Herman Stone

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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.

 

Mementos

 

 

 

 

ABOVE: The Prime Minister of England and the Premier of France sign The Munich Agreement

 

 

ABOVE: Hitler signs the Munich Agreement, September 29, 1938

 

ABOVE: The German passport covers belonging to Herman's parents

 

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:

Books

Freidrich

Richter, Hans P. Puffin Books, 1987.
Reunion

Uhlman, Fred. Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1977.

Videos
The Camera of My Family: Four Generations
in Germany 1845-1945

18 minutes

Based on the Book of the same name (Knopf, 1977)

Rise of The Nazis

20 minutes

A Teachers guide is also available.