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ONE PERSON DOES MAKE A DIFFERENCE

The Story of MAX MEISELS

ON NOVEMBER 9, 1938, Max Meisels was walking on a street in Vienna, when he saw a gang of bullies converge on a victim. He had witnessed Jews being badly beaten before. Today, hooligans roamed the streets in an orgy of violence. Tension in Vienna had boiled over with each passing day since the shooting of Ernst von Rath, the Third Secretary of the Germany Embassy in Paris by Herschel Grynszpan two days before. Today he died. Frightened by the increased violence he was seeing, Max decided to return to his apartment. He used the back alleys and side streets, avoiding any areas where crowds had congregated. Crowds meant trouble. Fear made him dart into darkened areas until the way was clear. He hid behind obstacles when angry mobs came into view. By stealth he made his way to the apartment where he and his brother Leo rented a room. By the time Max reached the building, it was dark; it had taken him hours to make a distance that could be covered in minutes. When he entered the apartment, Leo was the only one there; the owner of the apartment had not returned. They locked the doors and shut all the lights. From the darkness they peered out the window and listened to the yelling and hollering of the SA bullies that roamed the streets below. They heard glass breaking and screams from people from another building. They saw someone thrown out of a window with their furniture. The sky over Vienna glowed red from the many Jewish homes that were ablaze. Black smoke covered the district like a dirty blanket and violence ruled the night.

That night, synagogues were set afire and bonfires blazed in districts where Jews were the majority residents. Insanity reigned as blood?crazed sadists danced around the fires, lost in their revelry of personal glory and a need for violence. Prayer books, Torah scrolls, history, poetry and books of philosophy were being burned. There was madness throughout the city as Jews were dragged from their homes and beaten. Shouts of hate rose from the crazed mobs as they shrieked their poison like wolves after their prey, searching for blood - Jewish blood.

Frightened by what they saw, the two young boys crawled underneath their bed. Screams and shouts from within their building were soon followed by the sounds of jackboots on the stairs and to their door. The two boys squeezed themselves as far under the bed as they could, wishing they could become invisible. Their door was smashed open and furniture was thrown about. Leo and Max could hear the sounds of heavy boots approaching their hiding place. They cringed with fright. The boots stopped. They could smell the polish on the leather. They were suffocating from tension, holding their breath for fear of revealing their presence. The bed was pulled away from the wall and they were dragged from their hiding place amid jeers and threats, pushed out of the building and into the street, while being hit and punched with each step they took. Like hyenas fighting amongst themselves for the opportunity to devour another living thing, the thugs pushed at each other trying to reach Max and Leo with their fists and rubber truncheons.

They were spit, punched and shoved to where a large number of Jews were being confined. Angry people hit out at them as they cowered close to each other, surrounded by Hitler Youths, who laughed and jeered at the helpless Jews. The Jews tried unsuccessfully to shield themselves from the blows. Some were further degraded, when forced to wear placards around their neck stating they were Jewish pigs and not fit to live.

Max and Leo with the other unfortunate Jews were forced down the streets towards a large meeting hall. People jeered and spit at them as they were led into the building. Inside, they were made to form into lines and had to identify themselves by showing their documents at several tables against the far wall. While in line they were pushed and clubbed again. Everyone kept their hands over their heads trying to protect themselves from the blows that rained on them with deliberate malice. The noise in the building was jarring. Confusion and noise reigned and pushing and shoving were the means of propelling the frightened people forward.

The room was in the shape of a large square. Behind each table sat an SS-officer. Each table was strewn with papers and contained several rubber stamps, which were pressed onto a new sheet of paper after the officer interviewed each person. At either end of the back wall were doors and most people after their interview left the building by the right door. Leo and Max edged to a table from which a Gestapo officer sat, his eyes burning with hatred, besplendoured in his black uniform, glaring at them.

The SS-officer shouted, "Where is your mother?"

Leo replied, "She is dead."

"Where is your father?" he demanded, pounding a rubber stamp onto a sheet of paper.

"Dead. We are orphans," Leo added.

The German officer stared at them, his eyes seeing for the first time two frightened children, cut and bleeding with their clothes torn. He looked at the sheet of paper in front of him and back at the two boys. He picked up the sheet and tore it, swearing at them at the same time. "Get out! Get out!" he shouted. "Go out the left door before I change my mind."

Not understanding the implication of the officer's threat, Max and Leo ran towards the left door. Max looked back at the SS-officer who was yelling at the person next in line and pointing to the right door. Leo reluctantly opened the door and cautiously looked out.