Holocaust Educational Trust Blog

A space for featured guest bloggers and members of the Holocaust Educational Trust team to comment and reflect on timely issues.

Memories of Kristallnacht

In this special blog to mark the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, we are privileged to be able to share the memories of Holocaust survivor Freddie Knoller, who was a 17-year-old living with his family in Vienna at the time of the pogrom. The following extract, taken from Freddie's memoir Living with the Enemy, vividly highlights the terror of the night and the contrasting roles of ordinary people in the violence.


 

On the night of 9 November Eric [Freddie’s brother] answered the telephone to our neighbours the Aments, whose apartment on the opposite side of our building overlooked Leopoldgasse and the Polnische Tempel [a synagogue]. ‘The synagogue is in flames!’ one of them shouted down the line. 'Yes, yes, there are fire engines, but they are only spraying the other buildings… The SA are attacking people in the street… It’s terrible… What are we going to do?' That question again.

My parents bolted the doors and turned off the lights. We crept to the window, to witness the sky burning red with the flames of what we know must be our synagogue. At midnight Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, came to our building. We heard a noise from the courtyard. Rushing to the window of our darkened home we saw Mr Hagmann [a non-Jewish neighbour and former family friend] talking to SA men, who then entered our building. We stepped away from the window in terror. Mother moaned, 'Will they come here? Will they come here?' And all we could do was wait and listen.

A period of silence followed, which ended with a violent crash of glass from somewhere below. A woman screamed and we heard a dull thud in the courtyard. We rushed back to the window and saw the dark shape of a person lying below. A wailing woman ran out into the courtyard and fell upon the body. Mr Hagmann emerged with the SA. Soon an ambulance arrived and took the body away.

I don’t know how long we sat together in the dark, or whether we even spoke. At some point we must have simply gone to bed.

The next morning I spoke to Mr Hagmann, who wore his habitual swastika armband. 'It was Mr Epstein who died,' he told me. 'He tried to escape and jumped out of the window.' I knew the Epsteins by sight. They ran their wholesale clothing business from their first-floor apartment.

'Is that what the SA told you?' I relied, 'that a man just threw himself out of a window?'

Mr Hagmann looked down. 'Perhaps he was helped,' he murmured. Then he added, ‘Some of them wanted to go higher in your building, but I told them that only an old couple lived on your floor.' On behalf of the Epsteins no such deceit had been possible. By the door of our apartment block in Untere Augartenstrasse their address plate stated: 'Robes et Modes bei Epstein.'

The embers of that terrible night were still hot the next day. Eric was in the street and saw the SA arresting Jews. One of the SA made towards him and Eric fled into our building, where he hid in a coal bunker, covering himself with as much coal as possible. Later that afternoon, he ventured outside, though only to the front of our building. He was talking to a friend who wore a skullcap, when a Hitler Youth appeared from nowhere and smashed their heads together. A Christian family observed this incident and took Eric in to clean him up. 

 

From Freddie Knoller with John Landaw, Living with the Enemy: My Secret Life on the Run from the Nazis (Metro Publishing) © Freddie Knoller and John Landaw. Reproduced with kind permission of the authors. Click here to buy copies of the book.

Image: a synagogue burning in Vienna on Kristallnacht © Yad Vashem

Following the pogrom, Freddie emigrated to Belgium and later to France where he joined the Resistance during the German occupation. However, he was betrayed to the Gestapo and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1943. Freddie survived more than a year in Auschwitz, before being taken first to Mittelbau-Dora and then Bergen-Belsen, where he was liberated by British troops in April 1945. Freddie's parents, who had stayed in Vienna after Kristallnacht, were deported to the Terezín Ghetto in October 1942 and then two years later to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where they were murdered.

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