A Long Journey to School

Oldenburg Synagogue in Flames

"She was in shock."

"There was a point in 1936 when the girls were not allowed to attend the parochial school anymore. My Aunt Edie, who was the oldest, was almost through with school there, so I think they made an exception. My mother, and Aunt Hiddie, and Ilse, had to go to another school in Oldenburg.

They had to get up, my mother tells me, at 6:00 a.m. in the morning. They took their bicycles to the train station, which was a few blocks away from their house. And then they would take a train for about an hour to this community. Once they got there, they had to walk another maybe mile or so to get to the synagogue where the school was located.

On November 10, 1938, [Ruth] got up to go to school in Oldenberg, and her sister wasn’t feeling well, so she ended up having to take the train and go through the process of getting to Oldenburg herself, and she didn’t notice anything unusual when she was on the train, but when she started to approach the synagogue, it was in flames. And she was in shock. She said the building was almost burnt down, and then she heard the fire engines coming, so I believe they were told not to intervene until the buildings were almost gone. And she didn’t know what to do.

She looked around. She didn’t see anybody she knew, so she decided to go to the place where the rabbi had had his home, not too far from the synagogue, and she knocked on the door. A woman answered. She didn’t recognize who she was, but she thought it must be the rabbi’s housekeeper. And [my mother] said, “Well, I’ve come to go to school?” And she said, “Don’t you know what’s going on? Come in and we’ll talk about it.”

Well, my mother was 13 at the time, and of course this was just totally out of the ordinary. So the housekeeper asked her if she knew of anybody in her neighborhood in Cloppenburg that she could call that was not Jewish--because they had cut a lot of the telephone lines to the Jewish people-- that she could find out if everything was all right at her house. So my mother did comply, and she called the neighbor, and the woman answered, and she said, 'Your mother is home' and hung up the phone. And at the time it didn’t seem like anything unusual, because her father would have been at work, and the housekeeper was satisfied and sent her back home, telling her, you know, to be very careful.

While she was on the train, she noticed a lot of the Gestapo-- the S.S.-- the police there were bragging about things they had done. They had broken into a total of 7500 businesses throughout Germany, and crashed the glass, and that’s why it was called the “night of broken glass,” and they had looted the stores, and placed swastikas, and you know, symbols and slogans against the Jewish people-- don’t patronize them-- and so forth. They had arrested the men throughout the German community from-- I believe-- around 16 or 17 up, and of course she wanted to be very meek and fade into the seat."