Kristallnacht 75th anniversary: Two survivors share their extraordinary stories
PUBLISHED: 09:00 09 November 2013
Two survivors who experienced first-hand the destruction, intimidation and violence during Kristallnacht give extraordinary accounts of their time surviving the ordeal and their eventual rescue by the British mission known as the Kindertransport.
Otto Deutsch, 85, who regularly works with the London Jewish Cultural Centre (LJCC), in North End Road, was 10 years old when one of his father’s oldest friends came to his door.
“I used to know him as Uncle Kowatz. He was one of my father’s closest and longest friends. They shared the same trench and fought side-by-side together in the First World War. After the war, they worked and lived in Vienna together and raised their families almost as one.
“We used to visit them for Christmas; they used to come to us for Hanukkah and the mothers used to cook together. We were so close Uncle Kowatz even took me to my first football match.
“On the first morning of Kristallnacht I awoke to a group of Hitler Youth smashing our apartment. As young hooligans wrecked our home I remember clearly seeing Uncle Kowatz enter our house dressed in a Nazi uniform complete with swastika.
“A man I considered family and a friend of my father for more than 20 years, he turned to the youngsters destroying our home, pointed to my father and said, ‘that’s the Jew’.
“From that moment I never saw my father again. I’m 85 years old now. I couldn’t understand it then and I can’t understand it now.”
His father was eventually sent to a forced labour camp before returning to reunite with his wife and daughter.
Otto, on the other hand, was taken a week before his 11th birthday on the Kindertransport to England.
“I was taken in by a lovely family near Newcastle who believed it was the Christian thing to do,” he said. “They were such lovely people, but I never forgot my parents or my sister who wasn’t rescued because she was one year too old.
“I recently went to the camp where they were taken and killed – a process so efficient I could find exactly which transport they were brought on and the patch of field where they were murdered.
“You don’t forget these things, but I’ve realised you don’t get any further with hate. I can’t forget and I’ve got no right to forgive, but the story needs to be told nonetheless.
“I will never understand why Uncle Kowatz turned from being a lifelong friend of my father to his enemy, nor how a civilised society could turn so barbaric.”
Ernst Fraenkel, 90, who lived in Berlin and now lives in Abercorn Place, St John’s Wood, was 15 when he awoke at his home in Berlin after the first night of Kristallnacht. His family was forced to flee after the shock of seeing Jewish stores looted and smashed.
“The morning after the first night we quickly left our house in case they came to arrest my father,” he said. “We were shocked and extremely scared what would happen to us.
“On our way out we saw shops belonging to Jews smashed and looted.
“We were away for three days before we could even think about going back.
“When we did finally return to our home the concierge to our building approached us and said two people had come looking for my father the day we left. I then found out most of my friends’ fathers had been arrested and taken away.
“It was a terrifying time. You realised the rules had changed and disappeared.
“My father was an extremely patriotic German who was heavily injured and well decorated after fighting in the First World War. He was told his sacrifice to his country meant he would always be protected and looked after, but it was clear there were no rules for Jews anymore. You knew any chance for them to exist in Germany was gone.
“I left Germany with my siblings on the Kindertransport in 1939. I remember it was Hitler’s birthday because the streets were lined with flags to celebrate.
“I was sent to a Jewish family near Manchester and was then sent to another lovely family, who I am still close with to this day.
“My father left Germany just before the war, but my mother remained – she thankfully survived.
“Anniversaries are strange occasions for me as this is something I think about most days of my life, not just once a year.
“But they’re important for future generations to remember what happened and that civilised and well-educated people can become savages for reasons some 75 years later many still don’t understand.”