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Memories of life in Germany before the war


Father's arrest and forced emigration
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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In 1938 [my father] was arrested with a lot of other people. The famous knock at the door, which wasn't in the middle of the night, and he was taken off to a concentration camp, Sachsenhausen, which later became quite famous. But we have to remember that in those days the concentration camps were, well they were called 're-education' camps, and nobody was killed in those camps, there weren't any gas chambers then, at that time. But anyway, they put all the Jews, or the non-Aryans, in there for re-education, and they told them, here you are and here you will stay until and unless you give us proof that you've arranged to emigrate. Because they wanted to get rid of all the Jews and the non-Aryans from Germany. So, on the one hand, it was a simple extortion manoeuvre, because when you left, you just took a little bit of money, no gold, no jewellery, and so everything was left behind, and, of course, the Nazis just pocketed all that money. When you treat a whole group of people like that, hundreds and hundreds of people, possibly, well probably thousands, yes, it comes to money when you collect all that booty, which they did. So, in 1938 when my father was arrested and put in Sachsenhausen concentration camp, my mother had to run about frantically finding a way of getting him out, and it took about two months. In the end she bought a Peruvian visa, which you could buy in those days and, on the basis of the Peruvian visa, we got an English transit visa. In the meantime my father had arranged, had sort of, semi-arranged a job in Canada as works photographer in a factory in Saskatchewan. But the paperwork wasn't complete at the time when we left, so we had to find a way of getting out of Germany before that paperwork came through, so that's what led to the Peruvian visa and the English transit visa. And, so we finally left at the end of June 1939, two months before the outbreak of war. We packed up all our belongings, and they were packed in things that nowadays they would be called containers, but then they were called lifts. They were great big boxes. They were supposed to be sent on to us, the furniture and bits and pieces, but actually the war broke out and they ended up being bombed by the RAF in Bremerhaven Harbour. So we never got any of that stuff, including my little model railway which I missed severely, sadly.

Born in Germany, cinematographer Walter Lassally (1926-2017) was best known for his Oscar-winning work on 'Zorba the Greek'. He was greatly respected in the film industry for his ability to take the best of his work in one area and apply it to another, from mainstream to international art films to documentary. He was associated with the Free Cinema movement in the 1950s, and the British New Wave in the early 1960s. In 1987 he published his autobiography called 'Itinerant Cameraman'.

Listeners: Peter Bowen

Peter Bowen is a Canadian who came to Europe to study and never got round to heading back home. He did his undergraduate work at Carleton University (in Biology) in Ottawa, and then did graduate work at the University of Western Ontario (in Zoology). After completing his doctorate at Oxford (in the Department of Zoology), followed with a year of postdoc at the University of London, he moved to the University's newly-established Audio-Visual Centre (under the direction of Michael Clarke) where he spent four years in production (of primarily science programs) and began to teach film. In 1974 Bowden became Director of the new Audio-Visual Centre at the University of Warwick, which was then in the process of introducing film studies into the curriculum and where his interest in the academic study of film was promoted and encouraged by scholars such as Victor Perkins, Robin Wood, and Richard Dyer. In 1983, his partner and he moved to Greece, and the following year he began to teach for the University of Maryland (European Division), for which he has taught (and continues to teach) biology and film courses in Crete, Bosnia, and the Middle East.

Tags: Sachsenhausen, Peru, England, Canada

Duration: 3 minutes, 6 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008