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Oral history interview with Walter Lachman

Oral History | Accession Number: 1992.A.0125.64 | RG Number: RG-50.233.0064

Some video files begin with 10-60 seconds of color bars.

Walter Lachman (b. Wolfgang Louis Lachman), born May 26, 1928, discusses his family background and comfortable childhood in Berlin, Germany; his grandfather’s service in WWI as a master sergeant; his father’s service in the German army and participation in the Spartacus movement; his early school days during which he would sing the German anthem and National Socialist anthem; changes in Germany in 1935 and 1936; the banning of Jewish children from public schools; attending Jewish school in the backyard of an old synagogue; Jewish doctors and attorneys who were no longer allowed to practice their professions; broader restrictions placed on Jews in Germany; his father’s gentile customers who stopped shopping at the family’s business; his experiences with antisemitism and daily harassment from non-Jewish children; his memory of Kristallnacht, during which his father’s business was vandalized; his small Bar Mitzvah in an orthodox synagogue in 1941; his mother’s death from Leukemia; his father’s death from tuberculosis; his last memories of Berlin; being taken by open truck to a railroad yard; his journey east by freight car which took seven to eight days; the conditions in the freight car; his arrival in Riga, Latvia in several feet of snow; his relocation to the Riga ghetto with his grandmother; daily conditions in the ghetto; the murder of his grandmother who was gassed along with other older people inside a truck; the formation of the Council of Elders; the ghetto’s hospital where abortions were performed; the ghetto’s small synagogue; becoming a messenger for the Council of Elders; being sent to Pleskau (Pskov), Russia to cut down trees; the liquidation of the ghetto and his relocation to Kaiserwald concentration camp; working in a factory in Riga where he repaired uniforms for the German Army; harassment from the factory’s guards; conditions in the factory from which there were several failed escape attempts and subsequent hangings; being punished after he was caught attempting to steal shoes; pro-German and anti-Russian sentiment among Latvians; being forced to work 12 hour shifts while unloading ammunition at Riga harbor without protection from the elements or Russian air raids; being taken to Libau (now called Liepaja), a port on the Baltic Sea, to load and unload ships and dismantle tin roofs to send back to Germany; bombings from the Russians; evacuating Liepaja and being taken back to Germany in a freight boat; his confinement in a crowded jail in Hamburg, Germany for three to four weeks with little food; being forced to collect shell fragments from A.A. guns; his relocation to Bergen-Belsen; contracting typhus; the abandonment of Bergen-Belsen by German guards as British forces approached; his liberation by the British on April 15, 1945; how the British used German guards to bury the dead and then burned down the camp; medical care from the British Red Cross; working for the British Red Cross as an interpreter until late 1945; working for the United Nations in Munich, Germany; sailing to the United States on the S.S. Marlin; living in New York and Massachusetts; working as a stock boy; advancing in sales and becoming the president of several successful department stores before his retirement; and returning to Bergen-Belsen in the 1990s and seeing young German citizens who were interested in what happened there.

Interviewee
Walter Lachman
Date
1992 July 31  (interview)
Language
English
Extent
1 sound cassette (90 min.).