A few answers to the young people’s questions

A healthy will to live gave me the strength to survive, which was sustained by my only surviving brother’s optimism.  Out of desperation, at the first morning roll call in Birkenau, I wanted to throw myself into the electric barbed wire fence. Of course, I hoped and believed I would be liberated. You do anything and risk everything to achieve this. The tears at the liberation came in part due to weakness (37kg) and the joy at being released.

In the camp, I lost my relationship with God. It was rather broken in me, but without directly accusing God. There were questions, and again and again questions – but I never got an answer or an explanation. The religious rules and traditions were senseless in the camps and also in my later life. It is only in my old age that I am once more seeking contact with God.

For several years after the liberation, I had serious psychological problems which began with depression and ended in a total breakdown and a stay in a clinic. This was a turning point in my life. Previously, I had only ever thought about the past. I compared everything to my time in the camp. All the birthdays of my relatives were always present. Today would have been the birthday of my mother, my sister, my brothers, my father… one is never free from this, it cannot be wiped away. My thought of my murdered relatives found a new form. Over the years, it is no longer such a burden. I look forward: my children and grandchildren are my focus.

It was not until 1986 that I was able to speak about experiences and even then with great difficulty. I have been able to speak freely since the 1990s. The school pupils have helped me by asking questions. Thanks to conversation with a psychotherapist, I have been able for some years now to handle my past better.

The perpetrators? The perpetrators are not in my thoughts; they are, in some way, anonymous for me.

After liberation, I had contact only with friends and survivors and avoided all contact with others. Fear was still present and also the awareness that I am Jewish. I admit that I swore never to set foot on German soil ever again.

I don’t have any hate, I have differentiated, do not have any hate for Germany either. In fact, I married a German woman and returned from Czechoslovakia to Germany and live in Germany.

What I would like to pass on or say to the young people today:

Strengthen democracy; be on your guard against any stirring of racism, intolerance and xenophobia.

Max Mannheimer


Translated by Karen Forth