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Holocaust Survivor Tells His Story During Carderock Remembrance Event

By By Justin Hodge, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division | NSWC Carderock Division | May 4, 2018

WEST BETHESDA, Md. — Fred Flatow, born Siegfried Friedel Ernst Flatow, spoke about his personal experiences growing up a Jewish boy in Germany during the Nazi regime at the Holocaust Remembrance event April 24 at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division in West Bethesda, Maryland. 

"There are two types of survivors," Flatow said. "There are those who were in the extermination camps, and there are those like me who were uprooted. I cannot imagine living with the memories from time in the camps. I feel deeply for those who went through such an ordeal."

Flatow grew up in Konigsberg, East Prussia (present day Kaliningrad, Russia), an area heavily populated by Jewish families until Hitler and the Nazi Party rose to power. 

"In Konigsberg there were about 5,000 Jews, but at the beginning of the war, that number had dwindled to around 1,200," Flatow said. 

Flatow attended an all-boys German public school, where he said he was harassed daily by his peers. Students were required to give the Hitler salute at the start of each school day, and being the only Jewish boy in class, Flatow did not participate. 

"My first year of school was a very difficult time," Flatow said. "I was bullied and made to feel inferior by the other children. I wasn't the only Jewish child to go through such a traumatic time though, so the parents in our community banded together to found a Jewish school, located in the city's synagogue."

While Flatow transferred to the new school, his brother Manfred remained in public school in preparation for university. 

Flatow spoke about an event called Kristallnacht, or "Night of the Broken Glass," Nov. 9, 1938, when Nazis retaliated against the Jewish community, including in Konigsberg, because a Jewish boy - whose parents had been deported to Poland - shot and killed a German embassy official in Paris. During this night of violence, Nazi Party members arrested and jailed hundreds of men in Konigsberg - including Flatow's father Erich - destroyed homes, burned and vandalized Jewish-owned businesses and burned the synagogue to the ground. 

"When I woke up that night, I saw two men just standing in my home," Flatow said. "I didn't know why, or what they were doing, and as I looked outside I could see the belongings of other Jewish families strewn about in the streets. Still I wondered why our home had not been touched. The Nazi Party did not allow the fire department to put out the fires, so they burned through most of the night."

Flatow said this was just one instance of demoralization Jewish people endured while living in Konigsberg. He and others were ordered to carry identification cards displaying a large "J" on the front identifying them as Jews.

"Many establishments, like shops and theaters, in the city didn't allow Jewish people to enter," Flatow said. "Nazi Party members would ask for our identification cards and would revoke our access. At this same time, we would see Germans marching along the streets singing, 'When we kill all the Jews life in Germany will be better.' It was horrifying."

Realizing it was dangerous for their young children to stay in Konigsberg, Flatow's parents sent him and his brother to stay with friends in Hamburg, Germany. 

Soon after, Flatow's father was betrayed by the chief factory clerk he employed, and almost sent to a concentration camp. 

"Jews weren't allowed to have weapons under Nazi law," Flatow said. "The factory clerk planted a firearm in my father's safe and turned my father in to the police. My parents realized at that moment it was time to leave."

With help from the Jewish community, Erich arranged for his family's immigration to Chile. 

The Flatow family arrived in Chile with no money, no home, no job, and they could not speak the language. Needing to make money, his brother Manfred had to forgo his remaining years of school so that he could find work to help support his family. 

"My brother left formal education around 14 years old because my parents needed help," Flatow said. "I was able to attend school, but I, too, stopped my education when I reached 16 years of age."

Through all of the turmoil and despair, Flatow found love and peace in his wife, Ursel, a fellow survivor, whom he married in 1948. Together they migrated to the United States one year later. 

Flatow found work in New York as an engineer and eventually worked for NASA for 22 years, while Ursel worked as a book binder and a stay-at-home mother to their three children. 

Flatow and his wife live in the Washington, D.C., area, and he volunteers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.