Herman Stone - Germany
Herman Stone (original family name: Steinberg) was born in Munich, Germany,
the capital of the region known as Bavaria, in 1924. He comes from a Jewish
family. Mr. Stone was just a boy when Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany in
1933. He was a teenager when his family was finally able to leave the country to
escape the tyranny and cruelty of the Third Reich.
In 1935, Jewish pupils were expelled from
German public schools. This was a matter of some concern to Herman's parents
because the boy had yet to complete gymnasium, his secondary education. Without
graduating gymnasium, one could not go on to university and become a
professional. Around that same time, the business that Herman's father managed
was Aryanized, meaning taken by the government and placed in the hands of
non-Jewish managers. Most Jews in Germany found it increasingly impossible to
live under the rule of the Nazis. Emigration was still possible, but there were
multitudes of people who wanted to leave Germany. Other countries, both in
Europe and abroad, were reluctant to let very many refugees in. One had to get a
visa number and wait in turn for permission to live in another country. It would
have taken around 20 years for all the people who wanted to leave Nazi Germany
to legally emigrate.
As it turned out, the Jews of Germany and the
lands they occupied had very little time left to escape. Between 1937 and 1938,
things took a turn for the worse. The Nuremburg Laws had made all Jews
expatriates from the Reich, regardless of how long their families had been
German citizens. Anti-Semitic violence was happening constantly. Also, there was
still the problem of emigration. On July 6, 1938 the Evian Conference was held
to try to find places for the refugees to go. The Western European countries
such as France and England didn't want any more, and the United States had a
strict quota system in effect; only a few thousand refugees from all the Eastern
European countries were allowed in per year. The African countries of Uganda and
Mozambique were proposed as locations of massive Jewish refugee resettlement. In
the end, no viable solution was found, and the problem was only getting worse.
Even Hitler used this fact in his speeches to claim that the rest of the world
didn't care what happened to the Jews.
The Munich Agreement was signed in Herman's hometown on September 29, 1938. This
agreement was signed by the leaders of England and France and it gave the
Czechoslovakian territory known as the Sudetenland to Germany. Many feel that
this concession gave Hitler the "green light" to continue his campaign of
aggression towards the neighboring nations.
One event signaled the beginning of the end
for the Jews of the Reich, and was in fact a kind of "dress rehearsal" for the
Holocaust itself. It began when a Jewish man living in Paris, France named
Herschel Grynszpan learned that his family back in Germany had been deported.
Enraged, he brought a gun to the German embassy and shot a German official. When
this official died from his wound, the Nazis used this as a pretext to instigate
widespread Anti-Semitic riots in Germany and Austria over November 9th and 10th,
1938. Jewish homes and businesses were looted, property was destroyed, and
people were dragged out of their homes and beaten in the streets. Many Jewish
synagogues were burned to the ground. The synagogue in Munich was not burned -
it had been leveled and turned into a municipal parking lot by order of the Nazi
government some months before. These horrible riots came to be known as
Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. The world at large might have seen
this event as the signal that the Nazis intended nothing but deadly harm to all
Jews under their domain.
Jewish men over the age of 18 were routinely rounded up and sent to the
concentration camp of Dachau, where they were starved and mistreated. Herman's
older brother missed the roundup because he was ill with appendicitis and in the
hospital; his father was being hidden in the home of a non-Jewish friend. Herman
and his mother stayed away from their apartment to avoid answering any questions
about the two older men. Herman was chosen to go back to the apartment to take
in the mail and check on things. Children were generally ignored by those who
might be patrolling.
An announcement was made that any Jewish men found to be in hiding would be
shot. Herman's father decided to would be best to turn himself in. He reported
to the Gestapo headquarters late in the afternoon on a Friday. The clerk there
was eager to close the office for the weekend and couldn't be bothered to
process him; he was told go come back some other time. Thus Herman's father
narrowly escaped the concentration camps.
It was clear that the only way to survive the Nazi terror was to leave, any
way one could. Uruguay, Hong Kong and Cuba were among the few countries still
accepting the constant flow of Jewish refugees at the time. Herman's father
decided to apply for a visa to the United States, although because of the quotas
this was much more difficult. They needed an affidavit from a U.S. citizen
sponsoring the family's entry into America, and the Stones had no relatives
living there. They made contact through a rabbi in New York with a man who might
be willing to sponsor them. At the last minute, things fell through. Then they
learned that this man would be coming to France on a vacation. They sent him a
desperate letter (in English) to the hotel where he was staying, asking if there
was any way that he could help with their situation. A telegram came from Paris
from this man, telling the Stones to meet him at the American consulate in
Stuttgart. He said he would do all he could for them.
Their visas came through in late January, 1939. They left Germany in March.
Any possessions to be removed by families
leaving Germany had to be carefully logged with an assessed value attached, so
that the Nazis could take a tax from them. Before any boxes or crates could be
sealed, an inspector had to come by and make sure everything was properly
accounted for. When this inspector saw a small steel strongbox that belonged to
Herman's father, he demanded to see its contents. Inside was kept many personal
souvenirs his father saved from his service in World War I, including the bullet
that wounded him. When the inspector saw all these momentos and realized that
Herman's father was a war veteran, his whole attitude changed. He simply could
not believe that a man who was so valiant and patriotic could be treated the way
his government was treating him. He saw not just a Jew, but a man. The inspector
left for lunch without ordering the boxes to be sealed, leaving the family to
take anything else they wished.
They left Germany by train, to reach England via Holland. At the border came
a customs inspection. It was law that only ten deutschmarks (around $4) per
person could be carried out of the country, and the Stone family had a little
more than this. Herman's father was accused of trying to smuggle currency. In
the end he had to send the excess money to a brother still living in Germany. It
wasn't very much, but the marks never made it to him anyway.
Mr. Stone still has his parents passports,
marked with the red "J" and with the added Jewish
identifiers of "Israel" and "Sara" as required by law in 1938, that they used to
escape Germany. He also has a document the family was required to purchase
declaring that Herman was not a member of the Hitler Youth. All Ausmandeer
(those leaving Germany) children were made to carry these declarations.
Herman was 14 when his family came to the United States. They were on the
boat crossing the ocean when Hitler seized the rest of Czechoslovakia, claiming
that the Reich needed room to expand. It was part of the escalation that would
ultimately lead to both World War II and the Final Solution. Soon after there
would be no more legal emigration for Jews from the Reich; there would be only
imprisonment, mistreatment, and death.
For a few years afterwards, they tried to
arrange for Herman's grandmother to join them in America. In 1942 she was sent
to the Czech camp of Theresienstadt. Theresienstadt was the "model camp" that
the Germans allowed to be opened to human rights inspectors. No one was killed
in Theresienstadt, accept by so-called "natural causes". Herman's grandmother
kept a diary of her stay in the camp, portions of which you will be able
to read by following This Link.
Herman Stone escaped the Holocaust, but many millions of others did not. Mr.
Stone says we must remember what happened, so that we do not repeat the tragedy.
The first step is to recognize prejudice, whether in yourself or in others.
Every event like the Holocaust starts off small, with little warning signs. If
we do not learn to recognize them, and take action in opposition, we do so at
the cost of humanity.
|ABOVE: The Prime Minister of England and the Premier
of France sign The Munich Agreement
|ABOVE: Hitler signs the Munich Agreement, September
|ABOVE: The German passport covers belonging to
|ABOVE: The passport photo of Herman's father
|ABOVE: The German passports, stamped with the red
"J", for "Jewish"
|ABOVE: A contemporary postcard from Germany depicting
the "Beloved Furher"
|ABOVE: German postcards depicting the heraldic imagry
utilized by the Nazis
|ABOVE: A picture of Herman's synagogue in Munich,
before it was demolished by order of the Nazi regieme
Related Resources for this Speaker:
Richter, Hans P. Puffin Books, 1987.
Uhlman, Fred. Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1977.
The Camera of My Family: Four Generations
in Germany 1845-1945
Based on the Book of the same name (Knopf, 1977)
Rise of The Nazis
A Teachers guide is also available.