Posted by: Fr Chris | November 9, 2015

A Survivor of Kristallnacht Speaks on the Christians of the Middle East

From Kristallnacht to the Kindertransport to, Finally, America

Nov. 8, 2015 4:45 p.m. ET
Monday, Nov. 9, marks the anniversary of Kristallnacht in 1938, when Nazi hordes ran wild throughout Berlin, as well as in other German cities. Jewish houses of worship were desecrated and then set afire. Thousands of Jews were rounded up, some beaten to death, others sent to concentration camps. Jewish-owned businesses and homes were looted.

I will never forget seeing the unimaginable horror of the night and the following day 77 years ago. By luck, my parents were not in Berlin. I was at my grandmother’s. Through the window I could see my beautiful synagogue engulfed in flames as desperate screams rose from the street below. Each knock on our apartment door brought terror, followed by incredible relief. By some miracle, two of my uncles made it to my grandmother’s seeking safety from the savagery of this night.

The next morning as I wandered through my neighborhood, I saw shards of plate glass everywhere, as every Jewish-owned shop had been looted and painted with vile Jew-hating slogans. Uniformed Nazis and their sympathizers were having fun as they surveyed their brutality. One group looked at a large stain on the street that was said to be the blood of a Jew. Even now I can hear their laughter.

At that moment, I was an 8-year-old who had suddenly turned 18. My every thought turned to survival. When my parents returned, I told my father that I would never live to see my ninth birthday. He took my hand and told me that he would always protect me and that nothing would happen to our family—because he had been a decorated front-line soldier during the 1914-18 World War.

Though reports of Kristallnacht—called the night of broken glass—were circulated world-wide, there was no forceful reaction by the world powers, although the U.S. ambassador to Berlin was recalled to Washington for consultations. In retrospect this became a rehearsal for the Holocaust to come. Although my parents already had applied to immigrate to the United States, they were informed by the U.S. Embassy in Berlin that our quota number would not be reached for several years. There was no escape.

After I got into a fight with a member of the Hitler Youth, I sensed a new level of desperation by my parents. It was then that England, with an act of Parliament, threw a lifeline to Germany’s Jews, agreeing to admit 10,000 unaccompanied children. It was an act of kindness and humanity that I will never forget. Parents had to make agonizing decisions to send their children to safety and possibly never see them again. The Kindertransport trains started in December 1938 and continued to the start of World War II on Sept. 1, 1939. Farewells were filled with hugs and tears as children separated from their parents. In retrospect we could see how at that moment, all such parents became supreme heroes.

I will never know how my parents secured a spot on one of the early Kindertransport trains for me, but I left Berlin in January 1939. Toward the end of 1940, much earlier than I would have believed, the American Embassy in London informed me that my quota number had been reached and I could now proceed to the United States. I left London with its nightly heavy bombing and its brave, resolute citizens. The North Atlantic voyage was perilous, and we never knew whether we might be torpedoed by a German submarine, as so many other ships had been. My parents ultimately escaped Germany too, but not without trauma.

After nearly 75 years in the U.S., I still am stirred by the thought of American freedom—so precious and thrilling that I cannot imagine life without it.

In the shadow of the Kristallnacht anniversary, I see that the Christian communities of the Middle East are being savaged by Islamic terrorists. Men are publicly beheaded, women condemned to acts of depravity, and churches destroyed. Who in our government has forcefully spoken out to stop this human tragedy? Who will throw the Christians of the Middle East a lifeline? I pray that our nation will.

As I recall my past and revel in my American freedom, I think of my favorite film, “Casablanca.” A couple, celebrating at Rick’s café as they prepare to depart for the United States, raise their glasses in a toast. They jointly say: “To America,” and so do I.

Mr. Lang is a managing director of the financial firm HighTower in Westchester, N.Y.


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