On Holocaust Remembrance Day, a suburban Chicago survivor remembers

The stories of people like Ralph Rehbock, 88, who lives in Northbrook — whose family fled Nazi Germany when he was 4 — are important to be preserved and shared.

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Ralph Rehbock, who was born in Gotha, Germany, and fled to Chicago with his family in 1938 to escape the Holocaust, is taking part in a new social media campaign to pass on testimony of survivors through their children and grandchildren.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

WASHINGTON — Tuesday marked Yom HaShoah — that’s the Hebrew term for Holocaust Remembrance Day — and this year it comes as anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial remain on the rise.

That’s why the stories of people like Ralph Rehbock, 88, who lives in Northbrook — whose family fled Nazi Germany to start a new life in Chicago’s Hyde Park community when he was 4 – are important to be told and retold.

Rehbock and Ginger Lane — another Chicago Holocaust survivor who I wrote about last year — are determined to have their stories — their credible testimony — preserved to educate future generations after they are gone.

Rehbock and Lane are among those who are part of a new social media campaign produced by the Claims Conference designed to pass on the testimony of survivors through their children and grandchildren called Our Holocaust Story: A Pledge to Remember. The Claims Conference pursues compensation for Jewish victims of Nazi persecution.

On the evening of Nov. 9, 1938, Rehbock, an only child, and his parents were at a hotel in Berlin, traveling from their home six hours away in Gotha, Germany. Hitler’s attacks on Jews convinced his parents they had to leave.

First they needed to qualify for a U.S. visa. A relative in Chicago sponsored them. Rehbock’s mother traveled alone to Chicago from Germany to collect the needed paperwork. The Nazis let her leave because they were sure she would return because she left a son and husband behind — hostages in a sense.

They were at the Berlin hotel the night before they were to visit the U.S. Embassy to get their visas

Outside, they saw Kristallnacht unfold.

A synagogue across the street burned. “We looked out of the hotel room window. There were flames.”

Kristallnacht — in English, “the night of broken glass” — were attacks on Jews and their homes and businesses organized by the Nazis throughout Germany and other areas they controlled.

In Gotha, Gestapo members came to the Rehbock house to seize his father, who was with his family in Berlin — part of a roundup of 30,000 men arrested that night and sent to, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, concentration camps.

His father left Germany first. Rehbock and his mother soon followed, heading initially to Holland — still a free nation at the time, with the Nazi invasion not until 1940. They were strip-searched at the border to make sure they didn’t have more than the equivalent of $4 or were smuggling any valuables. A total stranger, who was Dutch, got them safely on a train.

The Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933. In time, and with collaborators in other nations, 6 million Jews were murdered, along with Roma, homosexuals, political opponents, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the disabled.

Rehbock and other Holocaust survivors — who can testify to the Nazi horrors — are not going to be with us forever.

Rehbock, a vice president of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, and wife, Enid, are the parents of two sons. He told me it’s not just “keeping the stories alive while we’re still around, but to teach those stories to the 3Gs.”

Holocaust survivors are the 1st generation. Their children are the 2Gs, and the grandchildren are the 3Gs, tasked with preserving and teaching the lessons of hate and prejudice.

“We have an organization which is part of the Illinois Holocaust Museum now which is called 3G Chicago. So we and others across the country are very involved in making sure that grandchildren learn the stories so they can pass them on as well through their lives,” Rehbock said.

Carly Rehbock, 34, one of Rehbock’s grandchildren — a 3G — appears in a new Claims Conference video with her grandfather where she delivers the key message:

“It’s so important for us to continue to tell these stories of survival,” she said, “because the survivors, unfortunately, will not be here much longer to tell them themselves. Please join me to make a pledge to “never forget,”’ she said.

Carly, an executive assistant at a real estate investment firm, and a River North resident, said she first learned about her family Holocaust story from her grandfather when she was 8 or 9.

Rehbock, a youngster when he arrived in Chicago, learned the details of his family’s fleeing Nazi Germany from an oral history his mother did in 1986, when she was 80.

His mother’s testimony is part his story, too. Said Rehbock, the important thing is “making sure of, for the future, that those stories are passed on, are remembered.”

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Ralph Rehbock, right, his wife, Enid, left, and their granddaughter Carly. Carly Rehbock carries on the tradition of preserving her family’s story of surviving the Holocaust.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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Ralph Rehbock, who was born in Gotha, Germany, and fled to the U.S. with his family in 1938 to escape the Holocaust, shows his family tree in his basement in Northbrook.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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A photo of Ralph Rehbock’s train set, which he brought from Germany, is featured in the book “Stories of Survival: Object. Image. Memory.”

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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