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Oral Histories: Wisconsin Survivors of the Holocaust

Manfred Swarsensky. Manfred Swarsensky.
Manfred Swarsensky

Name: Manfred Erich Swarsensky (1906 – 1981)

Birth Place: Marienfliess, Germany (Prussia)

Arrived in Wisconsin: 1940, Madison

Nothing in life becomes real until it becomes personal.

— Rabbi Manfred Swarsensky

Map of survivor's journey in Europe.

Biography

Manfred Erich Swarsensky was born to a rural family in Marienfliess, Germany (Prussia), on October 22, 1906, where his family had lived for many generations. He was educated in Lutheran theology during his primary school years. Between 1925-1932, Manfred did rabbinical study at Hochschule fur die Wissenschaft des Judentums (Academy for Jewish Studies) in Berlin while simultaneously pursuing a Ph.D. in Semitics at the University of Wurzburg.

Upon ordination, Manfred was appointed to serve as a rabbi in Berlin's large Jewish community. He used his sermons to speak out against the Nazi regime from the time of its rise to power in 1933. Following the anti-Jewish rioting of Kristallnacht on November 9-10, 1938, Rabbi Swarsensky was sent to the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen. In spite of hard labor, humiliation, and torture, he was able to offer comfort to his fellow inmates. Three months later, the rabbi was unexpectedly offered freedom on the condition that he leave the country.

Rabbi Swarsensky arrived in the United States in July 1939, after spending several months in Holland and England. In 1940, after a brief stay in Chicago, he accepted a post at a newly organized Reform congregation, Beth El Temple, in Madison, Wisconsin. He remained there until 1976. Rabbi Swarsensky was instrumental in helping many other Holocaust survivors reach Wisconsin and re-establish their lives. In 1952, he married Ida Weiner of Chicago, with whom he raised two children. The rabbi died in Madison on November 10, 1981, the 43rd anniversary of Kristallnacht.

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 Manfred's testimony and view transcript

Tape 1, Side 1
  • Family
  • Connections in the U.S.
  • Religious life in Europe and the U.S.
  • First days in Madison
Download Audio (MP3, 27 minutes, 23.9 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 846 KB)
Tape 1, Side 2
  • Learning English
  • Building Temple Beth El
  • Madison's Jewish community
Download Audio (MP3, 29 minutes, 25.7 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 846 KB)
Tape 2, Side 1
  • Reception of displaced persons
  • Immigration procedures
  • Manfred's family
Download Audio (MP3, 27 minutes, 24.3 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 846 KB)
Tape 2, Side 2
  • More on family
  • Jews in the U.S and Israel
  • American attitudes toward the Holocaust
Download Audio (MP3, 27 minutes, 25.0 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 846 KB)
Tape 3, Side 1
  • Holocaust education efforts
  • Ecumenical relations
  • Intermarriage
Download Audio (MP3, 27 minutes, 24.3 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 846 KB)
Tape 3, Side 2
  • Attitudes toward Israel
  • Religious views
  • Reading habits
Download Audio (MP3, 27 minutes, 24.4 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 846 KB)
Tape 4, Side 1
  • Holocaust depictions in the U.S. media
  • Travels in Wisconsin
Download Audio (MP3, 27 minutes, 24.1 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 846 KB)
Tape 4, Side 2
  • Comparing American culture and politics with Germany
  • Anti-Semitism
Download Audio (MP3, 29 minutes, 25.9 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 846 KB)
Tape 5, Side 1
  • Visits to Berlin and Israel
  • Attitudes toward the Holocaust in U.S.
  • Rabbi Swarsensky's photographs
Download Audio (MP3, 26 minutes, 22.7 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 846 KB)
Tape 5, Side 2
  • Comments on photographs
  • Joseph Rothschild
  • Jewish life in Berlin
Download Audio (MP3, 21 minutes, 18.8 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 846 KB)
Tape 6, Side 1
  • Grandparents and childhood
  • Marienfleiss, Germany
  • High school
  • Religious life
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 25.1 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 846 KB)
Tape 6, Side 2
  • Youth
  • Religious practices Germany
  • Rabbinical student
Download Audio (MP3, 27 minutes, 23.6 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 846 KB)
Tape 7, Side 1
  • German rabbis
  • Self-estimate
  • Leo Baeck
  • Secular government
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 25.2 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 846 KB)
Tape 7, Side 2
  • Separation of church and state
  • Religious education in Germany
  • Studies in Berlin and Würzburg
Download Audio (MP3, 29 minutes, 26.2 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 846 KB)
Tape 8, Side 1
  • Religious practices in Germany
  • Rabbinical appointment in Berlin
  • Synagogues
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 24.7 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 846 KB)
Tape 8, Side 2
  • Berlin congregations
  • Decision to become rabbi
  • Manfred's religious studies
Download Audio (MP3, 27 minutes, 25.0 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 846 KB)
Tape 9, Side 1
  • Zionism in Germany
  • Jewish life before Hitler
  • Jews in Berlin
  • American Jews
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 25.4 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 846 KB)
Tape 9, Side 2
  • Student days
  • Rise of Hitler
  • Book burnings
  • Nuremberg laws
  • Anti-Semitism
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 25.1 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 846 KB)
Tape 10, Side 1
  • Jewish responses
  • Zionism
  • Remembering Kristallnacht, Nov 1938
Download Audio (MP3, 29 minutes, 25.5 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 846 KB)
Tape 10, Side 2
  • More on Kristallnacht
  • Hiding, arrest, jail
  • Gestapo
  • Sachsenhausen prison
Download Audio (MP3, 29 minutes, 25.0 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 846 KB)
Tape 11, Side 1
  • Conditions at Sachsenhausen
  • Torture, resistance
  • Killings
  • Pastoral efforts
Download Audio (MP3, 29 minutes, 26.0 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 846 KB)
Tape 11, Side 2
  • More on Sachsenhausen
  • Miraculous release
  • Gestapo
  • Exile, March 1939
Download Audio (MP3, 29 minutes, 25.8 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 846 KB)
Tape 12, Side 1
  • Ellis Island
  • More memories of Sachsenhausen
  • The Jewish resistance
  • Fate of family
Download Audio (MP3, 29 minutes, 41.5 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 846 KB)
Tape 12, Side 2
  • More on family
  • Immigration to the U.S.
  • Rabbi Swarsensky's children
  • Jews in America
Download Audio (MP3, 15 minutes, 13.8 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 846 KB)

About the Interview Process

  • The interview was conducted by archivist Jean Loeb Lettofsky over nearly 12 hours during seven sessions in the spring and summer of 1980.

    This interview is long and complicated. It does not proceed in chronological order because archivists first requested information on specific subjects for a presentation that spring and summer. Therefore, the interview is disjointed.

    Rabbi Swarsensky's story is valuable not only as an account of a Jewish rabbi who endured the Holocaust, but also because it preserves the philosophy and voice of one of Wisconsin's most highly respected religious leaders.


Audio and Transcript Details

  • Interview Dates: Spring and Summer 1980
  • Interview Location: Beth El Temple, Madison, Wisconsin
  • Interviewer: Archivist Jean Loeb Lettofsky
  • Original Sound Recording Format: 12 qty. 60-minute audio cassette tapes
  • Length of Interviews: 7 interviews, total approximately 12 hours
  • Transcript Length: 194 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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