Survivor of 1938 German rampage recalls experience

Huddled in a cellar below his grandparents’ apartment, Manfred Klepper listened as Nazi German police armed with tire irons and other weapons tore apart his home on Nov. 9, 1938 — a night forever known as Kristallnacht.

“We could hear the breaking of glass,” Klepper, now 82, recalled Sunday evening at a Holocaust memorial held at the Beth Shalom Synagogue on Jefferson Highway. “And it went on and on and on.”

After about an hour, the ransacking ended. When Klepper’s mother finally emerged from the cellar — his father was “luckily” away from home that night — she shrieked, he said.

“I looked around, and I could not believe my eyes,” Klepper remembered.

Glass shards covered the floor. Upturned drawers and broken furniture littered the apartment in Trier, in southwest Germany.

“When we came upstairs, we had nothing,” he said.

More than 75 years later, Klepper, a man with bright blue eyes who goes by “Manny,” has much to be thankful for, he said.

He’s thankful for the nuns who lived near his grandparents’ apartment. Not only did they help his family clean up after Kristallnacht, some later risked their lives to teach him reading and writing.

“Angels of mercy,” Klepper called them.

He’s thankful that his grandparents, his sister, 10 years his elder who is still alive, and some of his mother’s family — all of whom had previously fled Germany to the United States — were able to secure exit visas for him and his mother not long before the Germans invaded Russia in 1941.

“If we would’ve been there three or four months longer, we never would’ve made it out,” Klepper said.

He’s thankful that his father, a resistance fighter who would disappear for months at a time in the late 1930s, showed up unexpectedly in Moscow after young Manfred and his mother arrived there by airplane from Berlin in the spring 1940 with “one little suitcase.”

“I asked him how he got there,” Klepper recalled.

His father’s response, in German: “There are ways.”

The Kleppers made other stops in Korea, China and Japan before finally boarding an American ship that took about two weeks to reach San Francisco.

From there, they hopped on a train to Chicago, where Klepper lived for decades before he and his wife of about 30 years, Sheila Klepper, moved to Lafayette about eight years ago to be closer to their grandchildren.

Of course, he’s thankful for them, too.