Dr Klaus Leist reads excerpts of the book As if it were life by Philipp Manes.

Duration 27.55

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Philipp Manes was taken to Theresienstadt and finally deported to Auschwitz.

The book was edited by Ben Barkow, Director of the Wiener Library and Dr Klaus Leist, who reads sections taken from the book in this podcast. The book is published by Palgrave.

Philipp Manes was born in Germany on 16 August 1875 and grew up in Berlin where his father ran a fur trading business which he joined in 1910. Manes married Gertrud Elias, and together they had four children, Rudolf, Walter, Eva and Annemarie. At the outbreak of World War One, Manes was drafted to the Russian front where he became a sergeant and was awarded the Iron Cross.

After the war, Manes dedicated himself to the fur industry, but this was to end the day after Kristallnacht, when he had to dissolve the business. By 1939, his four children had left the country, and Philipp and Gertrud were left alone in Berlin, with increasing anti-Jewish measures restricting all aspects of their lives.

In spring 1942 Manes was called up to work in a factory manufacturing nuts and bolts. It was exhausting, but he was on good terms with his co-workers, Jews and Non-Jews alike. In July of that year he was notified while at work that he and his wife were to be deported to Theresienstadt. He writes in his diary of his last days in Berlin:

Dr Leist reads pages: 15-16

The account Manes’ wrote in Theresiesnstadt begins where the Last Days in Berlin end: with the arrival at the little station of Bauschowitz, three km from Theresienstadt:

Dr Leist reads pages: 23-24

Soon after his arrival Manes was summoned to see the commander of the Ghetto-Watch, a Jewish Ghetto police force. He was instructed to take charge of a new auxiliary force to be called the Orientation Service. Its purpose was to take care of people who got lost in the Ghetto. Theresienstadt was built as a garrison in the 18th century to accommodate 11,000 people, by July 1942, when Manes arrived, the population was over 50,000 with more transports arriving each day. Many inmates were severely disorientated and traumatized.

Manes selected 12 Berliners to help him in his work, and the Orientation Service was started. The Ghetto Watch and the Orientation Service were part of the Jewish self-administration under the Council of Elders. The administration tried to maintain an appearance of normality in the pursuit of life in the ghetto and the prisoners supported this make-believe by working where they could as nurses or doctors, craftsmen or librarians. This make-believe reached its culmination in the so-called town beautification programme of 1944 – when the numbers of inmates were lowered (by deportations to Auschwitz), trees were planted, a coffee house opened and a cleaning programme ordered – all in preparation for a visit by a delegation of the Red Cross, which duly allowed itself to be taken in by the appearances. Manes records in his account his reaction to this beautification:

Dr Leist reads pages: 171-172

The work of the Orientation Service was on the whole rather mundane, but there was another aspect to it. It was assigned Room 38 of the Magdeburg barracks and this became what the musician Willi Durra called a curious mixture of police station, theatre, adult education centre and concert agency. Manes used the Orientation Service as the vehicle for organising lectures and cultural evenings, which eventually numbered over 500 events. In the next reading he describes some of the events from 1943:

Dr Leist reads pages: 110-111

From the beginning of 1943 Manes held lectures every evening because the demand was so great. On 10 March he marked his 100th event. By the summer of 1943, lectures were regularly interspersed with play readings and musical performances.

The lectures went on throughout 1943 and 1944 and the 500th took place in August 1944. The speaker was Rabbi Leo Baeck, the great Jewish thinker and last Head of the Jewish Community of Germany:

Dr Leist reads pages: 200-201

Towards the end of his account, Manes begins to describe the transports rolling out of Theresienstadt for Auschwitz. From 1944, the transports dominated everything and Manes sensed his fate approaching. Before long, women were included in the transports, and then the age limit rose from 50 to 65. More and more of his friends went. Philipp and Gertrud Manes realised that the age limit would rise again and that they would be called up. And yet they carried on helping people to prepare for the transports, until the last one, which they themselves had to join:

Dr Leist reads pages: 246-7

Philip & Gertrud were taken to Auschwitz. Their transport arrived there on 20 October; of the 2,038 people on the transport, 1,689 were gassed immediately. Philip and his wife were almost certainly in this number.

When Philip Manes was deported he entrusted his papers to a fellow inmate, Lies Klemich. She preserved them through the liberation and eventually managed to transmit them to Philip’s boyhood friend Adolf Franck, in Bavaria. Franck had maintained contact with Manes during his incarceration, and knew the whereabouts of his daughter Eva Manes. Eva and her sister Annemarie had fled to Britain in 1939. Eva was working as an office manager in Oxfordshire in 1948 when the papers reached her. She died in 2004 at the age of 95. It was she who deposited them at the Wiener Library in 1995. The Manes collection at the Wiener Library comprises 16 boxes of manuscripts and letters of the Manes family.