Friday, November 9, 2012

Kristallnacht...and "The Bombers Won't Come"

[Image credit Jewish Virtual Library]

Via The Writer's Almanac, always a great read:
Today is the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night in 1938 when German Nazis coordinated a nationwide attack on Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues. The attack was inspired by the murder of a German diplomat by a Jew in Paris. When Hitler heard the news, he got the idea to stage a mass uprising in response. He and Joseph Goebbels contacted storm troopers around the country, and told them to attack Jewish buildings but to make the attacks look like spontaneous demonstrations. The police were told not to interfere with the demonstrators, but instead to arrest the Jewish victims. Fire fighters were told only to put out fires in any adjacent Aryan properties. Everyone cooperated.
In all, more than 1,000 synagogues were burned or destroyed. Rioters looted about 7,500 Jewish businesses and vandalized Jewish hospitals, homes, schools, and cemeteries. Many of the attackers were neighbors of the victims. The Nazis confiscated any compensation claims that insurance companies paid to Jews. They also imposed a huge collective fine on the Jewish community for having supposedly incited the violence. The event was used to justify barring Jews from schools and most public places, and forcing them to adhere to new curfews. In the days following, thousands of Jews were sent to concentration camps.
The event was called Kristallnacht, which means, "Night of Broken Glass." It's generally considered the official beginning of the Holocaust. Before that night, the Nazis had killed people secretly and individually. After Kristallnacht, the Nazis felt free to persecute the Jews openly, because they knew no one would stop them.
The following is a true family story, as related to me by my mother.  This was not dusty history comprised of grainy black and white photos.  This was a real thing in the world:

That night, my mother was a 13 year old in Frankfurt, Germany.  Her recollection of Kristallnacht--The Night of Broken Glass--was seeing the windows smashed out of her favorite bakery just around the corner from their apartment.  She said, "I used to walk by the bakery on my way home from school.  All those pastries in the front window, just covered with broken glass...what a waste!" 

Then she teared up, and just sadly shook her head, perhaps remembering other things....
Later in the war her family's apartment would be bombed out in a nighttime bombing raid by the Brits (the U.S. bombed during the day).  My mother, her mother, younger sister, and younger brother would be buried for 3 days in the basement bomb shelter (an older sister lived elsewhere; her father was fighting on the Eastern Front).  Coal miners finally dug them out by hand.  Several of their neighbors died in the shelter.

Usually the family dressed in clothes to go to bed, just in case there was a bombing raid and an urgent exit to the bomb shelter was required.  That particular night her mom said, "Kids, it's cloudy tonight...just wear your pajamas.  The bombers won't come."
My grandmother was mistaken about the British bombers that night, so the family all fled to the bomb shelter wearing only their nightclothes.  Everything else would be destroyed, that's why Mom had no photos or objects of family history prior to 1944.


  1. No kidding? The blue is your mother's story? My mother was born in '23 in Germany. I have similar war stories.

    1. Yes, the blue font are a couple of my mom's stories--Kristallnacht in 1938 and being bombed out (probably in 1944, maybe early 1945, but I'm guessing).

      She didn't volunteer much info but would answer when asked. Now that she's passed I wish I would have asked more questions.

      Oh, and she married a GI in Germany (my dad) right after the war. Now THAT didn't sit especially well with her mom and dad and siblings (all of whom survived the war)...until my older brother--the first grandchild--came along in 1948!

      Result: family and love trump country and patriotism any day of the week.

      By the way, my mom was born in 1925.

  2. My mother relaid the story of running to a Bunker when the bombs came. The first Bunker was already overcrowded so she ran to the one beside it. She said it was very hot and stuffy in the Bunker (bomb shelter). When they could finally come out, the 1st Bunker carried out people who had died from lack of oxygen. It was snowing. She remembered the people being laid out and snowflakes filling their eyes.
    My mother was born in Siegelbach but grew up in Kaiserslautern.
    She also married a GI who she met in Germany, but that was in the 50s. She still got a similar reaction as your mother.

    My father also fought in WWII. He and his brother were in the big red one.

    Oh, and my mother's just turned 18 year old brother died during the last few weeks of the was in Czechoslovakia. He lost his legs and died in a lazareth. We only know this because a nurse who was from K'lautern brought back this news. Official news never came. My German grandmother also died in that war. She was hit in the head by a ricocheted bullet.

    So, there you go. You know, I initially started following your blog because of your cat posts. I was collecting artwork on cats to perhaps use in a class. So many of the google images I clicked on led to your blog. :).

  3. Every family indeed has a story. The German civilians suffered terribly as the war ground on.

    On a lighter note, the Stefano Zuffi book "Cats in Art" can be had on Amazon for $10 or so. Buy it--you'll be happy you did!