Holocaust Remembrance Day has special meaning for two Squirrel Hill women
January 27, 2016 12:00 AM
Inge Katzenstein, 88, is a Holocaust survivor from Cologne, Germany, living in Squirrel Hill. She is holding a painting that was slashed by Nazi intruders on Kristallnacht in November 1938
Margit Diamond, 88, is a Holocaust survivor from Berlin, Germany. She was sent to Great Britain to escape the Nazis with the Kindertransport. "I've had a very happy life, really. Apart from the fact that many of my relatives ended up in concentration camps and were gassed," she said.
A group of men makes its way past the grim stares of concentration camp survivors at the World War II Memorial on Pittsburgh's North Shore on Wednesday.
By Andrew Goldstein / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Inge Katzenstein keeps a small painting of two kittens hidden away in a box in the bedroom of her apartment.
Pulling the old artwork out of storage recently, the 88-year-old from Squirrel Hill runs her fingers over nearly invisible indentations, the traces of repairs made after the painting was slashed repeatedly by an intruder’s knife in her childhood home outside Cologne, Germany.
Mrs. Katzenstein remembers well when the painting was damaged — Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, Nov. 9 to Nov. 10, 1938, when the Nazis torched synagogues, vandalized homes and killed scores of Jews.
Today marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a United Nations-designated commemoration of Holocaust victims falling annually on the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp. Tributes are planned worldwide.
There are 54 survivors known to officials in the Pittsburgh region, although it is suspected that there are more. Mrs. Katzenstein is one of them, as is Margit Diamond, 88, who was born in Berlin in 1927 and now also lives in Squirrel Hill.
Mrs. Katzenstein and Ms. Diamond both escaped Germany, as did many of their family members, but their stories of survival are harrowing.
They both started school at 6 years old, but their teachers soon stopped teaching them by order of Adolf Hitler.
When Mrs. Katzenstein’s parents discovered that she was being ignored in class, they sent her to a Jewish school 17 miles away in Cologne.
“One day I came off the school bus, and for days there had been a little blond boy — I was 7 or 8 — and he would call me a ‘dirty Jew.’ And as I’m coming off the bus, he’s standing right there and he said, ‘Dirty Jew!’ I took my fist and gave him a bloody nose. He started to scream, and I started to run away,” she said.
On a morning not too long afterward, a friend of Mrs. Katzenstein’s uncle came to her house and gave her family a cryptic message: “It’s going to be very bad today. Whatever you see, or whatever you hear, don’t go out.”
But her grandmother had other ideas, telling the family to leave right away. As they drove away, they could see the flames rising from their town synagogue, burned as part of the pogroms on Nov. 9-10, 1938.
When Mrs. Katzenstein’s mother returned to their home days later, she discovered that the house had been ransacked. The bathtub, toilet and sink were ripped out and thrown into the front yard. Artwork, rugs and other belongings had been slashed and thrown into a compost heap out back. The painting of the two kittens was among the debris.
The family fled Germany soon thereafter, escaping to Kenya, which was then a British colony.
Around the same time, Ms. Diamond’s mother started working to get her daughter out of Germany. She used a connection in England to get Ms. Diamond on the Kindertransport — a series of rescue efforts that brought thousands of refugee Jewish children from Germany to England between 1938 and 1940, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
When Ms. Diamond said goodbye to her mother to leave for England, she didn’t realize it would be the last time they would see each other for months.
“We thought we were going on a great adventure,” she said.
Ms. Diamond was placed in a school for Methodist ministers’ daughters, and although she said that she was treated well at the school, she contracted scarlet fever and was sent to a hospital.
German bombers targeted the hospital while she was recovering, dropping bombs on it even though there was a red cross prominently displayed on the roof.
Many were killed and much of the hospital was destroyed, but Ms. Diamond survived. She eventually met back up with her family and emigrated to the United States.
Through it all, Ms. Diamond says she feels lucky to have survived.
“I’ve had a very happy life, really,” Ms. Diamond said. “Apart from the fact that many of my relatives ended up in concentration camps and were gassed.”
Today, the world will once again pause to remember those who did not have such good fortune — the 6 million Jews and millions of other European minorities who were killed during World War II simply because of who they were.
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to
email@example.com and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner.