It did not have to be. Neumann, who was 8 years old at the time, discovered the horrors of the Night of Broken Glass, which continued into the morning, on her walk to school.
“I walked by our synagogue. Hordes of people were standing in front of it and throwing stones through the beautiful stained-glass windows. They had gone into the synagogue, ransacked it and threw the Torah scrolls into the streets,” Neumann recalled.
As soon as she arrived at school, her teacher said, “Something horrible happened last night. Your parents have been alerted, and they will come pick you up.”
Hebert Hane of Severna Park has a similar story. Only 3 1⁄2 years old at the time and born to a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother, he said the morning after Kristallnacht, when his mom heard what happened, “she took me to see the local synagogue that was burned, and that has remained in my memory. What I remember is that the outer walls were still standing, but it was all smoldering, and you could smell the burning wood that was in ashes. My mother was very sad.”
On Nov. 9, it will be 75 years since Kristallnacht, literally Night of Crystal. The number of survivors who remember the terror are diminishing. But for those who do remember, the memories are often vivid, for they say the sadness and the fear of what became a turning point in the Holocaust is etched into their very souls.
On that night (and into the morning), the Nazis staged violent pogroms — state-sanctioned, anti-Jewish riots — against the Jewish communities of Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland. They broke synagogue windows, demolished and looted Jewish-owned stores, community centers and homes. Instigated by the Nazi regime, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, rioters burned or destroyed 267 synagogues, vandalized or looted 7,500 Jewish businesses and killed at least 91 Jewish people. They also damaged many Jewish cemeteries, hospitals, schools and homes, as police and fire brigades stood aside.
Kristallnacht was a turning point in Nazi anti-Jewish policy that would culminate in the Holocaust, the systematic, state-sponsored mass murder of the European Jews. That it was a turning point, said Victoria Barnett, is one of the reasons we commemorate Kristallnacht above and beyond many of the other equally as tragic points of destruction initiated by the Nazi regime.
Barnett, who is the director of the programs on ethics, religion and the Holocaust at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, said Kristallnacht foreshadowed the extreme violence to come.
“There was no denying what was going to happen after Kristallnacht,” she said.
Barnett described the Night of Broken Glass as a “big shock moment.”
In 1938, Adolph Hitler’s government began to expand, so people were becoming worried about Nazi Germany. But in November 1938, with this mass outbreak of violence, which targeted people directly — their synagogues and businesses and Nazis breaking into people’s homes and beating them and destroying their belongings — the National Socialist Movement became one that the Jews could no longer ignore.
“Until then, some Jewish families in Nazi Germany thought that they could muddle through. It was difficult to emigrate. After Kristallnacht, that illusion was gone,” said Barnett. “That is one of the reasons that Kristallnacht is etched in history in such a powerful way. It was so blatant, so direct and so widespread, in terms of the violence against ordinary people.”
“[After Kristallnacht], my father finally believed that his service in the German army during World War I would not help our family,” said Emmy Mogilensky in a project recorded by Jeanette Parmigiani, director of Holocaust programs for the Baltimore Jewish Council. “He came home from Dachau [prison] a broken man. My parents sent me away on a Kindertransport to England, and three months later, they sent my brother away, also. My parents were shot and thrown into a mass grave in Kovno with thousands of others.”
“After living through Crystal Night, there was no doubt in anybody’s mind that there was no more life for a Jew in Germany,” Ingeborg Weinberger told the BJC.
DETERMINED TO LEAVE
This tragic and painful realization also happened for Baltimore’s Eva Slonitz (nee Stern), a resident of North Oaks Retirement Community, and her family. Slonitz was 12 years old at the time.
“Two polite policemen came to our door at approximately 8 a.m. and asked my father come with them. He thought that he was being taken into police protective custody. … He took his faithful briefcase, my mother made him some sandwiches, he took a bar of chocolate and a piece of soap with him, all of which was of great value in Buchenwald,” recalled Slonitz, noting that Buchenwald at the time was a political prison/concentration camp and not a death camp. “He was taken to the Siechhof [church], a place where all the Jews of Nordhausen were assembled, having been torn from their homes during the night. … That day, my father and a group of 56 men and boys 17 years of age and older were taken to Buchenwald. As I remember, seven of them died there at the time. … The important task now was to do everything possible to get the men out of there; all the women worked every angle to achieve that goal.”
At that point, the Sterns determined to leave.
“After Kristallnacht, we hardly ever left our house,” said Slonitz, who never saw the burned-out synagogues or smashed storefronts. She noted that some of her friends were taken for a “sightseeing tour” before being taken to the Siechhof.
“‘See what we have done to your house of worship!’ I heard all of these horrible stories, but I did not experience them,” said Slonitz.
Shortly thereafter Slonitz was sent to England on a domestic permit. Her mother secured visas to Peru for her herself and Slonitz’s father.
“Thanks to these visas, my father came home from Buchenwald after four weeks, looking thin and with shorn hair. When we told him, ‘You are going to Peru,’ he was shocked. He never told me anything he had experienced in the concentration camp, but others, when they came home, told me that my father was very calm, and one night when the Nazis sent wild dogs into the barracks, my father cautioned, ‘Lie still, do not move, and they will not hurt you.’ He probably saved the men from injuries or even death,’” said Slonitz, who survived the Holocaust along with her parents, reuniting in Baltimore several years after the war. “I heard terrible stories about the seven men I know who died. I prefer not to go into details. Only one story stands out: The father of a young Hebrew teacher was killed. Then the young [teacher] took his own life by drowning himself in the cesspool. A short while later, his poor mother got visas.”
The arrests were widespread. Area survivor Herbert Friedman vividly recalls the night.
“About 8 p.m. on Nov. 9, 1938, there was a bang on the door and a shouted command, ‘Open Up.’ My parents, sister and I froze with fear. Two stormtroopers had come looking for my brother, who fortunately was not at home. They debated taking me,” Friedman said. “My mother pleaded, ‘He’s just a little boy. He hasn’t don’t anything.’ They left without me. My uncle escaped capture by hiding under a kitchen table, which was covered by a long tablecloth.”
Friedman left Austria a month later on a Kindertransport.
Mogilensky said she was babysitting at the time of Kristallnacht.
“The Nazis broke into the house, looking for the father. ‘Not here — sick — in the hospital,’ I stammered, but they refused to believe me and looked for him all through the house. I pulled the sleeping children out of their beds and cribs moments before the bayonets went through the bedclothes,” Mogilensky said.
Werner Cohen was himself arrested, as was his father. He was attending a Jewish school in Cologne, about two-and-a-half hours from his home. He left early in the morning, unaware of the night’s destruction. When he arrived, the school gates were closed. A non-Jewish English teacher nearby whistled him to the side.
“Don’t you know what happened?” the teacher asked Cohen.
Cohen said he immediately returned to his hometown of Essen. As he approached his home he was struck by a “huge crowd, mostly neighbors, standing around my house. They had to part like the Red Sea to let me go through. … My mother said, ‘The police have been here and they have taken your father into custody, and they were asking for you. They may come back, so go upstairs and hide there.’ They did come back, and they found me and took me into custody.”
Cohen was taken to Dachau. “There were so many of us, and we were given little food. We had to stand at attention beginning at 5 a.m. to be counted. We were left standing for three or four hours in the cold,” Cohen recalled.
He stayed in Dachau for four weeks, and then, shortly after his 17th birthday, by miracle he was let free. His former principle, Erich Klibansky, had added his name to a list of students who would be sent to learn in England, sponsored by a synagogue there. The cutoff for Kindertransport was 16, but Klibansky got him, and later his sister, through.
Cohen’s rescuer, however, was killed during the Holocaust.
Said Cohen: “He ended up together with his wife and three sons, all younger than 11, on transport to Minsk in 1942. … The train was emptied … everyone ended up in the trenches, which the Germans had dug with Russian prisoners of war. Klibansky, his wife and children were shot on the rim of those trenches, and they perished.”