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German landfill may hold clues to 'Kristallnacht'

An Israeli researcher working on another subject discovered the site nearly by accident.

KLANDORF, Germany - Sometimes serendipity makes history. In this case, it may have uncovered history.

This year, Israeli writer Yaron Svoray came to Germany to research the underground operation that whisked Nazi officials to South America to escape justice after World War II. Svoray was chatting with a local resident about his project when the man mentioned that a nearby plot of land had served as a dump during the Third Reich.

The man said items looted during the pogrom known as Kristallnacht, the "Night of Broken Glass," were disposed of there. Thousands of Jewish homes, shops and synagogues were ransacked and burned that November night in an orgy of hatred that many consider the start of the Holocaust.

Svoray's investigative instincts were immediately aroused. On return trips, he examined old maps to confirm the dump's location in Klandorf, about 40 miles north of Berlin. In May, he went to the site, now thick with tall grass, picked a spot at random, and dug.

"We just pointed to one heap and said, 'Let's start,' " Svoray said. "Within an hour I had a [metal] swastika in my hand and Jewish porcelain and a bottle with a Star of David, which could have been a Jewish wine bottle."

Historians in Israel judged the finds to be authentic prewar pieces, enhancing the possibility that Svoray may have stumbled on a trove of Nazi-era artifacts, including rare physical evidence of Kristallnacht.

Beyond remembrance of things past, his goal is to prod the German government into action. Since he went public with his discoveries recently, Svoray said, nothing has been done to protect the site from looters, and authorities have shown no interest in investigating further.

"There is enough stuff here to warrant an initial search," Svoray said by telephone from Israel recently. "And the initial search cannot be done by neo-Nazis after drinking beer on a Friday night and then putting it up for sale on eBay."

The site sprawls across several acres, an uneven terrain of wooded copses and bushy ravines. Wooden watchtowers jut out from the overgrowth, lookouts for hunters who come in search of wild boar and deer.

Arno Gielsdorf, a burly, friendly mechanic whose family has lived there for 150 years, owns some of the land that the dump site occupies. He has always known of its existence.

"My father told me that the population from the town would scavenge what was useful," said Gielsdorf, 49, adding that his grandparents went out there "almost every day," picking up silver utensils, tankards, and other reusable scraps.

That is, until the day authorities abruptly barred people from the dump.

It was November 1938.

"For several days we didn't know what was happening," Gielsdorf said his father, who died in 2001, told him. "At this time of the Reichspogrom [Kristallnacht], it was forbidden to go there and take out what you wanted."

The refuse pit in use then was 25 feet deep. But when residents were finally allowed back in, "it was covered with regular garbage, so that nobody could get to the items beneath," Gielsdorf said.

If physical evidence of what happened the night of Nov. 9 had been taken there, from Berlin or beyond, there may have been plenty of it.

Rampaging Germans smashed the windows of Jewish houses and businesses, giving Kristallnacht its name. Temples were desecrated, their furnishings tossed into the streets or set ablaze. Inspired by Adolf Hitler's fanatical fascism, rioters pulled Jews from their homes, destroyed their belongings and beat some of them senseless in a campaign of violence that the Nazis said was spontaneous but that was in fact cultivated and encouraged by the regime.

On a recent visit, after a day of heavy rain, one small patch of the dump site was littered with jagged shards of porcelain, a delicate pink floral pattern still visible on one piece. Bottles made of colored glass that might once have held perfume or tonic, were strewn about.

Within minutes of scraping at a small mound of dirt, Ako Hintzen, a bodyguard who travels with Svoray in Germany, unearthed an old bottle with the raised inscription

Apotheke Zander,

a pharmacy. Another large bottle bore the name Josef and a worn-away surname, plus the word


and the charming figure of a cat.

The items Svoray found last spring, including the bottle with the Star of David, were taken to the Ghetto Fighters' House museum in northern Israel, which documents Jewish resistance to the Nazis. Museum officials examined the pieces and pronounced them genuine, although lab results of some kind would be more conclusive, said Simcha Stein, the museum's director.

"I was so excited," Stein said. "It was like a scream [from the past] in front of my eyes."