I was eight years old when Hitler came to power on 30 January 1933. I knew that my parents and other family members had hoped that this wouldn’t happen. They were hoping Paul von Hindenberg would step in and that the Nazis wouldn’t remain in power for very long. (When Hindenberg died in 1935, I sobbed because I thought he was a good man.) Although I listened in on my family’s conversations, I was not able to understand the seriousness and lurking danger of this turn of events.
But that would soon change. On Saturday 1 April, there was a boycott of Jewish shops and I now felt there was a concrete threat to me, my family and all other Jews. On that day in Kippenheim, the Brown Shirts of the Nazi S.A. barred German Christians from entering the shops of Jewish owners, including my father’s dry goods business.When I asked my parents why this was happening, they tried to reassure me by saying not to worry and that the boycott was for that day only.
But the growing anti-Semitism clearly worried my parents. And after Hitler’s election as chancellor, they finally gave up all hope of a positive change and immediately began to consider leaving Germany. Getting out of Germany was one thing; but being received into another country was very difficult. Like thousands of other Jews, my parents were increasingly more desperate to find a relative or friend in a foreign country who would be willing to sponsor them as immigrants.
Given my age, I still did not realize the depth of the intimidation and violence that characterized the Nazis. I listened to Hitler screaming on the radio with his hateful rants and bluster. But I could never really understand what he was saying. My parents tried to protect me from grasping the seriousness of Hitler’s invective, but I eventually heard and learned things that made me realize that the situation was deteriorating and becoming frightening. For example, I heard the phrase “concentration camp,” and I just knew it was a bad place.