For two nights beginning on Nov. 9, 1938, Nazis rampaged through the Jewish communities of Austria and Germany, destroying homes, businesses, and synagogues on what became known as Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass.
“These nights of destruction became the dawn of the Holocaust,” said Barbara Wind, director of the Holocaust Council of MetroWest.
Wind spoke on Nov. 9 to some 50 survivors, their families, and community members who gathered in the Harry Wilf Holocaust Memorial on the Aidekman campus in Whippany. The event marked the 73rd anniversary of Kristallnacht.
“Kristallnacht was a message to all the Jews who remained in Germany and Austria and the Sudetenland since Hitler took power in 1933 that they were not wanted and had to leave,” Wind said. “Many Jews who had stayed until then thinking that things would blow over did what they could to leave.”
Among those who were able to flee the Nazis was Anitta Boyko Fox, who was 11 years old when she lived through the terror of Kristallnacht in her family’s apartment in Vienna.
She told her story at a lunchtime meeting of the council after the memorial observance.
Halting several times on the brink of tears, Fox recalled how the superintendent of their building warned her parents and grandparents of the coming terror the night before.
“He told them, ‘Turn off the lights, put the child to sleep, and keep the windows shut. The apartment should look empty.’”
Then, Fox said, her family heard “the boom boom boom of the marching footsteps, the banging on the doors, and, later, the screaming, the crying, the yelling, and the pleading of the people we knew in the house.”
The girl clung to her pet dog and guinea pig, afraid they would make sounds and alert the invaders. “Then the super came up the next day and showed us that our door was the only one that had not been knocked down. We were the only surviving Jews. All the other apartments had been ransacked, and all the other Jewish families were gone.”
Inspired by the other members of her family, Fox said, “I was determined to be strong and carry my load as gracefully as those around me.”
As the family set out for a train to Paris, then on to refuge in Switzerland, her father gave Fox a ball. He told her to keep bouncing it and never look back.
“He didn’t want me to see him get arrested,” she said. “The whole thing was quite an ordeal.”
The family managed to flee Austria intact, then immigrate to New York a year and a half later. Fox later became an occupational therapist, married Sheldon Fox, and had three children. She and her husband now live in Hillside.
“You were very, very lucky. You were able to stay with your family,” remarked Gina Lanceter, a survivor who lives in Montclair. Lanceter said she survived by hiding at the age of 14 after her parents forced her out of the window of a cattle car headed for the Majdanek extermination camp.
“Even if you had a very hard time in the United States, it was a picnic compared to other people,” Lanceter said.
“I know that,” Fox replied. “That is why from the very beginning I have always tried to help wherever I could.”