His father earned the Iron Cross, Germany’s highest military honor, but his mother knew it was time to go.
Herbert Jaffe discussed his family’s experiences during Nazism at the Kristallnacht Commemoration at Congregation Machane Chodosh on November 9.
On November 9-10, 1938, 267 synagogues were destroyed, 7,500 Jewish businesses were shattered, 30,000 Jews were taken to concentration camps, and 91 Jews were killed in Austria, Germany, and the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. Kristallnacht means “the Night of Shattering Glass” of all the Jewish businesses and synagogues that were vandalized.
Herschel Greenspan shot a German diplomat at his office in Paris on November 7, 1938. Greenspan was calling attention to his family and the Jews kicked out of Germany into Poland who did not accept them. The German diplomat died two days later.
German Chancellor Adolf Hitler and Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels were in Munich, marking the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. They planned the pogrom, the beginning of the physical persecution of Jews culminating in the Holocaust.
Herbert’s grandmother, who lived in America for 18 years but preferred going back, “was very German.” “She ended up starving in Theresienstadt.”
Herbert’s father was on crutches, due to a bomb attack in World War I, when he got married. Despite his wounds, Herbert’s father would always say how being in the German Army “was the best time of his life.” When Herbert’s father received the Iron Cross, he was told, “The Fatherland will always be thankful to you forever and ever.” His father often wore a small military ribbon in the label of his jacket.
Herbert’s father sold textiles, so they were well off in Aachen, Germany. When Hitler took power in 1933, Herbert remembers passing a tobacco store with his father with a sign that said, “Don’t buy from Jews.” When Herbert was 10 or 11 years old, he passed a Der Sturmer newspaper office with pictures of Jews with big noses in the windows.
Herbert was learning Radio Technology in Liege, Belgium, when he met two young Jews going to England. One displayed his back, which “was all black and blue. It was a terrible sight.”
When Kristallnacht happened, “I heard the newspaper boys calling out, ‘The synagogues are burning.’” The police did not go to his parents on Kristallnacht but soon after. They took Herbert’s father. His mother ran after the Nazis, saying, “My husband was in the war, he was severely wounded.” The Nazis checked into it and sent his father home.
The father said it to his mother, “They (the Nazis) cannot last.” “He couldn’t believe what had happened,” said Herbert. His mother replied, “You’re right, they won’t last but before they are gone, we will be gone.” “There was this constant fear. That was the worst part,” said Herbert. Getting out would be difficult, as there was a four-to-five-year wait for an American visa.
While his father and his Jewish friends were in a Jewish café, an American Jew with the Office of Strategic Services (the precursor to the CIA) told them how a Peruvian consul in Paris was giving out visas.
Herbert’s father’s sister moved to Peru in 1937. Herbert’s father was able to get visas. When the ship got to Peru, officials at the dock refused to let the family into the country. Herbert’s cousin, who had been in Peru for two years and spoke Spanish, negotiated until the officials relented. Herbert Jaffe came to America on August 22, 1946, to go to school at night and work during the day.
“I was very lucky. Why was I luckier than the boys and girls I grew up with?” asked Herbert Jaffe. Rabbi Yossi Mendelson of Machane Chodesh said how this is a deep question from Jaffe’s heart, “but at the same time, you have done your part to keep the memory of Judaism and the identity of Judaism going. In that sense, you are more than just a survivor.”
Six memorial candles were lit. Rabbi Mendelson gave Jewish prayer books printed in Austria in the 1920s to the synagogue’s younger members.
Rabbi Mendelson said a Keil Malei Rachamim memorial prayer and closed out the evening with the singing of Am Yisrael Chai (The Nation of Israel Lives).
T’hilim were said by Rabbi Judah Kerbel of the Queens Jewish Center and by Rabbi Ashie Schreier of the Young Israel of Forest Hills earlier in the evening.
One can see Herbert Jaffe’s recently recorded testimony, his live questions and answers, and the Kristallnacht Commemoration at www.MachaneChodosh.org/YouTube.
By David Schneier