Remembering Kristallnacht

Kristallnacht -- the Nazi pogroms that battered Jewish communities in Germany and Austria -- came to the Rennert family not at night, but in broad daylight.

Exactly 75 years ago, on Nov. 10, 1938, rampaging Nazi goons battered our grocery story in Vienna.  Display windows were broken, goods were toppled from their shelves, and sacks of flour and sugar were slashed to bits.

Our home was in back of the store, and it was there that my parents, my brother, a visiting cousin, and I tried to keep out of harm's way.  Taking no chances, my mother opened a window and told my cousin and me to jump out and make a run for it.  Which we did, returning a few hours later to witness the store's shattered remains.

A month later, our family left Vienna forever.  With only a few belongings, we made our way by train to Cologne, from there by a local train to Aachen, and from there, along with a few dozen other escaping Jews, we were led by a local smuggler through snow-covered forests into Belgium. 

We settled temporarily in Antwerp, where we got exit visas to the U.S.  Except they weren't operative until July 1940, and Hitler invaded Belgium two months before that.  At that juncture,  my father was detained by Belgian authorities and sent to France, where he was interned (he was considered an adult German male, courtesy of Austria's Anschluss to Germany).  Two years  later, he was killed in Auschwitz.

With more luck, the rest of the family managed to remain in Belgium, where we were hidden in a Walloon village during the last two years of the German occupation.  In March 1947, we arrived in the U.S. -- seven years later than we planned, but glad to be alive.

Looking back, all that began 75 years ago today.

But why does it still feel like yesterday?

Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers.