Excerpt­ed from Asy­lum: A Sur­vivor’s Flight from Nazi-Occu­pied Vien­na Through Wartime France by Moriz Scheyer


I know that I will pro­voke the crit­i­cism in some quar­ters that I talk too much about Jew­ish refugees — as though nobody else exist­ed, as though oth­ers had not suf­fered too.

It is absolute­ly true that oth­ers — innu­mer­able oth­ers — were made to suf­fer, no less than we. And I have not failed to make men­tion of that. I myself hap­pen to be both a refugee and a Jew; and one who bears wit­ness must bear wit­ness to his own per­son­al expe­ri­ences. But there is anoth­er point, too; and that is that what­ev­er those oth­ers were made to suf­fer at least had some con­nec­tion — direct or indi­rect — with the War. Their treat­ment at the hands of Ger­many was unprece­dent­ed and absolute­ly with­out jus­ti­fi­ca­tion. But, for all that they suf­fered, at least it was not the case that their free­dom, their exis­tence, their lives, were for­feit — for­feit from the very out­set — sim­ply by virtue of their birth. Even Hitler did not have the audac­i­ty to ques­tion whether they were actu­al­ly human beings.

Where­as Goebbels, Hitler’s offi­cial cul­tur­al spokesman, stat­ed quite bald­ly in a speech imme­di­ate­ly after the Advent’ of the Third Reich: If I am asked whether the Jews are not also human beings, I can only reply: are not bugs also animals?’

What was per­pe­trat­ed against the Jews, more­over, had noth­ing to do with the War. The project was under­tak­en long before the War, and would have been car­ried out sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly — in accor­dance with a clear­ly laid-out pro­gramme of exter­mi­na­tion — even if there had been no War. And it was per­pe­trat­ed against unarmed, defence­less peo­ple, who were unable to mobilise them­selves, unable to resist. Per­pe­trat­ed against pow­er­less vic­tims, who had already been deprived of their rights, despised, insult­ed, and humil­i­at­ed in both body and soul. Per­pe­trat­ed as a result of the impetu­os­i­ty — as cow­ard­ly as it was crazy — of a mad­man, with the will­ing, hap­py par­tic­i­pa­tion of his Com­rades of the People’.

It was per­pe­trat­ed, too, with­out the civilised world dar­ing to demand that it be stopped, or at least dar­ing to make clear its abhor­rence. Only lat­er, much lat­er — only when it was already far too late — did we begin to get all those fi né expres­sions of sol­i­dar­i­ty, which came in the con­text of gen­er­al war pro­pa­gan­da. And, while it was being per­pe­trat­ed, states which had every oppor­tu­ni­ty to do so, and could have done so with­out cost, failed in their duty to open their gates to the per­se­cut­ed. The grant­i­ng of a visa was a process invari­ably attend­ed with all man­ner of obsta­cles, restric­tions, pro­vi­sos and caveats, before — through a grate in the wall, reluc­tant­ly, like alms to a trou­ble­some beg­gar — the doc­u­ment was final­ly dis­pensed. Or not dis­pensed, as the case might be. The lowli­est con­sular offi­cial was sud­den­ly a god.

No: oth­ers had to under­go all kinds of tri­als, cer­tain­ly. But our jour­ney of spir­i­tu­al mis­ery — to speak of noth­ing else — was with­out par­al­lel. You have to have been a refugee your­self, to have lived as a Jew under the sign of the Swasti­ka, to know what that real­ly meant. And what­ev­er any­one might say with regard to that… it would still be too little.

How could it all have hap­pened? We sur­vivors — we who went through it — we, sure­ly, have the right to keep ask­ing that ques­tion. While at the same time bear­ing wit­ness — in our name, and in that of the silenced six mil­lion. The mar­tyrs: men, women and chil­dren, whom the Führer’ — the Leader of his mur­der­ous Ger­many — hound­ed to their deaths.

From the book Asy­lum: A Sur­vivor’s Flight from Nazi-Occu­pied Vien­na Through Wartime France by Moriz Schey­er. Copy­right © 2016 by Moriz Schey­er, trans­lat­ed and with an epi­logue by P.N. Singer. Used with per­mis­sion of Lit­tle, Brown and Com­pa­ny, New York. All rights reserved.

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