Hermann Hirschberger’s story of Holocaust Survival
… Albeit frightening, the morning walk resembled any other that I had come to know.
It was 8am on November 10th 1938 and, along with my older brother Julius, we made the long, hostile journey to our makeshift school 45 minutes away from Karlsruhe, our home city on the Rhine, 70 miles south of Frankfurt.
There was antagonism in the air but since Hitler had come into power this had become my shameful reality.
That day though, something had changed.
As the Gestapo patrolled the burning building, news spread that all the Jewish teachers, outcast from mainstream education following the Nuremberg Laws, had been arrested; deported to meet their deaths in concentration camps.
We were ordered to go home.
That day the whole atmosphere of the world began to look very shaky.
As we walked home you could sense the acrid smell of wood burning. We saw so many shops that had been broken into and destroyed, looted of all their stock and often burnt to the ground. Of course they all belonged to Jews.
It soon became known that a terrible situation was arising.
In what would come to be known as Kristallnacht – the night of the broken glass – many Jews were murdered throughout Nazi Germany while Jewish homes, hospitals and schools were ransacked. More than 1,000 synagogues were burned and in excess of 7,000 Jewish businesses destroyed.
Our mother was alarmed when we got home and told her what had happened and she went to find my father, who worked in a bank, to tell him to go into hiding.
But while she was gone two Gestapo officers came to our apartment and forced us to open the door.
They made us stand against the wall with our arms in the air. They wanted our father and wouldn’t believe us that he wasn’t home. They were waving their revolvers under our noses.
It was the most frightening day of my life. I can still recall the pain that the fear caused in the pit of my stomach.
I was 12 years old and I honestly thought that day would be my last.
Of course tensions had been mounting for a number of years in Germany.
Less than a year after starting at a German national school aged six – one of only two Jewish boys in the 30-strong class – my classmates starting turning on me, calling me a “filthy Jew” and refusing to play together.
I was so young and didn’t really understand what was going on, but admittedly it was uncomfortable.
Hitler came into power in 1933 with a suitcase of racial policies of which the prime one was Anti-Semitism. While I couldn’t fathom how people could become so nasty so quickly it certainly happened.
Even my teacher, while not horrible directly, stood by and did nothing which in some ways was worse. But when I complained to the head teacher he simply responded “well isn’t that what you are? Filthy Jews.”
Of Karlsruhe’s 3,000-strong Jewish population, many were now clamouring to leave, but still living in hope that things may change, plenty – including myself, Julius and my parents Sigmund and Jenny – stayed.
I do not blame them for doing so. But it was, of course, the wrong decision.
Signs were being erected in shop windows explaining that Jews were not welcome. Even my swimming lessons came to an abrupt halt because I was no longer allowed in the pool.
Despite being so young you soon became wise. Ultimately a Jew was a Jew and that was his ticket to the cemetery.
While I was constantly attacked for my religion, one incident remains particularly vivid in my memory.
I was walking home from school. It was a cold dark December evening and there was snow on the ground. Suddenly I heard someone shout “fire” and around 20 people popped out from behind bushes and started throwing snowballs with stones in them at me. They were calling me a dirty Jew. I ran all the way home crying.
But it was the night of November 9th 1938 – Kristallnacht – when any shred of hope that things could change was dashed. Viewed by many as the beginning of the Final Solution and the Holocaust, my parents knew then they had to escape.
Yet without a visa and with Jewish bank accounts frozen, my parents booked myself and Julius on the Kindertransport; a rescue mission in which the United Kingdom took in nearly 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Nazi Germany. They were placed in British foster homes, hostels, schools and farms.
I remember on March 20 1939 we waved goodbye to our mother and boarded the train to Hamburg. She kissed us and told us to say our prayers every night. She promised there would be a reunion in England soon. But we never saw either her or my father ever again.
Both my mother and father, like most of those parents left behind, perished in Auschwitz. …