Shattered Crystals recounts the history of the escape of my mother, Mia, my father, Sal, and my two sisters Ruth and Lea, from Nazi Germany after Crystal Night in November 1938 and how we defied the odds and survived in France before and after German occupation until liberation.
uring this period, husband and wife were forced apart, children were separated from parents and sisters from each other. For some of this time, my sisters and I were sheltered, along with other homeless Jewish children, by the Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants [OSE], who became vital to the family's survival.
Among Holocaust survivors, there are some who have no memory of their suffering. Survivors do not choose to remember or not remember. This is beyond their control. In our family, the parents, Mia and Sal, and the oldest daughter, Ruth, remember. Lea and I, the two younger children, recall nothing. It is as if we began our lives as ten-year-olds.
Survivors who remember recall the horrors they endured in excruciating detail. They remember unimaginable deprivations, endless hunger and constant cold. They recall carefully planned and sadistically executed cruelties. They cannot forget the looting and loss of their homes and the disappearance and deaths of dear ones. They shudder at memories of assaults on their yiddishkeit
(Jewishness) the desecration of siddurim, sifrei Torah, and cemeteries.
Their memories haunt their dreams. But they do not talk readily about such experiences or even about being survivors. Thus, friends, neighbors and acquaintances, even the person who sits next to them in shul, are surprised if it accidentally comes out.
Many who recollect nothing do not think it remarkable that they have no memories. They ask: Who wants to remember such things? Often they offer the explanation that they were just children, although they may have been ten, eleven or twelve years old.
For years and years, my sister Lea did not want to know. But I always felt some part of my life was missing. I hated the Nazis because they had robbed me of my childhood, and then felt ashamed and guilty for being unhappy, because so many children I had known had lost their lives, when all I lost was memory. I could not stop myself from mourning for my lost childhood. All I knew was that I had been part of a small children's transport sent to America. Coming to New York, I left behind not only my parents and my little sister but hundreds of other Jewish children who also deserved life.
Many years passed before I went to my mother and asked her to help me. “Tell me what happened to me, to you, to all of us!” I pleaded. My father said, “It's over. Forget about it. Why do you want to rake it all up again?” But mother answered, “If she wants to know, I will tell her.”
So the three of us sat in mother's kitchen in Brooklyn, New York; I switched on a tape recorder, and she began.
Mother talked first about growing up in a warm, vibrant Jewish home in Leipzig, Germany, to make clear what the Nazis had destroyed. My grandparents, who until then had been just faces in black and white photographs, came to life. Then she described the rise of Nazism, Kristallnacht and the six terrible years that followed.
Every week, for one, two or three hours, as long as she could bear at one time, mother talked. After the first week, Ruth came, listened, and sometimes added details, even though for her, too, it meant reliving old traumas. Soon Lea joined us also.
The history that our mother, Mia, shared with us, her daughters, formed the basis for this book. Later, when we began to write this account, she added many details and produced family letters and photographs that had somehow been hidden from the Nazis.
We thank God for the gift of our family's survival, continuation and growth. We are grateful that in December, 1995, on his 97th birthday, on Shabbos Chanukah, Sal was able to say, “I am happy Mia and I are here to welcome the birth of our great-grandson, Jacob. Baruch Hashem and Mazel Tov.”
Displaying great strength and courage, our cherished father Salomon David Kanner survived the Holocaust together with his beloved wife, our dear mother Mia, to live a full life, well into his 98th year until his passing on November 14, 1996.
Special thanks must go to many friends and family who insisted that this story must be written and published and would not let me give up when I was discouraged. In particular, my husband, Simon Kugler, my children Vicki and Mark Rosenzweig and my attorney and friend for forty years, Fred I. Sonnenfeld.