On the evening of Nov. 9, 1938, 16-year-old Hannah Deutch went to bed early at her family’s home in Bochum, Germany. “During the night, the bed started to shake,” Deutch said. “When I woke, the whole room was like sunshine.”
The light in Deutch’s bedroom came from the synagogue across the street, engulfed in flames.
Kristallnacht, meaning “night of broken glass” in German, had begun.
For two days, the full fury of the Nazi regime was unleashed on the Jews of Germany and occupied Austria, with thousands of storefront windows smashed, hundreds of synagogues burned and at least 92 people murdered. “I wanted to go to the windows to look,” Deutch said. “But my mother wouldn’t let me.”
Even before Kristallnacht, the vice of Adolf Hilter’s 1930s racial laws had been steadily tightening around the Jews of Germany.
First, writing appeared on the windows of Jewish-owned shops telling Germans to stay away. Then Jewish children could no longer attend school. Soon even a trip to the movies was forbidden. “It’s like everything stopped,” Deutch said.
Sitting in her Jackson Heights living room just before Rosh Hashanah in September, Deutch recounted her experiences in Nazi Germany, her escape via the Kindertransport to England and her service in the British military as a nurse during the Battle of London in World War II. Emigrating with her husband to Canada in 1944, Deutch has called Queens home for the past 47 years.
But it was Kristallnacht, 70 years ago this Sunday, that Deutch recounted in the most vivid detail. The piles of shattered glass, the orange light of the fires and the black police vans carting off the Jewish men, were all memories unfaded by the merciless march of seven decades. “I can still see it all so clearly,” she said.
Along with other Holocaust survivors, Deutch plans to solemnly commemorate the events of Nov. 9 and 10, grieving for the lost and giving thanks that she and her mother escaped the fate that befell millions of Jews throughout Europe.
But her focus isn’t solely on the past.
As former County Commander of the Jewish War Veterans, Deutch worked as an advocate for the increasing number of female soldiers serving in the U.S. military. “The armed forces are slowly coming around,” Deutch said. “But it is still dangerous for women — there is still plenty of harrassment.”
Shortly after relinquishing her post at the JWV earlier this year, Deutch received an award from Councilwoman Helen Sears (D-Jackson Heights) for her service to veterans, past and present.
And with Veterans Day fast approaching, Deutch looked fondly back at the camaraderie among those who fought last century’s war against fascism. “They call us the ‘Greatest Generation’ for a reason,” she said.
A Kristallnacht commemoration will take place at the Student Union at Queensborough Community College in Bayside on Monday, Nov. 10 from 7 to 9 p.m. For more information, call (718) 286-2818.