Witness to the Holocaust
Ralph RehbockRalph Rehbock was born in July 1934, in Gotha, Germany. The Nazis were already in power and Hitler had become Chancellor the year before. Despite rising persecution, Jews were still encouraged to emigrate at this time, many attempting to find refuge in non-occupied countries of Europe, as well as the United States.In April 1938, Ralph’s mother came to Chicago, where their family had relatives. Ralph’s mother was able to meet with the family’s cousins who signed an affidavit form and therefore guaranteed sponsorship of the Rehbock family, allowing them the ability to apply for a visa.
Ralph and his family were scheduled to meet at the American embassy in Berlin to receive their visas on November 10, 1938. They arrived two days in advance of their appointment, and were witnesses to the events of Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass) on November 9. Although Ralph’s family saw a synagogue burning from their hotel window, they could have never imagined the impact of what happened during that night.
While still in Berlin the Rehbock’s received a phone call from their housekeeper that the Nazis had come to their home in Gotha, looking for Ralph’s father the night before. When they arrived at the embassy on November 10, they were told to come back the next day. Returning the following morning Ralph’s family discovered that November 11, was Armistice Day, the embassy was closed. However, thanks to a Marine guard tracking down the ambassador on his day off, the Rehbock’s visa was granted and they were free to emigrate.
Soon after, Ralph and his mother left for Holland. When they arrived at the Dutch border, his mother met a stranger at the train station who promised he could get them get to safety. Unsure she could trust this stranger, Ralph’s mother agreed to let him help them. At the tip of this stranger’s hat Ralph and his mother ran across the tracks to board a local train, instead of a German train whose direction was unknown. This courageous last minute decision saved Ralph and his mother’s life. Ralph’s father joined them in England and together, they arrived in the United States on Christmas Eve in 1938.
Today, Ralph Rehbock serves on the Executive Board of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center and speaks extensively about his experiences on the local and state level. The opening of the new museum will serve as a dream come true for Ralph, whose family’s story and memory will be preserved for generations to come. He hopes that people will be inspired by the new museum and that visitors will be able to identify and learn from the stories of survivors, so that events such as the Holocaust never happen again.