AMSTERDAM (Sep. 1)
The agonies of war-time suffering are already a reality for millions of Jews in Central Europe. Germany today is tightening its belt in preparation for wartime food shortage, but in the Carpathian provinces of Upper Hungary scores of thousands of Jewish men, women and children are already starving. Border populations of a dozen European countries are preparing for the horrors of military invasion, but in Slovakia the Jews are already living through pogroms. Innocent civilian residents of regions close to a dozen frontiers are preparing to flee, but large numbers of the Jews in Bohemia and Moravia are already on the march to unknown destinations. The people of Hungary and Germany are anxious about the future, but the Jews of those two countries who have justly been proud for generations of their useful and patriotic citizenship, look forward with resignation or fear to almost certain intensification of persecution.
On journeys during the past ten days which took me twice across Slovakia and Hungary and thrice across Germany, I never once stopped in a railway station–until I arrived in Holland–where I did not see weeping Jewish men and women. For the Jews from the Western and Southern frontiers of Germany all the way across Central Europe to Russia and the Balkans, the catastrophe of war had already begun, and for all but a small number of them, there is no escape. The suffering is worst not in Germany, but in what was until last Spring Czecho-Slovakia. Conditions as bad as the worst found in wartime famine areas now exist in Ruthenia, whose farms and agricultural riches brand the situation in such places as Munkacs, Chust and Ungvar as deliberate murder of the Jews. The commonest, coarsest bread is already such a luxury that when a loaf or part of a loaf is obtained, it is kept for the Sabbath.
Forbidden by the Hungarian authorities to do any gainful work whatsoever, once hardy men lie day and night on the floors of tumble-down houses to husband their ebbing physical resources. They are so weak that in many cases they lie in roofless hovels, unable to protect themselves from wind and rain. And within the view of many of them, laborers brought from other parts of Hungary work long hours on new roads and fortifications. The fate of non-working class Jews is only relatively better; it is a question of time, for they, too, are being deprived of their livelihoods and forced to eat up their dwindling capital.
To the west of Ruthenia, in Slovakia, the torture of the Jews is more direct. The tragedy which the Jewish Community of Bratislava expected with dread–the occupation of the whole of Slovakia by German troops–has taken place. And since the Germans came over the Danube Bridge, the savage F.S. men of the Slovakian German Party, responsible for the big pogrom of August 11, have the upper hand. Sano Mach, Propaganda Chief of the puppet Slovak Government, told me there would be no Nuremberg laws, no “illegal” persecution, no pogroms. But within 72 hours, the man of the hour was not Mach but Franz Karmasin, local Fuehrer and disciple of Julius Streicher.
In Bratislava, the wrecked hulks of the two principal synagogues, the Jewish poor hostel and several schools, the broken windows and smashed doors of sacked shops in the narro streets of the Jewish quarter under the towering Hrad (Castle), explained why there were so few people out of doors. As I walked through the Zidovska Ulica (Jew Street), wandering into courtyards and byways, scores of pairs of eyes watched me through closed shutters. I did not imagine them. With the permission of the Slovak authorities–permission which today would no longer be granted–I went indoors and saw aged men and women sitting in the dark in terrified silence. Three two-men patrols of Slovak policemen walked up and down outside.
In one inner courtyard, I found myself within perhaps a score feet from the open windows of a Hebrew school. There were ten or more classes in progress, the boys chanting their lessons, the teacher of each class sitting on a small raised platform, dressed in the traditional garb of his calling. I stood, watching and listening. A boy close to an open window on my right saw me. Word passed from one boy to another and then to the teacher. The room fell silent. One by one, every room in the building became silent. Everybody watched. No one moved. Who was I? A stranger–perhaps an F.S. man. I retreated in embarrassment, in shame and pity, too.
In another courtyard, or rather a steep inner street, flanked by small stone houses, sloping upward towards the edge of the towering Castle Hill, I found women washing clothes. They, too, stopped, watched and waited. No one in Bratislava’s Jewish quarter ever spoke to me. Many did not answer when I spoke. Twice, men turned and ran when I addressed them. Finally, I managed to convince one man that it was safe to talk to me. He conducted me to the rabbi of the Orthodox Synagogue, an elderly man who had refused to run away when the F.S. mob marched towards the synagogue after destroying the Reformed Progress Synagogue 150 yards away. He had waited in his house next door to the synagogue while the F.S. men approached and while they systematically smashed everything smashable within the edifice. From officers of the synagogue I obtained the full story of the pogroms. Two men watched at the windows for the approach of any suspicious person. The story was quietly, simply told. “But what good does it do?” the narrator asked. “Karmasin says we have no right to live.”
It seems true that the Jews in Central Europe who suffer most are not those who stay to face terror, injury, perhaps death, but those who leave. On the platform of the railway station the night I arrived in Bratislava from Budapest, there were Jews there, waiting and weeping. I do not know where they were going; I do not even know whether they were going anywhere, but they were on the platform and their clothing told me they were Jewish even though they did not speak and were huddled in groups away from the lights. The night I left Bratislava, again for Budapest, I saw a white haired patriarch, who must have been nearly 80, standing alone, facing a closed newspaper kiosk. He rocked slowly back and forth, saying his prayers and as I passed close to him, I heard him sobbing. Later, two younger men helped him to a bench, and he sat alone in the cruel glare of a large electric bulb, breaking a dry roll of bread to crumbs and eating them slowly.
In Budapest, in Vienna in Berlin, and in border stations in Slovakia, Hungary and Germany, I have also seen weeping Jewish men and women, mostly women, and mostly in Germany. On two separate occasions in Vienna, I spent more than an hour walking along train platforms. In Berlin, during the height of the exodus from the capital to towns in the Rhineland and to Holland and Denmark, I spent several hours at four different railway stations to note the attitude of the departing crowds. Here it was not easy to distinguish Jews from non-Jews, but in some cases it was possible, and in general it appeared that the non-Jews were the more emotional. But it was clear again that scarcely a train leaves a station anywhere in Central Europe without some Jewish passengers: a wandering people escaping to unknown destinies, and yet always the ones leaving were the closer hysterical grief than the ones who remain.