Today’s Wall Street Journal — November 9, 2015 — carried the front-page article “U.S. Eyes Europe Troop Plan” (in order to meet an increasing Russian threat) and on the op ed page the article “From Kristallnacht to the Kindertransport to, Finally, America.”
How ironic for me that these two articles should appear in the same newspaper edition. My Cold War memoir TALES OF AN AMERICAN OCCUPYING GERMANY (for which I’m currently seeking a literary agent and a publisher) describes my husband’s and my experiences stationed with the U.S. Army in Munich only 25 years after the end of WWII as well as our experiences as Jews in Germany at that time.
Here is the part of my memoir about Kristallnacht:
On November 9, 1970, I had been sitting in the army-supplied living room armchair reading a book about the Holocaust. I had started to read the description of a 1938 event I hadn’t heard of before — Kristallnacht — the Night of Broken Glass — a supposedly “spontaneous” action against synagogues and Jewish businesses throughout Germany and Austria (Austria’s Anschluss — annexation — to Germany took place on March 13, 1938).
During the attacks on Jewish-owned property and synagogues, 36 Jews were killed, 36 severely injured, and 30,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps at Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald and Dachau. After Kristallnacht the government confiscated all insurance claims and imposed a fine of 1,000,000,000 marks on the Jews.
The book explained that the “spontaneous” attacks on synagogues and Jewish businesses had in fact been carefully orchestrated by the Nazis. They used the excuse of the assassination of Ernst von Rath — the third secretary of the German embassy in Paris — by Herschel Grynszpan, the son of Polish Jews who had lived in Germany until their deportation by the Nazis to the Polish-German frontier in October 1938.
The order for the “spontaneous” action against the Jews came from the Nazi leaders gathered in Munich for the annual commemoration of Hitler’s abortive 1923 beer hall putsch.
And there in front of me on the open book page was the date the action took place — the night of November 9-10. At that moment goose bumps rose on my arms as I realized I was sitting in Munich — the heart of the Nazis’ support — on November 9, the 32nd anniversary of Kristallnacht!
This unease persisted when I then read an article in that day’s Stars and Stripes headlined “Scheel Tours Auschwitz in Grim Silence.”
OSWIECIM, Poland (AP) — Grim and silent, West German Foreign Minister Walter Scheel Sunday visited the former Nazi extermination camp at Auschwitz in southern Poland, the first representative of the West German government to do so.
He was accompanied by his state secretary, Paul Frank, former State Secretary Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz and Bundestag Vice President Carlo Schmid.
Under a sunny and cloudless sky, Scheel placed a wreath of red and white carnations with a black, red and gold ribbon at the foot of a monument erected to honor the four million victims of Nazi extermination in Auschwitz.
For about an hour, Scheel walked through the blocks of the camp and looked at the documents and evidence of what happened at Auschwitz between 1942 and 1945.
At the conclusion, he wrote in the camp’s guest book, laid out for him near a crematory: “In the face of this horror, of this inhumanity, it will be our duty to safeguard these highest values — the dignity of man, peace among peoples. Walter Scheel.”
That this momentous first visit should come when I was in Germany added to the surreal situation in which I found myself.
When I had told Mitch that it was the anniversary of Kristallnacht, he told me of a conversation at the 18th Military Intelligence Battalion [where Mitch was assigned]. Mitch’s civilian boss of the sociological desk, Lutz Kempner, had decided to write his Ph.D. dissertation on the role played by the German Foreign Office on the “Jewish question.” Lutz had asked Henry Einstein, the civilian head of another desk, “How can I find this out?”
As a Jewish teenager Henry had been lucky enough to get out of Germany in time — he was sent to relatives in New York City — and then returned as a U.S. soldier. After the war, he chose to remain in Germany as a civilian to stay near his mother, who refused to leave Germany.
(Although Henry’s father had been killed in Auschwitz, his mother survived because she claimed French citizenship. This claim had been made on the grounds that she had been born in Strausbourg when the Alsace region was French rather than German. Henry never explained how this claim saved his mother’s life as the French Jews were also sent to the gas chambers.)
During the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals, Henry worked as a researcher for Lutz’s father, Robert Max Wasili Kempner — a lawyer and early anti-Nazi who had been a senior government advisor in the Prussian Ministry of Interior until arrested by the Gestapo when Hitler rose to power. From 1946-1949 Herr Kempner had headed the Defense Rebuttal Section for the Nuremberg Trials.
Henry’s reply to Lutz: “Your father only indicted every member of the Foreign Office he could find.”
In two days it will be Veterans Day. As an American Jew I am very aware of the democracy protected by our military, and I am thankful for all U.S. military personnel (and their families) in the past and in the present and in the future.
(The photo accompanying this post is of my father, Albert Zimbler, during WWII. As the number of living veterans of WWII dwindle, it is especially important to honor them.)
© 2015 Miller Mosaic LLC
Phyllis Zimbler Miller (@ZimblerMiller) has an M.B.A. from The Wharton School and is the author of fiction and nonfiction books/ebooks, including HOW TO SUCCEED IN HIGH SCHOOL AND PREP FOR COLLEGE and the romantic suspense spy thriller CIA FALL GUY, as well as newly written books not yet published. She can be reached at email@example.com