24 Hour story of Henry Landman's Arrest on November 10, 1938
- November 9, 2014
It was November 9, 1938 and my 18 year old father and his family went to sleep in their apartment in Augsburg as usual after hearing on the radio that a 17 year old Jewish boy shot a German official in Paris. Two Gestapo agents in green Bavarian garb rang the doorbell at his family's apartment at 5 a.m. in the morning. His aunt (who was to die a few years later in the camps) answered the door. All they said was, "Does Heinz Landmann live here?"
She pointed to his bedroom and stood silently in the hallway. They entered the room and woke him up, telling him to get dressed and go with them. His parents now joined his aunt silently in the doorway as he passed by in his Lederhosen (Bavarian leather short pants). My father whispered, "Auf Wiedersehen" as he passed them by and his sisters never even got up from their sleep.
Joseph, my father's father was not on the list to be picked up by the Gestapo, since they had other plans for him. He was the president of the Jewish Sportsplatz and was needed to sign over the deed. As my father went to the local police station he passed the Synagogue while it was still smoldering. He saw all of the lines of fire hoses on the ground. The fire engines were watering down the surrounding buildings and were letting the Synagogue burn in a rather controlled and strange fashion.
He was the first person brought to the police station and had no idea of why he was arrested. At first he thought it might be for kissing an Aryan girl or some violation like that. But when he saw more Jewish men being brought into the cell, he knew something else was up. He had just turned eighteen years of age that summer, so he was the youngest and probably the shortest man arrested.
At daybreak my grandfather went out to find Mr. Leopold Rieser, a well-known Jewish attorney, to see if he could get my father out of jail. But on the way, another Gestapo agent saw Joseph on the street and asked if he was Jewish. Saying yes, Joseph was arrested on the spot and by dusk my father and grandfather were sitting on a bench next to each other waiting in silence. Mr. Rieser, the lawyer was also arrested but separated from the rest of the Jews for special treatment.
Finally all the Jewish men in the local police station were taken by a paddy wagen (Gruene Minna) to one Central prison before the "accordion-style" buses showed up to bring everyone to their secret destination. My father and grandfather sat next to each other in the bus. In the seat behind my father was Erich Teutsch, the son of Justizrat Doktor Artur Teutsch. They lived in the same apartment house; just one floor below the Landmanns. Artur Teutsch was an important lawyer who was a decorated hero and wounded in the First World War fighting for the Kaiser, so he wasn't arrested on Kristallnacht. Erich had to go to Dachau alone. Sad to say, that he and his wife would not get a Visa and would later be sent to the Judenhaus and then to their death in another concentration camps. Erich Teutsch would survive and become the father of David Teutsch who was a president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College for years and his wife Betsy would illustrate one of the prayer books that CBST uses. As a further coincidence, Betsy would be the calligrapher who prepared the wedding invitations for the first lesbian who joined my group of children of Holocaust Survivors. Since I was also invited, she had to calligraphy an invitation for me. It is a small world.
The buses' windows were covered, and while no one said the word, even my 18 year old father was anxious that Dachau was their secret destination. Augsburg is near Munich, and Dachau is one of Munich's suburbs. The bus got stuck and lost several times during the ride; it was hard for such a long bus to maneuver on narrow roads. Henry peaked out the window and guessed that they were headed towards the place with the gate "Arbeit Macht Frei". He was terrified.
When they arrived they had to leave the bus rapidly without speaking, and run inside to line up on a long row of people. Those who didn't act quickly enough were hit or beaten. While lined up, Nazi officers would go up and down the line yelling at everyone, and asking them questions with no definitive answer. Henry wanted to say whatever he thought the Nazi wanted to hear, but he didn't know what the right answer was. He heard what was asked of others earlier on the line and what they answered.
When the Nazi asked another man a question, the Jew answered and was beaten for not completing his answer with the Nazi equivalent of "Sir". Henry knew all of the appropriate titles and would immediately answer with "Yes Herr Sturmbannfuehrer" to prevent him being beaten.
But when the Nazi stood in front of him he shouted, "Did you say good bye to your mother before you left home this morning?"
If Henry answered "Yes"; then the Nazi would respond, "Good, because now you are going to be shot".
If he said, "No", then the Nazi would say, "Too bad, because you're never going to see her again". Either way he made it clear that he was not going home alive.
Henry hesitated for a second while trying to think of the proper answer which annoyed the man. The Nazi merely grabbed him by the collar and pulled him out of the line and yelled, "Up against the wall!"
Henry didn't look back at his father but merely walked up to the wall expecting his imminent death. He waited and waited for shots to ring out but nothing happened. Waiting so long to be shot was rude and insulted his ingrained feeling of Deutsche Puentlichkeit (German punctuality).
He asked himself, "What is the worst that they could do to me if he walked away, shoot me?" So he slowly walked backwards taking little steps each time towards the line of men standing a few yards away.
A tall Jewish man gave him cover as he melded back into the line. Being so small does have the advantage of letting one melt into a crowd. This time a different Nazi walked by and just passed without interrogating him. This was the man who we bumped into decades later in Manhattan. To this day, when things go badly, my father will joke, "It's not so bad when compared to being put up against the wall to be shot". I think that I must have inherited his Dachau sense of humor.
But the next morning my father would hear an event that would stay in his mind for the rest of his life. Henry was standing in audible range of the entry area in Dachau when a vehicle pulled up. He could hear the Nazis yelling at a man and then the man being dragged and beaten. He then recognized that it was Mr. Leopold Rieser, the well known attorney who his father wanted to retain earlier the previous day. He was beaten to his death right there in the entry way to Dachau and never even joined the rest of the Augsburg Jews in the camp.
At the end of the night of November 10, 1938 the order went out for the Jews from Augsburg to enter the barrack to go to sleep. The first 3 men to have to get in at the end of the room was Rabbi Yakov, my father and then my grandfather. My father knew the worst was coming when the Rabbi was crying and my grandfather couldn't look my father in the face. The first 24 hours were over.
My grandfather was released so that he could officially and legally turn over the Sportsplatz to the Nazis. This gave him the chance to try to get a visa out of the country. My father stayed in Dachau for 6 more weeks. The same stories that I heard were just verified when my father would give them a first hand accounting. His Capo was a deranged person who was in the camp for years before the Jews came. They said that he suffered from Stubenkoller (a sort of cabin fever) where he just wanted to please his Nazi supervisor and was sort of in a zombie-like gray state of being. But both my father and grandfather survived their stay in the camp and now had no doubts about their number desire to leave Germany.
Kristallnacht was Hitler's way of testing whether the world would really lift a finger to save Jews. He got his answer and knew that he could go forward with not only attacking Poland, but with starting the Final Solution of the Jews. Now all German Jews tried to get out of Germany, but few countries would give them visas to enter.