Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

24 Cheshvan 5764 - November 19, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
65 Years After Kristallnacht

by H. J. Lobenstein MBE

Note: This article first appeared 26 years ago to commemorate the beginning of Churban Ashkenaz, when 400 synagogues were burnt to the ground, 100 Jews lost their lives during one night, 3,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps and 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses were demolished.

I am racking my brains as to how I can conceal from my readers -- at any rate at this early stage -- the reason for writing this article and the actual subject matter about which I feel very deeply.

For if I were to divulge my intentions right now, I feel that most readers -- particularly those under the age of 50 - - would immediately turn to a more popular feature -- indeed to any page, only so as not to be reminded of an anniversary date which recalls one of the darkest hours of the human race and which the world at large -- even the Jewish world -- for some inexplicable reason desperately wants to forget.

65 years ago, on 9th November 1938, an event took place in Hitler's Germany which triggered off the physical persecution of European Jewry, culminating in the destruction of 6 million Jews only a few years later.

I say physical persecution because the psychological preparation started with Hitler's rise to power in 1933 and gathered momentum in 1936 with the promulgation of the Nuremberg Racial Laws which for all intents and purposes made Jews into second-rate citizens.

Between 1936 and 1938 anti-Jewish agitation had barely taken physical dimensions and was ''confined" to a hate campaign promoted by a powerful propaganda machine which instilled poison into young and old, rich and poor, into the schoolroom and factory floor, into the university campuses and the professions.

Indeed on the day Hitler struck, the entire German Herrenvolk, the nation which prided itself with a superior knowledge and pursuit of culture, was intoxicated with the catch phrase Die Juden sind unser Unglueck (The Jews are our misfortune).

Hitler screamed it from the rostrum; journalists splashed it across the newspapers; party workers scribbled it on public hoardings, teachers taught it in the classroom, and children frightened their parents into believing and repeating the evil message.

Only a child

Are you still reading?...

Forty years is a long time in a person's life to remember details of events. But although 1 was only a young boy -- a child -- when these harrowing events occurred, they made an indelible impression on me and I will never forget some of the "minor" incidents which I experienced myself.

I remember when at the age of eight my parents wanted me to have swimming lessons and my mother booked a course for me at the municipal pool, When I arrived for my third lesson there was a large notice at the entrance door: Juden sind hier unerwuenscht (Jews are not welcome here). We turned back and through the corner of my eyes I saw my mother wiping the tears off her face...

I remember accompanying my late father, z"tl on a business trip to a small village where he had a number of regular customers. At the entrance of the village, workmen were just erecting a huge notice board with the wording Juden betreten dieses Dorf auf ihre eigene Gafahr (Jews enter this village at their own risk)...

My father turned back and I read from his pale face that something was seriously wrong. He said nothing but I knew instinctively that it was more than a casual roadblock.

I remember my father turning the corner to call on customers in another village. The first greeted him with a sad face. "We have known each other for many years, but I beg of you, leave right away. I like you and I enjoy having done business with you. But I am afraid of the neighbors and of my children"... So said the second customer and the third. We turned back home.

I remember when in the summer of 1938 a law was promulgated that all Jewish men must adopt the name Israel and women the name Sarah and that the new names were to be inserted in all official personal documents such as passports and birth certificates.

Was this to be a stigma or an identification ploy for later events? Jews wondered and complied.

I remember when on Kol Nidre night which soon followed, the Rabbi addressed a crowded congregation -- the last time before its destruction -- exhorting the congregants not to regard these additional names as a stigma but rather as a religious guideline and to take pride in the fact that they are name bearers of Yisroel -- Yaakov Ovinu and Soro Imeynu.

As it happened, a severe thunderstorm raged whilst the Rabbi was speaking and the atmosphere in shul was depressing and the air full of forebodings...

At about the same time (I do not remember this particular episode but my father related it to me) Rabbi Wolly Jakobsen from Hamburg who was national chairman of the Keren Hatorah in Germany addressed an Aguda public meeting in our town over which my father presided.

Among the audience were two Gestapo officers and as Rabbi Jakobsen quoted a number of pesukim a note from a Gestapo officer was handed to the head table with the warning: "If one more Hebrew word is spoken this meeting will be closed"...

Are you still reading?...

On a Friday morning in mid-October 1938 the word spread like wildfire: All Ostjuden (of whom there were many in our town) were rounded up -- men, women and children -- without a moment's notice.

Challos, cholent, and kugel all in the process or being prepared for the forthcoming Shabbos. Mothers carried babies and men were carrying the barest necessities as they were bundled into a reception center not suspecting what was happening to them.

This occurred all over Germany in broad daylight and was carried out with typical German precision. In the evening it became clear that all Jews of Polish origin were quickly and unceremoniously deported across the German-Polish border never to return and most to face an oblivious future. Shattered

I remember that Friday evening in shul. The congregation was stunned and shattered. But one has to know the mentality and false sense of security which prevailed among German Jews during these traumatic years.

They considered themselves to be German Jews. German citizens, rooted in German culture, part of German public life, involved in Germany's commerce, art and professions. "This can only happen to the Ostjuden," they said "but to us Germans, never!"...

But happen it did and with a vengeance. Less than a month later, again in sight and with the knowledge of the entire Herrenvolk during the night of 9th November nearly 30,000 Jewish men were rounded up and sent to Dachau and Buchenwald.

Until then no one had heard of the term "concentration camp" and what it stood for, but from then onwards the world knew - - although it wants to forget.

And in the self-same night hundreds of synagogues went up in flames, ignited by racial hatred and consumed by flames which were less than a year later to engulf the whole European continent.

It is not the billions of marks of German Jewish communal and private property which I come to mourn but the beginning of the end of thriving Jewish communities and the men and women who had sustained and nurtured them for generations.

One could write on and on filling columns, pages and volumes. But I have not the ability, time nor nerves to continue.

Of necessity I have had to reduce these lines into sketchy episodes and I still harbor the nagging thought that few people are interested in what happened to our people 65 years ago.

For the knowledge of the past should stimulate thoughts and commitments for the future, but who wants this stimulation in this era of false security?

And if all my readers have stopped reading, I nevertheless want these lines to be read and re-read by my own children and grandchildren lest they forget what twentieth century Amolek has done to Klal Yisroel.

Lo Tishkoch

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