Shattered Crystals - Reviews

From: Kinloss, The Magazine of Finchley (UK) Synagogue, April 1997

"Shattered Crystals"

By Thea Valman

Many testimonies have been written about the Holocaust, but this book is unique. It is the story of a mother’s quiet heroism as told to her daughter. The book is not a catalogue of unimaginable horrors, but is the story of being hunted and always having to be one step ahead of the enemy. It is a story that could have happened to you or me.

Mia Amalia Kanner was a gentle middle-class housewife, living in Halle, Germany. She had three daughters and helped her husband Sal to run their dry good shop. Surrounded by an extended Orthodox family both in Halle and Leipzig where she was born, Mia expected to continue this contented existence with few worries. She had encountered little anti-Semitism in her life.

The Kristallnacht, the Shattered Crystals of the title, changed everything. The nightmare began with the arrest of her husband and the wrecking of their shop. Kaese, the hitherto protective local policeman advises her, "Listen to me and get out of Germany. Take your children and go. Leave as quickly as you can." Mia’s initial reaction is shock. "…I found my way to the living room and sat on the couch, shivering in the darkness, unable to move, feeling nothing." But she soon recovers and begins her struggle for freedom.

With the rise of Hitler, the Kanners had applied to emigrate, legally, to Palestine. Their names were on a list, where for years other people had taken precedence because of their greater danger. Sal had always refused to countenance illegal departure from Germany, a step that many people were taking. Now, in the aftermath of Kristallnacht, German law no longer existed. Mia succeeds in leaving for Paris illegally with her children, where she is reunited with Sal and her sister who had also made their way illegally.

She arrives in an aeroplane on a wave of euphoria. "This is how it should be, I thought. I felt alive. For the first time in many months I felt like a human being." We know that this elation was not to last. When war broke out and the Germans entered Paris, the Kanners began a life "on the run" that was to last until the end of the war.

That the family survived is entirely due to Mia’s strong will and her positive attitude to their circumstances, although Sal is equally courageous and has many escapes. This bourgeois housewife who had formerly employed a maid now took on any work available. Time and again she is saved by her willingness to work, as a housekeeper, laundress and medical assistant. AT OSE children’s homes she worked as a cook, and this secured the valuable help of the OSE for her children, who are sent to safety.

We live through the poignant moments of separation for her children. One day she is cooking and sees her 5-year-old daughter, who now lives in another Home, but has come to visit, playing outside. "Lea wandered to the kitchen window, the bottom of which was just a meter off the ground. She pressed her face against the glass and shouted ‘Mama, Mama.’ I wanted to run to her but could not abandon the steaming pots on the stove. I watched her cry until a teacher picked her up and carried her away."

She is several times separated and reunited with her husband. Unlike others who despair and become apathetic, Mia after each reunion says gratefully, "Baruch Hashem. Thank G-d. G-d is good."

After some time on the run, Mia glances into a mirror and does not recognize herself. Her auburn hair has turned white. It is small details like these that make the book so vivid and hold the reader glued to the pages. It is thanks to Mia’s resilience and courage that we are fortunate enough to be able to read her story, as told to Eve, her daughter, who has written it so movingly.

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