75 Years After Kristallnacht, Survivor Recalls the Night That Seared His Life

Scheduled speaker at Yad Vashem event was 12, heard neighbor being thrown to his death, waited with family for Nazis to come to their door

Daniel Heiman was just shy of 12 years old when the Nazis broke into the building in Nuremburg where he lived with his family. They destroyed his aunt's home. They threw a neighbor out the window to his death.

Heiman’s family album has many photos of him as a child in Germany. He was born in Nuremburg to an assimilated Jewish family, many of whose members served as officers in the German army in World War I. His father Max and uncle Leopold, who lost his arm “for Kaiser and fatherland,” were such officers.

Another uncle, a pilot in the German air force, “fell in the Jenin area, where he was sent to help the Turks stop the British General Allenby,” Heiman says.

The heroic stories of the uncles who fought for Germany did not help them on the night between November 9 and 10, 1938 – Kristallnacht (Crystal Night, also referred to as the Night of Broken Glass).

The family had lived in Germany at least 200 years, and his maternal grandfather was a neighbor and frequent visitor of the mother of Heinrich Himmler, who became head of the SS and Gestapo. All Heiman’s uncles were arrested on Kristallnacht and taken to the Dachau concentration camp.

Daniel was supposed celebrate his 12th birthday on November 13.On Kristallnacht, the Nazi marauders in the Nuremburg building passed over the Heimans' apartment by mistake. The family had moved into the building at the beginning of the month and had not updated the police about their new address, as required.

They lived on the ground floor in a six-room apartment. On the fourth floor lived another Jewish family, the Ulfelders. Their son Peter was Daniel’s friend.

“Every morning we went on the tram together to the Jewish high school in the town of Furth,” he said. Another student at that school was Henry Kissinger. The other neighbors in the building - a bakery owner, a grocery store owner and a green grocer – knew the new tenants were Jews. But they didn’t tell the Nazis or the police that the Heimans had moved in.

“Early in the morning we suddenly heard loud banging on the door to the building and then shouts and boots stomping up the stairs,” he said. “We didn’t know what was happening, but it was clear that it was something terrible. We closed the shutters facing the street and sat on my parents’ bed at the end of the corridor. We hugged each other and trembled with fear.

“Then we heard the noise of furniture being thrown from the top floor to the street, then a terrible shout and a thud. They threw Mr. Ulfelder out of the window and he was killed,” he says.

Heiman and his family waited for the knock on their door, but the Nazis left the building. Heiman’s father and uncle, who lived with them, left for the train station on their way to relatives in Dresden. Daniel and his mother walked to his aunt’s villa.

“When we entered the house we saw the destruction … all the closets and furniture had been turned over, their contents spread all over the floor. Everything was in ruins with broken glass and precious crystals. In the midst of it all my aunt sat in shock,” he says.

After that Daniel’s parents tried to get a visa to some other country. His father traveled to Berlin several times and waited for hours on long lines at consulates. His parents sent letters to relatives who had fled to Uruguay, begging to be saved. In the last letter they wrote, “Tomorrow we’re going away from here.”

Even now, 75 years later, Daniel cannot free himself from the image of his parents locking their front door for the last time, handing the key to a neighbor and marching with a small suitcase toward the railway station, knowing they will not return.

On Sunday, Heiman will recount his memories of Krystallnacht at an event organized by Yad Vashem.

David Bachar / Reproduction
David Bachar