84th Anniversary of Kristalnacht

Today is the 84th Anniversary of Kristalnacht.

We swore to never forget yet in recent days not only in the USA but around the world we seemed not to recall that lack of vigilance will make history repeat itself. .

Below is the memorandum my father wrote to his children so we would never forget. I share it with you so you will never let it happen again.



NOVEMBER 9 AND 10, 1938

I don’t intend to make this a big deal literary effort or a weepy emotional debauch. I simply want to tell you what I remember about Krystallnacht. So you should remember as well. And if there are to be others like us, so you can tell them. Nothing big! Just a small and portable lesson about the planet we live on and the hazards of being a little different.

Krystallnacht did not start for me until November 10, 1938. I knew that von Rath had been shot by Gruenspan but I knew nothing about what was happening all over Germany during the night of the ninth. I was 12 years (12 10/12 ths )old and I was asleep.

I was still lying in my bed, at about seven on the morning of November 10, when there was loud knocking on our door. I heard my father and mother (your grandparents ) talking to some people. Several stormtroopers (SA) had come to arrest Jewish men. The entrance to our apartment was through the kitchen and all this was taking place in the kitchen. After a few minutes I heard one of the Brownshirts ask whether there were any other male Jews in the apartment. Grandma said only my little boy. I dont think they believed her because they came into our mainroom, where my bed was. I closed my eyes and pretended I was asleep. They came to my bed and they looked at me and they must have decided either that I was too young, or that I looked too fierce to mess around with since there were only six of them. So they took just grandpa with them and they left.

As we later found out, they took grandpa to the local police station. From there they marched him and others to the Rossauer Kaserne, a military barracks. He was lucky because he had a roof over his head. Many other Jewish men were taken to a large soccer stadium and did not have a roof over their head.

Grandpa had been fired from his regular job as a bristle processor a couple months before. He was earning some money by helping a carter hauling the furniture of Jews that had been kicked out of their apartments. The cart was pulled by one brown horse. Grandpa had a job scheduled for that morning.

Grandma sent me to help the carter in grandpa’s place. May- be grandma was a tough Hungarian cookie who did not want the Rothkopf’s reputation as men of their word sullied, or maybe we needed the money, or perhaps she wanted me out of her hair so that she and Aunt Mitzi ( who lived in the next apartment and whose son Walter and friend Albert were already on the way to Dachau) could weep in peace.

I don’t remember exactly where I met the carter but it was at his client’s apartment near the Jewish section of Vienna. We loaded the wagon with furniture. I sat next to the driver on the high bench behind the horse. Then the brown horse slowly pulled us through the streets towards the place where we had to make our delivery.

Groups of people were standing in front of the broken windows of Jewish stores, gawking while Brownshirts were putting their owners through their paces — handing over business papers, washing the sidewalk with lye, licking Aryan employees shoes clean. Anything that would keep the cultured Viennese crowds amused. We passed a narrow street that led to one of Vienna’s larger synagogue. The alley was jammed with jeering onlookers. Stormtroopers were throwing furniture and Torah scrolls through the big main door into the street. One side of the roof (I couldnt see the other and you know what a sceptic I am ) was afire. I remember very vividly the twists of whitish-yellow smoke that were curling up the slope of blue tiles.

Farther on we passed another synagogue that was fully ablaze. The police had made people stand back from it. I suppose they feared for their safety. A fire truck was parked down the street. The firemen were leaning against their equipment, talking and smoking cigarettes. Everywhere there were clusters of people, in a holiday mood, gathering around smashed Jewish stores. Little groups of Jews, both men and women, were being led along the sidewalk flanked by squads of SA men. The Jews were made to do all sorts of menial chores. Someone told me later, that one elderly Jew asked to go to the toilet. They made him go in a bucket and then forced him to eat his feces.

By now I was beginning to figure out what was going on. I sat high on my horsey throne (just like the Duke of Edinburgh when he drives his high-stepping pair, except that I didn’t wear an apron ). Whenever we passed a sidewalk event or other happening, I pulled down the wings of my nostrils (I thought I looked more Christian that way), staring straight ahead, but watching the Nazi street theatre out of the corners of my eyes. The driver, who was also Jewish, was a hard old soul. I dont remember him saying a single word to me, all day, about what was going on. Maybe he thought I was too young to hear about such things.

I dont remember much more detail. I got paid. The trolley I went home on was crowded. I kept staring out the window so that people wouldn’t notice the handsome Jewishness of my face. Beyond the rattling trolley panes, the peculiar happenings of November 10, 1938 were still in progress here and there, even as the day’s light was fading.

When I got home, grandma and Mitzi were still weeping. They had just come back from the police station but grandpa and the other Jews were no longer there.

Grandpa came home ten days later. He had spent that time in a room with 500 other people and one water faucet. They did a lot of military drill ( was this the beginning of the Hagganah ?) and exercises — push-ups, deep kneebends, and the like. Some who didn’t do so well got beaten up. He never told me whether they did anything to him. But then I wouldn’t tell you either. Grandpa was lucky. A lot of the Jewish men who were arrested on the 9th and 10th of November were sent to the concentration camp at Dachau.

Not one single synagogue was left intact in all of Vienna. That really screwed me up because I was nearly thirteen. You need to have a Torah to become a Bar Mitzwah and you need to have a table on which to lay the scroll while you read. And how was I to get a fountain pen now?

The dead, of course, are dead. They are mourned by those who remember. Tears dry. Bruises heal. Razed synagogues become parking lots. Injured dignity heals although slowly. What hurts most to this day is impotent compassion for those who were swept away.

In order to have faith in our quality as human beings, we need to remember! And thats why I am writing you this note.

About 34orion

Winston Churchill once said that if you were not a liberal when you were young you had no heart, and if you were not a conservative when you were older then you had no brain. I know I have both so what does that make me?
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2 Responses to 84th Anniversary of Kristalnacht

  1. James George says:

    A very interesting account on a horrid event. I had a neighbor who grew up in Berlin and we talked about the systematically increasing pressure that he felt as a Jew, especially after Kristallnacht. Still, I tended to think Kristallnacht was limited to Berlin and it’s immediate surrounding areas. I didn’t realize it’s impact would include other neighboring countries such as Vienna. Clearly, it was a coordinated event.
    PS You really look like your father.

    • 34orion says:

      Yes, it was practiced in all of Greater Germany including Vienna. My father wrote his note so we would not forget and I publish it every year to honor him and those who suffered during those dark days. Never forget means remembering.

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