Holocaust Testimony: Hans Friend (1938), excerpt
Letters & Narratives

Hans and Marianne, a brother and sister, were living in Berlin before the outbreak of World War II. When Marianne wrote her recollection of the Kristallnacht pogrom, a wave of antisemitic violence in Germany on November 9-10, 1938, Hans Friend decided it was necessary for him to also put pen to paper—if only to give his perspective of the events of that night. The following excerpt, taken from his narrative "The Night of the Crystals (Die Krystallnacht): The Brother's Story," shares Friend's memories from those fateful nights.

My sister showed me her written account of the Night of the Crystals and I was amazed how my memory of that fateful night differed from hers; sometimes she recalls events of the past which I never knew of or completely "forgot"—or suppressed!

Yes, I do remember one morning when our parents forbade us to go out into the streets of Berlin. Our parents had gone out and my sister and I decided against their wishes, to see for ourselves what was going on. Streets full of broken glass from smashed windows of Jewish shops, a burning synagogue…

I DO REMEMBER. It was in the middle of the night, three or four am, when the phone rang. It was a friend of my father, a headmaster of a secondary school, who said, "Leave your house at once and take your son with you. Nazi "stormtroopers" are on the way to take you to a concentration camp." My father's friend had no choice but to become a member of the Nazi party, lest he lose his job or worse, go to prison. I wish I could remember the name of this good German man. He risked his life to save us.

We left our house, leaving behind my mother and sister and walked, all night, the streets of Berlin. We crossed over a fashionable boulevard called "Kurfurstendamm", a boulevard with many elegant shops, cafes and restaurants. Brown-shirted members of the SA, the Nazi "army", everywhere, smashing all the windows of Jewish shops and painting anti-Jewish slogans on their walls: "DON'T BUY FROM THE Jews" and "DOWN WITH THE JEWS". Broken pieces of glass lying everywhere on the streets, looking like crystals of snow reflecting the light in the early hours of this morning.

It was not beautiful snow—but broken bits of glass from shops owned by Jewish "Germans"—shattering the dreams of my father. He was a proud German and at the same time, a religious Jew.

We walked on, casually and slowly, not to make it obvious that we were afraid, that we were Jews; we passed the beautiful synagogue in the Fasanenstrasse—burning. We were told later that the caretaker who lived in it was burnt alive. I reminded my father to phone my uncle to also leave his house and we quickly phoned him from a phone box—just in time. We were told later that the Gestapo (secret police) came soon after; he was safe, for the time being.

As the morning arrived we phoned my mother who had gone to an aunt of mine. We talked in code just in case the Gestapo was listening in. At night we stayed with relatives and friends at "safe houses". We were told that households with mixed marriage partners, one Jewish the other not, would not be visited. Where we slept I have forgotten, except that we stayed one night at the Urlands in a fashionable suburb of Berlin, a charming couple. Every night we slept somewhere else.

My father looked pale and worried. The only quarrels I remember witnessing between my parents were concerned with leaving Germany. My mother wanted to leave while my father postponed leaving. After 1938 it was not Germany which did not allow Jews to leave without their possessions or money; all other countries would not allow them to enter, except in small numbers.

Fear of unemployment, of refugees becoming a burden to the State—were given as reasons. My father feared that he would not be able to teach mathematics, physics or chemistry in another language or even get a position in another country. Of course, he never dreamed that a cultured country like German could ever sink to such unspeakable depths as to murder its citizens.

I loved my father dearly... He had already suffered greatly under the Nazi regime. He was a Doctor of Mathematics and also taught physics and chemistry in high school. Before the Nazi era he was an adviser and examiner appointed by the Silesian Ministry of Education. He had also studied mineralogy and philosophy.

In 1933 when Hitler came to power, my father was transferred to a little town, and in 1935 was sent to work in a state library—in order not to teach "Aryan students" any more. In 1936 he was pensioned off and taught in a Jewish school in Breslav in an honorary capacity. In 1937 he was appointed assistant headmaster in a Jewish school in Berlin, the school I attended.

After being fugitives for one week, my father went to the police station and gave himself up. Being a man of total integrity and honesty, he could not go on hiding like a criminal. "Go home with your son", the police officer said, "this aktion (persecution) was organized by the S.A. (Hitler's army), not the police. We know that you are an honest man and anyway, this aktion only lasted a week. And from now on nothing will happen to you!"

We went home. After one or two days my father suddenly had great stomach pains and was rushed to the Jewish hospital. A stomach ulcer, fully controlled for years, had burst due to the stress and shock of the "CRYSTAL NIGHT". A few days later he died—a broken man.

He often used to say ironically, "The thanks of the Fatherland are due to you", the official slogan of the German government after the First World War...

And when thoughts of the Nazi era come to my mind, I push them away and think of something pleasant—I don't want to cry. ...

The irony of it all: because my father had died in December 1938, I, a half-orphan, was allowed to get onto a children's transport in May 1939 that took me by train and boat together with other orphans to London and freedom. When saying goodbye to my mother at the railway station, I did not realise that I would never see her again.

My children have heard little of what I experienced in Nazi Germany. It's called the "conspiracy of silence" by those who survived and felt guilty having survived. It took me over fifty years to actually write on paper the happenings of this one week.

Hans Friend. "The Night of the Crystals (Die Krystallnacht): The Brother's Story." In Julie Meadows (Ed.). Memory Guide My Hand: An Anthology of Autobiographical Writing by Members of the Melbourne Jewish Community. Caulfield South (Victoria): Makor Jewish Community Library, 1998, pp. 50-52
MLA Citation

"Holocaust Testimony: Hans Friend (1938), Excerpt." ABC-CLIO Solutions, ABC-CLIO, 2023, educatorsupport.abc-clio.com/TopicCenter/Display/2152419?productId=15. Accessed 28 Jan. 2023.

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