After Kristallnacht, doors close
After the Kristallnacht pogroms, anti-Jewish laws and restrictions continue to be implemented. Jewish businesses are appropriated through forced sale to Germans and Jews are denied access to education.
The Nazi state quashes any opposition, and for most Germans, the fear of Nazi reprisals serves as an effective deterrent against helping Jews. Despite the fact that Henry’s parents have always counted many non-Jewish Germans among their friends, they are now faced with the painful realization that they cannot count on those friends for help. Still in hiding, the Loewensteins reach out to their German friends and are turned away again and again.
Henry Lowenstein: After about 2-3 days of this—and, by the way, my sister went to work, because she was not Jewish, and she went to work again to keep a semblance of normalcy and because we didn’t want to tip anybody off that anything was out of the ordinary. Because if she had not shown up they would have wondered what’s going on. So we stayed there, and then we thought, “Well, we better see what’s going on at our apartment.” And my mother obviously was not Jewish. I didn’t look particularly Jewish, so the decision was that the two of us would go and see what was happening there. We didn’t dare—my father—we didn’t want him on the street. And so we went back to our apartment and the Blanks—the same people I mentioned—said, “Oh yes, they’ve been there, looking for him.” But they had not sealed the apartment. They were just going to come back. They were told that we weren’t there and that—they had so many people to pick up and, you know, if they got one more or less it wasn’t that big a deal, so they were to come back.
So, we decided we’d go in and the first thing—of course, we had taken no money with us. First thing. Secondly, we wouldn’t—no one would dare go to a bank, because that obviously was a tip off where you were. So, we thought, well the best thing we can do was to at least pack up all of our silver and the valuables, and see if we could put that somewhere, because that’s really all we had to trade on. So, we—my mother and I—hurriedly packed, we had a flat box, probably about–it wasn’t really much higher than this [c. 2.5 in], but it was [gestures]. We packed it full of silver and valuables and I don’t know the exact weight, but it was heavy, I would venture to say at least 50 pounds of stuff. And carried it down—because we lived on the third floor, so we carried it down to the street. And I put it across the handlebars of my bike, and we were going to try to take this to friends. And that was really one of the worst experiences of my life, because we went to people who had been our dear friends. They would open the door, took one look at us and slammed the door in our face because they were scared to death. If they took [sighs] if they took us in, they were in danger. So we went from friend to friend to friend, only to have the door slammed in our face every time.
Finally, it was mid-afternoon, and at that point we said, “Well, the best thing is, we’re going to take it back.” Because we didn’t know what to do. And so we went back and were met by the Blanks. They said, “Look, we’ll take care of it.” They took it in the basement, underneath the apartment building, and hid it there. And frankly were the only friends that we found. We went back to our apartment, my uncle George’s apartment and we stayed in for another I would say another 10 days or 2 weeks.
And then, things sort of returned to normal, and then of course the—now it became absolutely critical to be able to leave the country or find out what could be done. And that really was another whole chapter now, because school started again, although our teachers weren’t there, and they were in concentration camps.
And there were three or four of us who, again, not being very bright but being 13 years old, decided we would get on our bikes and we would ride out to the concentration camp to see if we could see anything. We rode out to the Oranienburg concentration camp [sic: Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Oranienburg], of course you couldn’t see a damn thing because it looked all very neat with flowers in the flowerbeds and barbed wire and so on, but you couldn’t see anything. And we knew that our teachers were in there. Well, a week—a few weeks later they started releasing people. They didn’t keep them, they released several of them. My uncle was released. He’d had frostbite; he lost fingers and toes. And as they were being released, they were told, “Look, if you get out, we can always get you back in again. And if you go to another country, we’re still going to get you there. So don’t you dare ever say anything about what went on. If you talk about this, you’re dead.” They said, “If you go to the United States, it doesn’t make any difference. United States, any other country in the world, we’re going to get you. So don’t you ever say another word.”
“They would open the door, took one look at us and slammed the door in our face because they were scared to death.”
USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive, Interview 11470