Holocaust survivors ask: ‘Did we not learn from Kristallnacht?’

Hanover, Germany, during the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 9-10, 1938. (Credit: public domain/Times of Israel)

This week is a dark one for Jews. On one hand, it marks one month since the horrific attack on Israel by Hamas on October 7, when 1,400 Israelis were killed and hundreds taken hostage in Gaza. But today also marks 85 years since the Kristallnacht pogrom, when the Nazi paramilitary forces, along with German civilians, burned and vandalized over 1,400 Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues. In 2023 and 1938 the Jews were murdered and kidnapped – the first one resulted in 30,000 Jewish men taken to concentration camps. The second is ongoing. 

Kristallnacht marked a turning point in the Nazi persecution of the Jews. And yet with everything we see going on in the world following the recent attack in Israel, it feels like we are crawling toward that path once more. 

As is well documented, this war against Hamas has resulted in a wave of severe antisemitism around the world – a rise of 500% in attacks on Jews and Jewish communities. They’ve included physical violence resulting in murder, like in the case of Paul Kessler in California, or calls to gas Jews, as we saw in Australia.

And let’s not even mention the intimidation of young Jewish students on US college campuses and the calls for Israel’s destruction heard weekly in London. 

Yesterday I received an email from the International March of the Living. “The fact that Jews, children, women, elderly and men, entire families, were burned alive in their homes, in their beds, 85 years after the Kristallnacht pogrom is simply unimaginable,” said Chair & President, Dr. Shmuel Rosenman and Phyllis Greenberg Heideman. “The world has clearly not learned the lessons of the Holocaust.”

Alongside their statement, they also released testimonies of Holocaust survivors taken in the days following October 7 and the subsequent violence we have seen around the world. The readings are disturbing and fill me with embarrassment for what we have done to the world they fought to protect, and concern for the one I expect to welcome my children into one day. 

The survivors say, among many things, that “It brings back nightmarish memories from my childhood” and “It is so visual of what I saw as a child”. I received each one and read them in shock. I wanted to share them with this audience on the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht, as a warning that, according to those who lived it, we are no longer far from ‘Never Again’. 

The testimonies belong to Gabriella, Benjamin, Tirza, Nate, Eva, Manya, Maud, and Ben [full names and locations undisclosed due to privacy reasons]. They bear witness to the disturbing parallels between the past and present, what was lived then and what we appear to be living today, too. In their wisdom, they make one thing clear: that the world must stand together to combat hatred, discrimination, and violence wherever they occur.

Please find the full testimonies below. Note: They have been lightly edited for clarity. 


Holocaust survivor of Auschwitz

“I am devastated to see how Jews are being attacked today. Jews are not safe”  

The events of 10/7 are beyond imagination and too horrible to understand. I am very troubled by this and am struggling to retain my equilibrium. It is the worst pogrom since the Shoah. My optimism is shattered. We must collectively feel the pain felt by parents whose child is abducted and threatened with death. Hamas’s barbarism is equal to and almost exceeds what I experienced during the Shoah. I remember when I was a little boy growing up in Poland after the rise of Nazi Germany and the events of Kristallnacht. I remember being attacked on the streets, and being yelled at, “Dirty Jews, go to Palestine.” I was required to wear the Star of David. I was forced out of my home into the ghetto and from there, my family and I were deported to Auschwitz where almost my entire family was murdered. It started with words and continued with actions. I am devastated to see how Jews are being attacked today. Jews are not safe. I saw where antisemitism can lead to and I am very concerned”.  


Holocaust survivor, hid with her family in swamps, forests, and cemeteries.

“I think twice before I wear my Star of David” 

It is a catastrophe what is happening today: not only Hamas but the antisemitism in the universities. Before, I went outside with a Magen David on my shirt, now I think twice about it. Who would have thought that after the Holocaust it would happen again. We are the chosen ones again…Should I go to Temple? I am afraid. I feel distinct. We know that they are antagonizing us. Where did these college students become so agitated? How did Jews harm them? Where does it come from? I just pray that Israel will win. I’m glad that the US government is not against Israel. 


Holocaust survivor 

“It brings back nightmarish memories from my childhood”

It is unbelievable that more than 80 years after the Holocaust, we are witnessing a significant increase in antisemitic events worldwide. No, I do not fear for my life and my family’s safety. I am confident that Israel will prevail and eliminate the threat soon. I trust in the power and strength of the Jewish State. But as a child (a hidden boy) born in 1937, I don’t recall a similar situation, except for the fear my family and I felt during the Nazi German occupation of my home country, Greece. I could never have imagined that one day I would witness demonstrations and attacks against Israel and Jews on TV screens. What Hamas did to the Israelis on October 7th is as cruel, barbaric, and tragic as what the Nazis did to the Jews 80 years ago. When I see Jewish homes marked with the Magen David, it brings back nightmarish memories from my childhood, reminding me of swastikas and concentration camps. My message is that we, the Jewish people, have endured significant suffering throughout our history, with the Holocaust being the darkest period. Though the current times are challenging, thanks to the brave IDF, a sense of normalcy will soon return to the State of Israel and the Jewish Diaspora. 


Holocaust survivor 

“Never since the Holocaust are Jews so threatened” 

My view of the current situation is gut-wrenching. Israel and the Jewish community worldwide are in a fight for their very existence. Never since the Holocaust are Jews so threatened. Our Jewish State, Israel, is determined to eradicate Hamas at all costs of Jewish lives. They must have our support. All our lives depend on it! We’ll emerge victorious and the world will be a better place. We’ll come to understand that everyone has the same right to live in peace regardless of race, color of their skin, eyes, or hair, and we don’t have to love everybody, but we have to respect everybody on this planet. 


Holocaust survivor, child witness to Kristallnacht

“I never thought in my life that something as terrible as now would happen again”

I was 4 years old when the Gestapo came to Kristallnacht (November 9th, 1938) and beat her father before taking him to Dachau where he perished. I never thought in my life that something as terrible as now would happen again. On October 7, Hamas came and slaughtered children, young and old. I have to say honestly, all the lectures I give, and I give a lot, in Israel, in Germany, and wherever I can, but I think back 85 years ago to how horrible it was, and here we are, experiencing it again. I’m frustrated and heartbroken to think what these people experienced, and I hope that everyone who hears and sees this will know what we are experiencing in Israel.” 


 “The October 7 terror attack brought back so many memories of what I saw as a child”  

When it all happened on October 7, I couldn’t believe it. I’ve had sleepless nights since and it just brought back so many memories. It is so visual of what I saw as a child. Now this. I don’t know how to cope, don’t know how to digest it, it’s all so difficult. I have a hard time coping with what I read, what I hear, and what I see on TV. I can’t come to terms with it. It’s so hard. 


Holocaust survivor, Hidden Child 

“The world seems a dark place right now as it teeters on the brink of what could easily turn into WWIII”

As a child survivor of the Holocaust, I am terrified as I witness the news which raises anxiety, fear, and deja vu. The Holocaust did not begin in 1939. It began much before, in small increments of restrictions and discrimination and denial of rights to Jews in Europe. Never Again… a phrase heard over and over to underline that the tragedy of the Holocaust must never be allowed to happen again. But what have we learned since, is that the world and we humans who inhabit it, repeatedly do unto each other what no other species would do. October 7th, 2023, marked a black day, a day of violence and violation, cruelty, barbarism, of unspeakable evil by Hamas. The world seems a dark place right now as it teeters on the brink of what could easily turn into WWIII. The rise in antisemitism all over the world, the political instability of powerful nations, and the effects of what we have done to our planet bringing the power of nature to cause such suffering and damage to many. The IDF is not only fighting to protect Israel, they are fighting to protect all of us from the evil of fundamental extremism of Hamas and its plainly stated objectives….to kill Jews, not only in Israel but Jews everywhere. History repeats itself and those of us who have lived it before are terrified for all the younger generations who follow us…..for you! It is hard to find the hope, yet as Elie Wiesel explains, man cannot live without the hope. We must find the hope that Israel can defend herself, can return to democracy, and can provide the anchor we, Jews all over the world, so critically need. 


“I’m very concerned, people should speak up against hate” 

I was in six concentration and death camps during the Holocaust, and I survived. It was so hard for me to see the horrific terror attack in Israel, to see Jewish people get killed for nothing. Hamas terrorists went and cut off the heads of children- that’s unbelievable. I’m very concerned. Nobody thought that something like this could happen. People should not make any difference between color and religion- because the hatred is causing the killing of each other. If you’re positive- everything goes away. People should speak up against hate. My message is: choose love, choose happiness. 

About the Author
James Spiro is a journalist and editor at CTech by Calcalist, where he reports on Israel's tech sector and moderates conferences across Europe, North America, and Asia. He has a background in journalism and public relations and can often be found Tweeting his thoughts: @JamesSpiro
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