Friday, November 15, 2013

Kristallnacht--One Boy's Story


Late afternoon, Trier Germany,  November 9, 1938 . There was a bang on the door on the Klepper home.  Outside were 5-6 young men in their late teens and early twenties who  pushed Otille Klepper aside and barged in. Her husband wasn't home, she was alone with her small son.   The men were armed with large sticks and tire irons.  They broke the mirror of the hall tree, just inside the front door.  Frau Klepper grabbed her five year old son, Manfred and ran out the back door, down the stairs and into the cellar.  They were joined by the upstairs neighbors.  She locked the cellar door from the inside, and waited.

Kristallnacht, November 9 and 10, 1938 is sometimes called the beginning of the Halocaust.  On the night of November 9, gangs of young men broke into and destroyed the homes of Jewish families all over Germany. On November 10, Jewish Temples and businesses were destroyed. Kristallnacht means night of the broken glass in German.


Manfred,  now today known as Manny, heard the furniture being thrown around and glass breaking in their home for what seemed like hours.  The noise let up for a few minutes when the gang went up the stairs and destroyed the neighbor's home.  After about 40-45 minutes, the noise stopped.    Mrs Klepper and her neighbor unlocked the door and went upstairs.  When they entered the Klepper home, she said "Our place is a total disaster and so is our neighbors."    There was broken glass and dishes everywhere.  Since the Kleppers kept Kosher, they had three sets of dishes, not a single dish was left.  Their built-in dining room  buffet had glass doors, which were shattered, the drawers were pulled out and the silverware was dumped on the floor.  Not a single dish or glass was usable.  The furniture was broken, the beds were ripped apart, Glass shelves in the bedroom were torn down and the China and glass figurines were thrown on the floor and smashed to pieces.  The bedposts were broken. The place was uninhabitable.

There was a Catholic Convent and Orphanage, St Paulin, behind the Klepper home.  Shortly after the noise stopped, four nuns from the Convent knocked on the door, said that they had heard the noise, and wondered what happened.  After taking a look around they left and came back with four more nuns who brought brooms, shovels and buckets with them.    Manny's mother, her neighbor and the nuns began to clean up the mess.  It took them all night and part of the next day to clear out the debris from the two homes.  Manny and the neighbor children stayed in the cellar while the cleanup was taking place.  After the  two places were cleaned up, the nuns brought dishes and food for the families. 

The Porta Negra, an ancient Roman building in Trier

Manfred Klepper, Manny, as he is known, was born in Trier on November 18, 1931.  His parents lived in Mering, a small village outside of Trier, where they owned a general store. Most of his family was in the farming business, one side of the family raised cattle, the other side owned vineyards.  His grandparents lived in the city of Trier.  In 1937, Manny and his parents moved into their home in Trier.  Since the Nazi party and Hitler took control of Germany in 1933, life for the Jews became difficult.  There were boycotts of Jewish businesses and Jewish people were continually harassed.  In 1937, a large Nazi Rally was held in Trier.  The situation was getting more and more dangerous.   The Kleppers had relatives in the United States, so they decided to leave their home in Germany and come to America.  US foreign policy made it difficult for Jews to get permission to immigrate and it often took a long time to get the paper work together.  Manny's grandparents' and sister's papers came through first, and they left Germany in 1938.

Nazi Rally in Trier, 1937
  Manny Klepper is my brother-in-law.  He speaks about his Kristallnacht experiences  in his community.  His story continues in my next blog entry.