Kristallnacht: an unmistakable turning point

Fred Marcus

Fred Marcus

On the morning of November 10, 1938, Fred sets off for school as if on any other day. During the train ride to school, he becomes aware of what has happened.

Fred Marcus: [On the morning of Nov. 10, 1938,] I was at that Jewish high school, and as usual I had to go take the elevated train to get to school. And I met one of my close friends, Herbert, on the same car and the same train every morning, but he got on down the line. And as I got onto the car and with my practiced swings threw my briefcase—when you were a certain age, you graduated from the satchel on the back in Germany to a handheld briefcase—I threw it across the car to where he was standing, and he’d go across the aisle to the tittering of several German people—you did things like that then you were that age.

And Herbert looked white as a sheet. And I said to him, “Herbert, what’s the matter with you, are you sick?” “Mm.” “You had trouble with your parents this morning?” “Mm-mm.” “Well, what’s wrong with you?” “Nah.” He was very uncommunicative.

When we completed our journey four stops later, and got off and got out into the open, he stopped me in the street and he said, “You know where the train goes by at the Synagogue Fasanenstrasse?” One of the major synagogues. The train goes right by, elevated. “You can look into there,” he said. “When I went by, the synagogue was burning, and the fire department was there, but it looked like they weren’t doing very much.”

And as we got to school, every child who had passed—every kid in school who had passed a synagogue reported that that synagogue had been set afire, including the Levetzowstrasse, where the pictures of which I showed you earlier. On that night, 80% or 90% of all synagogues in Germany were set afire for some subterfuge reason, which we don’t need to get into here right now.

But that was the beginning of the end. And I don’t know whether it was on that occasion or another one where it was deemed too dangerous to keep several hundred Jewish children in the school building at one time. And I remember very distinctly a little door being opened to the main gate—a wooden—great, wooden double doors and a little opening—with our school director, Dr. Bobby Stern, standing by the door.

We were divided into those who had to go out to the left and those who go out to the right. And he would let out two kids left, two kids right, and he’d look down the street until they had turned the corners. Then the next two kids. Because they were afraid to let us all go en masse, you know, several hundred kids coming out into the street.

“You know where the train goes by at the Synagogue Fasanenstrasse?”

USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive, Interview 9214

Fasanenstrasse Synagogue

Interior view of the Fasanenstrasse Synagogue in Berlin, burned on Kristallnacht, November 9-10, 1938

Courtesy of the Leo Baeck Institute, New York.

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