Wisconsin Survivors of the Holocaust
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
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
- Connections in the U.S.
- Religious life in Europe and the U.S.
- First days in Madison
- Visits to Berlin and Israel
- Attitudes toward the Holocaust in U.S.
- Rabbi Swarsensky's photographs
- Separation of church and state
- Religious education in Germany
- Studies in Berlin and Würzburg
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.
View more information by clicking the link below each picture.