Click any blue-bordered photo on this page to enlarge it.
by Martha F. Barkley
Most of us have read the classic Diary of Anne Frank as preserved by her father. Such a young life of hope and sensitivity lost just a few days before her concentration camp was liberated. So, too, this almost happened to a very youthful Emil Landau who barely survived and then lived a long life and retired to Damariscotta in 1991.
Because Landau shared his Nazi wrist identification tattoo and the horror of the Holocaust in lectures repeatedly, his neighbor David Swanson in Walpole, Maine, decided to record the complicated events in this short, 93-page book, Emil Landau Surviving the Third Reich, which is full of meaningful photos selected by Carolyn Landau, his wife since 1961 until Emil's death in 2007.
With our recent commemoration of D-Day 75 years ago, I mulled over in my mind which Eisenhower biography to review: there are so many good ones! Instead, I found an Eisenhower observation in this very brief book full of a young man's ultimate survival, however tenuous it was when American troops arrived with food and fresh water.
"The things I saw beggar description...The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were...overpowering...I made the visit deliberately in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to propaganda." (Page 67)
Emil shares that he was in the infirmary at the time "the American forces [came] across Buchenwald quite by accident, and they were totally unprepared to deal with what they encountered...Moreover, this was an Army on the move, pursuing an exhausted enemy..."
With his gangrene foot and part of his leg slowly healing and other serious ailments, Emil's only noted memory was that the Army left a truck of "potable water" outside the concentration camp gate. Prisoner mentality ruled everyone, so they did NOT venture out for this necessary lifeline of fresh water. The skeleton Army force left behind to help had to deliver the water to skeletal, starving prisoners within the confines of the now notorious Buchenwald.
Many readers of history are familiar with the horrors exposed at the Nuremberg Trials, but individual stories like the classic Anne Frank and Emil Landau clearly show the unfathomable loss of the young in families. Teens were there and forever have imprinted on their young souls the atrocities of man's inhumanity to man. Screaming in nightmares like our PTSD veterans today.
Emil barely survived and Anne almost made it. How tenuous and fragile are individual lives. Emil's recovery was long and slow just as his many experiences at various concentration camps were dreaded and too many. The 1930 map of Europe on page 6 is very helpful in following his recovery after Buchenwald: Konstanz, Basel, Davos, Bremen, and Bremenhaven before leaving for New York with family members joyfully reunited.
After reading his detailed journey, I went back to the map to retrace his youth in Witten, Herrlingen ,and Dortmund before his family's first forced train trip to Theresienstadt, "the Nazis referred [to it] as 'Paradise Camp' because it's prisoners we're selected from so-called 'prominent individuals' in the Jewish community..." Even though the family tried desperately to stay together and Emil also tried to remain with a cohort of friends, splintering of groups happened repeatedly from Auschwitz to Czechowitz to Glewitz and finally the dreadfully killing place of Buchenwald.
Emil's choices were many. He had the chance to leave his exceptional private school for Jewish boys and escape to its affiliated school in Scotland, full scholarship offered. Emil chose to stay with his family.
In each camp the same line up and separations were made, and Emil chose to act strong and volunteer for special work assignments. Friends agreed to this plan and occasionally they met up again for mutual support. After liberation and regaining his health, Emil qualified for a full college scholarship (once again like high school) in Europe, but he turned it down to flee with his family to America.
So many other choices are evident in his story. At one point he realizes the Russians would take over where he was, so he found a way to flee that place by not lingering and interviewing with investigations regarding Nazi treatment. "I didn't want to do anything that might delay my departure for Switzerland, especially when I learned that a large area in north-eastern Germany that included Weimer and Buchenwald was soon going to come under the control of Russia. I had heard much about the way in which the Russians dealt with German prisoners of war, and I wanted no part of it."
Most of all, Emil was ready and eager to get on with LIFE. Sounds like our WWII veterans, doesn't it? How good to know he enjoyed retirement in Maine and a friend, another retiree to our fair state, recorded his story. Emil Landau had a fine career out west in Seattle and San Francisco before moving in 1957 to New York.
Read the book from our Belgrade Public Library to find out about his eventual achievements, marriage and son Alex, shown in a great family photo sailing Penobscot Bay. Thank you to David Swanson for retelling this one of a kind story of Landau's family survival and hard earned success.