Isi Metzstein recounts how he experienced the Kristallnacht attack as a schoolboy in Berlin in 1938
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INT: Sunday the 13th of June and we’re here in the West End of Glasgow to interview Professor Isi Metzstein. Is it all right if I call you Isi?
IM: So, can we start with your arrival here in Scotland? Could you tell us please when and where you were born and did you have a different name at birth or was this always your name?
IM: No. My name is Isi Israel Metzstein. People think Isi is a short but it’s actually a German name (or a German-ish name) and Israel was my second name and Metzstein obviously was the family name which isn’t…it’s hand made – my father made it up. I mean that. Because he was originally called Millstein. I think he wanted to be more German perhaps, I don’t know. They went to Germany from Poland. Well when Russia became Poland then they went to Germany in the early twenties and I suspect he was trying to be a bit more German.
INT: And whereabouts in Germany..?
INT: You were born in Germany?
IM: Uh huh, I was born in Berlin
INT: Berlin. And obviously you left to escape the, the Nazis
INT: And do you still remember the days in Germany? You were very young when you came here.
IM: I remember quite a lot. I don’t know where to start. I remember clearly the Kristallnacht and it was quite a curious experience because I’ve never heard anyone else talking about this in this way. I actually went to a school, it was a Jewish school,
you could walk to (it was about 10 minutes/8 minutes walk) and, as I was walking there some children of my class came towards me and said ‘Don’t go, the synagogue’. The synagogue and the school were attached to each other and the synagogue was on fire. So, I never worried about it, I didn’t know why it was on fire, I just thought ‘it’s on fire’. So I went to look.
Now I realise it was probably the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done in my life, but nobody paid any attention to me, and of course when I saw what was happening, I went home. But I saw the synagogue was burning, the fire had spread to the roof of the school, and the fire brigade standing by making sure that none of the non-Jewish property was on fire,
and everybody looking at it and enjoying themselves. The non-Jews I mean. And I just went back home. It wasn’t until later that I discovered that this had been part of a, a major attack on the Jewish…
There were some big synagogues in Berlin and they were all burnt out, most of them. But the synagogue was attached to the school. Literally physically attached to it.
INT: You spoke of people watching and enjoying it. Do you think it was a minority who felt like that or..? What do you feel?
IM: No I don’t think a minority felt like that. I think at that stage the vast majority of Germans went alongside.
Maybe not to the same degree of agreement with it but not enough to make any protest or stay away. No doubt about it. At that stage Hitler was very popular and the treatment of Jews was seen as either a very good thing or something that you wouldn’t want to have to worry about. But I would say that my only feeling about that is that the Germans as a whole were anti-Semitic, to different degrees obviously, and nothing I’ve discovered since has changed my mind.