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Oral Histories: Wisconsin Survivors of the Holocaust

Fred Platner. Fred Platner.
Fred Platner

Name: Fred Platner (1917 – 1988)

Birth Place: Amsterdam, Holland

Arrived in Wisconsin: 1951, Madison

If we close our eyes to what happened in the world, there's never hope.

— Fred Platner

Map of survivor's journey in Europe.

Biography

Fred Platner was born in Amsterdam, Holland, on August 4, 1917. His family moved during his childhood to Chemnitz, Germany, and later to Bielsko-Biala, Poland. The latter city was one of the first to be invaded by the German army in September 1939. Fred was assigned to forced labor but escaped and found his way to the Russian lines. In late 1940, he and other ex-Poles were arrested by Soviet authorities and shipped to Siberia.

Fred spent nearly a year in a Siberian labor camp until the Germans attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941. After traveling for a year in Russia, Fred arrived in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in Central Asia. He worked as a truck driver for a Russian army camp until the end of hostilities in Europe in 1945.

After the war, he worked in displaced persons camps between 1947 and 1950 in Austria and Germany. Before leaving for the United States, Fred returned to Poland as well as to his hometown in Germany. He found only a handful of surviving relatives and a cold reception by former friends.

In late 1951, Fred and his wife, Ruth von Lange, settled in Madison, Wisconsin. The next year they relocated to Wausau, where he rose to become vice president of the Wausau Steel Corporation. The Platners had three daughters and divorced in 1974. Fred died in 1988.

Audio and Transcript Information

Below are the highlights of each tape. They do not list all topics discussed. Recordings of only one tape side are marked: (no Side 2). Documents may be printed or downloaded at no cost. See Rights and Permissions


Listen to Fred's testimony and view transcript

Tape 1, Side 1
  • Family background
  • Hard times in Chemnitz, Germany
  • Childhood in Chemnitz during the 1920s
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 25.2 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 942 KB)
Tape 1, Side 2
  • Recollections of Fred's extended family
  • Jewish community in Chemnitz
  • Comparing religious services in Germany and Wisconsin
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 24.6 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 942 KB)
Tape 2, Side 1
  • Family moves to Bielsko-Biala, Poland, 1937
  • Travels in Czechoslovakia and Poland, 1937-1938
  • Family's religious practices, 1930s
Download Audio (MP3, 26 minutes, 24.0 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 942 KB)
Tape 2, Side 2
  • Fred's secular education
  • Anti-Semitism in Germany and Poland
  • He identifies more strongly as a Jew than with any nationality
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 24.5 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 942 KB)
Tape 3, Side 1
  • Recalling the rise of the Nazi Party during the 1930s
  • His reaction to the Nuremberg laws and other anti-Semitic measures
  • Knowledge of early concentration camps and the desire to emigrate
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 25.0 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 942 KB)
Tape 3, Side 2
  • 1936 Olympics
  • Outbreak of war, September 1939
  • Assignment to forced labor near the Russian border
Download Audio (MP3, 29 minutes, 25.4 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 942 KB)
Tape 4, Side 1
  • Fred escapes and takes refuge among Russians, 1940
  • Refugee life in Lwow (Lviv), Ukraine
  • Shipped to Siberia, late 1940
Download Audio (MP3, 29 minutes, 25.6 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 942 KB)
Tape 4, Side 2
  • Conditions in Siberian forced labor camp
  • Fred is injured and relieved of work
  • Release from Siberian labor camp, July 1941
Download Audio (MP3, 29 minutes, 26.0 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 942 KB)
Tape 5, Side 1
  • Religious life in the Siberian camp
  • Fred travels to Bashkiria and Uzbekistan
  • Settling in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, 1942
Download Audio (MP3, 29 minutes, 25.4 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 942 KB)
Tape 5, Side 2
  • Life and work in Tashkent
  • Friends among Russian Army officers
  • Contacts within Soviet secret police
Download Audio (MP3, 27 minutes, 24.4 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 942 KB)
Tape 6, Side 1
  • Fred leaves Tashkent, spring 1945
  • Searching for surviving relatives in Poland and Germany
  • Working at displaced persons camps, 1945-1947
Download Audio (MP3, 29 minutes, 25.7 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 942 KB)
Tape 6, Side 2
  • More about displaced persons camps in Steyr, Hamburg, and Bergen-Belsen
  • Work, social, and religious life in displaced persons camps
  • Returning to Chemnitz, Germany, after the war
Download Audio (MP3, 29 minutes, 25.9 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 942 KB)
Tape 7, Side 1
  • Fred leaves Hamburg for the U.S., December 1951
  • Trip sponsored by Madison Jewish Welfare Committee
  • Early friends and kindnesses in Madison, Wisconsin
Download Audio (MP3, 27 minutes, 24.4 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 942 KB)
Tape 7, Side 2
  • Friendship with Rabbi Swarsensky
  • First job as a delivery driver
  • Fred starts his own business
    Download Audio (MP3, 29 minutes, 25.8 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 942 KB)
    Tape 8, Side 1
    • Business affairs in Madison, 1952
    • Fred experiences no anti-Semitism in Madison
    • Family moves to Wausau, Wisconsin
    Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 25.1 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 942 KB)
    Tape 8, Side 2
    • First months in Wausau, 1952-1953
    • Fred's early business affairs in Wausau
    • Accepting a position at Wausau Steel
    Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 25.0 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 942 KB)
    Tape 9, Side 1
    • Jewish community in Wausau
    • Anti-Semitism in Wausau
    • Fred's children and grandchildren
    Download Audio (MP3, 27 minutes, 24.6 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 942 KB)
    Tape 9, Side 2
    • Family life and parenting
    • Children's friends and social life
    • Thoughts on challenges facing young Americans
    Download Audio (MP3, 27 minutes, 24.5 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 942 KB)
    Tape 10, Side 1
    • Attitudes of American Jews and non-Jews toward the Holocaust
    • Feelings about intermarriage, incidents of anti-Semitism
    • His family's religious life and education in Wausau
    Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 25.1 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 942 KB)
    Tape 10, Side 2
    • Reactions to media depictions of the Holocaust
    • Thoughts on American culture and politics
    • Feelings about neo-Nazi demonstrations in the U.S.
    Download Audio (MP3, 29 minutes, 25.9 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 942 KB)
    Tape 11, Side 1
    • Reflections on current refugees in U.S.
    • Thoughts on anti-Semitism in the U.S.
    • Importance of educating people about the Holocaust
    Download Audio (MP3, 16 minutes, 14.6 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 942 KB)

    About the Interview Process

    • The interview was conducted by archivist Jean Loeb Lettofsky on October 1, 2, and 22, 1980. The three sessions totaled more than nine hours.

      Fred described his childhood and his unusual experiences in the Soviet Union in graphic detail. Early in the interview he was overcome with emotion. He collected himself, and later in the interview he speaks with ease and great animation.


    Audio and Transcript Details

    • Interview Dates: Oct 1, 1980; Oct 2, 1980; Oct 22, 1980
    • Interview Location: Platner home, Wausau, Wisconsin and a nearby hotel
    • Interviewer: Archivist Jean Loeb Lettofsky
    • Original Sound Recording Format: 10 qty. 60-minute audio cassette tapes
    • Length of Interviews: 3 interviews, total approximately 10 hours
    • Transcript Length: 203 pages
    • Rights and Permissions: Any document may be printed or downloaded to a computer or portable device at no cost for nonprofit educational use by teachers, students and researchers. Nothing may be reproduced in any format for commercial purposes without prior permission.

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