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More than 70 years have gone by, but Sonja Bromberg vividly remembers the day she saw Adolf Hitler.
“As my father, older sister, and I walked down the street one morning, we were forced to stop. We could sense that the crowd was waiting for something. People were all around me, some looked happy, some scared, but all of them were anxious. It was as if the air was electric and something was forcing us to wait and watch. My father gripped my hand as we huddled together. I rose up on my tip toes, and then I saw him! As he looked in my direction, I quickly turned away. I was terrified, and even though I was only seven years old, I knew I would never forget this face of evil.”
Adolf Hitler was a failed Austrian artist who had led a small, discredited band on the lunatic fringe of political life in the Weimar Republic. As economic conditions worsened, Hitler attracted a wide following. In photographs, he was not prepossessing, but in person he exerted a magnetism that persuaded even sophisticated Germans that their only political choice was between the “national reawakening” and Bolshevik dictatorship.
In 1933, he was named chancellor of a coalition government with the right-wing Nationalist party. By March of that year, he had been given dictatorial powers, and for the next 12 years, he ruled Germany. From 1933 to 1939, more than 400 anti-Jewish laws were passed. His beliefs in German racial supremacy and an Aryan master race ruling the world came as no surprise when they became state policy.
During this time, Sonja’s life was drastically changing.As antisemitism swept her hometown of Burg, Germany, Sonja’s father was forced to close the family’s clothing store and work in a nearby town where no one knew he was Jewish.After her mother died from cancer, her father was forced to place the children in an Orthodox Jewish orphanage.
The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society arranged for Sonja, her sister, and the other children from the orphanage to leave through Italy for the United State. On January 19, 1940, they arrived at Ellis Island and were greeted by family members already living in America. Sonja’s father also escaped Germany and was hidden for four years in France. They later reunited in New York.
“For my father to place us in the orphanage was love. He gave us up so that we could be safe. It was heartbreaking for him, but I know that he did what was best for us,” she says.
By 1945, Germany was in ruins. Hitler’s bid for territorial conquest and racial suppression caused the deaths of millions of people during the Holocaust, including the systematic genocide of an estimated six million Jews and one million other “undesirables.” During the final days of the war in 1945, Hitler committed suicide in one of his subterranean headquarters. This final act of self-destruction appropriately symbolizes the career of a political leader whose legacy was the ruin of Germany’s civilization and the senseless sacrifice of human life.