Eyewitness Story

Thanks to a generous gift from Museum member Jack Heiman, the date of November 9th will be remembered in perpetuity at the Museum.  Each year, a Kristallnacht commemoration takes place on November 9th with a candle lighting ceremony, a meaningful speaker, and a special Kaddish recited in memory of all those that perished in the Holocaust.  Additional support of this initiative is provided by Paul Heiman of Cincinnati, Ohio, who has roots in Demmelsdorf, Germany, and by Doris Baer of Chicago.

Wilhelm Heimann had a choice to make.

On November 9, 1938, Wilhelm Heimann and his wife were away when they received a call from friends, telling them that their home in Nuremberg, Germany had been ransacked and that S.S. guards were standing at the entrance gate of Wilhelm’s large shoe factory to prevent him and his business partner from entering.   Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” now referred to by scholars as the November Pogrom, had just changed their world forever.

Wilhelm had always looked after his entire family.  One of his nephews, Jack Heiman, now a major donor and member of the Illinois Holocaust Museum, was born in 1920 in the small 135-person village of Demmelsdorf, Germany.  With the rise of German nationalism in 1931, Jack’s parents enrolled him in a Jewish high school in the town of Furth, a suburb of Nuremberg, and sent him to live with a host family named Kissinger. It was here that Jack would become acquainted with the future United States Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger.  At age 13, Jack went back to Demmelsdorf to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah.  His father suddenly and tragically passed away three months later.

Wilhelm stepped in to help. He arranged for Jack to learn the shoemaking trade, hoping that circumstances would improve and Jack would join him in the shoe factory. But if not, Jack would have a trade that would enable him to make a living in a foreign country.

By 1936, Wilhelm knew that time was running out for the Jews in Germany. He went to Chicago to visit his cousin, Mildred Meyer, and also stopped in Cincinnati, Ohio to see her brother.  Mildred was the wife of Carl Meyer, one of the partners of the law firm Mayer, Meyer, Austrian & Platt (now Mayer Brown).  Wilhelm asked for 30 affidavits to rescue the extended family.  By November 1938, 15 had emigrated to Chicago and Cincinnati, and 15 were still left in Germany.

On the evening of November 9, 1938—and into the next day—the Nazis staged pogroms and anti-Jewish riots throughout Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland.  At least 91 Jews were murdered outright and up to 30,000 were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Some 267 synagogues were burned down and 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses were damaged or destroyed, and Jewish homes, schools, and institutions were ransacked. The German and Austrian Police stood idly by and only intervened when non-Jewish property was threatened. The night would become known as Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass.”

Visas were now very hard to secure. Wilhelm learned that the sum of $2,000 could be deposited into an English bank to get one person out of Germany, on to England, and eventually to America.  But like most Jews in Germany, Wilhelm had had to sell his property for a fraction of its value and was forced to deposit the funds in a German bank.  If he left the country, the funds would be confiscated.

Wilhelm called upon Mildred and her brother and without hesitation $30,000 was sent from America to England. In March 1939, Wilhelm’s nephew Jack was the first of the remaining 15 family members to arrive in London.  Jack’s mother was the last to leave Germany, only two days before World War II broke out. 

In early 1940, Jack moved from London to Chicago.  He took a job working at a shoe factory for $12 per week using the skills that Wilhelm had insisted he learn. Three years later Jack joined the United States armed forces and was stationed in Okinawa, Japan.  When he left the military he embarked on a career as an entrepreneur, founding the Arrow Handicraft Corporation, a hobby and craft kit manufacturing company.  It grew from an enterprise situated in a small garage to a large, thriving business that was sold to the NYSE company Damon Corporation.  Because of the foresight of his Uncle Wilhelm and generosity of other family members, Jack had achieved the American Dream.




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