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Eyewitness recalls ‘Night of Broken Glass’
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Eyewitness recalls ‘Night of Broken Glass’

Fred Heyman still remembers walking to school in Berlin the morning after Kristallnacht and feeling the shattered glass from vandalized Jewish shops under his feet.

As a nine-year-old, he said, he had a child’s reaction: “I was grateful my parents didn’t own a store because I would have had to help them clean it up,” said Heyman. Kristallnacht was a series of brutal attacks across Germany and Austria on Nov. 9-10, 1938, during which synagogues were torched, Jewish businesses looted, and Jews were murdered or hauled off to concentration camps. The “Night of Broken Glass” is commonly regarded as the start of the Holocaust.

Heyman spoke Nov. 10 during the 75th anniversary commemoration at Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth.

When he arrived at school the day after the attacks, Heyman said, he was told by a German policeman, “‘Go home, Jewish pig. There’s no school for you today.’”

As he walked back, he smelled smoke; excited at the thought of watching firemen in action, he walked in its direction. “As I came around the corner I could see my synagogue in flames,” he said. The firefighters, concerned only with protecting the surrounding buildings, watched it burn.

That would be the last time that Heyman would attend school in Germany. His parents hired tutors, two sisters, to teach their son. However, several weeks later, he went to their apartment, only to find that they were gone, turned in by a neighbor for teaching Jews.

For Heyman and his family, Germany’s transformation from democratic republic to the Third Reich was shocking. “Jews were accepted like they are in the United States,” said Heyman. All that changed after passage of the Nuremberg laws in 1933.

Soon Jews were forbidden from owning radios, going to the movies, or riding a bicycle, although Heyman openly flouted some rules.

He believes his family, who stayed in Berlin throughout the war, was saved both by luck and circumstance. His father was a decorated World War I veteran. His mother, who converted to Judaism when she married, was nonetheless regarded as a German national.

They survived waves of Allied bombing raids — Jews were forbidden to go into bomb shelters. His father was once arrested with a group of other intermarried Jewish men, but released after other German women joined the men’s wives in protest.

Once, hearing the Gestapo was on their way up, his mother had him go to bed early, telling the two Nazis at the door her son was sick in bed. The two men walked into his bedroom — one felt his forehead — and left, saying they would be back for the boy another time. They never returned.

In 1947, with the rest of his father’s family dead, the surviving Heymans came to the United States, finally settling in Milwaukee. After two years in high school, Heyman was drafted, became a radio operator, and was sent to Korea.

He attended the University of Wisconsin on the GI Bill and got a job with Bell Labs-AT&T, eventually being transferred to New Jersey, where he lives in Morristown.

Heyman married and has two children and three grandchildren. “My grandchildren have choices,” he said. “I never had choices.”

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