Lesson 1

Early Childhood and the Rise of the Nazis

Born in the town of Gemünd in the Eifel region of Germany in 1932, Hanna was the only child of Markus and Amalie Zack. They lived in an apartment above Markus’ Kaufhaus  (store) where he sold antiques. Markus married Amalie after his first wife died in 1928 and the two maintained a religious household that was kept kosher and honored the major Jewish holidays and festivals, such as Passover.

Hanna’s childhood coincided with the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany. In fact, in 1937 Hitler actually visited the town of Gemünd on his way to the Nazi estate of Vogelsang.  Around this time Hanna began experiencing anti-Semitism, mostly through being excluded, first from the local swimming pool and then from Gemünd’s movie theatre. In November of 1938, the Reich Minister of Education issued a decree excluding Jewish children from participating in German schools. Hanna’s parents were forced to send her, along with the other Jewish children of Gemünd, by train to be educated in the nearby town of Kall.

A week prior to the decision of the minister of education to exclude Jewish children, was  Kristallnacht (night of the broken glass), which occurred November 9-10, 1938. On November 7th, a 17 year old Hannover resident, Herschel Grynszpan, shot and killed Ernst vom Rath, counselor to the German embassy in France. Herschel’s actions were
committed in response to his recent deportation, where a few weeks prior many Polish Jews living in Germany were abruptly rounded up and sent to Poland without provisions, housing, or assistance. The German response to Herschel’s actions were the premeditated attack on Jewish residences, businesses, and synagogues now known as  Kristallnacht. 

The results of this night were:

  •  1574 synagogues burned
  • 267 synagogues destroyed
  • 2500 businesses vandalized
  • 91 Jewish men were killed
  • 30,000 Jews arrested
  • Penalty of one billion Reichsmarks ($400 million U.S. dollars) fine on the Jewish  community for damages done

Gemünd directly experienced the violence of Kristallnacht. The synagogue was set on fire and the angry mob then rampaged through the main street, the Dreibornerstrasse, where the Zack family resided. The windows of Jewish homes were broken and the Zack family courtyard was stormed, breaking open their shed and stealing Markus Zack’s antiques. On November 11th, the Jewish men of Gemünd were rounded up and transported 60 kilometers to the city of Aachen. This group included Markus Zack who had at that point become seriously ill. Shortly after his return to the family, the Zack’s moved from Gemund to Köln.

Hanna and her mother Amalie

Hanna as a child in Gemünd

Calendar of Events 1932 – 1938

Johanna Flora (Hannalore) Zack is born in Bonn.
The Zack family lives at Dreibornerstrasse 174, Gemünd.

President von Hindenburg appoints Hitler as Chancellor.

The Reichstag, Berlin (the government building), is set on fire, leading the Nazi’s to demand sweeping powers, laying the foundation for a police state.

During a one-day boycott of Jewish shops and businesses, Hitler’s Brownshirts paint slogans and yellow stars of David on Jewish shop windows.  
The process of Aryanization (the transfer of Jewish businesses to non-Jewish Germans with prices officially fixed below market value) begins.

The foundation stone is laid for the Burg Vogelsang (a Nazi estate and training center for future Nazi leaders), accompanied by large-scale celebrations.

The Nuremberg Laws are announced, institutionalizing racial theories already prevalent in Nazi ideology.
A partial includes the following:

• Jews are excluded from Reich citizenship.
• A Jew is defined as anyone having 3 or 4 Jewish grandparents.
• Jews can no longer employ German females younger than 45 years of age in their households.

The law takes effect on January 1, 1936, and the Zack’s live in maid, Lisbet, is forced to leave.

All Jewish children are expelled from public schools. Jews are barred from cinemas and sports facilities.

Kristallnacht, a coordinated destruction of synagogues and attacks on Jewish businesses, rages throughout Germany and Austria.

Questions for Reflection

Question 1

Later Hanna would recall an instance that carried an image for her of her father for the rest of her life. Jewish businesses had begun to be ‘Aryanized’, meaning they were sold to non-Jewish Germans at cheaper prices fixed by the Nazis. Markus Zack no longer owned his store and the man who took over would curse Markus and speak violently towards him in front of young Hanna. Markus would say nothing back and this left Hanna with a feeling of needing to protect her father and a belief that he was weak.

Do you think Markus was being weak absorbing these words and actions in silence? Keep in mind he had no recourse to stop them legally and to retaliate would only bring further hardship and violence towards him and his family.

If you were in Markus’ place, how would you feel as a parent having these things done towards you and hearing curses spoken against you in front of your own child? Would you feel angry…helpless…scared?

Markus Zack, standing at the far right in the photo, was a member of the Gemünder Schützenverein (Gemund Protection Association)

Question 2

When Hanna was six years old she, and a group of Jewish school children, were surrounded by all the other school children who held hands, dancing around them, as they chanted anti-Semitic songs. Hanna wondered, as a small child, why they were hated and despised so much by the others? Where had they learned such contempt for another? Hanna did not remember the words they sang, but said, “I can still see the looks of hatred on their faces and feel the rhymes beating on our heads like acid rain. That was the last day we attended the  evangelische Schule (Protestant School).”

How would you comfort a young Hanna in this situation? How would you answer a six year old experiencing this level of hate and explain it to them in a way they could understand? Where did the contempt come from?

Question 3

During the 1936 Olympics, Germany was building new pools all throughout the country to celebrate the event. On a family walk along a hilly path above the Gemünd Kurpark (spa park), Hanna could see children and families playing and hear their shouts and laughter from the new community pool. Hanna said to herself, “I want to go there and play in the water.” A long silence followed, and then came Markus Zack’s strange, sad words, “Jews are not allowed.”

On another walk closer to her home with a family friend, Ruth Holden, Hanna was being taken to the Kino (cinema) to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The theatre still stands today, showing films just 100 meters from where the Zack’s used to live. This day as they turned the corner, Ruth’s expression suddenly changed. Alarmed, Hanna asked, “What’s the matter?” Ruth was 11 years older and spelt out for Hanna the large, black letters prominently displayed in a new notice: “No Jews allowed.”

 Segregation has the impact of dehumanizing others and making them feel less valued. How do you think these experiences and restrictions impacted Jews across Germany, not just their ability to participate in public areas, but also their sense of value and worth?

Have you ever experienced or seen segregation in your own life? Have you seen individuals, or groups, belittled and devalued? What are the potential consequences that these actions and views hold for the future? 

Hanna as a child in Gemünd