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The Great German Pogrom on November 9, 1938 – Kristallnacht

The book saved by Pinczower on November 10th, 1938

The book saved by Pinczower on November 10th, 1938. This is the book Pinczower later sent to its author, S.Y. Agnon. One can still see the stains on the book, caused during the looting of the Jewish bookstore in Berlin.

After a Jewish young man, Herschel Grynszpan, shot a low-ranking German diplomat in Paris on November 3, 1938 – apparently in reaction to his parents’ deportation from Germany to Poland – the Nazis took advantage of the act and organized a general pogrom against Jews all over Germany. There are testimonies that Nazi leaders gave instructions to the press to greatly exaggerate the murder in Paris. Meanwhile, SS personnel prepared a major action against Jewish institutions – synagogues, schools and more – and even against Jewish businesses and individuals. The violent, organized Nazi troops were an efficient means of inciting broad portions of the population against Jewish citizens. Indeed, this was the strategy of the fascist leaders.

 

When news of the diplomat succumbing to his wounds became public on November 9, 1938, a transition was made from the planning stage to action, and Kristallnacht was set into motion. Thousands of synagogues, stores and apartments belonging to Jews were set on fire, destroyed and looted by throngs that got together throughout the night, and continued their deeds the following day as well. Fire fighters refrained from responding and extinguished fires only in cases where they posed a danger to the property of Gentiles. Only in rare cases were synagogues not harmed: mainly when they were located in close proximity to residences. The fate of the grand, majestic synagogue on Oranienburger Straße in Berlin was perhaps unique: a policeman prevented the SA personnel from setting the building on fire, arguing that the building had been slated for preservation. Thanks to him, the building of the New Synagogue was not damaged on Kristallnacht, though a few years later it was hit in the bombing of Berlin during World War II.


The violent deeds of those November days damaged not only Jewish property and buildings: thousands of Jews – mainly men – were rounded up and brought to concentration camps. There, the Nazis squeezed much of their property out of them in exchange for the promise of release, and even forced others to take every possible step to leave Germany and not return. For those who still harbored doubts regarding the character of the Nazi regime or regarding its views about Jewish citizens, the terrible days of November 1938 clarified the matter beyond question.


One unusual and rare piece of documentation of the terrible events during the days of the pogrom in November 1938 is a letter written by a former Berlin resident, Felix Pinczower, to the author S.Y. Agnon, a few months after Pinczower moved to Palestine. In Eretz Israel, Pinczower owned a used book store, and he also conducted private research regarding the history of Jews in sport. With his letter to Agnon, Pinczower enclosed the Hebrew edition of a book by the great author, Bilvav Yamim [In the Heart of the Seas], which had been published by Schocken in Berlin.


 

Pinczower's letter to S.Y. AgnonBack side of the letter
Pinczower's letter to S.Y. Agnon

 


Translation of Pinczower’s letter to S.Y. Agnon

Translated by Dr. Stefan Litt


 


B"H                                                                              Tel Aviv, May 8, 1939

Felix Pinczower                                                           52 Ha-Yarkon Street, c/o Berliner


To Sir

Shmuel Yosef Agnon

Jerusalem

 

To Mr. Agnon, the esteemed!

 

Just today I have gotten a chance to send you, as I have been planning, the copy of your book Bilvav Yamim. Allow me to tell you again the story of this little book:

 

It was on November 10, 1938, that day that cannot be erased from the history of our people's suffering. On that day, I was on my way to attend to a number of pressing matters, despite many warnings, and without intending to, I was witness to an event that remains etched in my memory. I was stopped on my way by a large gathering, and as I was pushed into the crowd of people, I noticed that they were looting a Jewish book store. The display windows were shattered, the content of the display shelves had been spilled out onto the street, the book shelves were destroyed and the books were being dragged outside, after being torn and stomped on before being cast into a large waste pile. I was forced to observe these deeds helplessly. I wanted to unleash my pain in a great cry, but only a silent complaint arose within me: "Master of the Universe, why do you permit the desecration of our holy books"? Tears issued forth from my eyes, my fists were balled, my nails cutting into my flesh, and thus I stood for some time. Then I was pushed into the first row – I was barely controlling myself – in order to perpetrate some act. At the last minute, I recalled my wife, my children and my parents, and they called on me to be level-headed. And then the criminals came out again, fresh piles of books in their hands, with the intention of throwing them to that same place – to the cheering of the masses. At that moment, a gust of wind blew a small, simple book to my feet. Instinctively, I grabbed it and shoved it into my pocket. I left without anyone taking notice of me. I cleaned off the book a bit, and added it to my library. That day, I was arrested as part of the "revenge operation," together with thousands of others, and was taken to a concentration camp. Six weeks later, I was returned following my request to emigrate from Germany. The little book eluded my memory. Only when my "lift" was being packed beneath the eyes of the customs clerks, did it reemerge. "Do you want to take that dirty book with you?" the customs man asked. "Yes," I replied. "It's an interesting book that contains a special story." He nodded and examined it again. Suddenly, he had an idea. I saw how his face was contorting into a devilish smile. He uttered not a word, but flipped through the book, page by page, checking it against the light, apparently with the thought that foreign currency was hidden among its pages. And then, when the inspection yielded nothing, he returned the book to me. I expressed my preference not to pack the book in the lift, but rather in the baggage compartment, in order to read it on the journey. He agreed to this.

 

On the ship, finally, I found the necessary quiet, and I took the book into my hands. I was already familiar with a number of your works, esteemed Mr. Agnon. And yet, the content of this book was unknown to me. How I was filled with wonder and surprise when I learned what the book was about. Was it not a direct sign from heaven that this, of all books, fell into my hands, truly in the literal sense of the expression? I do not believe in coincidence in life. Amidst my feelings of joy and gratitude, I read the small book to the end. The Hasidim of Yaslovitch are described in such a vibrant manner that I felt that their world had been transferred into the present. Is it not true that today, as well, ships set sail and make their way over months at sea in order to bring refugees to Eretz Israel? People waiting in anticipation for the land of their longing, with the same sentiment. The book became my loyal friend for the duration of the trip. Again and again I opened the various chapters and compared what was described to our times, reaching the conclusion that today, as well, if one wanted to write the book with other characters [and to set it] in a different period, it could not have been written in any way but this.

The book has fulfilled its mission. I believe that there is no more dignified a way of thanking the esteemed author than to request – as an expression of [my] appreciation and admiration – to integrate the book into your library as an anecdotal item – a book that has a story like a human being does.

 

If only this book, which came out of Zion and returned to Zion, might serve as a symbol to the ingathering of our dispersed writings, held in unworthy hands.

 

Sincerely,

 

Felix Pinczower