Peter's story

My education, and memories of Kristallnacht - the night of broken glass

Photograph of young Peter I was born in February 1921. After the normal 4 years in primary school I was enrolled in 1932 in a local State High School (Gymnasium). But about a year later a new Nazi law was passed allowing only the children of Jewish front-line soldiers in the first World War to attend German State schools, including universities. This did not include private educational establishments, for example schools or colleges run by churches or recognized charitable organizations.

I was obliged to leave my High School because my father had not been a front-line soldier during the war. My education continued in a privately owned High School. I can clearly recall occasions during my time at this school when I was bullied, taunted, discriminated against as well as occasionally verbally and sometimes also physically abused, by teachers and classmates alike. Jewish boys had to sit at the back of the classroom and the teachers' markings on our homework were, without exception, low simply because we were Jewish. At best we were treated as 'non-persons'. Most, but not all, non-Jewish boys had joined the Hitler Youth organisation. Those who had not were careful not to show their sympathies towards their Jewish classmates, for fear of coming in for some rough treatment themselves. What was most disconcerting and humiliating was the daily obligatory routine in class of having to greet the teachers with an outstretched right arm, mouthing "Heil Hitler" and having to listen to the singing of virulent anti-Semitic Nazi songs. My memories are not the happiest! Of course, my parents tried their best to balance my experiences at school with a normal loving family life at home. I cannot recall that politics or particular Nazi excesses were ever discussed, presumably because they wanted to 'protect' me from such events. Those were pre-TV days!

I left High School in 1937, at the age of 16. Further education in Germany was no longer an option. By this time it had also become clear that things were getting progressively worse, although hardly any German Jew could foresee the ultimate horror of the Holocaust. I know that my parents applied for a visa for all of us to emigrate to the USA. We obtained the necessary affidavit from an American relative, but our allocated quota number in the queue of families awaiting USA immigration visas meant that we would have had to wait for years. This annual visa quota was strictly limited to a relatively few would-be immigrants from Germany.

In October 1937 I started work as an apprentice in a brewery, to learn a trade which I might be able to follow anywhere in the world. The brewery was in an old castle in the country, about 50 miles outside Munich. Then, at the beginning of November 1938 I enrolled as a student in a privately owned Brewery College in Munich.

The events of 9th November 1938 put an end to all our plans. My father had left for his office at 7 a.m. that morning. My mother answered a telephone call a little later, when a man at the other end of the telephone warned her of appalling things which were about to happen to Jews. He urged her and the family to get out of Munich fast. My mother, sister and I set off in our car to pick up my father at the office. At first, true to form, my father was quite adamant and insisted on staying, but eventually my mother persuaded him to leave. It was decided that I should go to the college, as usual, whilst my father, mother and sister would continue by car to the brewery where I had previously worked. The brewery was at that time owned by a Jewish family friend.

Following the morning's lectures at the college I went home for lunch but was told by our elderly housekeeper that I should not stay because the Nazi S.A. storm-troopers had twice been to the flat during the morning, looking for my father and me. The housekeeper urged me to leave by the back stairs, fearing they would return. This was sound advice as I found out subsequently, because the Nazis in fact turned up again at the front door a little later. I decided to catch a train to join my parent at the brewery in the country. When I got there I found that they had already left again. But that is another story. There was nowhere else for me to go but to catch a train again and to return to Munich. I made my way to my grandmother's flat, where I arrived around midnight. My mother answered the bell and greeted me with disbelief. Apparently armed S.A. men had been watching the outside my grandmother's block of flats all day and all evening, looking for my two uncles, who had long since jumped over their ground-floor balcony at the back of the house, and over garden walls. They found refuge with non-Jewish friends. The S.A. men probably had got tired of hanging around on a freezing November night and had left by the time I arrived shortly after midnight.

We stayed with my grandmother for another day or two and then returned home. By then the wholesale arrest of Jews who had been taken to Dachau concentration camp, the burning and looting of synagogues, the smashing up and ransacking of Jewish homes as well as other previously well planned Nazi atrocities, committed during the previous 24 hours, had come to an end. We now know this as KRISTALLNACHT - the night of broken glass. Our family was more fortunate than most. A few days after my 18th birthday, with an immigration visa in my passport, I arrived in England.

Peter Sinclair
2nd October, 2000

Peter also tells the story of his father's beating and public humiliation by Nazi thugs.

Stories Map Food ELDERS Links