Survivor recalls 'Night of Broken Glass'

Renatta Signorini
| Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Fritz Ottenheimer couldn't understand why his father was being arrested by Gestapo agents on the morning of Nov. 10, 1938.

A barrage of thoughts ran through the 13-year-old's mind on the second day of widespread violence against Jews, synagogues and Jewish businesses.

“Where would they take him, what would they do to him, will we ever see him again ... we did not know what was happening to us or why,” Ottenheimer said.

The 88-year-old Pittsburgh man spoke on Tuesday night of his memories of Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” at a remembrance service held by the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education at Seton Hill University. Ottenheimer was one of four Holocaust survivors who were acknowledged during the interfaith service attended by more than 100 people.

The service marked the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, when on Nov. 9 and 10, 1938, Nazis looted hundreds of Jewish-owned businesses and destroyed 267 synagogues, resulting in the deaths of 91 Jews and the arrest of 30,000 Jewish men.

Ottenheimer's father, who fought in World War I for Germany, spent one month in a concentration camp and was released. Six months later, the family fled to the United States.

“It was just in time because only three-and-a-half months later, World War II broke out,” said Ottenheimer, who is the author of “Escape and Return: Memories of Nazi Germany.”

Ottenheimer would find himself back in his home country of Germany near the end of the war, this time as a soldier in the U.S. Army, he said.

Ottenheimer encouraged the audience to not allow injustices be done to others.

“We must remember, as we return to our normal lives, that when people are being mistreated, we must get involved,” he said.

Anti-semitism flourished in the early 1930s when Adolf Hitler took over as chancellor of Germany. His regime introduced anti-Jewish policies that eventually led to the Holocaust, the systematic genocide of 6 million Jews.

Other survivors present for the service were Pittsburgh residents Yolanda Willis, Shulamit Bastacky and Solange Lebovitz.

Bastacky said she has been attending the service for about 20 years and always finds it “very touching” to be accepted into a Catholic chapel. The service featured the lighting of candles in remembrance of the millions of victims while readers offered insight into the terror Jews faced during Kristallnacht.

University freshman Max Mendler sang in Hebrew and English a prayer many Jews recited as they were being led to their death. Mendler is the grandson of Robert Mendler, who survived six years in 10 concentration camps across Europe during World War II.

Robert Mendler died in 2009 at age 84. He lived in Latrobe.

Seton Hill established its center for Holocaust education in November 1987 with the commemoration of Kristallnacht.

“We at Seton Hill are convinced that we must never forget the Holocaust and its lessons,” said professor James Paharik.

Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or

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