LAFF Society


Saved by Kristallnacht


(Submitted by Dick Magat)

Saved by Kristallnacht

Robert B. Goldmann

Special To The Jewish Week

Early on Nov. 10, 1938, a policeman and a Nazi SS man appeared at our door in Frankfurt/Main. The policeman told my parents that he had orders to arrest my father and that Dr. Goldmann'he was a physician'was to get dressed. The night before we had watched the sky redden from the fires that had burned our four large synagogues. My mother, usually cautious, pointed at me and screamed at the policeman: “I guess you want him to come with you, too?” I felt flung into a lion's den. “How old is he?” I answered that I was 17. “No, Frau Doktor,” answered the policeman, “our orders are for Jewish men from 18 years up. So don't worry about your son.”

We had gone through five years of discrimination, humiliation and harassment. My grandfather, a patriot, insisted that Hitler could not last, because Germany was “a state of laws.” From that morning on, he stopped saying it. What we were going through was revenge for the killing of a diplomat by a Jew at the German embassy in Paris. But, as it turned out, it was also a terror action designed to make German Jews flee.

My father left with the two representatives of that “law” my grandfather was so proud of. An hour later a gang of some 15 rough-looking types broke into our apartment, locked us in the kitchen, and proceeded to turn our furniture and its contents into a sea of glass and porcelain. A few minutes later, one of the wrecking gang unlocked the kitchen door and said: “You can come out now, we are finished.”

The events of that night became known as “Kristallnacht”'the night of broken glass'a misnomer, since far more important was what would happen to the arrested Jewish men.

Another hour or so later, the policeman who had taken my father to the precinct reappeared and introduced himself as “Roeth.” My father had asked him to bring the checkbook, since my mother did not have signature authority and was likely to need more money than the cash in the house. My mother shouted at Roeth: “So now you want our money, too!” “No, Frau Doktor, I assure you it's at your husband's request.” Mother got the checkbook, threw it at Roeth, and said, “Now nothing makes any difference any more anyway.”

Soon Roeth returned, in uniform, and handed my mother a folder full of blank checks signed by my father. My mother apologized for having shouted at him; Roeth said he understood. He was a true hero, because he did not think he had done anything special. (After the war my mother sent CARE packages to the Roeth family.)

My father came back from Buchenwald five weeks later'emaciated, with some injuries, but resilient. For years, he had urged my mother and her father'“Opa”'to emigrate to America, where both my parents had relatives who could sponsor us. But Opa refused, and his daughter would not leave without him. So now we were ready to leave, but Opa was determined to remain in Frankfurt. It was too much for him, he said, to go to another country whose language he didn't speak and where everything was different from home.

We got the affidavits required to apply for immigration, filled in endless papers both for America and the Nazi government, and got the all-important U.S. immigration number that put us into the long line of applicants for the over-subscribed German quota.

We waited through the winter of 1938-39, wondering when the next blow would land, which we probably would not survive. Then we found out that, if money for us three was deposited in England for the estimated time we had to wait for our number to come up, we could spend the waiting period in Britain.

We got to London in the spring of 1939, after paying the Reichsfluchtsteuer” – the tax imposed on people fleeing Germany. We arrived in New York penniless in January 1940 after a long, convoy-escorted voyage on a small Cunard liner. With the help of two German friends, we got Opa out in 1940 via occupied France, Spain and Portugal – four months before the trains started to roll east to destinations where roughly half of Germany's pre-war Jewish population of half a million were murdered.

We had been saved by Kristallnacht.


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