Country pursuits: Steven Burkeman finds citizenship

‘The date of the fire was 9 November, 1938 – Kristallnacht.’

Fasanenstrasse Synagogue, Berlin, after Kristalnacht (Wikimedia Commons)

From a safe distance, a fourteen-year-old girl, with her mother and stepfather, watched in horror as her place of worship burned down. Someone had called the fire brigade, but the firefighters stood by (though they made sure the flames didn’t spread to any neighbouring buildings). Many years later – this year, in fact – a man, accompanied by his wife, signed a form at the German Embassy in Belgravia. I’m the man, and the girl was my mother. The burning building was her synagogue in Berlin. The date of the fire was 9 November 1938 – Kristallnacht, ‘the night of the broken glass’. It was the signal to many hitherto-patriotic German Jews that the time had come, if it were possible, to leave home and find somewhere they might be safe from the Nazis.

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