Karl Josef Hahn: Kristallnacht in Karlovy Vary.

Karl Josef Hahn and his wife Renata, 1935.

Suddenly they were standing in the living room. There were about ten SS and SA men, and some of their henchmen in civilian clothes. They pushed the maid aside, and in coarse, loud voices ordered my wife and her father to follow them. I was very surprised, and for a long time I had no idea what was going on at all, so I shouted at them: I'm an Aryan, wait in front of the door!

Without hesitating, I told the SS men that I would go with her, although I wasn't a Jew. The three of us left the house, and the henchmen followed us at every step. In front of the garden gate a young SS man in uniform was waiting, and next to him several elderly Jews, whom they had taken from the neighbouring houses. Their eyes were full of defeat, they were crushed, some of them had faces smeared with their own blood. This young man called to Renata and me: You two go at the front. So we went at the front of the whole wretched procession of pitiful Jews through our beautiful and beloved home town, where hordes of people lining the streets hurled vulgar insults at us.

They took us to the hall of a hotel, where we had to stand with our foreheads against the wall. Shortly afterwards they packed us into lorries, throwing the old people on to the floor in the roughest possible way, and took us through the town to the police station. We could still hear the shouting and whistling of the mob of people who, as we later found out, had been brought in by the SA from the suburbs.

On the way to the police station, the old Jews started to cry. It was heart-rending, the pitifulness, the shame, the utter helplessness in the face of an impenetrable and unfathomable enemy.

At around midnight they put us in the lorries again, the clamouring crowd outside was still there, and we were exposed to a further display of anti-Jewish rabidity, as also happened when we later arrived in front of the district court at the other end of the town.

Suddenly a huge flame leapt up, veiled in a black cloud of smoke, portending bad news: the synagogue was on fire! There was no longer any doubt: it had been set on fire as part of the same activity, it had been set on fire by the same spirits of the new world opinion. A horrifying symbol of wild hatred, aimed not only at an entire nation, but at its faith in its god. A look of frozen terror appeared on the petrified faces of the Jews in the room. Even the police officials were surprised, and did not know how to deal with this unexpected event.

All the Karlovy Vary Jews were interned - only those who were married to non-Jews, Aryans, and those who had been overlooked in error were spared. They escaped through a tiny window in the monstrous net that later was to tighten completely.

  • Extract from Karl Josef Hahn's book: Křišťálová noc v Karlových Varech (Kristallnacht in Karlovy Vary), Praha 1998.

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