This Friday, November 9, marks the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht. To commemorate this tragic date – the beginning of European Jewry’s destruction – The Jewish Press asked six German Jews what they remember of that night and the following morning.
The whole shul [in Frankfurt] was up in flames. Not only that, across the shul was a nice park, Friedberger Anlage, that had four or five trees. To each tree, [the Nazis] tied up a man to watch the fire. That was their fun – that the Jews should watch. I passed by and saw it all.
[The Nazis] arrested all the men, including my father [Rav Joseph Breuer]. They took them into a big hall in Frankfurt, but he had so much mazal. They were all put in rows and whoever was over 59 could go home. When they asked my father, “How old are you?” he said, “Fifty-seven,” but the man questioning him was a guard in the yeshiva [who knew him], so he said, “No, you’re 60, go home.” That saved him.
— Edith Silverman, born 1919, lived in Frankfurt, Germany
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My family hid me. They were afraid the Hitler Youth or the Nazis would drag me out. We ended up hiding in the attic when they broke into our house. They sacked it. My father had an old safe they tried breaking into, but they couldn’t.
We were saved by a gentile neighbor whom my parents were friendly with. He took us out of the house and we ended up taking a train to Frankfurt that night. We shared an apartment with another family when we got there.
I have vivid memories of big bonfires near our apartment in Frankfurt where they burned siddurim and Chumashim. Maybe it was even the same night.
— Kurt Simon, born 1931, lived in Munster, Germany
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I was just 14 and a half when, on that fateful November morning, I made my way to school [in Mannheim], at the synagogue premises. Smoke hung in the air and – as I got near – I saw it all. The [firefighters] allowed the flames to consume the synagogue and used their water to cool neighboring non-Jewish property to prevent it from being damaged. Onlookers seemed to enjoy the sight.
My father had already been deported a few days earlier and I was only spared because I was not at home. After contacting my mother [back] in Karlsruhe, I left to travel home on the 3:22 afternoon diesel train. I have difficulty remembering yesterday’s events, but that day and time is indelibly etched on my mind.
It’s worth mentioning that in my hometown the walls of one of the burned out synagogues constituted a danger to the public and, to add insult to injury, the Jewish community had to pay the costs of the demolition.
— Walter Bingham, born 1924, lived in Karlsruhe, Germany
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My cousin and I went to the shul the morning of November 10, and all the Sefer Torahs were lying on the floor. One of them happened to belong to my grandfather, so we took it home, and brought it to New York two years later. In 1941, I leined out of it here in New York, and 70 years later my grandson leined out of it.
I lived in a house that belonged to a non-Jew, so the Nazis didn’t touch it. But they smashed my uncle’s matzah factory. All the [non-Jews] in the factory were crying because it was their parnasah. They told them, “Don’t touch the factory,” but they didn’t listen.
In the morning, policemen came and picked up my father, and a few hours later they came back and picked up my 18-year-old brother. It was terrible. We had no idea where they took them. A few days later we got a card: Send them money in Buchenwald. We sent money, which of course they never got. The Nazis took it away. My father was in Buchenwald five weeks; my brother, eight weeks.
— Henry Rosenberg, born 1928, lived in Momberg, Germany
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On November 10, 1939, I took the train into Kassel where I was learning how to sew from a seamstress. In the town square I saw the remains of burned sif-rei Torah. I grew even more frightened when I saw many men marching with shovels and singing lustily. “Wenn das Judenblut vom Messer spritzt ist Alles wieder gut! – When Jewish blood splatters from the knife, all will be well!”
With my heart pounding in terror, I turned around and fled, taking the next train home. On the train ride home, I saw girls whom I sat on the same bench with in school. I didn’t know what to say to them! I just passed them and ran all the way home. You can never explain the feeling. It was terrible!
Our home was no longer safe either. Right after Kristallnacht, German thugs came to burn down our house since they thought it was owned by Jews. The new owner of the house – as we had sold our home the previous week – came charging out with an ax in his hand roaring that he owned the house, saving his home as well as our lives.
— Edith Cohnen, born 1924, lived in Binsfuerth, Germany
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Everything was on fire. You could hear the smashing. Every store in the section of Frankfurt we lived in was Jewish. The next morning, there was broken glass all over and the synagogues were burnt.
I remember seven men in uniform came into our apartment and said, “Any male person has to report right away to the police station.” My father went and didn’t come back. Nobody knew what was going on. It turned out that they were transported to Buchenwald. My father was there for three months.
When I came to school the next morning, only half my class was there because anybody who wasn’t born in Germany – even if one of your parents wasn’t born in Germany – was shipped out of the country overnight.
— Ruth Greenwald, born circa 1931, lived in Frankfurt, Germany