Paul Wilson: 75 years after Nazi rampage – the girl who got away

Hamilton marks the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the dark night that opened the door to the Holocaust.
Several groups in the UK organized rescue missions to get Jewish children up to age 17 to safety before the war with Germany began. These refugees landed in London in February of 1939. Hamilton's Lore Jacobs was just a few months behind. (Wikimedia Commons)

It’s called Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass. Lore Jacobs heard the sound of Nazi boots pounding up the stairs to the fourth-floor apartment in Frankfurt where she lived with her mother and father.

Lore – pronounced Lori – was 14 then. “I remember every minute,” she says.

Now she is 89, living in west Hamilton. On Thursday evening, Nov. 7, she will remember some more. She will attend a commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, sponsored by the Hamilton Jewish Federation. (It’s free, open to all, 7.30 at Adas Israel Synagogue, 125 Cline South.) 

The guest speaker is David Halton, acclaimed reporter with CBC for decades. His work took him around the world, but in Hamilton he will talk about what his father Matthew saw. He too was a journalist and went to Germany twice in 1933, which resulted in a series of 27 articles for the Toronto Star.

Jean and Matthew Halton in Berlin, 1933. Their son, journalist David Halton, speaks in Hamilton on Thursday. (Courtesy David Halton)

Hitler had become chancellor that year, and his campaign against Jews was building. They were being blamed for Germany’s loss in World War I and hyperinflation and the Depression. 

Matthew Halton witnessed this and wrote his stories. From one, on Mar. 30, 1933: “I saw a parade of hundreds of children, between the ages of seven and sixteen, carrying the swastika and shouting at intervals, ‘The Jews must be destroyed.’”

Son David, writing a book about his father, believes the media then did not do a good job of exposing the Jews’ plight in Germany. There were not enough of the stories his father told. 

Father sold hats

But Lore was living them.

Her family name was Gotthelf. Her father was a wholesaler of hats. She loved to try them on, especially the ones with feathers and lots of decorations. 

She went to a public school, Germans and Jews. But Hitler’s campaign was relentless. First, the Nazis passed laws that restricted the practices of Jewish lawyers and doctors. Then Jews were banned from public schools.

Lore with her parents Gertrud and Sigmund Gotthelf on her father's 50th birthday. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Jews Not Allowed signs went up at libraries, restaurants, swimming pools, theatres.

Citizens were encouraged to fly a red Nazi banner from their apartments. Lore walked down the street and saw all the swastika flags, except where Jewish families lived. “There was red everywhere,” she says.

Nazis got their excuse

And in November of 1938, a German diplomat was killed in Paris by a 17-year-old Jewish boy. The Nazi paramilitary had been looking for an excuse to pillage, and that was it.

They say Kristallnacht was the beginning of the Final Solution, the Holocaust that took six million lives. On Nov. 9 and through the following days, Nazi gangs looted, smashed, torched thousands of Jewish homes, businesses, synagogues. Nearly a hundred were killed in the attacks.

Three men stomped into Lore’s home. They upended furniture, emptied drawers, stole the silver, looted the safe box concealed behind a painting. 

Lore stepping off a streetcar in Frankfurt. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

“Then they started to push my father around,” Lore says. “I screamed at them to leave him alone.” They took her father away and Lore and her mother huddled in the corner of their apartment for days. Father was returned a few weeks later in bad health. Lore says he was never the same.

Others had managed to already leave Germany. The United States seemed a good refuge, but it had strict quotas. Canada did too.

The UK rescued children 

Then Lore’s parents learned of something called the Kindertransport, an effort in the UK by Jews, Quakers and other groups to rescue Jewish children, up to age 17. Lore was accepted. 

The refugees using Kindertransport were allowed one sealed suitcase. Somehow, Lore’s parents managed to equip her with two large trunks. Clothes, tablecloths, soap, atlas, dictionary and, most precious of all, dozens and dozens of photos. 

“I’ve never talked about that,” Lore says. “To tell you the truth, I’m a little embarrassed.” (But her cargo became important. The photos – and her trunks – are now part of the collection of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.)

Lore and Erwin Jacobs on their wedding day in 1944. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Lore was able to say only a quick goodbye to her parents at the train station in Frankfurt, July 7, 1939. She crossed the channel to England and moved in with a couple who had a fine home in Northampton. 

But Lore spoke almost no English. “I couldn’t explain myself. I cried a lot.” And in September of 1939, with war declared, Lore became an enemy alien.

Everyone was terrified

She was no longer just a Jewish refugee in England, she was a German. That troubled the woman of the house where Lore was staying. “She wanted me out. Everyone was terrified. I can’t blame them.”

Lore moved to Birmingham, got work, survived. “I always accepted everything, even when I left my parents,” she says. “I never complained.”

At synagogue socials in Birmingham, she danced and fell in love with Erwin Jacobs. He had made it out of Berlin. They married in 1944. She was 20, he was 24.

Hamilton has been home for Lore Jacobs for nearly 60 years. (Paul Wilson/CBC)

The next year, the war over, Lore learned through the Red Cross that the Nazis had sent her parents to the Lodz Ghetto. They had perished there in the spring of 1942.

In the mid ‘50s, Lore and Erwin came to Hamilton and he worked at Westinghouse. They raised two children, Peter and Gale. When Erwin died 17 years ago, the family set up a Holocaust Education fund in his name.

For many years, Lore did not tell her story. That changed and she has now visited many schools. “Some don’t want to hear about the past, but children do,” she says. “When people ask me to talk, I have to. I can’t say no.”   |  @PaulWilsonCBC


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