Thoughts and Reflections on the Occasion of the 80th Anniversary of the Kristallnacht

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The author (l.) with Bernard Danis, a close friend

The author (l.) with Bernard Danis, a close friend

Undoubtedly, the Germans – who, by that time had full control of everything going on in Austria as well – realized this. They had really tried to make it “palatable” (if such a term can be applicable) for the Jews to leave, by allowing them to take along many belongings, particularly those pertaining to their trade. So they took the next logical step – to make sure that the Jews would know that they have to get out of the country, and fast. Undoubtedly, this line of thinking led to the horrors of Kristallnacht.

My family was one of the lucky ones – with the help of many gentiles. My father’s store, Fotohaus Spira-Ritz, was located within walking distance from our apartment and since I helped out in the store, we had gone to work together that day. Shortly after we got there, one of the employees came running in, screaming that a synagogue not far from the store was aflame. Then we started getting phone calls from friends’ homes – the men in the family had been picked up for questioning (we know that later on, many were sent to Dachau and Buchenwald).

My father’s store was considered fairly safe, since his partner, Franz Ritz, a gentile, was one of the most wonderful people we knew. So when, routinely, some Nazis in and out of uniform would come in to demand to know if there were any Jews around, he could easily get rid of them. But, we agreed, it would still be best for my father, Hans, to leave the store.

Of course, he couldn’t go back home – we knew from our neighbors how dangerous this was, particularly for heads of the family (at the time, women and children were generally not arrested). So we decided he should take the trolley car out to a relative in the suburbs, a relative who was married to a non-Jew and had adopted his sister-in-law’s son, a “pure” Aryan. This proved to be a good idea – while mixed marriages, at the time, were not yet molested too much, the young boy, in his Hitler Youth uniform being quite visible in the yard completely stopped inquisitive Nazis from looking further.

My father remained there for about a day, while my mother and I stayed home. We were fortunate, too – the superintendent of the apartment house in which we lived – this was the first person asked by the Nazis in their search for Jewish victims – emphatically told various search parties that she wouldn’t have any Jews living in the house and that they shouldn’t bother her.

Not until we heard the news broadcasts and read the newspapers did we fully grasp what had happened – and that many of our friends and neighbors hadn’t been that fortunate.

Many pseudo-historians call the Kristallnacht the beginning of the Holocaust. I don’t think it was – it didn’t even come close to the concept of the Endlösung, of the final solution, which was formulated many months later in Wannsee, that would make Germany and Austria Judenrein. Yet, it was meant to give – and did give – the Jews in Germany and Austria a clear signal – get out or face consequences, though no one even remotely expected the consequences to be what they turned out to be.

Since we have all heard and read so much about the Kristallnacht and the many events that followed, I will try to tell you only about my immediate family’s fate after the first seven or eight months of the German annexation of Austria.

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