Comparing days that my father and I won’t ever forget
– November 9, 2014
November 9, 1938 was Kristallnacht, the night when discrimination escalated into a Holocaust. In Germany, they write the day as 9.11.38. The day comes before the month. In America, we write September 11th as 9/11. While talking with my dad I realized that his 9.11 was like my 9/11. They were both days where we can remember every minute.
My dad went to bed on his 9.11 in his apartment and the next night he was sleeping in Dachau Concentration Camp. He was just 18 years old and was one of the youngest and shortest of the 20,000 Jewish men arrested that day. He often tells his story about the Gestapo waking him up and his trip to the jail and then town center of Augsburg Germany where he boarded the bus to Dachau.
I cancelled my 9:00 am meeting on 9/11 on the 88th floor of the World Trade Center the day before when I realized it was an election run-off day and moved the meeting to that Friday. But I can tell you every minute of that day from watching the planes go into the buildings, to wondering if my apartment (about 1,000 feet away) would still be habitable, to sleeping on the floor of my office that night.
Both 9.11 and 9/11 were days that changed history in our lifetimes. After Kristallnacht my dad knew that he had to flee Germany and that the treatment of Jews was now horrific. After 9/11 I watched security beefed up into every facet of life and our way at looking at suicide terrorists came home to my neighborhood in Lower Manhattan. I heard of Kamikazis in World War II and suicide bombers in the Middle East, but never really thought that 2 planes would fly into buildings in front of my eyes. I didn’t get to watch the day on television, I had to watch it as it in real time.
So the numbers of 9/11 keep on repeating in history. November 9th is also the day of the NYC first blackout, and also when the Berlin Wall came down and when the Kaiser left office. September 11th is also be a day the I will never forget.
The story doesn’t end here. My dad not only survived his time in Dachau but was released when he got a temporary transit visa to London and then got to New York on Thanksgiving Day 1939. He joined the U.S. Army and returned to Europe with the Third Infantry who liberated Dachau and he was with the first Americans to liberate his hometown of Augsburg. Coincidences seem to run in our family.
My parents came to my Synagogue (CBST – Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, New York’s LGBT Synagogue) where on the Friday night before Kristallnacht we transform our Shabbat service back to Germany 1938 and sing the prayers with German melodies in major key with an organ, and a combined choir of CBST and a local Catholic Church’s choir. We not only remember the horror of Kristallnacht and the escalation of discrimination into the Holocaust, but we also remember the lives of the German Jews and their culture for the centuries prior to the Nazis.
My parents were called up to light the Shabbat candles. My parents were amazed to see all the people at my Synagogue and to recall the melodies being song. This was probably one of the only places where a Holocaust Survivor could hear the service being sung to the melodies of composers such as Salomon Sulzer and Louis Lewandowski, and the Kiddish sung to the melody of Kurt Weill. I was kvelling for my parents for schlepping into the City, and for my Synagogue for how much it has grown since my mother to me to go to CBST in 1973.
My favorite quote of the night came when my mother turned to me and said, “Are all these people gay?” Since there were over 200 congregants there. I whispered, “No, there are about 10 straight people here too. We don’t discriminate.”