Regarding Kristallnacht in Berlin on November 9, 1938, it was a Wednesday, gray and cold, I was seventeen years old, and lived at the Auerbach Orphanage, my dad was deceased and my mom was heading to an old folks home which was not a suitable place to raise a child.
As the most senior boy in the orphanage, I had certain privileges. As a lover of classical music and drama, I was permitted to occasionally attend performances in the evening. That night, I went by bus to the State Opera, not a long ride, for a performance of “Tristan und Isolde” conducted by the super-Nazi, Hermann Goering. I returned about 1 AM. Everything was quiet.
Later that night, the alarm of fire engines was heard, increasing its frequency and noise. At 6 AM, a woman counselor awakened us in our dormitory hall, ordering us quietly to sit down at the foot of our beds. No word was spoken, no questions were asked. No one knew what was going on outside. Five hours later, we were permitted to walk to the dining hall for a combination of breakfast and lunch.
Much later the story unfolded. The male staff director and the counselors had been warned that the Nazis planned an Akzion against the Jews for the killing of Ernst von Rath, a German diplomat at the embassy in Paris, by a teenaged boy. Apparently the teenager was responding to the sudden expulsion of his parents from Germany among thousands of other undocumented Polish Jews. On this night synagogues were to be burned, cemeteries desecrated, schools vandalized, males over eighteen confined to concentration camps.
Uniformed Nazis had entered our extensive building complex to set the synagogue on fire. But by divine providence, they found our daily chapel and not the main sanctuary which was located on the third floor. They closed the windows, dismantled the electric switch, turned off the Eternal Light (gas fed), and then turned on the gas again. Having left, they returned the keys to the police station nearby where they had obtained them.
About two hours later, a policeman stopped by, opening the front gate and restoring the keys to the front office. Promptly, a woman counselor went to the chapel, opened the windows and repaired the switch. The disaster of blowing up the building complex with a hundred children, 6 to 17 years of age, several women counselors, and kitchen maintenance staff had been avoided.