Sunday, January 4, 2015

Kristallnacht: One Boy's Story--An Education Lost and Found

The Klepper Family, Ottilie, Manfred, Charlotte, Moritz

Nothing was going well in Mehring for the Klepper family. Mehring was the home of the Klepper family, a village on the Mosel River, near the city of Trier in western Germany. The Klepper’s, Ottile and Moritz, their children, Charlotte and Manfred were Jewish with deep roots in the Mosel region.  They ran a general store in the village, a business once owned by Ottille’s first husband. He fought for Germany and was wounded in World War I, but that meant nothing to the Nazi controlled government that ran Mehring.  It took the Klepper’s home and store so the family moved into a building owned by Otillie’s parents in Trier.  

Merhring (in red) is on the Mosel River, in western Germany

Ever since Hitler and the Nazi Party gained control of the government in 1933, everyday life was getting more and more difficult for the Jewish people of Germany. The Great Depression caused serious world wide economic problems, which lead to the election that gave control of the government of Germany to the Nazi party in 1933.  Democracy ended in Germany when Hitler became Chancellor.  Germany was divided into districts, each one headed by a person appointed by and responsible only to Hitler.

Changes came quickly. In 1933, the owners of the Kaufhaus Hass, a fashion house in Trier, Albert and Max Haas, were taken into “protective custody” and later jailed.  Members of the Communist and Social Democratic political parties were arrested and tortured. Jewish businesses were boycotted and Jewish children were harassed in school. The goal of Gustav Simon, the Nazi appointed director of Trier, was to make the area a model of the Nazi state. In 1937 Hitler visited Trier, the name of the square around the Porta Nigra, built by the Romans, was changed from the Porta Nigra Platz to the Adolph Hilter Platz.  By then all Catholic youth organizations were banned and Jewish children were not allowed in public schools. By November of 1938, all Jewish owned businesses were “aryanized.”  The local police were replaced by the SS and Gestapo, members of the Nazi Party; the SS wearing brown shirts, the Gestapo wearing blue.

Nazi Rally in Trier, 1937

Jewish families began to leave Trier, when the Nazis came to power, some moved to Holland, others left for the United States.  Otille’s sister and brother-in-law left for Chicago in 1935.  It was getting harder and harder for Jews to get exit papers from the German government and difficult to get residence visas from foreign governments. After a long wait, Otilie’s parents and sister got their papers and left Trier for the United States in 1938.  The Kleppers had applied for exit visas and permits to immigrate to the United States, but nothing had worked out yet.

Manfred Klepper turned six in November 1938.  He should have been in school, but no Jewish children were allowed in public school.  Synagogues stepped in and expanded their religious schools to teach Jewish children regular school subjects.  This ended on November 9, 1938, the first day of the Kristallnacht, “The Night of the Broken Glass.”  After that, it was  too dangerous to leave the house.  Manfred’s mother left only to visit the City Hall to check on the status of the family’s exit papers. His father Moritz disappeared. All the shopping and errands were taken care of by Anna, the family housekeeper.  She became their link to the outside world.
Read Manfred's eye witness story of the Kristallnacht

News off the Kristallnacht in the Cincinnati Enquirer, Nov, 1938

 A small school with only three pupils was started in the Klepper home. Ottilie and the woman upstairs who lived upstairs were the teachers, with assistance from the Sisters from the convent behind their house.  The Sisters gave the assignments to Anna and came over at night to teach reading, writing and math.  They brought books for the children to read, textbooks and school supplies.  When the assignments were completed, Anna took them over to the convent to be marked.  This continued for a year, until 1940 when the Klepper’s exit papers finally came through and they were able to leave Germany. By the end of that year, Manfred could read and write German and had mastered the basics of math.