Max Mannheimer remembers Kristallnacht in Nový Jičín.

10 November 1938 - Kristallnacht

Yesterday the synagogues were on fire. They were on fire in Germany. They were on fire in Austria. They were on fire in Czechoslovakia. In places where there was a danger that the fire might spread, the synagogues were blown up. Most of the Jewish shops were demolished. My synagogue was plundered. It was too dangerous to set it on fire or blow it up, because it was close to a gas container. Prayer books, Torah scrolls and prayer shawls lay torn and scattered in the street. A book that Jews scattered all over the world had managed to keep together for two millennia was trampled apart. Never again will the organ accompany our songs on Shabbat and holy days. There will be no more Shabbat, no more holy days, no more songs. Only at home - if there still is a home - will Mother light the Shabbat candles on Friday evening, and Father will say a prayer of thanks for the bread and wine. Lechem min Haaretz. Borei Pri Hagofen. Then Mother picks up (as before) a prayer book printed in German, in order to read to herself, silently, the Shabbat Greeting and the Prayer of the Jewish Woman.

They threw the prayer books, the Torah scrolls and the shawls out of the synagogue into the street. Tomorrow they might also throw them out of the houses. Still, that would change nothing for my mother. She would be able to say those texts by heart.

The destruction wreaked by the Nazis was officially labelled an act of revenge by the spirit of the people boiling over with anger, a response to the murder of the envoy (!) vom Rath by seventeen-year-old Herschel Grynszpan in Paris. That the spirit of the people managed to boil over with anger in three countries at the same time must surely be ascribed to perfect organisation on the part of the relevant agents. An open police car drives up to our house. It holds Jewish men, guarded by policemen in green uniforms. Two of them come up to our flat. My father is told that he is being taken into protective custody so that nothing happens to him. Probably because of the boiling spirit of the people. I am standing next to the door. How old is that lad? asks the policeman. My heart is beating loudly. If my mother were to let slip how old I am, I would also have to go to prison. My protection came from my mother, not from the police.

December 1938

They have let the Jewish men out of prison. They had to sign a declaration that they would leave Reich territory within eight days, and never come back. That is what happens. My father goes to Uherský Brod, my mother's birthplace. The town, once made famous by Comenius, lies in southern Moravia. We have to give the Gestapo a list of things that we are taking with us, for them to go over. The moving van is being loaded. The customs officers supervising the loading behave properly. They are old hands from the Reich, who have probably held their functions since back in the Weimar Republic. Marie, our Czech maid, cries when it is time to say goodbye. You don't cry for Jews, says the master carpenter Jirgal, who also lives in our house and is watching us move with malicious joy. There was a time when he was friendly towards us. His daughters Mína and Hildegarda played with us in the yard. Maybe no one really does cry for Jews.

On 27 January 1939 we leave our house in Nový Jičín in the hope that we can live without fear in the unoccupied part of Czechoslovakia. Meanwhile, our father has obtained an old two-bedroom flat in Uherský Brod, Masaryk square 165, with a kitchen that can be slept in. It isn't very big for six people, but we're glad that we've got round this problem. (...)

  • Extract from Max Mannheimer's book: Spätes Tagebuch: Theresienstadt - Auschwitz - Warschau - Dachau (A Late Diary: Terezín, Auschwitz, Warsaw, Dachau) Munich 1986, p. 21-23.

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