Benshalom on terrible flight and living conditions
Benzion Benshalom tells of the harsh winter of 1939/40, which made life even harder for refugees in Vilnius and led to tragedies at the…
Ich bin dann aus Ludwigshafen, bewaffnet mit einer Zahnbürste und einem Handtuch, in diesen Prachtkahn gestiegen. Den Leuten wurde erzählt, ich habe vor, ein Soldatengrab eines Verwandten im Elsass zu besuchen. Es gab auf diesem Kahn aber einen erfahrenen, zuverlässigen Bekannten eines Freundes von mir, der das vermittelte. Und der wusste Bescheid, dass ich auf keinen Fall auffallen darf und dass ich im Fall einer Schiffsvisite durch die Schutzpolizei in einem sicheren Versteck verschwinden müsste. Das ist zwei Mal passiert und ich habe dann die Eingeweide eines solchen Kahns kennengelernt. Hinter eingerollten Schiffsketten an einer bestimmten Stelle, hinter ihnen verborgen, habe ich zwei Mal diese Schiffsvisiten der Schutzpolizei etwas leicht verschmiert überstanden.
Then I got on this magnificent barge from Ludwigshafen, armed with a toothbrush and a towel. People were told that I was planning to visit a soldier’s grave of a relative in Alsace. But there was an experienced, reliable acquaintance of a friend of mine on this barge who arranged this. And he knew that I must not be noticed under any circumstances and that in the event of a ship’s visit I would have to disappear into a safe hiding place by the security police. That happened twice and I got to know the guts of such a barge. Behind rolled up ship chains at a certain place, hidden behind them, I twice survived these ship rounds by the Schutzpolizei a little bit smeared.
Max Diamant (1903-1992) was a workers’ union activist, journalist and escape helper. In the audio contribution, he speaks about his flight from Ludwigshafen, Germany, to Strasbourg, France on a ship on the Rhine river.
Diamant is born into a Jewish family in the Polish city of Łódź and grows up trilingual: Yiddish, Russian and German. His parents are members of the Bund, the Jewish socialist workers’ party. In 1919 Max goes to school in Mannheim, where he lives with relatives. Five years later he emigrates with his family to the Soviet Union, but returns to Mannheim in 1927, where he meets his wife Anni Nord and writes for the social democratic newspaper “Volksstimme”. He dedicates his journalistic work to the fight against the rising National Socialists: He writes numerous articles on the strengthening of the National Socialist structures, including among students at Heidelberg University, where he himself was a student.
Diamant is co-founder of the Socialist Workers Party of Germany (SAPD). As a politically active social democrat and journalist, Max Diamant is already exposed to persecution shortly after the National Socialist takeover. He flees to Strasbourg in 1933 with Anni Nord and his 11-year-old brother Arnold, and in 1934 he continues on to Paris. After arriving in Paris, Max Diamant works in the Paris headquarters of the SAP and is an editor of the anti-fascist newspaper “Neue Front” and publisher of the socialist magazine “Marxistische Tribüne”. In France, Diamant and Anni Nord are granted the status of recognized refugees and later live with their friends Paul Frölich and Rosi Wolfstein in a house in Vanves. When the Spanish Civil War breaks out in 1936, Max Diamant travels to Spain as a representative of the SAP party in support of the local Marxist Workers’ Party.
With the beginning of World War II in September 1939, however, Diamant and Nord are also declared “enemy aliens” by France and are temporarily interned in camps. They manage to escape to Montauban in Brittany and from there to Marseille. In Marseille, the couple joins the escape aid network Centre Américain de Secours (CAS) around the American Varian Fry. In September 1941, the threat caused by the war intensifies and Diamant goes on to Lisbon, where he continues his work as an escape agent. From there he reaches Mexico in 1942. It is not until 1962 that he returns to Germany with his family. In Frankfurt he builds up a department called “Foreign Workers” within the trade union IG Metall with the goal of international networking of workers. Max Diamant dies in Frankfurt in 1992.
Max Diamant on His Flight to France, Doris Diamant’s private archive, published here with kind permission by Doris Diamant herself.