KRISTALLNACHT: by survivor Werner Salinger

It is the earliest memory
of my life in Germany,
during the Nazi years,
when I was six and
we lived in Berlin’s
center, on the corner
of Uhland Strasse
and Kurfuerstendamm
in a large second floor
apartment which also
contained my orthodontist
mother’s dental practice.                    

Ludwig Uhland, poet and lawyer,
who was born, lived, and died in Tuebingen,
where daughter Lynn once studied,
could not possibly have imagined,
as he wrote his Fatherland poems,
that one day the street named
for him would be littered with
shards of broken glass from
the shattered store fronts
of the Jewish-owned businesses
across the street, so visible
from my second story perch.

Nor could he have imagined
the acrid smell of smoke
that smothered the neighborhood
that November day in 1938,
caused by the burning of the
synagogue just a block away,
the building intentionally torched,
along with many such others,                                                                                         
in retaliation for the murder,
the previous day, by a young Jewish                                                                                                      
Parisian man, of a German Embassy
staffer in neighboring France.                     

Becoming known as Kristallnacht,
or The Night of Broken Glass,
Kristallnacht was the moment
that Jews in Germany, especially
the three hundred thousand in Berlin,
realized it was high time to leave their
country to wherever in the world
they could find refuge…..and we did.
Movie mogul Carl Laemmle providing
the needed  Affidavit of Support, after
my uncle’s frantic urging, allowing us                              
to flee the country of our birth
from Berlin’s Lehrter Bahnhof, which since 1871
had witnessed the burning tears of many
departing families…..except, this time,
no one knew if we would ever meet

January 12th, 1939, the date of our
leaving, is deeply engraved in my memory,
as is February 12th, 1939, marking our
arrival in New York, and December 16th, 1951,
the day I returned to Germany on the troopship
ms Caalan, wearing USAF blue, calmly 
facing my expellers, thankful I had survived
the Holocaust, unlike Rudi and Renate,         
my two best childhood friends, who,
with their mother, had perished in
the gas or, perhaps with greater
mercy, were killed by a belching gun.

For three-plus years, as the Cold War
raged, I was stationed within a few
kilometers of Winston Churchill’s
Iron Curtain, in Hof/Saale, Germany,
protected from a Soviet invasion
by troops from the US Army’s 
1st Battalion, 2nd Armored Cavalry,
whose oft-sung fight song was
“The 1st is First in the 2nd and
the 2nd is Second to None!”    

Here we wrested information    
about the new Soviet Union  
from returning German war
prisoners, all of whom had been
a part of the rebuilding of the country
they and their comrades had destroyed.

They knew how long the runways were
in the new Soviet airfields, how thick
the walls were in the new factories                                                                                                                                                                                                 
what type of steel used in new bridges,
to be better prepared for the next war
coming with the new Soviet Union;
build it up, tear it down, build it up,
tear it down.

When the flow
of returning prisoners ended, we
switched to interrogating defectors,
who came from east of the Iron Curtain,
from East Germany, Poland, Hungary,
Czechoslovakia, to find the freedoms
they were denied at home.

And then, on the first weekend of 1953,
in a small room in Hof’s Theresienstein,
I spotted her sitting at a table
with four or five other pretty young
German women, and quickly realizing
she was the prettiest of them all,
asked her to dance…..and that dance
changed my life and hers as well, leading
to a wedding in Hof’s City Hall which in turn
led to almost 70 years of marriage and four
children, six grandchildren, five

All because the daughter of a German
soldier and the son of a Jewish refugee
family found love and a commitment   
to bring closure to each of their families
about the events of that period in the
world’s history that cost the human race
more than fifty million lives, six million
of them Jews like me.

Werner Salinger     15 June 2022

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