Sunday, 9 November 2008


In the night between the 9 and 10 November 1938 the Gestapo arrived at my grandparents' flat in the working class secular Jewish suburb of Berlin Weissensee. My grandfather, a lawyer, was arrested and taken away to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. He had become a Christian several decades earlier. My father and his sister had both not been allowed to attend school for some time. My grandparents had been on a voyage of discovery over the summer to the USA to see whether it would be possible for the family to move and settle there.
With the November Pogromm - or Kristallnacht - it became very clear to the family that they needed to leave but not without my grandfather.
Among the organisations my grandmother tried to get help from was what became known as the "Büro Grüber" - pastor Heinrich Grüber freely confesses in his memoirs both that he voted for Hitler because he felt Germany needed a "strong man" to get them out of the chaos of successive Weimar administrations and that he quickly realised what a wrong choice this had been. Grüber became part of the Confessing Church and the Büro Grüber helped Jewish families to emigrate, but only really those who were baptised - it was known in English as the Church Aid Office for Protestant Non-Aryans. Although this way of bearing witness now seems very partial, it nevertheless landed Grüber and others in prison.
A little more than six weeks after his arrest my grandfather was released, perhaps in part as a result of pressure from the Büro Grüber, particularly around Christmas and New Year. Many others were also released, Kristallnacht was a prelude to the so-called Final Solution, systematic genocide was not yet underway. Three months later in early April 1939 the family emigrated to Britain.
They got visas for Britain in part thanks to the work of my wonderfully feisty great aunt whose story I'm only now beginning to learn about. More in memory of Helene Stranz-Hurwitz soon.

My family were fortunate to be able to become refugees. So many throughout history were not.
Deirdre Good has also written about Kristallnacht quoting a good article from the New Statesman. You can also read the joint statement by the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches in Germany on the 70th anniversary.


J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks for your blog, Of Life, Laughter, and Liturgy. Thank you very much for sharing the life and death, the laughter but the tears, the liturgy alive despite the terrible nazi silencings of Hitler. What a legacy you share with us. So thank you again!

Jane said...

J.k. thanks for reading too. I'm struggling with some of the issues about the politicising of memory and want to have time to blog about that but probably won't have given the amount of translating and other work that I stil have to get through this week.
The holocaust has been a searing event on the late 20th century western mind and for me i bear a responisbility of being a survivor - somehow I want also to be a survivor who is also in solidarity in a small and tiny way with those struggling for more humanity and life across our beautiful planet From Palestine to Georgia to Rwanda to Democratic REpublic of Congo to BRazil to Zimbabwe to Guantanamo Bay and ... and ... there's a lot to ponder on and try to be in solidarity with.
Hey I no doubt sound like a desperate bleeing heart liberal but actually I have quite a hard heart and a nasty mind!