Albert Friedlander was 11 years old in 1938 and living in Berlin. On the night of 9-10 November, the Nazis organised a night of violence and destruction against Jewish buildings and properties. Because of the vast amount of broken glass on the streets the next day, that notorious occasion is known as Kristallnacht. As a Jewish boy, Albert had distinct memories of that time. Many years later, he recalled:
I thought of my friend Henry who had gone to my school until they had burned it. The week of Kristallnacht was the week of his Bar Mitzvah but, by Saturday morning, the synagogue had been burned, the Rabbi was in a concentration camp, and no more than three Jews could visit a Jewish family. Anymore and it became a ‘public meeting’, a conspiracy! Just the same, friends came to Henry’s home, including the leaders of the Jewish community, and he had his Bar Mitzvah.’
What did I do that week? Somehow, we had been warned by friends that a major action had been planned against the Jews. And so we left our apartment: my father and I, my brother, sister and mother, to make our separate ways to a hiding place.
We travelled by bus, underground, and on foot, and met again in the attic of a distant suburb, in the home of a friend. There were fourteen of us in that small store room right under the roof. It was hot, and it was uncomfortable. The next morning, without consulting our parents, my twin brother and I went for a walk. We were 11 years old. At the next corner, two men stopped us. ‘Why aren’t you kids wearing your Hitler Youth uniform?’ they asked. This was our chance to be heroes, to proclaim our Judaism proudly, without fear. I spoke up instantly. ‘Our uniforms are at the cleaners. We will be wearing them tomorrow.’ And they let us go. We walked around the block, back into the house, up to the attic, and thought no more about exploring the outside. Another day passed. Father thought that it was safe to return, and he and I started out before the others, retracing our journey to [our] flat. We entered the front door of the apartment house, walked up two flights of stairs, and father was about to put the key in the lock – when we heard voices coming from inside our flat. We had come home too early. They were waiting to take us, to send us away. We could hear laughter, we could smell cigar smoke. And so we tiptoed down the stairs, waiting in the lobby to catch the rest of the family in order to warn them. Once again, separated, we wandered through Berlin.
There was a lot of glass on the streets. We lived in the West End, surrounded by shops, many of them Jewish. This was late at night and it was dark; but we had no trouble in picking out the Jewish shops. They had been looted, the windows had been smashed, and there were ashes, rubble and debris outside some of the shops.
We had not seen how our fellow Jews had been treated: beaten, taken to prison, some of them never to return. But in our hiding place, listening to our friends, we heard more and more of the story of Kristallnacht.