As we approach the 75th Anniversary of Kristallnachat, “Night of the Breaking Glass,” let us remember in our prayers those who suffered and died; an atrocity beyond comprehension. Let us also say a special prayer for the survivors of the Holocaust, for many still carry burdens even today.
As the numbers of living survivors of the Holocaust continues to dwindle due to age, let them hold a special place in our hearts.
I owe a special thanks to so many for the honor of interviewing one remarkable, beautiful man that taught me so much in those hours of talking. I’m overwhelmed and tear up just thinking of the experience and the love for life that I learned from him.
Knowing I was about to sit down and interview a Holocaust survivor, was about the most stressful and moving experience I could not thoroughly anticipate. Just thinking about some of the conversations to come, and coming from a person who lived these ordeals, and not just read by someone, was totally overwhelming and very emotional. In preparing for the interview about the Holocaust and the Auschwitz Death Camp, I read all the artices, books and details I could get my hands on, only to the point I just had to put them down. It was making me physically sick and drained. I needed to move on and become focused on a man I was about to meet; he deserved the upmost respect from me.
With everything finalized, I met Dr. M. and his “Austrian” bride. Both were so gracious to invite me into their home to begin our discussions. Mrs. M. was there to listen and give support to her husband, as she was not part of the tragedies of the Holocaust and the Auschwitz Death Camps.
Dr. M. is a man who survived the rule and horrors of the Nazi’s. He became a man today of such kindness and warmth that you would not know his horrific past. But, I believe this is not typical of all survivors, as many have had a difficult time adjusting. His biggest fear today is that the children and people of the world 50 years from now, will read about the Holocaust just as a footnote in history books, and not know the whole story.
Dr. M. was born in 1922 in Berlin, Germany to an upscale Jewish family. His father owned a clothing factory that employed over 500 people, producing all types of garments. This business success allowed his family to live in another part of Berlin, which would benefit them personally in the future. He also had an older brother who went off to study in London a few years after he was born. In talking about his father, he was proud how he had served Germany in World War I, was highly decorated and was promoted in the ranks. Jews and Christians continued at this time to live and work together and be friends. This all speaks to the normalcy of life at that time, but that was about to change drastically with the rise of the Nazi’s.
Dr. M.’s father started to see changes early on coming with the Nazi’s rise to power, much more so than most citizens of Germany. About a year after they came into power in January 1933, he had decided to close his business, as the Nazi’s generally made it difficult for him to continue operating his business. He was forced however to continue, with his business slowly being destroyed, even more so by the Nazi’s. The only way they would allow him to close, was he would have to agree to continue to pay everyone for the next 18 months, or face on-going threats to him and his family. The Nazi’s then set up a plan for him to pay his employees wages weekly at the Nazi headquarters. He somehow was able to do that with his business closed, only to finish those payments just before “Kristallnachat.”
November 9, 1938 was the mark of the tragedies to come, as this date is known as “Kristallnachat” or “Breaking of the Glass.” This is the day of the unveiling of a Nazi’s plan. That evening, the Nazi’s stormed through Jewish neighborhoods breaking all the glass of Jewish homes, offices and all store fronts. The Nazi’s then continued destroying all of their synagogues.
The Nazi’s then immediately began gathering and shipping 30,000 Jews to concentration camps. Fortunately, that night his family was unaware of all that was happening, as his success and prominence allowed them to live in a mixed, upscale section, of the city. The first thing the next morning their phone rang, as the Nazi’s never turned the phones off until later that day. A friend said you must leave now! “Leave your apartment now, as the Nazi’s are coming to your part of town looking for Jews.” They immediately left and went to a department store where they kept moving around in the store, up and down the stairs, so people would think they were shoppers. This continued all day. At a point when they felt people were getting suspicious, they went to other stores and continued to do that all day, as they had nowhere to go. They just didn’t know what to do.
Dr. M’s mother was able to pass as a non-Jew, while his father was very Jewish looking according to Dr. M. His father, trying to avoid the Nazi’s and figure out what to do for the family, decided to go to the hospital. He told a particular doctor he needed surgery. The doctor knew exactly what he meant and admitted him to the hospital. He had 2-3 unnecessary surgeries, which allowed him 5-6 weeks to recuperate in the hospital unnoticed. Meanwhile, his mother went back to the apartment trying to figure out what to do, seeing if they could get papers, just like many others panicked people were doing. His mother found a Christian woman she knew who sent her to see a particular business man and tell him, she was sent by her. Through this woman and business man, they made arrangements to hide the whole family out in the country, unnoticed for a considerable amount of time, while his brother remained in London.
On 9/1/1939, WWII began in Europe with the invasion of Poland by Germany. Close to 50%, or about three (3) million Jews, were killed from Poland. Poland became the most devastated country by the Nazi’s, and to the Jewish race. Ghetto parts of the city were set up for all Jews, as they had to leave their home and all of their belongings behind. The ghettos were slums with horrendous living conditions, with rampant diseases and deaths. Food was scare with many Jews dying of starvation and abuse. Many of these ghetto quarters in cities were relocated by rail tracks for the Nazi’s were preparing for future transportation to the death camps.
The elimination of the Jews was number one (1) priority for the Nazi’s. Even when German Troops needed supplies, or additional troops were needed for the Soviet Union invasion, the rail cars were never diverted from transporting the Jews. Conditions were so bad in the rail cars, that many people, only to survive the Ghetto’s, died in rail cars before arriving at the death camps.
At this point, Dr. M. wanted to talk about the Holocaust in general, the anti-Semitism in the world and touch upon the world at the time of the Holocaust. It was at this point, he extended invitations to come back and finish the above story, as I believe I found a friend in Dr. M., as he did in me. It was just to much in one day to relive these horror stories.
Freedom turned to nightmares and painful memories. Many survivors returned to their homes hoping to find their houses and their family members so they could resume their life. What they found was families and friends were gone, and they were met by hostility, violence and the continuation of anti-Semitism.
Today, Dr. M. states many will not talk. Some, but very little. They all still carry that horror with them, and their children do not know their entire parents struggle in detail. He said as grandchildren are doing papers on the history of the Holocaust, some are opening up to their grandchildren. However, the most devastating and sad aspect is many of the survivors were never able to say goodbye to their children, family and friends and have no place to go today to be with them for closure. The horror continues for them still.
Dr. M. ended our long, tiring and painful discussion on the following scripture:
“Take heed lest you forget
the things which your eyes have seen
and teach them to Your children and
to your children’s children.” –Deuteronomy 4:9
As I begin to reflect on this conversation, I hope it’s apparent from the beginning that this time spent with Dr. M. challenge me, as well as blessed me. With this man, he opened his heart to me and shared his pain and memories. By this interview, I forced him to go back and recall and relive some of those experiences. In many cases, time was needed for those soft heart experiences, where words do not come; it just stands still and remains quiet for a period of time and composure. This was happening to both of us, both as a listener and talking. As I find myself involved in sensitive and painful situations with people, it is these exact times I feel like God is pushing me. It feels like something I am supposed to do by reaching out and helping. However, it becomes not so much what I am able to do for that person, but it is what I am getting back from that person, that is unexpected and most fulfilling.
Today, Dr. Miller believes anti-Semitism still exists and will continue. He shared some of the following regarding anti-Semitism:
• Gertrud Luckner rescued Jews (Ravensbruck) and worked towards the above. She pioneered Jew- Christian relations after the war.
• Freiburg Circle – group in Germany, anti Nazi, was trying to keep the memories of the Holocaust alive and counter anti-Semitism.
• Anti-Semitism strong among Germans, church, cardinals and bishops after the war.
• Restitution never happened. No interest in repaying Jewish victims for their land, houses….
• Rudolf Hochhuth’s play “The Deputy” created shadow over Pope Pius XII.
What interest me and is satisfying at the same time, was some of the shining light of hope in these atrocities. The priests and nuns and the work they did to hide and save so many Holocaust victims. It was the Heroic people that made a difference. The Catholic people from the pews and the pulpits are the ones who did the rescue work and often were killed in their efforts. It was the local church not the universal church, and we should be grateful for their courage. Fortunately, the church recognized some of those martyrs, such as Father MacMillan Kolbe.
In conclusion, what did I learn about myself and my own beliefs? A resounding answer knowing the church’s lower hierarchy (priests, nuns and practitioners; the body of the church) put their teachings, beliefs and religion into action, while the leadership of the church, with its Cardinal and Bishops, were consequently quiet. This had a profound impact on me. From doubts about the church and the Avignon Popes to the over arching question “Where was God during the Holocaust, I’ve come to realize one thing. I believe now more than ever, through growth in my faith and understanding from God, the Cross of Jesus was with the Jews in the camps. Many survivors agree with that, while just as many don’t. However, I believe Jesus was suffering right alongside them while He was giving them strength, grace and faith to survive. Many survivors also talk about the butterflys in the camps. Many of the walls have pictures of butterfly’s drawn on the walls.
Looks like pictures of angels I was told……..?????
_Find a way.
Please take a few minutes to explore some of the remarkable evidence in the Museum’s collection from Kristallnacht: