Reading

Voices in the Dark

Read a German Jew’s firsthand account of an antisemitic incident on a train in Weimar Germany.  
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At a Glance

Reading

Language

English — US

Subject

  • History
  • The Holocaust
  • Human & Civil Rights

Voices in the Dark Audio

Voices in the Dark Audio

Henry Buxbaum, a WWI veteran from Friedburg recalls an experience with virulent antisemitism on a train ride.

Life in Weimar Germany was often unpredictable, as a former soldier, Henry Buxbaum, discovered one evening in the early 1920s:

The train was pitch-dark. The lights were out, nothing uncommon after the war when the German railroads were in utter disrepair and very few things functioned orderly. . . . That night, we were seven or eight people in the dark, fourth-class compartment, sitting in utter silence till one of the men started the usual refrain: “Those God-damned Jews, they are at the root of all our troubles.” Quickly, some of the others joined in. I couldn’t see them and had no idea who they were, but from their voices they sounded like younger men. They sang the same litany over and over again, blaming the Jews for everything that has gone wrong with Germany and for anything else wrong in this world. It went on and on, a cacophony of obscenities, becoming more vicious and at the same time more unbearable with each new sentence echoing in my ears. Finally, I couldn’t stand it any longer. I knew very well that to start up with them would get me into trouble, and that to answer them wasn’t exactly the height of wisdom, but I couldn’t help it. . . . I began naturally with the announcement: “Well, I am a Jew and etc., etc.” That was the signal they needed. Now they really went after me, threatening me physically. I didn’t hold my tongue as the argument went back and forth. They began jostling me till one of them . . . probably more encouraged by the darkness than by his own valor, suggested: “Let’s throw the Jew out of the train.” Now, I didn’t dare ignore this signal, and from then on I kept quiet. I knew that silence for the moment was better than falling under the wheels of a moving train. One of the men in our compartment, more vicious in his attacks than the others, got off the train with me in Friedburg. When I saw him under the dim light of the platform, I recognized him as a fellow I knew well from our soccer club. . . . I would never have suspected this man of harboring such rabid, antisemitic feelings.
1

Connection Questions

  1. What role did the darkness play in the incident described in this reading? What role did the presence of a group of people who shared similar attitudes play?
  2. Do you think the man from Henry Buxbaum’s soccer club would have shared his antisemitic views openly if he had been able to see who else was on the train? 
  3. This reading suggests that anonymity can embolden some people to give voice to attitudes they might not otherwise share. Why might that be? Do you see this in your own experience? Is this the case when readers are invited to comment on news stories or social media posts online?
  • 1Henry Buxbaum, “Recollections,” in Jewish Life in Germany: Memoirs from Three Centuries, ed. Monika Richarz, trans. Stella P. Rosenfeld and Sidney Rosenfeld (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), 303–04.

How to Cite This Reading

Facing History and Ourselves, "Voices in the Dark," last updated May 12, 2020.

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