Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Survivors talk about Kristallnacht

 

Shown here (l-r): Sonia Marchesano, Harry Lowenstein and Eva Ritt share their memories of Kristallnacht at the Holocaust Center.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the "night of broken glass" that scholars identify as the beginning of Hitler's Final Solution. Arts and cultural groups throughout Central Florida have worked collaboratively throughout the year to provide an impressive array of programs that explore the impact of that night. These programs included exhibits, films, concerts, and lectures, each planned to remind us of the devastating cost of prejudice and intolerance. Hundreds of people, many of whom have never visited the Holocaust Center or had an opportunity to think about how the Holocaust took place, are now more aware of the importance of remembrance.

Of all the events presented at the Center and elsewhere, one of the most touching was a program at the Center on Oct. 27, a panel of three local people who survived the Kristallnacht pogrom-Eva Ritt, Harry Lowenstein and Sonia Marchesano-along with panel moderator Richard Gair, provided a standing-room only audience of more 120 with personal accounts of the night that changed their lives.

Eva Ritt was a child in Hamburg, Germany on Kristallnacht, Nov. 9-10, 1938. She told about that city's history of destruction of synagogues and closing of schools, deportations, and death. She and her family survived that night, and were able to escape in May 1940, sailing on the last ship to leave Europe. They left behind family members, many of whom died in Auschwitz. "It came so close," she said. "When we left we took the train to the border. The Germans told my father that his papers were not in order. The Italians said we could go. There were so many ways that we might not have made it. If we had left the next day, it would have been too late."

Harry Lowenstein, who now lives in Kissimmee, was born in Westphalia, Germany. Troubles began for the family in 1935 with limits on his father's business. In spite of increasing restrictions under the Nazis, his recollection was that most people in his village were not at all anti-Semitic. On Kristallnacht the destruction was done by outside agitators, Lowenstein said, breaking windows and confiscating items of value in their home. Lowenstein's father was taken to Buchenwald, but was allowed to return about six weeks later. The synagogue, which had served just seven families in the town, was burned to the ground.

Sonia Marchesano's family owned a store in Frankfort, Germany. The store was taken away from them prior to Kristallnacht, and the family had to leave the apartment above the store where they had been living. On Kristallnacht, Sonia's mother was in the hospital giving birth to a new daughter and Sonia was staying with an aunt. She remembers clearly the men who invaded the home looking for her uncle, who had been warned by neighbors that trouble was imminent. Furniture was overturned and possessions thrown out of the window and destroyed. "I was only six," Sonia said, "but I can never forget it. It was horrendous." Her father was taken to Buchenwald, was let go after 10 weeks. The family managed to flee-with no possessions-to England, where they lived until the end of the war.

The recollections of these survivors, whose families managed to escape, provide a poignant reminder of the need to be vigilant. The stories of their childhood, where danger was so near and the losses so great, should help us understand why the promise of "never again" must never be forgotten.

 

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