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Rabbi Jacob G. Wiener: Arrest on Kristallnacht

First Person Podcast Series

Rabbi Jacob G. Wiener discusses his experience during Kristallnacht, known as the “Night of Broken Glass,” on November 9–10, 1938. He was arrested and his mother was murdered as a wave of violent anti-Jewish pogroms swept across Germany.



RABBI JACOB WIENER: That night, they broke in, in the middle of the night, and they arrested all the boys, maybe 50 boys.

NARRATOR: Over 60 years after the Holocaust, hatred, antisemitism, and genocide still threaten our world. The life stories of Holocaust survivors transcend the decades and remind us of the constant need to be vigilant citizens and to stop injustice, prejudice, and hatred wherever and whenever they occur.

This podcast series presents excerpts of interviews with Holocaust survivors from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s public program First Person: Conversations with Holocaust Survivors.

In today’s episode, Rabbi Jacob Wiener talks with host Bill Benson about his experience on Kristallnacht, known as the “Night of Broken Glass,” on November 9–10, 1938. Rabbi Wiener was arrested and his mother was murdered on this night of violent anti-Jewish pogroms.

BILL BENSON: On November 9 and 10, 1938, the night of Kristallnacht (or the “Night of Broken Glass”), you were away attending the Jewish Teachers Seminary in Würzburg, in Bavaria.

Your mother was murdered that night. Before we talk about the murder of your mother, tell us what happened to you and your classmates on the night of Kristallnacht while you were away, and then tell us about your mother’s murder.

RABBI JACOB WIENER: Me, personally, I was away from Bremen about 400 kilometers, in Würzburg, we were in Bavaria. That night, they broke in, in the middle of the night, and they arrested all the boys, maybe 50 boys. It was a dormitory, in the middle of the night.

BILL BENSON: Arrested all of you.

RABBI JACOB WIENER: Yes, and then they said, “Wait downstairs.” They came at 2:30 at night, and “Wait here.” We waited there and then afterwards they came and said, “Form lines outside, five abreast.” Now, Würzburg is a small city, it has cobblestones, and we were led through the streets.

In the meantime, from the morning to that time, they assembled as many as they could, people of the city, and they were staying at the side. And they walked us through the street, and while they were walking us through the street, these people, you see, called us names, they spit at us, and so forth.

We went through the streets and we went past the burning synagogues. And we were led into the prison. When we came into the prison and the Nazis and Germans were very special. They were very meticulous.

The first thing they asked us is, “Empty all your pockets,” and they took an inventory of that…

BILL BENSON: Of everything in your pockets.

RABBI JACOB WIENER: Everything, even if it was a penny, and then they led us into the cells. We were in the cells for about seven days. Every day, the people who were arrested there, many of them disappeared. They were sent to concentration camps. I was still there. When the seventh day came, after seven days, this was on the 9th of November—seven days later, the 16th, I think it was, Friday—in the evening, they said, “You stay out,” seven boys were standing out.

And then they said to us suddenly, “You are free. Go home to your hometown and report to the local Gestapo.” Gestapo means secret police. But I had no money and so forth, but making a long story short, I came home.

BILL BENSON: How did you get 400 kilometers with no money?

RABBI JACOB WIENER: There were miracles. I had many miracles. [Laughs.]

BILL BENSON: Somehow you got there.

RABBI JACOB WIENER: I met the secretary from the school. She gave me 20 marks. It was enough to take a train and go home. I came home—it was Thursday evening, and Friday morning, I came home. I called up my home, no answer. Then I took a streetcar, I went to my home, and I saw the windows of our business, as I said before, a bicycle business, were broken and barricaded.

I went to the other side. We had an entrance to the business and an entrance to the private quarters. There was a note: “Get the key from the police department.” Before I went to the police department, the non-Jewish neighbor of Papa’s who had a furniture business called me in.

He was afraid to come into the street. But he called me in and he told me the story. That night, they had come in, broken the door, and told my brother to stand in the door and watch that no one should see it. They were afraid of [the] dark.

Then they went up and in the meantime, my father had fled over the roof and he said to the neighbor, “I am going to Sweden.” During the war, there were only three countries which were neutral. They start all with an “S”—Sweden, Switzerland, and Spain.

So what happened is, he said, “I’m going to Sweden,” but they came into the house, broke in, and when they saw my mother, they asked her, “Where is your husband?” She didn’t want to, I don’t know, or she didn’t know what happened, and therefore, they killed her.

NARRATOR: You have been listening to First Person: Conversations with Holocaust Survivors, a podcast series of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Every Wednesday at 1 p.m. from March through August, Holocaust survivors share their stories during First Person programs held at the Museum in Washington, D.C. We would appreciate your feedback on this series.