by H. J. Lobenstein MBE
LEST WE FORGET
65 Years After Kristallnacht
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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