Recalling A Shattered Past

Recalling A Shattered Past

For Karl Richter, the most vivid memory of November 1938 is the Jewish hospital in Mannheim, Germany. Rabbi of the city’s synagogue, he walked there with his wife on the morning of Nov. 10, after a night of anti-Jewish riots. The beds were full. “There were lots of people. Some jumped out of windows — with broken arms and legs.”

For Ernest Michel, it was sirens. He was 15, an apprentice in a factory in Bruchsal, one of the town’s few remaining Jewish-owned businesses. At 2 a.m. on Nov. 9, “I heard sirens” in a rented room in a boarding house. He looked out the window. “I saw flames and smoke in the direction of the synagogue.”

For Sigfried Lobel, it was rumors. Something bad would happen to the Jews of Berlin that day — Nov. 9. “There were all kinds of rumors.” His family spent that night safely with non-Jewish friends. The next morning, 6-year-old Lobel walked around Berlin with his father. “I remember my father taking me around and looking at the shul.” The family’s synagogue was in ruins. “The destruction was enormous.”

The three men are former German Jews — two wartime refugees and one survivor of the Holocaust. For them, the events of Nov. 9-10, 1938 have a personal meaning. It was Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, a “spontaneous,” Nazi-orchestrated pogrom throughout Germany and Austria in supposed retaliation for the shooting of a German official in Paris.

The streets in Germany and Austria were filled with shards of glass from 7,000 Jewish businesses and 400 destroyed synagogues. Some 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and 92 Jews were killed during the riots that came to be known as the rehearsal for the Holocaust — the world showed its indifference to persecution of the Jews.

Rabbi Richter, Michel and Lobel will share their memories here before and during the week of Nov. 9, the 60th anniversary of Kristallnacht. Scores of programs and memorial events will be held by Jewish organizations, in the biggest-such commemoration since the 50th anniversary in 1988.

Rabbi Richter and Michel will participate in “We, the Last Witnesses,” a program Sunday, Nov. 8, 7 p.m., at the 92nd Street Y, 1395 Lexington Ave., Manhattan. The event is sponsored by the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, and six other local Jewish organizations. (For tickets, call 212 983-4800, Ext. 151.)

Immediately after the program, the rabbi, Michel, Lauder and two other participants —former Mannheim Jews — will leave for Germany, where they will take part on Nov. 9 in a commemoration program in the rebuilt synagogue of Mannheim. Lauder, a former American ambassador to Austria, was chairman of the citywide Kristallnacht 50th anniversary commemoration in 1988.

The New York-Mannheim program is the first joint Kristallnacht event marking the anniversary in the United States and Germany, says Michel, executive vice president emeritus of UJA-Federation.

Rabbi Richter, 86, who left Germany in 1939 and served at several pulpits in the U.S. before retiring in 1976, will also speak at Friday evening services of Congregation Habonim, 44 West 66th St., Manhattan, on Friday, Nov. 6, 7:30 p.m. The congregation was founded by refugees from Nazi Germany. (For information, call 212 787-5347.)

The Habonim commemoration will also feature a liturgical program of melodies used in German synagogues.

Lobel, who escaped Germany with his family via Shanghai, will speak at a program Tuesday, Nov. 10, 7:45 p.m. at Gen. John J. Pershing Intermediate School, 4812 Ninth Avenue, Borough Park, Brooklyn. Theodore Roosevelt IV, a great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt and a New York investment banker, will also take part in the event, a joint commemoration of Kristallnacht and Veterans Day. (For information, call 718 692-5230.)

The forum is sponsored by the Holocaust Studies Committee of Community School Board 20. The program will honor Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr., who led the American troops during the June, 1944 D-Day landing at Normandy and died of a heart attack a month later.

The upcoming Kristallnacht commemorations will likely be the last ones on this scale, Michel says. “We’re getting older. The 60th anniversary will be the last major one in which survivors and witnesses to Kristallnacht will participate.”

A survivor of 11 labor and death camps, he came to the U.S. in 1946. His lecture in the Mannheim synagogue, which was rebuilt by the municipality, will be the first public speech he delivers in German.


“Yes, I am,” Michel says. “I prepared my notes. I’m going to tell about what happened” 60 years ago. “The fire brigades stood there and hosed the buildings around the [Bruchsal] synagogue. They didn’t attempt to touch the synagogue, which was totally burning. Adults were running around, laughing, screaming ‘Die Juden, die Juden [the Jews, the Jews]!’ I was scared.”

Mannheim civic leaders and members of the Christian clergy will take part in the program.

Mannheim, located in western Germany, had a Jewish population of 6,000 before World War II. Half emigrated before the borders closed; most of those who remained, perished. The city’s Jewish population today is 800, and mostly hails from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Rabbi Richter, now a Tampa resident, says his return to Mannheim will be both “an emotional drain” (he lost 26 members of his parents’ families in the Holocaust) and “a vindication” (he is one of the last surviving rabbis who served in a German synagogue during Kristallnacht).

For Lobel, a Brooklyn publisher, the motivation for speaking in a commemoration program is simple. “It is Kristallnacht,” he says. “I was there.”

Remembering Kristallnacht

Several Kristallnacht commemoration programs will be held in metropolitan New York in the coming weeks. These are some of the major events:The Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust will sponsor a panel discussion with author Marion Kaplan and three German Jews who lived through Kristallnacht on Thursday, Nov. 5, 6 p.m. Admission is free. The museum’s address is 18 First Place, Battery Park City, Manhattan. For information, call (212) 509-6130.

Holocaust scholar Saul Friedlander will deliver the third biannual Jack and Lewis Rudin lecture Sunday, Nov. 8, 4 p.m., at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 3080 Broadway, Manhattan. His topic: “The Road to the ‘Night of Broken Glass’ — The Pogrom of November 9-10, 1938.” Admission is free; reservations are required. For information, call (212) 768-8802.

Raul Hilberg, professor emeritus of history at the University of Vermont, will discuss “Kristallnacht, 1938: What Lessons to be Noted on the Sixtieth Anniversary?” Wednesday, Nov. 11, 7:30 p.m. at Smith Auditorium of Manhattan Community College, 199 Chambers St. His free speech is sponsored by the college’s Holocaust Resource Center. For information, call (718) 862-7143 or 862-7248.A roundtable discussion featuring Holocaust scholar Mark Anderson of Columbia University, New York Times columnist Max Frankel and author Peter Gay will be held Wednesday, Nov. 11, 8 p.m., in the Swayduck Auditorium of the New School, 65 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan. They will share personal and historical experiences. For information, call (212) 629-4281.Jack Polak, Holocaust survivor and founder of the Anne Frank Center USA, will be keynote speaker at a commemoration sponsored by the Holocaust Memorial Committee of Long Island, Sunday, Nov. 1, at Long Beach City Hall, 1 W. Chester St. For information, call (516) 536-9227.

The Leo Baeck Institute will sponsor an exhibition entitled “What Are We Remembering,” the works of painter-illustrator Daniel Bennett Schwartz, opening Monday, Nov. 2. The exhibit runs until January, 1999. The institute’s address is 129 E. 73rd St., Manhattan. For information, call (212) 796-1879.Gov. Pataki announced that the lights of the Capitol building in Albany will shine all night on Nov. 9 in memory of Kristallnacht.

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