A forced labour gang in Dresden

A propaganda picture of Jews being forced to clear snow in German occupied Minsk ( now Belarus), February 1942. Victor Klemperer found himself in a similar situation in the German town of Dresden.

Victor Klemperer had been forced out of his work as a University professor because he was a jew. He eaked out a precarious existence in the eastern German city of Dresden, avoiding some of the worst of the anti-semitic persecutions of the Nazi regime because he was married to a non Jew. His wife, for example, was permitted to eat in public restaurants while he survived on their meagre rations.

His diary records the numerous bureaucratic measures that circumscribed their lives, the friends who were arrested and sent off to concentration camps, the constant threat of having their house searched and living with the fear of being arrested at any time on almost any pretext. However he also records how many Germans were not sympathetic to the Nazis and did their best to prevent the worst excesses of the regime.

In February 1942 he was ordered to join a a work gang to clear the streets of snow. His co-workers were all elderly jews, all over 60, and like Klemperer, not in the best of health. His entry for the 18th records how the work was made somewhat easier by the attitude of their supervisors, who were themselves in fear of the regime:

Different foreman, different supervisor, again both were very-humane and anti-Nazi.

“Don’t say that we treated you well, not at the Community either, rather say we were bad; otherwise we’ll be in trouble.” “Look, I can’t tell you, ‘Work more slowly’ you have to know that yourself,” etc., etc.

The senior supervisor, a younger man, puts in a brief appearance only in the morning.

The foreman always with us. Fifty-five, glassblower until 1930, then unemployed for a year, since then municipal worker. Social Democrat, trade unionist, house search in ’33. Entirely for us. But timid. Lets us go at half past four, makes things easier as far as he can. Nevertheless I am astonished how well I can keep up.

Yesterday a young woman or lady stopping: “But that’s too hard for you” (meaning all of us)-”You’re too old, and one can see that you have other professions” – (with passionate emphasis:) ”That’s what Germany has come to!”

See Victor Klemperer: I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years 1942-1945

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