I screamed un­til lights went out

When he was eight, John Izbicki watched the Hitler Youth smash his par­ents’ shop

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY JOHN IZBICKI John Izbicki is a jour­nal­ist and au­thor

MY EIGHTH birth­day turned out to be some­thing of a flop. It was Novem­ber 8, 1938 in Ber­lin, and my par­ents had pre­sented me with a beau­ti­ful watch.

Noth­ing wrong with that, ex­cept that they nor­mally gave me birth­day presents to play with, like a red three­wheel bike to ride around the nearby park, and a gor­geous Punch and Judy show. But I couldn’t play with a watch. My par­ents could spot my dis­ap­point­ment. “Never mind, Horst. We’ll get you some­thing much bet­ter for your next birth­day,” my fa­ther said, and I man­aged to pro­duce a small smile of grat­i­tude.

The fol­low­ing day, Novem­ber 9, started with a loud knock at our door. It was just af­ter 7am. My mother (Mutti) went to open it. Out­side stood Herr Schultz, who was more or less in charge of the block of flats on the In­va­lieden Strasse, where we lived.

“Ach, Herr Schultz, come in, come in for a nice cup of cof­fee,” my dear Mutti said with a smile. “Nein, No, no, Frau Izbicki, I don’t have the time and have to rush away,” replied Herr Schultz. He was a mem­ber of the Na­tional So­cial­ists — the Nazis — as his lapel badge made clear. His voice sud­denly went low into al­most a whis­per. My fa­ther (Papa ) had now joined my mother at the door to hear what Herr Schultz had to say. “I have come to warn you that your shop will be done tonight at about 7 o’clock. That is all. Now, you haven’t seen me or spo­ken to me. Is that clear?”

“Yes, of course, Herr Schultz,” said Papa. But by now Herr Schultz was on his way down the flight of stairs, two sto­ries down. My par­ents were shocked by the mes­sage they had been given. They sat down and drank cof­fee to dis­cuss qui­etly what they should do. The shop, which was just three build­ings away, was laden with women’s un­der­wear, stock­ings, bras and the like, and was due to open at 8am.

They de­cided to go to the shop as usual and thought of re­duc­ing the con­tents at the win­dow and mov­ing it to the store room at the back of the shop.

Herr Schultz was a Nazi but he was also a kind hu­man be­ing. My par­ents were grate­ful to re­ceive his mes­sage, what­ever its true mean­ing. But they read­ily un­der­stood that it could only have a nasty out­come for us and other Jewish peo­ple.

I al­ways had a lit­tle nap af­ter my lunch, and on this oc­ca­sion I was wo­ken up by the crash­ing of glass. I jumped up and ran to the win­dow to see what had hap­pened. Across the road was a leather­ware shop. Its win­dows, which had a large painted “J” (for Jude) on it, were smashed and glass lay heaped along the pave­ment. An old woman limped along the road to see the dam­age and started to scream: “Jews should not be al­lowed to have shops. They should all be killed and make Ger­many a clean coun­try!” Her scream­ing was in a crescendo, which helped to loosen a pointed piece of glass that had been left hang­ing. It fell down and found the old woman’s head, cut­ting it cleanly in half. She lay amid the heap of bro­ken glass in a pool of blood. She was ob­vi­ously dead. I hate to ad­mit it now but although the scene sick­ened me, I started to be­lieve in God for pun­ish­ing a sin­ner.

Al­low me to de­scribe briefly the Iva­lieden Strasse. It was sim­i­lar to New Bond Street in Lon­don, with trams and buses and taxis zoom­ing up and down be­tween the Nord Bahn­hof (the rail­way sta­tion) and the Gen­eral Post Of­fice. There were ho­tels (the Nord­land was just one) and the univer­sity at the other end of the street.

My par­ents’ shop was small and next door to the post of­fice. It at­tracted many cus­tomers, par­tic­u­larly Scan­di­na­vians who came to Ber­lin on

hol­i­day, trav­el­ling through the Nord Bahn­hof. At ex­actly 7pm, Just as Herr Schultz had warned, a large group of Hitler Youths ac­com­pa­nied by a pla­toon of SA troops came march­ing down the road to­wards the shop. Pave­ments and parts of the road were crowded with peo­ple who had heard of what was to hap­pen.

The Hitler Youths started to throw big stones at the shop win­dow. Noth­ing broke, and many peo­ple, bless them, started to laugh. The wouldbe win­dow smash­ers marched a few yards to the butcher’s shop. He

asked what they wanted. The an­swer came quickly from one of the youths: “We just want some of your heavy weights to smash the Yid’s win­dow near the Post Of­fice,” he said. “Then you can all piss off out of my shop,” said the butcher who, for his hon­esty, was knocked to the ground and kicked. His weights were stolen and taken to my par­ents’ shop. They were hurled at the curved win­dow which even­tu­ally smashed. I screamed and screamed.

I was watch­ing from our bal­cony and saw the Hitler Youths pick up

pieces of the bro­ken glass and throw it into the shop. I was con­vinced that my par­ents would be killed by bro­ken sharp glass. My grand­mother, Oma, who was in the apart­ment, held me tightly but I con­tinue to scream un­til all the lights went out. When I woke up, I was hoarse and my par­ents were hold­ing me, kiss­ing me and whis­per­ing kind­nesses to me.

My hoarse­ness has re­mained with me ever since, and I con­sider it my “present from Hitler”.


A man clear­ing bro­ken glass from a Jewish shop fol­low­ing the Kristall­nacht at­tacks on Novem­ber 9, 1938

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