richmond, va. | It was Nov. 10, 1938, about 2 p.m. Eleven-year-old Alex Lebenstein stood frightened in the front yard of his family’s home in Haltern, Germany.
“All of a sudden, these people came around the corner screaming anti-Semitic slogans. A boy I had been in kindergarten with was shooting at me with a slingshot. It was the first time I had seen my father totally defenseless. I put my hand in his and I felt sweat from his hand on mine,” Lebenstein recalled.
For survivors of Kristallnacht, the terror is as fresh in their minds now as the day Jews were attacked throughout the German Reich. Lebenstein still gets emotional when sharing his story.
“One of the men grabbed my father by the shoulder and spit in his face. They tore his World War I medals from his shirt and stomped them into the ground. They started beating my father. Furniture started flying through the windows. My mother was screaming: ‘Let’s get out of here. They are killing us.’ We slipped out a back street, hoping the men would be finished soon and we could go back home,” he said.
About 130 miles away in Mainz, Germany, Ruth Rosenberg, 13, also was scared. Ten Nazis searched for guns in the apartment where her family lived.
“We didn’t have any. I had never seen a gun,” Rosenberg said. “They went all through the apartment. They couldn’t open one cabinet, so I took a screwdriver and forced the cabinet open.”
Now Richmond, Va., is home for Lebenstein, 77, and Rosenberg, 79. They recalled Kristallnacht, the government-sponsored attack on Nov. 9 and 10, 1938.
Rosenberg tries not to dwell on her memories, but Lebenstein still dreams about the events of that time. It was the worst two days of his life, he said. In an effort to make something positive out of the horrors of Kristallnacht, Lebenstein returned to his hometown in 1995. A letter from two high school students in Haltern asking him to tell them about Kristallnacht changed his mind. He still has the letter.
Since then, he has made several trips to Haltern and has already been invited to return next year. “I feel a responsibility to teach the truth. To teach people to be tolerant. That’s my responsibility. That’s why I go there,” he said.