Oral History

Johanna Gerechter Neumann describes Kristallnacht in Hamburg

Amid intensifying anti-Jewish measures and the 1938 Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass") pogrom, Johanna's family decided to leave Germany. They obtained visas for Albania, crossed into Italy, and sailed in 1939. They remained in Albania under the Italian occupation and, after Italy surrendered in 1943, under German occupation. The family was liberated after a battle between the Germans and Albanian partisans in December 1944.


What I saw was hordes of people standing in front of a beautiful synagogue, and throwing stones through these magnificent, uh, colored windows. And, uh, as we arrived, of course we ran past the, the, the place itself, the noise, the shouting, the screaming. I suppose there was an, an aura of, of eeriness about it, because we still didn't know what was happening, but I suppose just the mere fact that so many people were there and were screaming and shouting and, and throwing stones into the, uh, stained glass windows was enough to make us run. We arrived in school and were immediately told that our parents would pick us up, we should remain calm but there would be no school that day. And indeed a few, uh, minutes later, or half an hour later, whatever the case may be, my mother did arrive and took me to my grandmother's home where my father already was. And here then unfolded slowly but surely the, uh, grim story of what happened during the night, that the synagogues all through Germany had been set on fire, destroyed. The, uh, Sifrei Torah [Torah scrolls] were burned in most cases. It is known that in Hamburg people sacrificed themselves to run into the synagogue to save some of the Sifrei Torah, hide them, and I believe were successful in doing so. Um, that the, uh, Jewish stores in the center of Hamburg, in the downtown area of Hamburg, had been demolished, windows had been, uh, broken, uh, the merchandise had been thrown into the streets, covered with water and with ink and--I mean it was a, a total chaos, a total destruction.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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