My special thanks to Roeper School Historian, Marcia Ruff, for sharing with us the stories and resources below and in particular, helping our community understand the connection between the Roeper family and Kristallnacht. As we mark the 75th anniversary of these violent events it is important for us to also understand how our School’s philosophy is a direct response to this hatred and tyranny. As the keepers of the Roeper’s legacy it is our obligation to stand firm in our assertion – never again.
This past weekend was the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, a brutal pogrom against Jews throughout Nazi Germany on the night of Nov 9-10, 1938. Although George and Annemarie were in Switzerland by then, George’s older brother Hans and his wife, Edith, were still living in Berlin. They listened to the breaking glass through the night, and in the morning, Edith, who was a journalist who covered the courts, heard about the mass arrests. Hans and Edith, who were not Jewish, told their Jewish friends, including Annemarie’s cousin, Paul Lauer, to come hide in their apartment. While they had previously been critical of friends who had left Germany rather than stay and oppose the Nazis, this event changed their minds.
“Those three days were heavy with painful discussions of Germany’s tragedy. The barbaric pogrom forced us to admit that Hitler was now too powerful to be overthrown by the Germans alone. These three days, filled with the sounds of shattering glass and dull smashing of furniture, the flare of burning synagogues, forced us to decide upon escape. Now we knew that only war could put an end to German fascism.”
Through cleverness, bravery and luck, Hans and Edith outwitted the Nazis, the Swiss and the French and made it to America. You can read their story on pages 7-16 of Edith’s 1941 book, Skeleton of Justice, at:
Another Kristallnacht story.
Annemarie’s uncle, Curt Bondy, Max’s younger brother, was head of a school called Gross Breesen at the time. Restrictions on Jews had already forced him out of his professorship of social psychology at the Universities of Hamburg and Gottingen. Gross Breesen was an agricultural training farm started by Jews to train young Jews in a skill that would allow them to emigrate. Curt also taught a deep program of character and community intended to sustain these young people in potentially lonely lives abroad.
On Kristallnacht, the Germans came and took all the men 18 years of age and older to Buchenwald. Curt, who had served in the German Army during World War I, described the horrors of the concentration camp and the prisoners’ psychic damage from the guards’ brutality.
“The urge of self-preservation, bestial fear, hunger, and thirst led to a complete transformation of the majority of the prisoners. Never before—not even during the last war—had I witnessed such a loss of self-control. The ruthless struggle of “each against all” began. No one spoke in ordinary tones, every one screamed. Some even satisfied their physical needs on the spot. The main thing was to get something to eat and to drink. When food was brought in, an excitement ensued which one can otherwise observe only among animals,” he wrote in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology (Vol. 38, 1943, 453-475).
His students, however, managed to maintain their focus, treating each other with respect and care. They set a goal to bring every member of their group out of the camp alive and sane and directed all their efforts in that direction. This sometimes meant abandoning moral principles they would have honored under other circumstances. Each of them, for example, had one blanket against the November cold and they would share their blankets with each other but not with anyone outside the group. Although this was painful, they realized that they would have to limit their circle of responsibility if they were to survive. They gave what general assistance they could in the camp, but their first priority was to each other.
After a month of negotiations, outside supporters were able to get them released. All the Gross-Breeseners emerged alive and sane, with no serious emotional aftereffects, according to Curt. Many were able to leave the country, but some stayed in Germany and died in concentration camps. The Nazis took over the farm and eventually turned it into a labor camp with Polish slave labor.
Curt fled to Holland and then England, staying in refugee camps in each country, and then to the United States, where he was given a position teaching psychology at the College of William and Mary, eventually becoming head of the psychology department.
Curt consulted with the U.S. government on the conditions to expect in the concentration camps and the kinds of support the prisoners would need. He became a U.S. citizen in 1945. He returned to Germany in 1950 to become a professor at the University of Hamburg, where he developed the first university-level program in social work in Germany, as well as standardizing the Weschler Intelligence Test, writing protocols for child guidance and writing an introductory text in psychology. He died on January 17, 1972.
You can learn more about Gross Breesen at http://www.grossbreesen.com