On Tuesday, Nov. 13, The Drew Center for Holocaust/Genocide Study hosted two witnesses of the horrors of Kristallnacht to tell their stories on the 80 anniversary of the fateful night.
The witnesses, Dr. Peter Lederman and Erwin Ganz, were young boys when Nazis murdered and imprisoned Jews, destroyed synagogues and leveled the homes and businesses of Jews. The talk, which took place in Room 106 of the Dorothy Young Center for the Arts, lasted for an hour and a half during which both Ganz and Lederman recounted their memories of Hitler’s rise to power. Following each speaker’s presentation, audience members were invited to ask questions.
The first speaker, Ganz, was born in Frankfurt, Germany on Aug. 22, 1929, where he lived for the first few years of his life with his parents and brother. As Hitler began to take stronger control over Germany, Ganz’s father was forced out of his job as a bank executive in 1933. Following his father’s ousting, the family was forced to relocate to a small vineyard village in the Rhineland called Bernkastel-Kues, where Ganz’s family moved in with his grandmother who owned a small clothing store in the village.
Ganz recounted his father’s nightly ritual of kissing him goodnight, however, one night in March of 1938, something was different. “I remember one night, he spoke to me much longer than usual,” he said. “The next morning I remember asking my mother ‘Where is papa?’” According to Ganz, that night his father had fled Germany at the behest of his grandmother as the Nazis were already looking for him. “Luckily my grandmother had the foresight to realize we were all in danger and that we had to get out of Germany,” said Ganz. Thankfully for Ganz’s father, a distant maternal relative of theirs living in Missouri was able to sponsor his father to get him into the U.S.
On the day of Kristallnacht on Nov. 9, 1938, Ganz recalls the morning being particularly gray and overcast. When he arrived home from school with his mother, he returned to the carnage at his grandmother's store. “The Nazi Youth had smashed all our mirrors and windows with hatchets and cut marks in all the door frames,” Ganz recounted. That night, the Gestapo burned down the only synagogue in the village as well as burgled every Jewish owned business, including their own. Luckily for the Ganz’s family, they were able to join his father in America in April of 1939.
The second speaker, Lederman, was born in Weimar, Germany in 1931. At the time of his birth, Lederman’s father was the deputy head director of the audit department for the German state bank, a job he would later be fired from in 1933. Following his father's firing, Lederman’s family would relocate to the Netherlands in search of a new job, however, after six months of searching, the family would move back to Germany with Lederman’s grandmother.
Lederman recounted what had been a relatively normal day, or as normal as it could’ve been on the night of Kristallnacht. “I’d gone to school, went to bed, as usual and fell asleep,” he said. “I had woken up around midnight when two black-shirt Gestapo had come into our house saying my father had escaped when really different Gestapo had picked him up earlier.” According to Lederman, the Gestapo didn’t destroy the house as his grandmother was a well-known figure in the local Lutheran Church. That night the local synagogue was also burned down.
Thankfully for Lederman’s father, he was released from detainment as he was an accountant that had many Jewish clients, so the Nazi finance minister released him to help collect Jewish taxes. In January of 1939, Lederman’s father was able to take a flight to London under the guise of visiting a client, however, he would stay there to avoid possibly being sent back to a concentration camp. However, Lederman and the rest of his family had to remain in Gotha with his grandmother until March of that year. Luckily for Lederman, a distant relative of his father, an executive of the Emirati Company in England, was able to acquire transit visas for him and his mother. On March 4, 1939, Lederman and his mother were able to board a plane to England and reunite with his father. In December 1939, the Lederman family would travel to the Netherlands to take a boat to the United States, where they would settle in Queens, New York.
On Tuesday, Nov. 27 the Drew Center for Holocaust/Genocide Study will host a book launch for an upcoming English release of a book on forced labor in Nazi Germany at the end of World War II that was edited by Drew Professor Emerita of German, Dr. Edwina Lawler.