‘We lived in con­stant fear’

Sher­man woman, a Holo­caust sur­vivor, shares mem­o­ries of Kristall­nacht

Connecticut Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Ka­t­rina Ko­ert­ing

NEW MILFORD — As a Jewish girl in 1930s Ger­many, Susi Leiter quickly learned a knock on the door or the shuf­fle of boots out­side was never a good sign.

“Ev­ery­thing was fright­en­ing,” she said. “We lived in con­stant fear.”

The dreaded knock came with a shat­ter­ing of glass at mid­night on Nov. 9, 1938, when the Gestapo ar­rived to ar­rest

her fam­ily. They were herded onto a truck with other Jewish fam­i­lies and kept in a dark cham­ber at the lo­cal jail. Leiter said it could have been days,

weeks or months that she and her mother were separated from her fa­ther.

Her home was one of hun­dreds van­dal­ized dur­ing Kristall­nacht, or the “Night of Bro­ken Glass” when Nazis and Ger­man civil­ians de­stroyed hun­dreds of Jewish busi­nesses and syn­a­gogues, ar­rested thou­sands of Jews and killed nearly 100 Jewish men. It marks the be­gin­ning of what the Nazis re­ferred to as “The Fi­nal So­lu­tion.”

Leiter, 92, a Holo­caust sur­vivor who lives in Sher­man, shared her story dur­ing a me­mo­rial ser­vice at Tem­ple Sholom in New Milford on Fri­day,

com­mem­o­rat­ing the 80th an­niver­sary of Kristall­nacht and hon­or­ing the 6 mil­lion Jews killed dur­ing the Holo­caust, or about two-thirds of the the Jews in Europe at the time.

She lost 27 rel­a­tives in con­cen­tra­tion camps dur­ing the war, in­clud­ing her brother. She was only one of three in her fam­ily to es­cape to the U.S., ar­riv­ing here when she was 14 af­ter 2 years hid­ing in France.

Her par­ents had pa­pers to leave be­cause a high school friend of her fa­ther’s was will­ing to spon­sor the fam­ily in the U.S. But af­ter be­ing smug­gled to the Amer­i­can em­bassy in a friend’s mov­ing truck, they learned Leiter wouldn’t be able to get a visa be­cause she was adopted. In­stead, her fa­ther ar­ranged for her to be brought to France through a Jewish un­der­ground or­ga­ni­za­tion.

She moved to sev­eral dif­fer­ent de­ten­tion camps while in France, stay­ing mostly in air raid shel­ters be­cause the Nazis were bomb­ing Paris daily. At the camps, the 2,000 or so chil­dren looked af­ter each other, cry­ing for their par­ents and then cry­ing for each other.

“We be­came the near­est thing to a fam­ily,” she said. Of those chil­dren, only she and an­other were able to re­con­nect with their par­ents through the French kinder trans­ports, far less suc­cess­ful than the English op­er­a­tions of the same name.

Leiter’s story was es­pe­cially poignant fol­low­ing the Oct. 27 shooting at the Tree of Life Syn­a­gogue in Pitts­burgh that killed 11 peo­ple, mak­ing it what is be­lieved to be the dead­li­est at­tack on Jews in the his­tory of the U.S.

“We look at our his­tory and ask if this is how it be­gins,” Rabbi Ari Rosen- berg said.

But both he and Leiter ac­knowl­edged that Amer­ica in 2018 is not the same as Nazi Ger­many as Kristall­nacht was car­ried out by the govern­ment and sup­ported by the peo­ple.

Still, they said they were wor­ried by the in­crease in anti-Semitic in­ci­dents in the United States.

“It’s deja vu,” Leiter said. “I’m ner­vous. It’s scary. As Jews, we have to stand to­gether now and fight it.”

She said anti-Semitism steadily in­creased in Ger­many dur­ing the 1930s, with ugly car­i­ca­tures of Jews de­picted in news­pa­pers. She wasn’t al­lowed to wear braided pig­tails or par­tic­i­pate in the mil­i­tary pa­rades at school with the other girls. She re­mem­bers it es­ca­lated to “J” be­ing writ­ten on Jewish busi­nesses to de­ter peo­ple from go­ing there, iso­lat­ing the Jews. Then came Kristall­nacht.

“We saw them take torahs out of tem­ples, burned them and danced around them,” Leiter said. “This is a night­mare I’ll never for­get.”

Rosen­berg said it’s im­por­tant to honor the mem­ory of the Jews killed by the Nazis and show the world that they will never abide by this again.

“We must never for­get the Holo­caust,” he said.

Tr­ish Haldin / For Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Jay Adler lights a me­mo­rial can­dle dur­ing a Kristall­nacht commemoration at Tem­ple Sholom in New Milford on Fri­day.

Con­trib­uted photo

A scene from a Ger­man city shows some of the dam­age af­ter Kristall­nacht, or the “Night of Bro­ken Glass,” when Nazis and Ger­man civil­ians de­stroyed hun­dreds of Jewish busi­nesses and syn­a­gogues, ar­rested thou­sands of Jews and killed nearly 100 Jewish men. Kristall­nacht took place 80 years ago, on the night of Nov. 9-10, 1938.

Tr­ish Haldin / For Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Susi Leiter, a Holo­caust sur­vivor who lives in Sher­man, shares her child­hood mem­o­ries from Ber­lin dur­ing a Kristall­nacht commemoration at Tem­ple Sholom in New Milford on Fri­day. Fri­day night marks the 80th an­niver­sary of Kristall­nacht.

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