WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Many people have only read about it in history books, but one Wilmington man actually lived in Germany while Hitler was in power.
Although more than 70 years have passed since Alfred Schnog and his family escaped from Hitler’s Germany, his experience as a young, Jewish boy is still fresh in his mind.
“Everything changed for our family and our relatives and anybody who was Jewish in Germany,” Schnog said. “Jews were not allowed to go to public schools with the other German children and we had to establish our own schools.”
In 1931, Schnog, his twin Norbert and their parents lived in Cologne, Germany. He was just a toddler when Hitler emerged as the country’s leader.
“I saw it all and made particular note of it. The propaganda was horrendous, all against Jews,” Schnog said.
Powerful propaganda and a relentless fight to get rid of non-Aryan Germans marked Hitler’s rule and Nazism he implemented. Schnog recalls his mother telling him and his brother to keep secretive, their Jewish heritage as they had targets on their backs.
“We were always underground, undercover of the fact that we were Jews. We couldn’t let anybody know,” Schnog said.
As the situation in Germany worsened by the day, Schnog’s family knew it was time to escape. Their effort would come on the day after Kristallnacht, when coordinated attacks against Jewish businesses left the streets covered in glass.
Schnog’s family made it to the border, with plans to travel to Holland. It was in that moment that he says an unwavering courage came over his mother.
“She used to carry a paring knife in her pocketbook, which she used to peel apples with. It was common practice in Europe to peel an apple before you ate it,” Schnog said. “She looked at the Nazis and said. Our children are going with us and if you try to stop us from taking them, I’m going to cut their throats right now and I’ll cut my own throat.”
Schnog’s family made it to Amsterdam with a new life ahead of them. His grandparents also made it to the country but their destiny would take a different turn.
“When the Nazis walked in that’s the last we ever saw of them. They were taken to the concentration camp, Sobibor, where they died,” Schnog said. “They perished in the Holocaust along with my aunt, who lived with them.”
At age nine, Schnog’s family had their sights set on America. They made that dream a reality.
Schnog went on to study Engineering at Cornell University. His brother Norbert, even helped in the design of the mirrors in the Hubble Spacecraft. Both served in the United States Army.
“America saved the world from the Nazi scourge,” Schnog said.
Now at age 81, Schnog says his life’s mission is to share his story with young people, so they can better appreciate their freedom.