MADISON — Hilde Adler was just 10 years old on Nov. 9, 1938, when German soldiers stormed her family’s home in Nuremburg, Germany.
At home alone with her nanny, Adler wasn’t sure what the soldiers wanted, but she was scared all the same.
“I remember that a man in tall black boots came into the room where I was with the nanny,” Alder, now 92, recently recalled.
The next day Adler awoke to chaos. The soldiers had destroyed “every single thing” in her family’s home.
The state-sponsored terrorism that Adler and so many other Jews across Germany, Austria and the rest of the Sudetenland, experienced that night is called Kristallnacht, or the “night of broken glass.”
By the end of the day on Nov. 10, more than 267 synagogues had been destroyed, and more than 7,000 Jewish businesses. Many people died, and roughly 30,000 Jewish men were arrested or thrown in concentration camps.
To mark the 82nd anniversary of that horrendous night, Adler will be the featured speaker of “Lessons from Kristallnacht: Confronting Hate,” an online event hosted by the Nathan & Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center and other supporters.
The event will take place at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 8, on HERC’s Facebook page. The event is being is sponsored by Marvin and Barbara Tick and the Harri Hoffmann Family Foundation. Other hosts include the Coalition for Jewish Learning, Jewish Community Relations Council and Young Leadership Division, all of Milwaukee Jewish Federation, and Milwaukee Turners and Ovation Jewish Home.
Students from local Jewish schools will also make presentations as part of the event, as will interfaith leaders from the Greater Milwaukee area and various other community leaders.
Those who want to view the live event can do so by going to Facebook.com/HercMilwaukee.
Sharing her story
For Adler, sharing her family’s experience is important, especially right now.
“People need to understand that this actually happened, and there are very few people left to tell these stories,” she said. “It’s important for people to learn how much damage racial and religious prejudices can create if they are left unchecked.”
Adler’s family was able to flee Germany in 1939, eventually settling in New York in 1940.
“A lot of German Jews had already left by 1938, but those that did not leave all wanted to leave after (Kristallnacht),” Adler said. “They realized that there was no hope in staying.”
Alder spent the rest of her childhood in New York, later moving to Madison with her husband in 1963.
Although just a child when the Nazi regime came to power, Hilde remembers their incremental approach to persecuting Jews.
In first grade, Hilde was at a public school with kids of all backgrounds and religions.
But by second grade, she was forced to go a school only for Jewish children.
Non-Jewish children in her neighborhood were also slowly encouraged not to play with their Jewish chums around that time, which Adler didn’t understand.
Although they were able to flee before the Nazis started mandating that Jews wear the Star of David on their clothes, every member of her family had “J” stamped into their passport indicating they were Jews.
Jewish men were also required to adopt the middle name Israel on all official documents. Jewish women were required to adopt the middle name Sarah.
While marking Jews in such methodical ways might seem bizarre to us today, Adler says those minor steps are a very real reminder that something just as terrible could happen here.
“When you look at today’s world, you can see how it can happen in a heartbeat. Look what happened with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer,” said Adler, pointing to the arrest of 13 men who had allegedly plotted to kidnap Whitmer.
“I mean if that can happen in this country, anything can. I think it is very important for people to understand how quickly supposedly good people can become like those men.”
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How to go
What: “Lessons from Kristallnacht: Confronting Hate,” with Hilde Adler
When: 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 8
Where: HERC’s Facebook page, @HercMilwaukee.