“To Palestine!” Comments on the Oral History Video Interview with Rachel Dror

Lennart Bohne

Source Description

These two sequences sequence I: 0:35:36–0:36:59 and sequence II: 0:43:49–0:45:44 from an interview with Rachel Dror discuss her experiences during and after the pogroms in Hamburg, where she was part of a group of Jewish youths preparing for life in Palestine, and also her subsequent return to her parental home in Königsberg [Kaliningrad]. This oral history interview was recorded on June 20, 2012 as part of the interview project “Sprechen trotz allem” [“Speaking despite Everything”] run by the Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Survivors from towns in the former German Eastern provinces—such as Königsberg—or from German-speaking areas in central Europe with significant Jewish communities such as Czernowitz, Lemberg or Riga were interviewed for this project. The interview was held at “Ort der Information,” the exhibition space below the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. The interviewers were Lennart Bohne, a researcher at the Foundation Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe, and Barbara Kurowska, a freelance research associate for the interview project. Daniel Hübner, freelance IT-coordinator for the interview project, was in charge of camera, lighting, and sound. The interview was conducted in German and runs to a total length of 130:05 minutes. There are two cuts, one due to a short break and a second one after a scheduled break after about ninety minutes. The interview was transcribed and edited by Teresa Schäfer, a freelance research associate for the interview project. The call number for the interview is 01153/sdje/0048.
  • Lennart Bohne

Rachel Dror was born Rahel Zipora Lewin on January 19, 1921 in Königsberg [Kaliningrad]. She grew up in a traditional Jewish family—in addition to a public high school [Lyzeum], she attended a Jewish religious school. In 1936, two years after she had dropped out of school and begun to train as a seamstress, Rachel Dror decided to join a Zionist youth movement in order to go to Hamburg for Hakhshara the preparatory training for life in Palestine. At this point, the social marginalization of Jews had taken root in German law and was quite advanced. While Rachel Dror had been confronted with various forms of antisemitism during her time in Königsberg, she initially experienced a much better situation in Hamburg, a city considered to be open and cosmopolitan, especially while she was surrounded by Jewish youths whose shared goal was emigration. She and 27 other youths were staying at a place at Klosterallee 9. After one and a half years, on the morning of October 28, 1938, she saw her boyfriend, Wolfgang Drechsler, for the last time. He was arrested and deported as part of the so-called “Polenaktion,” during which up to 17,000 Jews of Polish nationality were expelled from Germany. Many other youths from the Hakhshara group fell victim to this action, so that their communal home was dissolved and Rachel Dror moved in with her mother’s sister, Flora Rosenbaum, who was a teacher at the Talmud-Torah School in Hamburg’s Grindelviertel. Two weeks later, on the night of November 9, 1938, government-controlled antisemitism culminated in the November pogrom. Rachel Dror was at her aunt’s house during the night of the pogrom and initially did not learn of the events. In the first video sequence, she remembers her impressions and emotions of the following morning, when she witnessed Jews being beaten and chased through the streets by members of the SA  Storm Division:
“When I saw that, I immediately thought something bad must have happened. So I walked faster.”
She goes on to describe reaching a newsstand in front of which curious onlookers were crowding. The visual memory of this scene has stayed with Rachel Dror permanently:
“[...] But he had newspapers piled up like this (gesticulates), and it looked like blood had been spilled on them or like they had been painted red. And it was the flames of the burning synagogues that had been set on fire on the night of November 9-10.”
On the black and white newspaper photographs in front of which onlookers were crowding, Rachel Dror notices a red reflection she immediately associates with both flames and blood, while the newsvendor from whom she used to buy her papers for a long time addresses her in a Berlin dialect, insulting her:
“Hey, Jew girl, want to see how your synagogues burned, do you?”

Symbolism in Rachel Dror’s recollections

Although this sequence describes the events on a specific day, the morning of November 10, 1938, in a specific place—Hamburg—it should not be considered an actual account of the historic events during the November pogrom in this city. It is likely that this section of the interview reveals a merging of personal memory and subsequently obtained knowledge about the events. While she was staying at her aunt’s house, Rachel Dror did not personally witness any of the violence against Jews, their businesses, and their synagogues. The red reflection—flames and blood—she sees on the newspapers thus has to be understood as a metaphor seeking to express the destruction and suffering, the full extent of which she did not learn about until later. Being reported in the newspapers, the pogrom becomes real to her as she sees testimony written in black and white. Retrospectively, this moment is meaningful to Rachel Dror since the unleashing of antisemitism which she had previously witnessed only in an abstract sense now manifests itself directly in her own environment. It is precisely at this point that her account switches again from a description of historic events to a form of very personal recollection: in this moment, Rachel Dror, too, was marginalized simply because she was Jewish. It was the newsvendor who, standing in front of her and insulting her, personified the country’s political culture. The fact that she remembers that the newsvendor must have been from Berlin due to his dialect further illustrates the importance of this moment. Rachel Dror immediately returned to her aunt’s home, where she found out what had happened at the Talmud-Torah School. In the meantime, her aunt had learned of the arrest of the teaching staff and many of her students. Deeply concerned about her own family in Königsberg, Rachel eventually managed to contact her father, who ordered her to return home at once.

The decision to emigrate

In the second sequence, which builds upon the previous one, Rachel Dror describes her return to Königsberg. By the time she arrived, her family had been forced to move out of their family home and into a small apartment. It was there that Rachel met her frightened younger brother, who had developed a major speech impediment as a result of the violence his family was subjected to during the pogrom in Königsberg. On the night of the pogrom, intruders had severely injured his father with an oven door handle.
“When I saw that, I thought, I’m leaving. I’m not staying here! My father said,
“Where are you going?”
“To Palestine!””

The powerlessness against increasing marginalization, which first expressed itself in an inability to act, ended the moment Rachel learned of the physical violence against her father. The fact that even her own family had not been spared by the violent pogroms triggered an affective reaction. Rachel had prepared for a life in Palestine in the Hakhshara community, but the group had been torn apart. Her family did not only lack the financial means to emigrate, but emigration was out of the question for them for other reasons as well. Her family—and especially her mother—identified as German. They could neither comprehend how antisemitic pogroms and increasing marginalization were possible in the country they considered their home, nor could they imagine emigrating. The family continued to hope that all would pass. Not Rachel, however: not even of age at this point, she intuitively made the decision to take her fate into her own hands, thus acting against the will of her parents. She immediately sought to obtain an affidavit for entry into another country. Using her aunt as a guarantor, she managed to leave Germany on April 29, 1939 and thus saved herself from further persecution. Throughout the interview, Rachel tries to contextualize her biography by means of subsequently acquired historical knowledge, thus attempting to frame it in a narrative. For example, she could not have known that Palestine—the future state of Israel—was to become her new home at the time of her emigration.
“And if you ask me whether I identify as Israeli, of course I do! You must not forget that we used to be dirt and then we became someone. After I had been treated like dirt, okay?! And then you realize, I am actually not dirt. I am human just like everyone else.”
Both sequences reveal what Baranowski called “the moment between discomposure and realization,” Daniel Baranowski (ed.), Sprechen trotz allem. Das Videoarchiv der Stiftung Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas, Berlin 2014, pp. 24. in which personal recollection of one’s own experience, historical knowledge, and contemporary circumstances of interpretation merge. Only if we take the specific characteristics of video interviews as sources seriously and analyze them adequately will it become possible to do justice to the complex narrative of individual testimony.

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About the Author

Lennart Bohne was research assistant at the Foundation "Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe", he was project manager of the video archives.

Recommended Citation and License Statement

Lennart Bohne, “To Palestine!” Comments on the Oral History Video Interview with Rachel Dror (translated by Insa Kummer), in: Key Documents of German-Jewish History, September 22, 2016. <https://dx.doi.org/10.23691/jgo:article-62.en.v1> [March 05, 2024].

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Non commercial - No Derivatives 4.0 International License. As long as the material is unedited and you give appropriate credit according to the Recommended Citation, you may reuse and redistribute it in any medium or format for non-commercial purposes.