Move the mouse pointer over a red word in the main text, to view the glossary entry for this word.

Herman Sachnowitz (1922–1978)

 a  Upon boarding the deportation ship MS Donau:

And in the midst of all this misery—I see it still before me—a silent throng of feeble old women and men climbed slowly up the gangway, heads bowed, toward a fate that seemed inevitable to them. They knew more than we young people did. They knew the history of our people. They had put life behind them.

(Herman Sachnowitz: Auschwitz. Ein norwegischer Jude überlebte, with Arnold Jacoby (Frankfurt am Main/Vienna/Zurich: Büchergilde Gutenberg, 1981), p. 16. (Trans. KL))
 b  In the railroad car, the father gives his sons advice:
“God bless you, my sons! […] What is happening now is the worst misfortune that could ever befall us. We’re going to lose sight of each other. We’ll be put together with prisoners from other countries and in the end we won’t know who we are and who we’re dealing with. We won’t know what to believe and whom we can trust. From now on, it won’t be an advantage that we come from a country where the people are sophisticated and cultured. This will only make everything worse. From now on, each one of us will be nothing more than one number among many. But I do want to give you one piece of advice—when the guards tell you to run, don’t do it! Never run! Because it means death. I know, because I was in a similar situation before, in the military camps in old Russia.”
(Herman Sachnowitz: The Story of Herman der Norweger, Auschwitz Prisoner #79235, as told to Arnold Jacoby (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2002), p. 23.)
 c  Afterwards all the prisoners were informed of the situation. I didnt pay much attention. I was still crying. I was thinking about my relatives. They should have been here now, together with me. I would never see them again. The sun shone over the camp, but all the shadows were so deep, so black and dense, it seemed they would cover my life forever. I felt an irrepressible scream rise up in me, a scream no human throat could utter. At the same time, something strange happened. The bitter hatred of our tormenters and hangmen vanished. It was so futile to hate. Nothing could be undone or made right. What happened, happened. Here I stood, my life had been saved, but other than that I had nothing. There was nothing and nobody waiting for me. And yet—the hatred had not made life easier for me. Not for me.
(Herman Sachnowitz: Auschwitz. Ein norwegischer Jude überlebte, with Arnold Jacoby (Frankfurt am Main/Vienna/Zurich: Büchergilde Gutenberg, 1981), p. 201. (Trans. KL))

“Back then, I didn’t know yet that we would never completely escape the concentration camp, that voices, sounds, images would torment us all our lives. That we would have to grapple with bad dreams at night, that there would be bitter hours that were nearly intolerable.”[1]


Herman Sachnowitz was born in Stokke, Norway, in 1922. He had three sisters—Rita, Marie, and Frida—and four brothers—Martin, Elias, Samuel, and Frank. His mother died when the children were young. After the invasion of the German Wehrmacht in April 1940, life became difficult for the Sachnowitz family: Martin, Elias, and Samuel, the older brothers, were arrested and released only after being tortured. When it became clear “that we could hardly continue to live in the town,”[2] his father, Israel Sachnowitz, bought a farm. On October 26, 1942, Israel Sachnowitz and all five sons were arrested by members of the Norwegian Hirden and taken to the Berg camp near Tønsberg. The sisters would have had an opportunity to flee to Sweden, but they did not take advantage of it. As a result, the entire family, with the exceptions of Rita and Frida, was put aboard the deportation ship MS Donau in Oslo on November 26, 1942.  a 


Four days later, they arrived in Stettin, and from there, along with other 525 deported Norwegian Jews, they were taken in cattle cars to Auschwitz.  b  Upon arrival, the brothers were selected for work in the Buna/Monowitz concentration camp; they never saw their father and Marie again. Herman’s remaining two sisters were deported on the second transport from Norway (MS Gotenland) and gassed immediately after their arrival, on March 3, 1943. Samuel was beaten to death by an SS man in the Buna/Monowitz concentration camp. After heavy labor in the cable-laying and cement work detachments, Herman Sachnowitz developed pneumonia and had to go to the infirmary. After his release, he found only Frank, the youngest of his brothers, still alive.


Thanks to the help of Felix Pavlosky, who headed the kitchen, the two brothers received better clothing and an extra daily ration of bread. After a time, they also got into better work detachments: Frank joined the metal workers, and Herman went to the carpenters’ squad. Frank Sachnowitz, however, was bullied and beaten every day by his Kapo. On May 15, 1943, Herman had to put him in the infirmary. Frank was taken away and gassed in August at the Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp. In August 1943, Herman joined the camp band as a trumpet player, and later he helped grow vegetables as a member of the market garden work detachment. On the death march in January 1945, Herman Sachnowitz passed through Gleiwitz and ended up in the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp. On the point of starvation, he was allowed to join the camp band here, too. In early April, after the “evacuation” of Mittelbau-Dora, the prisoners were forced to go to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. There Herman Sachnowitz was liberated by the British Army on April 15.  c 


Riding in a truck assigned to bring former prisoners out of Germany, he made his way to Holland. He traveled through Denmark and finally reached the train station in Larvik, where many friends and the empty, ransacked house of his parents awaited him. He started a family with Paula. In 1976, Herman Sachnowitz’s personal account of his survival, Det angår også deg, was published(a German version, Auschwitz. Ein norwegischer Jude überlebte, appeared in 1981; an English version, The Story of Herman der Norweger, Auschwitz Prisoner #79235, appeared in 2002). This keenly experienced and haunting story enables the reader to relive the transition from the happy life of a large family to loss, horror, and inhumanity, to a “reality that was worse than a nightmare.”[3] The gradual degradation and omnipresent fear are portrayed in great detail and in a self-reflective way, plainly from the postwar perspective, but in an arresting attempt to bring the period of camp imprisonment to life in narrative form. Herman Sachnowitz died in 1978.

(SP; transl. KL)


Sachnowitz, Herman: Det angår også deg. Fortalt av Arnold Jacoby. Oslo: Cappelen 1976.

Sachnowitz, Herman: Auschwitz. Ein norwegischer Jude überlebte. Geschrieben von Arnold Jacoby. Frankfurt am Main/Vienna/Zurich: Büchergilde Gutenberg 1981.

Sachnowitz, Herman: The Story of Herman der Norweger, Auschwitz Prisoner #79235, as told to Arnold Jacoby. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2002.

[1] Herman Sachnowitz: Auschwitz. Ein norwegischer Jude überlebte (A Norwegian Jew Survived),as told to Arnold Jacoby (Frankfurt am Main/Vienna/Zurich: Büchergilde Gutenberg, 1981), p. 206. (Translated by KL)

[2] Sachnowitz: Auschwitz, p. 11.

[3] Sachnowitz: Auschwitz, p. 28.