Wisconsin Survivors of the Holocaust
A rabbi recalls Kristallnacht in Berlin
Rabbi Manfred Swarsensky describes watching his synagogue burn in 1938
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"Well, at about two o'clock in the morning of November tenth to eleventh — no ninth to tenth, the telephone ring and the Shamash, Mr. Jacob Gera, a Polish Jew who was the resident sexton of the Synagogue Prinzregentstrasse, called me, and shouted over the phone, 'Our synagogue is burning!'
Then, I got up, ran to the synagogue, pushed my hat way down in my face so as not to be recognized by anyone, and there I saw German SS troopers pour gasoline into the interior of the building and over the walls, and also German firemen stand on adjoining building so as to prevent that they be burnt down and so they poured water over those buildings so as to keep them cool so to speak.
And then I ran, closer toward dawn, to the other synagogue, which was not too far. The Fasanenstrasse Synagogue, which at one time the Kaiser had visited and to which he had contributed his Kadiner Kacheln, meaning the tiles from the royal factory in a certain city of Kadin or village. And there I saw the same picture, three huge domes — Prinzregentstrasse had only one — huge domes, and the fire rising from the pews up into the copulas, and a horrible sight. The inside of the synagogue was all marble and therefore it didn't burn. [pauses, sighs] So, anyway, where was I? So, then I saw that spectacle at the Fasanenstrasse, too.
Following that, there was perhaps the greatest feeling of depression all over the city and the community and the poor Jews just didn't know what to do. Everything was disrupted, no communication, nothing. So what people did, this must have been the tenth, I think, yeah, from the ninth to the tenth, correct. What people did was just roam around and through the city and fearing that they might be arrested, because outside of Berlin, in smaller communities in the country, Jews had already been arrested during Kristallnacht, which did not take place in Berlin. There, arrests came the next evening."
Swarsensky Interview, Tape 10, Side 1
Transcript page 159 (PDF, 846 KB)