Survivors to recount horrors of Holocaust at Heinz Hall remembrance
An explosion awoke Fritz Ottenheimer the day the Nazis came for his father.
When he looked out the back window of his family’s apartment in Konstanz, Germany, “All I could see was a wall of fire,” he said.
The Nazis had blown up the town’s synagogue as part of a coordinated attack on Jewish businesses and temples known as Kristallnacht, or “Night of Broken Glass.”
After the explosion, Jewish men were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. Ottenheimer’s mother, Klara, was hysterical when her husband, Ludwig, was taken away.
“We had no idea what they would do to him. We did not know what was happening or why,” said Ottenheimer, who was 13 at the time.
“There were no charges read. He was not accused of committing a crime. Being Jewish had become a crime in Germany.”
Ottenheimer, 90, is among only a few dozen Holocaust survivors in the Pittsburgh area. Several will share their stories this week at Holocaust remembrance events.
Wednesday marks the beginning of Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. It has been 70 years since Allied forces liberated the concentration camps during World War II.
Ottenheimer said health problems will prevent him from speaking at this year’s events, but he spoke to the Trib by phone.
His father spent a month at a concentration camp before being released. He contracted dysentery and lost weight, Ottenheimer said.
His family had owned a clothing store, but it went out of business after Adolf Hitler ordered a boycott of Jewish stores.
The Ottenheimers fled to the United States in May 1939, about three months before World War II erupted.
“We were lucky to have gotten out just in time,” Ottenheimer said. “We were very happy to be away from all the violence in Germany.”
His parents found jobs in New York City and Ottenheimer joined the Army after graduating from high school in 1944.
He spent the final days of the war in the European theater, fighting against the regime from which he escaped.
After the war, he became a mechanical engineer at Westinghouse Electric Corp. He lives in Oakland.
He used to know many Holocaust survivors. But each year, the number shrinks.
“Unfortunately,” he said, “the passage of time is finishing the job that Hitler started.”
The dwindling number of survivors also concerns Harry Schneider, co-chairman of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, which is sponsoring an event Wednesday at Heinz Hall in which several Holocaust survivors living in the area will speak.
“The main thing is to show what happened,” said Schneider, whose family fled Poland after it was invaded by Germany in 1939. “So it doesn’t happen again.”
Tony Raap is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7827 or [email protected].