The recipient of a British Empire Medal for his services to Holocaust education and awareness has said Kristallnacht saved his life.
Kristallnacht was a wave of Nazi-coordinated violence against Jews across Germany in November 1938 that is so called because of the debris left from the destruction of Jewish properties and synagogues.
As a result of the violence, the British Government began to allow unaccompanied Jewish children into the country as refugees – a movement that came to be known as the Kindertransport. Michael Brown, 92, was one of those children, arriving just days before Britain’s declaration of war against Germany and the cessation of the transports.
Since then, he has spoken to voluntary organisations, religious groups and schoolchildren in the UK and Germany about his experiences of fleeing Nazi persecution.
In the last two years, he has partnered with the Holocaust Educational Trust and spoken to more than 2,000 people and was one of the first survivors to try sharing his story via Zoom.
Now he is to be awarded the British Empire Medal as part of the New Year honours in recognition of his work.
Speaking to the PA news agency, he said: “I always tell the children this, it sounds a bit ironic. I say, in a way, Kristallnacht saved my life. The reason I say that is because the story of the Kindertransport, allowing Jewish children to emigrate to England actually started after.
“In fact, I always think about how lucky I am because probably, I was on if not the very last, the second to last transport before the war began. I came to England on August 23, 1939. So I just squeezed in.”
He said that as a boy in Hanover he used to walk past the SS headquarters where the latest weekly edition of the antisemitic Nazi newspaper, Der Stürmer, would be on display in a glass window depicting Jews as drinking the blood of Christian children.
He said: “Those two years from 1937 to 1939 were very difficult years and as a child I was aware that things were going from bad to worse and I clearly remember Kristallnacht, in November 1938.
“During that period we stayed in the flat, we didn’t go out. And I remember my parents talking to each other in English because they didn’t want us to know what was going on and, as I tell the children, we were dreading the Gestapo or the SS coming up to our flat and taking my father away.
“My grandfather who lived in east Germany was taken into custody with my uncle, his son, and they disappeared for some weeks or even months. The elderly man came back a broken man and didn’t dare talk about anything that had happened to him, lest he be rearrested, and my uncle, the younger man, never reappeared. He must have died in custody.”
His mother and father were taken to a ghetto in Riga, Latvia, and did not survive the war.
In describing a recent trip back to Hanover where he spoke to hundreds of children, he said: “I got some reactions from teachers who said a number of the children were very moved by what I had to tell them. It’s important that they realise what has happened and, hopefully, it will be an antidote to it ever happening again. That might be a bit optimistic but one has to be.”
Two other Holocaust survivors are also to be honoured. Lilly Ebert, 98, is to be made MBE after speaking widely in the press about the need to stand up against antisemitism and after spending Holocaust Memorial Day 2018 outside Liverpool Street station speaking with commuters about her experiences in Auschwitz.
Yvonne Bernstein, 85, also receives an MBE for services to Holocaust education. She spent nearly 20 years volunteering at the Jewish Museum and the Wiener Library and was photographed by the Duchess of Cambridge as part of a project conceived by Jewish News to mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2020.
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