A special BBC radio programme recalling the experience of Kristallnacht through the eyes of a ten-year old girl is to be aired this weekend.
‘The Girl Who Witnessed Crystal Night,’ which hears from Ruth Winkekmann (nee Jacks), now 90 years old, has been produced to mark 80 years since the Nazis’ most notorious pogrom.
Ruth, the daughter of a Jewish father and a mother who converted to Judaism before her marriage, spoke to the BBC’s former Berlin correspondent Caroline Wyatt about her vivid memories of that terrible night, in a production for BBC World Service.
She recalls arriving at her Berlin school the morning after, to find it barricaded by the same Nazi Stormtroopers who had desecrated the nearby synagogue hours earlier, and girls having to escape through the lofts of adjacent buildings.
“This is the beginning of a very difficult time,” her father told her that night. He and 14 other relatives would later be killed at Auschwitz, while Ruth survived by hiding in a Berlin allotment with her mother, before being rescued by the Red Army in 1945.
Brought up in the Jewish faith and considered Jewish by the Nazi regime, she later converted to Christianity out of gratitude to the man who had saved her life.
Today, aged 90, she says she has a “mixed” faith and a deep sense of her Jewish roots – she always wears her Magen David when she goes out to tell her story, which she does often, visiting dozens of schools in and around Berlin, where she lives.
Kristine Pommert, the programme’s producer who came up with the idea, says her own heritage made this a personal challenge.
“I’m German by birth and have always had a particular urge to use my skills as a documentary-maker to make sure that witnesses of the Holocaust are heard,” said Pommert.
“Working with Ruth has been an enormous privilege. She is a woman who was able to go to school for just four years, yet I’ve learnt so much from her. Her lack of bitterness is astonishing.”
The programme will be aired on the BBC World Service at 13.30 on Friday, then again at 19.30 and 23.30 on Sunday.