Second-generation Holocaust survivors talk about ‘Kristallnacht’

My father’s family was Heilbuts and my mother’s was Seligmanns. They had lived in and around Hamburg for hundreds of years. My father’s family was well off until the economic crisis, inflation and depression hit Germany. My father was one of the few Jewish students in his elementary school.

In 1933, he, his brother, and his mother moved into an apartment in Hamburg, near City Park, to give them a sense of security. His bar mitzvah in 1935 was in the newly built Reform synagogue. My father recalled the gradual constriction of life and activities, and the isolation from his non-Jewish peers during his adolescence, when he was expelled from school in 1935, he had to attend the Talmud Tora Schule and eventually the Juedische Werkschule, where he learned the skills to make cabinets. . The latter allowed him to enter Britain as an apprentice in May 1939 when, for all practical purposes, his life began.

My mother grew up in Breslau, her mother’s family is originally from Silesia and Posen. Her family owned a highly respected property and pastry business, maintained a comfortable middle-class life, belonged to a Reform synagogue, and had a sense of normalcy until November 1939. Escaping to Cuba in 1939, she and her family fled. established in Washington. Heights, New York in a community of German Jewish refugees. Unlike my father’s experience, childhood was suddenly and radically interrupted, and with some trauma.

Rabbi Kevin Hale participates in the global initiative “Let There Be Light” of the International March of the Living in commemoration of “Kristallnacht”.

Memories of November Pogroms (“Kristallnacht”)

My father saw the destruction in Hamburg on November 9, 1938. Although my father did not belong to a synagogue or live in a Jewish quarter, the family realized, especially after Kristallnacht, that they should concentrate on packing and leave. He knew people who left, including classmates and teachers from the Juedische Werkschule. His parents considered sending him on the Kindertransport.


The memory of my mother was traumatic. Since his father was out of the country as a salesman, when he returned it seemed the danger had passed. She did not see the destruction, but remembered that the next day they made her walk to school in the old city by a different route so as not to walk through their destroyed synagogue. His school was part of the White Stork Synagogue in the old part of Breslau, which was spared because it was so close to other buildings.

A few nights after my grandfather returned, he remembered “a knock on the door in the middle of the night” and the police / Nazis politely asked, “Herr Lewin, could you come to the station?”

It was a deeply traumatic memory, because he was imprisoned in Buchenwald and left half-starved after two months, when my grandmother provided him with his ticket to Shanghai.

He was profoundly changed and never spoke of it.


The “Kristallnacht” pogrom changes the course of my family’s life

“Kristallnacht” changed the course of their lives. Both grandmothers jumped into action and reached out to family and friends who provided affidavits allowing them to leave Germany. My father in particular remembered and recounted his experience until his last days. Furthermore, the trauma settled in the family in different ways. My father’s cousin, whose family came to New York in 1938, could not accept the loss of familiarity and committed suicide shortly after his arrival. I think my mother’s trauma of seeing her father taken away and then coming back as a shell of himself, and then the abrupt pull of everything that was familiar to her, left her fearful and bitter, but also resilient.

Lessons not learned


My father was not sure that the world learned much. He felt that the Jews had learned their lesson and would not be victims again, and he felt that Germany had made peace, but overall he felt that it could happen again, if not to Jews than to others.

My father’s message to the younger generation was that those of the younger generation are not to blame for their parents’ crimes: “Be vigilant, but also be kind to each other.”

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