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Kristallnacht : Remembering the Night of the Broken Glass 50 Years Ago, When Fear of SS Troops Ruled Lives of Jewish Germans

November 10, 1988|ANNE RUBIN | A Ventura resident, Anne Rubin is a nurse at Rio Mesa High School in Oxnard. She immigrated to the United States in 1940

It was two weeks before my 11th birthday. I was thrilled about my new bicycle, an early gift. I wasn't worried about politics, and surely didn't foresee that Nov. 9, 1938, would become history.

It wasn't customary, in the Germany of 50 years ago, to share problems with children. Adults whispered, then sent us out of the room as they discussed their deepened fears. There was no TV. Newspapers were read by adults, not children. When we listened to Hitler's bombastic rantings on the radio, they made no sense to me.

Our cousins and several of our friends had left town. My oldest brother, Peter, had been sent to an uncle in America. The tension was more oppressive day by day, but I was unaware of the gathering storm. I saw the signs "Jews forbidden" at the movie theater and at ever more stores, but I didn't comprehend.

Kept Out of Schools

German law had forbidden Jewish students to attend public schools since 1936. When my teacher told me not to return to school, I was glad. No longer would I have to endure the taunts of schoolmates. No longer would I be "accidentally" tripped on the playground and see the teacher barely hide her smile. No longer would I wonder why yesterday's best friend refused to sit next to me today.

To walk to the Jewish school was longer, but it was a safe, warm haven when we arrived. My brother, Frank, and I usually met our friends at the bottom of the hill, so that together we could dash past the boys' high school with its danger of stones tossed and curses hurled by students wearing the brown shirts of the Hitler Youth.

On Nov. 10, Frank and I saw no friends at the bottom of the hill. Instead we were met by two stern men in SS uniforms. "Go home," they commanded, "there'll be no school for Jew pigs today." Frightened, we did as we were ordered.

At our apartment, two other SS men were waiting for us. Mother told them that Dad was out of town. His traveling salesman job kept him on the road. "Come with us," snarled the men. We followed them meekly. Soon the 40 families that comprised the Jewish population of Coburg were gathered. Fear was palpable. We were all silent.

A certain pattern of red paint makes me shudder even today. Of course, then it wasn't paint, but blood on the face of Dr. Baer, one of my parents' friends who hadn't come quickly enough to suit the SS. We were lined up in rows of three and marched through Coburg. It seemed to me that the entire population of that small, mid-German town was on the sidewalks, jeering and cursing us. No one smiled. Judging by their hostile looks, we weren't their neighbors--we were their enemies.

What thoughts chased each other through my head during this seemingly endless parade? Painful feelings are hard to remember, but I recall the indignation, as well as the fear. This isn't fair, I kept thinking to myself.

The SS tired of the spectacle, and halted our group at the center of town, the marketplace. They separated us into two groups: women and children to go home, men and boys to remain. The town gym was to serve as a jail for them. Mercifully, Frank was allowed to stay with Mother and me, even though he was big for his age. He was not yet 13.

Soon our apartment was filled with frantic women. What could they do? What would happen? What would be done to their men? Uppermost in my mind was the question: What had they done with my dad? I knew he was supposed to have come home that day.

Finally, Mother suggested that sandwiches should be made and personal necessities collected for all the men. She thought it would be safe for me to deliver the "care packages" on my bike, since at that time Nazis were not yet indiscriminately beating children. That came later.

There were so many packages that my friends "Rotkohl" (the redhead), who was killed in a concentration camp, and Traudel (I always envied her blond curls) accompanied me.

It was dark. The flickering torches interspersed among the crowd around the gym, increased the nightmare feelings swirling through my mind. We heard talk of "burn the damn Jews." In a trance, spellbound by the lights, the dark and the mob, we made our way through, around the side and into the gym.

We found Dad with the others, sitting dejectedly on the hard floor. They were afraid. They were hungry. They felt abandoned. Our appearance and our "care packages" changed the atmosphere. I was so relieved to see my dad, to be able to hug and kiss him. I remember he cried. I was surprised because I had never seen a man cry.

The rest of that night is a blur. Later I learned that with Teutonic efficiency, the Nazis had waited for Dad at the train station and had arrested him as he got off the train. His crime, as that of the other Jews of Coburg, and the 30,000 Jews of Germany arrested that day, was being a Jew.

Synagogues, 191 of them, were burned that day. Seven thousand stores were looted and smashed. The broken glass from these acts of devastation gave the day its name-- Kristallnacht , night of the broken glass.

The world press reported Kristallnacht , but the world remained silent. This silence was a clear signal to Hitler that the world would not object to his "final solution."

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