Friendship Resumes 50 Years After ‘Kristallnacht’
WASHINGTON (AP) _ It was Nov. 10, 1938 in Wittenberg, Germany, and 11-year-old Richard Wiener sat in his aunt’s apartment among the broken glass, china and furniture left behind the night before by a rampaging Nazi mob.
Only one friend dared visit the apartment to warn Wiener it was too dangerous to return to a school where he was the only Jewish student. The schoolmate, Werner Lindemann, had parents who didn’t like Hitler and he was the only gentile at the school who refused to wear the uniform of Hitler’s youth organization.
That November and the months that followed summon painful memories for the 62-year-old Wiener, but one pleasant recollection has unexpectedly returned.
After 50 years, Richard Wiener and Werner Lindemann have found each other.
Wiener, now a patent attorney in Washington, and Lindemann, a retired physician living near Wittenberg in East Germany, correspond regularly, and Wiener is considering a personal visit.
Playing the central role in their reunion was last fall’s 50th anniversary of ″Kristallnacht″ - the night of the broken glass - when Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues were destroyed in Germany and Austria.
Wiener agreed last November to relive his experience in a special service at his synagogue, Temple Sinai in Washington. While preparing for the event, Wiener opened his mailbox one day to find a letter from East Germany.
The note from Lindemann was short. The East German said he felt compelled to write because of the anniversary. Wiener still isn’t sure how Lindemann found his address.
″His next letter was very lengthy,″ Wiener said. ″He told me everything since school. To me, it meant a lot. I have a great need to feel connected to my past.″
″Dear Richard,″ Lindemann wrote last January. ″Those were stormy times. I’m happy you still speak of Wittenberg as your home. Many Germans fall silent when they think about the persecution of the Jews. ... I have felt that since childhood the Nazis were evil, but my eyes were not opened until 1945. Until then, I knew nothing of the concentration camps, nothing of the killing which took place daily...
″You had such a difficult childhood. Unimaginable.″
Last month, Lindemann pleaded: ″Please come as soon as possible. It would make me so happy.″
The letters sent Wiener’s thoughts rolling back in time, and he recalled that his friend’s visit after Crystal Night wasn’t the only time Lindemann risked his safety for his Jewish friend.
″Werner and I would occasionally meet in the park after dark, where he would tell me about school. It was dangerous for him, but it meant a lot to me. He was my one connection to the community. Otherwise, we were outcasts,″ Wiener said.
Wiener said he wants to visit his hometown, the site of the Protestant Reformation, where only a dozen Jewish families lived when Wiener’s family owned a shoe factory there. But Wiener admitted, ″I don’t know if I could handle it.″
″I’ve had a lot of therapy, which is why I have a fairly normal life. I had to do a lot of work to deal with the leftovers of my childhood. When you go to survivors’ groups, you see a lot of sad faces.″
Wiener has traveled to West Germany on legal business but never tried to cross the border into East Germany.
″I felt my past was lost. When people said, ‘Why don’t you go back,’ my answer would be, ’I don’t know anybody there anymore. They would all be strangers,‴ he said.
Wiener left Germany by boat in February 1939, one of the lucky children allowed to go without his parents on a special ″Kindertransport″ to England. His mother - and his father, who was sent to a concentration camp for several months - made their way to the United States later, before the Nazis closed the gates to Jewish emigration.
In his letters, Lindemann went into great detail on his own life: drafted at 15 into the Germany Army, six months in a French prisoner of war camp, a stint as a teacher, a career as a government doctor, a kidney illness that has left him with a decent government pension.
Lindemann has found another link to Wiener’s past: Wolfgang Senst, Wiener’s best childhood friend before he went along with peer pressure and joined the Hitler youth group.
″Wolfgang is now working for the Wittenberg Institute for Research into Persecution of the Jews,″ Wiener said, relaying information from Lindemann. ″Werner said he didn’t give him my address because he didn’t know if it was okay with me. I will write him back and say I want to get in touch.″