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 ne 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.