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Max Drimmer

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00:00:00 Background

00:07:07 Anti-Jewish policies under National Socialism

00:09:17 Attempts to escape

00:14:39 Sachsenhausen concentration camp

00:21:27 Deportation/selection

00:23:18 Survival in the concentration camp/escape

00:41:50 Life on the run

00:55:23 Postwar period

“It may sound outlandish, but for me personally, Auschwitz meant a change almost to a sanatorium. If you went to the gas chamber in Auschwitz, then all your misery was over. If you got to Buna for forced labor, then it wasn’t quite so bad as Sachsenhausen.”[1]


Max Drimmer, the son of Moritz and Fanny Drimmer, was born in Magdeburg on March 25, 1920. When he was two years old, his parents, his older sister, and he moved to Berlin, where the family opened a furniture store. The Drimmers led an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle. On the day of his Bar Mitzvah, April 1, 1933, Max Drimmer had to witness the boycott of Jewish businesses and the public humiliation of his grandfather. His father fled to Poland in April 1938 to avoid the threat of deportation to a concentration camp, and his mother continued running the business. On November 9, 1938, the store was completely ransacked by looters, and Max knew that he wanted to leave Germany. Against his mother’s wish, he became a baker’s apprentice, because he thought this trade would allow him to live anywhere. Fanny Drimmer, wishing to get her children out of the country, sent her daughter illegally to Belgium. Max was supposed to go to Holland, but he was caught in the attempt to cross the border illegally. Although his mother had managed to get a visa for him to go to Siam, his plans for departure were thwarted: The visa was valid only for travel from England to Siam, but the English authorities refused to grant him a transit visa.


On September 13, 1939, together with 1,700 other Jews with Polish passports, he was deported to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. There he experienced the brutality and arbitrary cruelty of the SS. In October 1942, he was deported to Auschwitz. In the selection upon arrival, he was separated from his friends, Mendel Scheingesicht (later Herman Shine) and Bully Schott. Behind the back of the SS physician, he sneaked over to their side and thus avoided death in the gas chamber for the first time. Max Drimmer was taken to the Buna/Monowitz concentration camp. While he was doing forced labor at the I.G. Farben construction site, a steel beam crushed one of his feet, and he spent eight weeks in the infirmary, where he also developed tuberculosis. After a partial convalescence, he was assigned to a work detachment that did pipe insulation; it was headed by his friend Leo Brenner. Max had met a Polish civilian worker, Józef Wróna, at the construction site, and Wróna offered to help him escape. Along with Mendel Scheingesicht (later called Herman Shine), Max Drimmer escaped from the construction site on the night of September 20, 1944, and hid for four months in the Wrónas’ barn. When the SS was hot on the two men’s trail, they fled to Gleiwitz, where the Schlesinger family provided them with a place to stay during the final days of the war.


Immediately after liberation by the Red Army, Max Drimmer first worked for the Soviet armed forces as an estate manager; finally, however, he returned with Mendel Scheingesicht and the Schlesingers to Berlin, where he happened to meet Herta Zowe, with whom he had been in love before the war. He married her on February 17, 1946, in a double wedding with Mendel Scheingesicht and Marianne Schlesinger. Both couples wanted to emigrate to the United States, but because of Max Drimmer’s tuberculosis, their departure was delayed until March 1947. The couples settled in California, where Max Drimmer worked first as a baker, and later as a plumber. Max and Herta Drimmer had two sons. Max Drimmer knows almost nothing about his parents’ fate: His father is considered to be a missing person in Poland, and his mother was deported to Riga in 1942 and died in Auschwitz. Only his sister survived the war, in a camp in Toulouse.
Max Drimmer passed away August 14, 2012 at the age of 92.

(SP; transl. KL)


Max Drimmer, oral history interview [Eng.], October 6, 1997. USC Shoah Foundation Institute, Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Archive, Code 34008.

Max Drimmer, oral history interview [Eng.], July 3, 2007. Archive of the Fritz Bauer Institute, Norbert Wollheim Memorial.



Helas, Horst: Juden in Berlin-Mitte: Biographien – Orte – Begegnungen. Berlin: Trafo, 2001.


Television Film

Escape from Auschwitz. A portrait of a friendship (USA, 2001, directed by Josh Springer)

[1] Max Drimmer in: Horst Helas: Juden in Berlin-Mitte: Biographien–Ort –Begegnungen (Berlin: Trafo, 2001), p. 202. (Translation KL)