Will of Adolf Hitler are One!". When Hitler instigated his famous purge, another 1000 more Nazis suspected of plotting against him were murdered.
The above-mentioned Frank, was appointed as the Governor General of occupied Poland, and was responsible for literally millions of murders committed against Poles and Jews. Time is near when he will meet his fate, hopefully the gallows. Speaking of the end of these criminals brings me to the conclusion of my talk. It is my fervent hope that we will very soon, see the end of all suffering which Hitler and his gang have wrought all over the world and that just retribution will be meted out to them.
I could have spoken to you for hours, but I expect that it might be tiring for you to listen to my accent and errors in pronunciation. But I am ready to answer any questions on matters that I have mentioned which might be of interest to you. I would like to recommend to you to read a Penguin special titled "What Hitler wants" by E.O. Lorimer. As I conclude my talk, I remember that I am in a literary circle. Among the authors whose books were burnt, was a poet of world renown, the German Jew, Heinrich Heine, who lived one hundred years ago, and was as famous as your Lord Byron. He lived during the last part of his life in Paris, recognizing the character of the Germans and wrote about them:
"Christianity, and this is its greatest merit, has occasionally calmed the brutal German's lust for battle, but it cannot destroy that savage joy. And once that restraining talisman, the cross, is broken, (you know it was replaced by the swastika) the old stone gods will rise from unremembered ruins and Thor will leap to destroy the foes of the gods".
The poet was right. The thought always precedes the act as the lightning precedes thunder. Never doubt that the hour will come, and as you know, it has come.
Note: When reading the notes of the above talk given in 1944, in the year after WWII, Adolf Lustig had-been in Australia just six years and had to learn English after his arrival in Australia while also struggling to make a living for his young family. He was in his middle fifties. Forty years after his death, we can only marvel at his command of English in his newly adopted country of Australia after eight years. My brother Lewis Lustig and I found the above pencilled notes among our mother's family memorabilia after she died in 1986, twenty four years after our father passed away.