Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Hilma Geffen - February 15, 1985


You mentioned that the attitudes changed. Could you describe the changes in the attitudes?

Uh, it started that some of the neighbors with whom I was very friendly and we celebrated uh, holidays together. I received Christmas presents from them and in turn we gave them presents, although we never celebrated Christmas. I did go to the house and admired their Christmas trees, and received always some goodies. Uh, it started by the neighbors telling us not to come to their house anymore. They were afraid. That we should, we were...and so when we met in the street we either just nodded to each other or pretended we didn't know each other at all. Uh, the uh, school, suddenly in school we were required to say "Heil Hitler." Instead of "good morning" the teacher said "Heil Hitler." And it was very awkward for me to say anything. Mostly I didn't say anything. Uh, in December, for Christmas 1933, I was still in a Christmas play. It was, I was always partaking in Christmas plays and the teacher had asked my mother whether I should and my mother said, "Well it doesn't really hurt, there's no harm done and it's only play, why not." So I performed in a Christmas play in 1933. And no sooner was that over, a month or two later I was in the Stürmer newspaper. I, I think the Stürmer newspaper is known even in this country as a very, very anti-Semitic newspaper. It was popular for the sole purpose to smear Jews. They were, they were total caricatures and everybody who was Jewish was made up as a big nose and fat. The women with uh, fat and with, bedecked with jewelry. And nothing but smear attacks were in that paper. So I was, my name was in the paper, my father's name was in the paper and that I played in a Christmas play and the uh, the angel who played in that Christmas play was none other but the daughter of the Jew Ludomer. I also heard afterwards that the teacher who let me play in that Christmas uh, celebration was also called on the carpet. From then on I really knew that I was very different. That I had to be very quiet; had to be very reticent and not to stir. Uh, we uh, we remained in our house until 1939. My father still worked. He went to Berlin every day. He commuted and worked. And the change came in 19...the real drastic change in treatment of the Jews and in attitude and restriction came in 1938 when uh, in Paris uh, Grynszpan assassinated a German official, vom Rath. Most of the events are known because they uh, the uh, the Kristallnacht was the most obvious occurrence. The quote was that the German people were so angry that they could not help themselves but destroy, practically destroy the synagogues and have to destroy the Jewish stores and it was all over Germany. Of course, we know better, it was the SA and the SS. We were pretty much isolated in Rangsdorf where I lived and we didn't, I and my mother, we did not know too much what was going on in Berlin. So, we heard, when my father came home from work, we heard what was happening that day in November. That the synagogues were burning, that all the Jewish, the remaining Jewish stores were looted, were destroyed, the windows were smashed, people were arrested and uh, we didn't know what would happen or...and we just heard this. And about ten o'clock on that November night, November 10th or 11th, there was a knock at our door, the entrance door to our house, and about three or four SA men, SA, the brownshirts, came into our house and yelled, "We will show you Jews what it means to kill our people." And they started smashing the furniture in our house, in our living room mainly. They uh, toppled the credenza, where we kept our glasses and our chinaware. They smashed with an ax our dining room table. The whole thing took maybe three to five minutes and out they were. Outside they picked up some stones and smashed windows in the upstairs bedrooms. Uh, before we could even think straight, they were gone. I know my mother screamed and we were just standing there helplessly. Uh, after that we didn't know what to do anymore. We were really were uh, stunned. And my mother never recuperated from that fright. Uh, my father uh, he uh, his relatives or his brother from Berlin called and said you better come to Berlin. You may be picked up in, since you are the only Jew in Rangsdorf, you may be picked up, you may be arrested. So maybe you don't sleep at home that night. So for a few nights he did not come home, but stayed in Berlin. Uh, until it calmed down in 19...until it calmed down. Then of course all the new laws were set in motion. It was very swift, as if things had been written out previously and they just waited for an occasion to put all these new laws and restrictions in to order. It was like preset and all they had to do is push a button and it ran off. Uh, so in, so Jewish children were not allowed to go to public schools anymore, but they had to attend Jewish schools. My father was not allowed to work independently anymore. He had to give up his profession and if he wanted to work he had to be employed by a non-Jew. While uh, somebody employed uh, in his case, his client became his boss. Uh, the Jews had to pay a fine for the assassination. It was one milliarden mark. We looked it up, it's one billion marks. It represented about twenty percent of the assets of the remaining Jews in Germany. And uh, people were, you were assessed.

© Board of Regents University of Michigan-Dearborn