One Holocaust Survivor’s Storey (part II)

Fred’s Story (Part II) (Part I)

By Steven Lieberman

Then came a bad time.

On October 28, 1938, 17,000 Polish Jews living in Germany were arrested and taken to the river marking the Polish-German border and forced to cross it. The Polish border guards sent them back over the river into Germany and this stalemate continued for days in the pouring rain, the Jews marching without food or shelter between the borders until the Polish government admitted them to a concentration camp. The conditions of these camps “were so bad that some actually tried to escape back into Germany and were shot” recalls a British woman who was sent to help the expellees.

“There was a young German-Polish Jewish lady who lived in Poland and had a brother in Paris.” Wolf said. “His name was Herschel Grynszpan, a young man. She wanted to visit him, but the Germans wouldn’t let her go through by train and the Poles didn’t want her, they tried to push her out. He received a letter from his sister describing the horrible conditions she experienced in this deportation. Finally, the brother was mad – ‘Why won’t the Germans let her go through so I can see my sister?’”

Seeking to alleviate her situation, he appealed repeatedly over the next few days to Ernst vom Rath, Third Secretary of the German Embassy in Paris, who would not help him. On November 7, he bought a pistol and shot vom Rath in the stomach, attempting and missing on three additional shots. Two days later, vom Rath died. “It was as if the world stood still.”

Then Hitler gave the order. Vom Rath’s assassination was used by the Nazi regime to launch the anti-Jewish pogrom known as the “Night of Broken Glass” (Kristallnacht).

On the night between the 9th and 10th of November 1938, the Nazis took to the streets of Germany and Austria, attacking and murdering Jews. Jewish homes and shops were ransacked in numerous cities as German civilians and SA storm troopers destroyed synagogues and buildings with sledgehammers, burning Torah scrolls, and leaving the streets covered in smashed windows. The Nazis called the night Kristallnacht – Crystal Night – because of the millions of pieces of glass which remained after the destruction the Nazis themselves wrought.

On that one night, about 1,300 Jews were killed, thousands injured, arrested and deported to concentration camps, and 1,668 synagogues were burnt or destroyed. German police and firefighters who witnessed the destruction were silent and didn’t intervene. The world observed from the outside and also did nothing.

“At 5:00 a.m., we were all home. My step-mom (also named Johanha) and her sister were with us,” Wolf said. “We heard a bang at the door. My dad opened the window on the second floor. ‘Ed, come out right now!’ I saw a couple of “brown shirts” (SS men), wearing swastikas, and had guns with bayonets. They took my dad. I asked my step mom what I should do. She said, “What can you do, Manfred, go to school.”

“When I came home from school, I found out that my dad had been taken to Dachau, a concentration camp in Germany. From what I knew about other Jews that were taken there for “some reason”, if a Jew would have sex relations with a non-Jew in the camp, they would send home that Jew’s urn full of ashes. I thought, my G-d, my dad is never going to come back. I was 14.”

“The next day after school, I rode my bike back to Merl and some of my friends, like Clementina (a non-Jewish friend who he keeps in touch with and is living in Merl, three houses from where he used to live) warned me not to go home or I would be hanged from a tree and beaten by the Nazis. I turned around and rode back to the high school.”

“There was one Jewish woman, a WWI widow whose husband fought for the Germans, who took me in and let me stay with her for the day. She eventually was deported to Auschwitz (concentration camp). Then night fell and I went back home to Merl, leaving my bike along side the river. When I got to our village, there were no lights on anywhere. Neighbors said to me, ‘Manfred, its over, you can’t go home now!’ I got to the house and there were still “brown shirts” there. They said, ‘It’s ok now, everything is over, you can go in.’ I went into the store under our home and there was glass everywhere and no light bulbs. The store was ransacked, nothing in it. My step mom hugged me, crying.”

Soon after, Hitler enacted his anti-Jewish propaganda along with Propaganda Minister Dr. Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Eichmann, a top Nazi official who coined the term “The Final solution to the Jewish question” and helped supervise the genocidal campaign until he was captured, tried and executed by Israeli authorities in 1961–62. Goebbels remained with Hitler in Berlin to the very end, and following the Führer’s suicide he served as the Third Reich’s final Chancellor— albeit for one day. In his final hours, he allowed his wife, Magda, to kill their six young children. Shortly after, he and his wife both committed suicide.

There was a clause that stated that anybody that wanted to leave Germany within one year could do so. Many Jews had already escaped Germany. “So, my uncle, Max (dad’s brother) and his sister, and my mom’s brother, sold their homes and businesses and escaped to Palestine (now Israel), which was under British rule at that time.” A Jew needed 1,000 British pounds of sterling to get in, so they couldn’t live on welfare.

“My step-mom wrote to my dad’s brother, asking him to help my dad get out of Dachau,” Wolf said. “My dad’s brother went to the British consulate and told them that my dad will have the money so that he can get out and come to Palestine. An official document was drafted, stating that immigration was imminent and my step-mom sent it to the Commandant of Dachau. After three weeks, my dad was released. (Being a German WWI veteran might have helped for his release) I can remember that he marched down the street, like a victory march, from the train station in Merl and said, ‘Here I am, I’m back.’ Business was bad already since Hitler came into power, so my dad had to put a mortgage on the house in order to repair the home and replace the store windows. Then, we were required to sell the house to the biggest Nazi in town.”

“I decided to leave my family and go live and work on a kibbutz (an Israeli collective community) in Cologne. There was a Jewish madriach, Paul Stein, the head of the kibbutz, who taught us a trade and lots of other things, which included music and sports. I learned to be a machinist and became a good ping pong player. My nickname was “dive-bomber” because of my serve. I also really enjoyed listening to Mozart’s, ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.’”

“My father and step-mom eventually came and lived not far away. I took a streetcar to see them every two weeks. When the kibbutz was shut down, my dad asked me to stay with them and continue my machinist studies. He said that we had a chance to go to Puerto Rico to get out, but I said no, and packed my things. As a good Zionist, I wanted to go to Palestine. My dad said, ‘you go where I tell you to go.’ I didn’t listen to him and left my dad in Cologne and went to Berlin first, which was the headquarters for the kibbutzim.”

From Berlin, Wolf took a train to another kibbutz called Schnibinchen. On the way there the train made a stop in Hanover where he heard a man screaming and witnessed him being crushed to death between train cars. He didn’t want to get involved for fear of somebody discovering that he was Jewish. Already Wolf was developing a keen sense of awareness of what he needed to do to stay alive and out of harm’s way. At the kibbutz, he slept in barracks that were formerly used for the 1936 summer Olympics. A “nice place to sleep that had steamed heating and windows.” People there farmed potato’s and sugar beets.

It was there that Wolf had his first brush with death. One day, after lunch, he went for a nap in this shack, resting on a pile of fresh hay. He didn’t realize that fresh hay emits poisonous gases. Luckily, he was found and pulled out of there. “I couldn’t wake up and when I was awakened, I was dizzy. I could have died.” That’s was when he realized a “Lucky Star” was following and watching over him.

It was still winter when Schnibinchen was also shut down, so he was transported by train to a camp called Padebon (not a concentration camp). He worked for the city, sweeping streets.

Then, things took a turn for the worse.

(to be continued tomorrow)

July 17, 2007 | Comments Off on One Holocaust Survivor’s Storey (part II)

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