Las Vegas-area Kristallnacht survivors to share stories

Joseph Frank was about a year old the night Nazi troops raided his home and detained his father as part of Kristallnacht, a two-day massacre throughout Germany in which about 100 Jews were killed and their communities were left in ruins.

“They smashed everything to pieces,” said Frank, 81, of Henderson. “My mother told me they turned my carriage upside down and threw me out. … As they were breaking up everything, my mother noticed one of them. They were friends before, and it turned out he was the head of that SS force. When he recognized her, my mother said to him, ‘How could you be doing this to us?’ ”

About 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses and hundreds of Jewish synagogues, schools, homes and even graveyards were vandalized Nov. 10, 1938. The coordinated raid, also known as the “Night of Broken Glass,” reflected the Nazis’ escalation from exclusionary policies to violence targeting Jews.

Frank will be in the crowd as several other Las Vegas-area Kristallnacht survivors tell their stories at 2 p.m. Sunday at Temple Beth Sholom in Summerlin. The hourlong talk, which was planned to coincide with the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, comes as the Jewish community mourns the slayings of 11 people Oct. 27 at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

‘Nowhere to go’

German SS troops arrested about 30,000 Jewish men, including Frank’s father, and sent them to concentration camps. Frank is one of hundreds of children who were left abandoned.

“The only way to get out was if somebody, a relative of yours, could get you a visa to leave Germany,” said Frank, whose family was living in Edelfingen, about 80 miles southeast of Frankfurt. “The problem was, there was nowhere to go because no other country wanted to let us in. Luckily, my mother had a brother in London that was willing to put up a bond. He would vouch for us so we wouldn’t be a ‘burden on English government.’ He sent us a visa. Then they let my father leave, and we got on a train to London.”

In March 1940, Frank and his family migrated to the United States. His mother had another brother in New York who vouched for them. Frank moved to the Las Vegas Valley in 2005.

Alexander Kuechel, 94, was 14 when his father was taken by Nazi soldiers during Kristallnacht. They were reunited a year later and moved to Krakow, Poland, with his mother. Two years later, they were living in Chrzanow, about 30 miles east of Krakow, when Kuechel was picked up by the police and sent to a concentration camp. His parents were sent shortly afterward to Auschwitz, where they were killed. He was shuffled among seven concentration camps in Poland at 17, he said.

“We were in no man’s land in Germany,” said Kuechel, who now lives in Summerlin. “There were hundreds of concentration camps. It was almost impossible to escape. Germans would take you right away and denounce you and shoot you on the spot. Escaping was unheard of. Anyone who tried was killed. You had to have family in another country vouching for you. My sister tried with her husband and their 2-month-old. They gassed all three of them.”

Kuechel left Germany on Dec. 17, 1949, four years after World War II ended. He was 26. He moved to New York and went to night school. A year later, he moved to Los Angeles, where he got his diploma at Dorsey High School while working at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Kuechel worked in real estate for about 15 years and moved to the Las Vegas area in 1996 with his wife, Lilo, after retiring. She’s also a Kristallnacht survivor.

‘Not just Jewish history’

“This is a very important aspect of human history,” said Esther Finder, 65, of Henderson, organizer of Saturday’s event and president of the Holocaust Survivors of Southern Nevada. “It’s not just Jewish history. It’s human history. There are so many things we are seeing today that sadly go back to what was going on in Germany. It starts small. It doesn’t start with killing people. It didn’t start with gas chambers. That’s just how it ended.”

Finder, also the president of Generations of the Shoah-Nevada, is the daughter of two Holocaust survivors. She became president of Holocaust Survivors of Southern Nevada in 2016 and founded Generations of the Shoah about eight years ago. As part of her mission, she organizes events to help keep Holocaust survivors’ legacy alive as their numbers in the Las Vegas area dwindle. She estimated that 100 remain in the region.

“I remember my mother telling me a story once,” Finder said. “She needed salt or sugar for her mother, and she went to a neighbor that she felt very close to. My family is from Poland. The Polish woman turned her away and told her, ‘Don’t come back again.’ As a child, the lady used to bribe my mother with a ‘candy for a kiss.’ That’s how close they’d been. But in Poland, if you were caught helping a Jew, not only would you be killed, but your whole family could be killed.”

Contact Mia Sims at Follow @miasims___ on Twitter.

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