On November 9 and November 10, 1938, in an incident known as “Kristallnacht,” Nazis in Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland torched synagogues, vandalized Jewish homes, schools, and businesses, and killed close to 100 Jews. In the aftermath, some 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps. This pogrom marked the first widespread act of violence of the Nazi regime, an occurrence that shocked the world.
Attempts to flee Europe became more desperate than ever before. Prominent German Jews had a better chance of escaping, such as Rabbi Iwan Gruen, from the Free City of Danzig. To help finance the Gruen family’s escape, the Great Synagogue in his city sold its religious artifacts to Jewish organizations and communities in the United States. The proceeds were then given to Rabbi Gruen so that he and his family – his wife, Gertrude, and their young daughter, Hanna – could flee. Rabbi Gruen was a beloved fixture of the New Castle community, one of the larger Jewish communities outside of the city of Pittsburgh, from 1945 until his retirement and passing in 1981.
World War II began in September 1939, and as with World War I, the outbreak of war effectively ended immigration to the United States. In 1941, the Nazi regime began to execute the “Final Solution”, their attempt to annihilate the Jewish people.