Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Lights & Shadows: Excerpt III

Chapter 3: Kristallnacht—the Night of Broken Glass—was a coordinated attack on the German Jewish people and their property in November 1938.

Arnold’s German identification card, issued February 24, 1939.
Like other Jewish boys and men, the Nazis forced him to adopt the middle name “Israel.”

It was the Wednesday night before my bar mitzvah. Heinz and I wanted to be rested for school the next day, so we had gone to sleep early. The Blums lived in a third floor apartment, and Heinz and I shared the bedroom right near the front hallway. Suddenly, we were awakened by a loud pounding on the great, lead-framed glass front door. Before anyone could answer it, the door was smashed down and we heard the sound of shattering glass raining down onto the hallway floor. The force of the blow was so great that shards flew into our room.

All at once, the bedroom was flooded with light. I opened my eyes a crack and saw what appeared to be three giants in brown shirts, black pants, and leather boots standing over me. These giants—for that’s what the Nazi Storm Troopers looked like to a boy of barely thirteen—wielded long daggers. They hardly needed the weapons to intimidate me. I was already paralyzed with fear. Instinctively, both Heinz and I lay stock still and cowered in the corners of our beds, pretending to be asleep.

To our immense relief, the men turned around and left. But within seconds we heard a thundering crash. At that time, German kitchens had cupboards instead of built-in cabinets. The men had gone into the kitchen and overturned the Blums’ china cupboard so that all the dishes smashed to the floor. They did the same thing in the dining room.

The other men continued systematically to destroy the apartment. My curiosity overcame my terror, and Heinz and I got up and crept tentatively out of our room. In horrified silence, we watched as the intruders pulled from the shelves megillot, antique Hebrew manuscripts, and precious scrolls—all part of Herr Blum’s painstakingly maintained library. Then, they rolled back the carpet to clear a space on the living room floor, piled up the books like kindling, and set them aflame. Until my dying day, I will remember the smell of burning parchment, leather, and paper, as the holy books blazed in the middle of the Blums’ living room floor.

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