In today’s episode, Gerald Liebenau discusses his memories of Kristallnacht, also known as the “Night of Broken Glass.” On November 9-10, 1938, a wave of violent anti-Jewish pogroms erupted around Germany, leaving Jewish owned businesses and synagogues plundered and destroyed.
GERALD LIEBENAU: That hit me hard, because now, for the first time, this whole thing became personal, and I knew things were not good.
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 Gerald Liebenau discusses his memories of Kristallnacht, also known as the “Night of Broken Glass.” On November 9-10, 1938, a wave of violent anti-Jewish pogroms erupted around Germany, leaving Jewish owned businesses and synagogues plundered and destroyed.
GERALD LIEBENAU: All of this was going on when suddenly the Kristallnacht came, the "Night of Crystals," when a mass movement took place in all of Germany which was erupted and the target were the Jews. And not only did they smash all of the windows of every store that was Jewish, but they also set every synagogue on fire that they could get away with.
My father has a letter from the rabbi of the synagogue that we attended. The synagogue was opened in 1930. It was a beautiful place, was huge. And it was modern; it was as nice as they come. And in this letter he described what happened to that synagogue that night.
He was called by the janitor, or the caretaker, of the building, who was not Jewish, and was said to him, “Rabbi, our synagogue’s on fire.” And he rushed to the scene and he saw how the firemen had come down and [were] hosing down the neighboring buildings. No one tried to put out the fire. Now that’s not possible unless it’s well-planned and orders had gone out to every fire station in Germany that when the synagogue was aflame, you do not put out the fire.
That’s so much against the nature of a fireman—I don’t care what his nationality is—that it had to be a very stern order, and there were undoubtedly Gestapo people all around making sure that this was going to be done that way.
The synagogue burned down, pretty much. It only was eight years old then, when it was burned down.
After the war, I was in Berlin, I was stationed in Vienna and I was able to get to Berlin. I went back to that synagogue, and lo and behold, not a building was standing in the entire neighborhood. The bombings that Berlin was subjected to were devastating, not a building—and the synagogue was no longer was the one hole in the block, it was the place that still had more walls left than any other building on the whole street. I thought somebody must have watched the scene.
Anyhow, in all of this, my personal encounter with this night, Kristallnacht, November 10, was when I went to school, I passed a artist’s supply store, a large artist’s supply store, with big windows, and I used to stop every time I passed by it because it had the kind of things a schoolboy really likes to have—you know, the crayons, and the pencils, and the pens, and all the other things that go with artists’ supplies.
And it was shattered. All the windows were gone, and the whole place was robbed clean. There was nothing left. None of the things I wanted were left in that store. That hit me hard, because now, for the first time, this whole thing became personal, and I knew things were not good.
My mother was the hero of the day. I mean, she had never been a head of a household. I don’t think she knew how to write a bank book, she didn’t know how to cash checks, and all of a sudden she had to do all those things and get us ready to leave the country, because by now we had also gotten our permission from the British.
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, DC. We would appreciate your feedback on this series.