Start of Main Content


By Susan Warsinger

After the night of broken glass, when the Nazis organized and carried out a pogrom of anti-Jewish violence, my parents—like most Jews in Germany—wanted to leave. There was no more waiting to find out if events such as Kristallnacht would cease, or if life would ever be normal again for all of us. Our first choice was to come to the United States, where we had cousins living in New York. They were most anxious to assist us by sending us tickets for the voyage and helping us settle in this new land. However, like most countries, the United States had a quota which had been established many years before and, therefore, we found it impossible to immigrate.

Uppermost in our parents’ minds was the safety of their children and when they heard of a lady (I do not know if we ever knew her real name) who was smuggling children across the border into France, they immediately explored the possibility. The lady was French and married, with children who lived in France. Her scheme was to take Jewish children across the German-French border pretending that they were her own. She did this for a large fee. My father had taken all his life’s savings out of the bank and it remained safe with me during Kristallnacht. Now he was willing to give the lady a major portion of it so that my brother and I could get out of Germany.

The problem became what would become of us once we were safely smuggled into France. Where were we going to go and with whom were we going to stay? We did have a bachelor cousin thrice-removed who was living in a very small apartment in Paris near the Place de la République. He agreed to keep my brother and me for a while. All arrangements were made, and we were very excited about our trip. My mother grew more and more quiet as the time for our departure neared. We were not allowed to take much luggage because, according to the story we were to tell later to the border police, we were only visiting Germany for a short while and were then going back to our home in France. Our clothes would get shipped later in a trunk. We were also told that we must pretend to be fast asleep when the border police came through the train to check the passports. Since Joseph and I did not speak any French, it was of utmost importance not to give the plot away. My brother remembers rehearsing how to pronounce his forged name and address just in case the police woke us up while we were crossing the border. We were also to pretend that the lady was our mother.

When I was nine, this seemed to me like a very exciting adventure; now I realize how difficult this must have been for our parents. It must have been devastating for them not knowing whether they were ever going to see their children again. Preparations for our departure were made, our fake passports were readied, our good-byes to our friends were said, our suitcases were packed, and our tickets for the train to Paris were purchased.

I cannot understand why I remember all the details prior to the departure but have absolutely no memory of going to the station and saying good-bye to my parents. I have discussed this with my brother over and over, and he does not remember either. He thinks that we might have been drugged so that we would sleep through our journey and would not have to deal with the police. I think we probably have pushed this separation so far back into our minds so that we cannot recall it ever. 

©2006, Susan Warsinger. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.