On this day in 1938, German Nazis attacked and rounded up Jews, pillaged and burned synagogues and shattered windows of Jewish-run stores and businesses.
The infamous two-day reign of terror is known as Kristallnacht (“The Night of Broken Glass”), and Herman Stone of Williamsville remembers it. He was 13 and living in Munich at the time with his parents and older brother.
“I was afraid. I didn’t know what [the Gestapo] would do. We were afraid they would ask where my dad was,” Stone said, recalling how his father temporarily hid at a non-Jewish friend’s house to escape being grabbed by the Nazis.
The 88-year-old retired chemist and member of the Holocaust Resource Center’s Speakers Bureau recalled those dark days Thursday with 50 students at Hilbert College.
Sean Lynch, a junior, said he appreciated hearing someone describe what it was like to live through something he knew through History Channel documentaries.
“I’ve always been fascinated with history, but more from the war perspective. I never really focused on the victims of the war, especially the Holocaust,” Lynch said. “To actually talk to somebody who was there, shaking hands with them and asking questions, was incredible.”
Life had become increasingly unsettled for Stone after the enactment of the Nuremberg Laws in September 1935, which was intended to exclude Jews from public life and isolate them from non-Jewish Germans.
By the late 1930s, Stone could no longer go to school, and non-Jewish friends would no longer play with him.
“We were sure we had to get out of there,” Stone said.
Stone and his family did just that, leaving Germany in March 1939. They immigrated to Buffalo just before the Nazis began to single out Jews by forcing them to wear a yellow Star of David on their clothing and shortly before the start of World War II.
Stone’s relatives were not so lucky. Aunts, uncles and cousins perished during the Holocaust.
Stone lived in Buffalo from 1939 to 1969, and returned again in 1997, raising six children with his wife, Peggy. He said he speaks to groups out of a sense of responsibility.
“What we want is for people to remember what happened, and to try to make sure it never happens again, and not just the Jews; that people should work to make sure it doesn’t happen again to anybody,” Stone said.
Stone’s talk was one of several events planned Thursday. A film, library exhibit and candlelight memorial walk, as well as student-produced posters and distribution of “Erase the Hate” bracelets, were also meant to honor the Holocaust victims and their memory.
The daylong events were planned by students, including coordinator Jerrell Mason, who are taking Representations of the Holocaust, an interdisciplinary English course taught by professor Amy Smith.
Mason, who is an African- American, said he was struck by how different peoples are marked by epic events, such as the Holocaust or slavery, and by the interconnection that exists between them.
Smith said the Holocaust happened so long ago that it might as well be ancient history to many students, even though the state Department of Education mandates that the Holocaust is taught in public school. That, she said, made Stone’s appearance all the more meaningful.
“To have the opportunity to listen to a survivor is really priceless,” she said.