A Family's Story of Kristallnacht

Last Updated by Genealogy Roadshow Editor on
Magdeburg: Destroyed Jewish shop after Kristallnacht.
Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1972-033-39

History often serves as a reminder of the things we should and should not repeat as we move forward in our lives. We learn from our past experiences and either build upon them or avoid them altogether. Yet even when we learn from our mistakes it can be difficult, even impossible, to forget the pain that was inflicted upon us, or in regard to Genealogy Roadshow, our ancestors. And in the case of the Holocaust, a shameful time in history, the world discovered just how much physical and emotional damage could be caused under the rule of a single dictator and how heartless humans could be to one another. 

Episode 6: Featured Story

The unspeakable acts committed by Nazi Germany against Jews in Europe lasted from 1933 to 1945. It’s difficult to comprehend how such destruction and inhumanity occurred for so many years, but sadly it’s a part of the world’s history that can’t be ignored. And for some, like Deborah Rosenbaum, it’s a time that will live on as a result of her family’s own experience living under Adolf Hitler’s reign.

Rosenbaum, who joined host Joshua Taylor in Providence, Rhode Island, came to the show eager to learn more about her father’s family during their time in Germany. While she had no doubts that her relatives experienced persecution as a Jewish family living in the country while it was under the Third Reich, the specific details of their escape were not as clear.

Kristallnacht, November 9th, 1938

Looking back Rosenbaum learned that her grandparents were still in Germany during Kristallnacht, also known as the Night of Broken Glass. An evening of chaos that left the Jewish community broken, Nazi soldiers stormed the streets, destroying approximately 1000 synagogues and over 7000 Jewish businesses, as well as killing 91, according to Taylor.

Over 30,000 Jews were also arrested and sent to concentration camps. Among those detained was Rosenbaum’s grandfather who had owned a department store at the time of the attacks and was sent to a concentration camp known as Buchenwald.

From a Concentration Camp to a Ghetto

Two days before his release however, his wife paid for a stamp in her passport that would allow the family to travel abroad. They left Germany in 1938, making their way to Italy for a brief period of time before escaping to Shanghai. With many countries restricting entry to immigrants, many Jewish families fled to Shanghai where a visa for entry was not required.

Yet in a sad and unfortunate twist of fate, the Rosenbaums were forced to live in a Shanghai ghetto created by Japanese troops that patrolled the area 24 hours a day, even rationing food and enforcing a curfew. It wasn’t until September of 1945, the end of the war, that the ghetto was liberated.

Rosenbaum’s family, including her father who was born 8 months later, eventually traveled to America as part of a quota of Jewish families that were granted permission to enter the country. In 1949, her grandparents became permanent residents of the United States.

For more episode highlights, visit our Extras page. 

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