Viktor Ferdinansk was not a Jewish Holocaust survivor, but a Roman Catholic Lithuanian who spent the war in Germany. He provides an interesting perspective from the point of view of a non-Jew who spent the war in a German Franciscan monastery from 1941 to 1945. In the autumn of 1940 Ferdinansk enrolled in a Roman Catholic Seminary in Kovno. But because of the Soviet occupation of Lithuania in that year and the hostility of the communists to all religious institutions, he was sent by the Franciscan Order to Germany with instructions to first journey to Italy. He was accused of entering Germany illegally, was arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo and spent about four months in a work camp. After his release he decided to live in Catholic Bavaria where he worked in Munich in a Franciscan monastery. He had to report to the police every week, was not allowed to speak Lithuanian and was denied the right of correspondence. At the end of the war Ferdinansk abandoned his commitment to theology and decided to study law so that he would not have to work among the German clergy.
Throughout the interview Ferdinansk emphasized that the Germans in the seminary looked down upon him as a foreigner. Boder asked him what the Franciscan brothers thought of the Nazis and the war. He said that the older generation of clergy were opposed to Nazism, while the younger generation tended to support the Nazis because of indoctrination and military service. When asked what he and the German Franciscans in the Seminary knew about the persecution and murder of the Jews he replied, "Yes. Well what was done with the Jews had become clear to everybody. We all knew that the Jews were incarcerated and murdered. That all the Germans knew as well." He remarked that while the clergy in his Seminary and at least one of his professors disapproved of the mistreatment of the Jews, they also felt that there was nothing that they could do. And when asked whether they wanted Germany to win the war, he replied that although attitudes varied, most wanted Germany to win because of nationalism and the hope of the survival of Germany.
Ferdinansk remarked that he did not notice any war guilt on the part of the clergy or the Germans in general, reiterating the deep sorrow he felt because of the contempt he endured because he was a foreigner, even though he was a fellow Catholic. He himself felt that "every man is in some way guilty of the deeds of his fellow man."1 Ferdinansk decided to study law at the UNRRA University instead of one of the German universities. In his conclusion, Viktor Ferdinansk revealed that he feared to attempt searching for his parents, for by 1945 Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union and the authorities would likely be hostile to a Lithuanian who had been a member of a Franciscan monastery in Germany.
As a Lithuanian, Ferdinansk was allowed to live in Germany for the duration of the war, unlike German Jews who were expelled and murdered. Lithuania had become an independent nation after the First World War, was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1940, from 1941 to 1945 was controlled by Nazi Germany, and was reincorporated into the Soviet Union in 1945. Lithuanian fascist groups assisted the Nazis in the murder of the Lithuanian Jews, although Ferdinansk would not have had first-hand knowledge of this. Despite his experience that some German Catholics disapproved of the treatment of the Jews, most were indifferent and some were fervent supporters of Hitler.2
Viktor Ferdinansk's testimony provides a glimpse of what it was like for a Lithuanian who was initially favorably disposed toward Germany to become disillusioned with German racial policies and anti-Christian attitudes of the Nazis. It also illustrates the difference between the Nazi disdain for non-Germans—in this case Lithuanians—and outright murder conducted against the Jews, the Gypsies, and the disabled. Finally, it suggests that the murder of the Jews was widely known in Nazi Germany, according to this testimony taken in 1946.
1. Ferdinansk echoed here the definition of "metaphysical guilt" propounded by the German philosopher Karl Jaspers in his Question of German Guilt (1947).
2. See the recent work of Kevin Spicer, Hitler's Priests: Catholic Clergy and National Socialism (DeKalb, Illinois: Northern Illinois Press, 2008).