Saturday, December 7, 2013

Kristallnacht: One Boy's Story--The Conclusion

Manny Klepper was only six years old when he witnessed the terror of Kristallnacht.  His home on the Paulinestrasse in Trier, Germany was ransacked by Nazis on November 8, 1938, the beginning of the Holocaust. Manny's grandparents and sister had immigrated to the United States in 1937.  Visas to immigrate from Germany to any country were hard for Jews to get, especially those wanting to immigrate to the United States.  United States immigration laws were very restrictive in the 1930's due to unemployment caused by the Great Depression, isolationist policies and anti-Semitism.

Manny's family was fortunate to have family already in the United States, and connections with clout who could help expedite their applications.   They left Trier in early 1940, traveled to Berlin to get their final exit visas and flew to Moscow.  The Nazis controlled Western Europe, so traveling to the United States via steamship across the Atlantic Ocean was no longer possible.  The only was to get to the United States was to go east, through Russia,which was a neutral power from 1939-1941.  Russia had a non-aggression treaty with Hitler at that time, but that ended when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941.  Time was short, but nobody knew how short. 

The Moscow Train Station--the start of the Trans-Siberian Railroad.
The Trans-Siberian Railroad was sometimes called the Tsar's Railroad, since it was built in the reigns of Tsar Alexander III and his son Nicholas II.  It was started in 1891 and finished in 1916. and is still operating today.  It links Moscow, St Petersburg and Kiev, Ukraine, with Vladivostok in the east. It also has links with railroads in China, Mongolis and Korea. The railroad is 5735 miles long  (Moscow to Vladivostok) and 6380 miles (Moscow-Pyongyang,  North Korea).  It takes eight days to complete the trip from Moscow to Vladivostok and crosses 7 time zones.

The Trans-Siberian Railroad used steam locomotives when the Kleppers made their trip.

At the beginning of World War II, the Tran-Siberian Railroad was a major trade link between Germany and Japan, the main product transported was natural rubber from South East Asia. 
A few thousand German Jews were able to leave Germany via Russia and travel to China and Japan between 1939 and 1941.  Some stayed in China for the duration of the War, and eventually immigrated to the United States, others came to the United States through the Philippine Islands.

The Klepper family traveled from Moscow to Korea, via the Trans-Siberian Railroad.  Their trip continued by bus through Korea, and by boat from Korea to Japan. They stayed in Tokyo, Japan, for a few days.

The USS America in 1940

They boarded the USS America in Yokohama, Japan. Manny said that since his parents were sick during the voyage, the crew entertained him and the other children on board.  The voyage across the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco took five weeks.  They traveled from San Francisco to Chicago by train, arriving in the summer of 1940,  in time for Manny to start school in September 1940, which was his first day of school ever, since he was never allowed to attend school in Germany.