Seton Hill welcomes survivors at Kristallnacht interfaith remembrance |

Seton Hill welcomes survivors at Kristallnacht interfaith remembrance

Patrick Varine
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Seton Hill University students light six candles to represent the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust during the Service of Remembrance on Tuesday for the Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Holocaust survivor Ruth Drescher speaks during the Service of Remembrance for the Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019, at Saint Joseph Chapel on the campus of Seton Hill University in Greensburg.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Rabbi Walter Jacob speaks during the Service of Remembrance at St. Joseph Chapel on the campus of Seton Hill University in Greensburg.

For Walter Jacob, Nov. 8, 1938, was largely a day like any other. He was 8 and living in Augsburg, one of Germany’s oldest cities.

That night, he walked to the nearby synagogue, where his father was the rabbi, and took a peek inside.

“I didn’t realize that it would be for the last time,” Jacob said.

By the next evening, Jacob and other members of the German Jewish community would find themselves caught up in what would come to be known as “Kristallnacht,” or “the Crystal Night,” alluding to shattered glass from the windows of Jewish-owned stores and synagogues destroyed by civilians and paramilitary forces. The attacks were a precursor to the horrors of the Holocaust.

Jacob was the featured speaker at Seton Hill University’s interfaith service of remembrance for Kristallnacht on Tuesday night, along with two other survivors.

But even as Kristallnacht was beginning in his hometown, Jacob — who today is rabbi emeritus at Pittsburgh’s Rodef Shalom congregation, part of a family line of rabbis stretching back four centuries — did not fully grasp what was happening.

“I woke up the next morning to see fire trucks. It was so exciting for an 8-year-old: Fire trucks outside!” Jacob said. “But then a group of people came into our apartment and said to my father, ‘You set fire to your building, and you’re going to blame us for it.’”

That was the last time Jacob saw his father for more than a month.

His father, along with scores of Jewish men, were “arrested, for no crime, and taken away in whatever clothes they had on,” Jacob said.

Jacob said his father was essentially forced to sell his shop in Augsburg for 20,000 Deutsche marks, which would be placed into an account, able to be withdrawn by the family at a rate of 50 marks per day.

As the family waited to find out if they would ever see Jacob’s father again, his mother stood in line at the U.S. consulate for two days, only to be told passage to America could take up to two years.

“That was not good news for us,” Jacob said.

His father was allowed to return home two weeks later, and the family began planning to emigrate to America. Jacob’s father was able to book passage to England after receiving special permission as a Jewish scholar but could not bring his family.

By March 1939, Jacob said, his mother saw German tanks on the roads leading to Czechoslovakia and other countries.

“Would war begin? We didn’t know,” he said. “But she picked up the phone and called my father in England. She said, ‘We’re coming tomorrow,’ and hung up the phone.”

By that time, Jacob said, daily life in his hometown “was impossible for Jews.” But even as they sailed across the English Channel, the Jacob family did not realize the full extent of what was happening in their home country.

That changed with the accidental delivery of a copy of the New York Times.

“That was how we found out this was happening everywhere,” Jacob said.

The family reached the U.S. in 1940, and Jacob’s father spent the next two years helping his former congregants reunite after being dispersed all over the world as they fled Nazi Germany.

For Jacob, the annual anniversary of Kristallnacht produces conflicting emotions.

“It is not a day of celebration,” he said. “It is a day of warning and caution, but we were alive, and that is what we celebrate.”

Below, see video from speaker Ruth Drescher of Pittsburgh, whose husband is a survivor of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting last year in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Local | Westmoreland
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.