Why Wasn't Our Family Store Looted on Kristallnacht ?
Updated: Nov 9
Why Wasn’t Our Family Store Looted on Kristallnacht?
This picture shows Nazi soldiers standing in front of the store our family owned and built in Salzburg, Austria. The signs in the window say Jundenschaft, Jewish business, and called on Austrians to boycott this business as part of the Nuremberg laws. Yet on this day, Nov. 9-10 on Kirstallnacht when 1400 synagogues, 7000 Jewish stores, and 29 Department Stores were vandalized if not destroyed, this store was not touched. This was because before Kristallnacht the Nazis had come to my grandfather and gave him an ultimatum. He was forced to sell the store to them at a nominal price. My grandmother said to him let’s just pack up the car and leave with whatever we can. He refused, reminding her that he had served in the Austro-Hungarian army in the cavalry and was an Austrian. After the store was sold he was given the offer to come back and run the store as an employee, which he did. Neither his cooperation in selling the store, nor his going back to help run it, nor his distinguished army service in WWI prevented him from being deported to Dachau on Kristallnacht along with the other 30,000 Jewish men arrested on that night. Dachau was not yet a death camp, it had been a camp where political prisoners were held since 1933. That does not mean there were humane conditions. One of my teachers who came from Germany told me that during the 6 weeks his father was held there his weight went from 150 lbs. to 90 lbs.
My grandmother was obviously distraught and ran into my grandfather’s former colleague from the cavalry who he used to get together with regularly on Thursday afternoons at the beer garden. He asked her why she looked so worried. She told him Isadore had been taken. He told her ‘don’t worry, I will take care of it.’ It seemed this man’s son was the head of Gestapo in Salzburg. So my grandfather was freed, probably with some well-placed bribes, and he was brought back to Salzburg. His friend told him that now he really would have to leave Austria. He gave him a letter from his son the head of the Gestapo, and they were sent to Gestapo headquarters in Vienna.
My uncle told me the story of how they came to a baroque palace in Vienna which had been taken over by the Nazis. They then entered a large ornate room with an enormous gilded desk. Behind the desk was a small man. He looked at the letter and sneered, telling the aide on one to side to get this dirty Jew an exit visa, and the one on the other side to get him a train ticket and to get rid of this dirty Jew. Fortunately, at that time the policy of making Germany and Austria Judenrein, free of Jews, was to send Jews away if they had somewhere to go. There was a branch of the store in Paris, so the plan was to flee to Paris where their oldest son was already in college, and to run the business from there. My mother and her younger brother were put onto a Kindertransport. These train transports took children to England which had opened up its doors to receive 10,000 Jewish children. The little man sitting behind the desk who sent them to their freedom Adolf Eichmann, who was the individual who orchestrated the death of 6 million Jews.
Eventually they would make it to the United States after two years of fleeing and hiding in Vichy France. So the family store was not looted on Kristallnacht because it was not ours. After the war, my grandparents went back to reclaim the store and their home. Ironically my grandmother refused to stay overnight in Austria, so they stayed across the border in Munich, Germany. I do not think she was thinking this, but at least Germany took accountability for what they did, and paid reparations. Austria never did so, claiming they were ‘invaded’ by Germany. The United States was a great home for our family for 76 years, and was one more step on the way to Israel where we arrived a year ago after making Aliyah. Am Yisrael Chai, the Jewish people lives.