Paul Ranis didn't know much about his father's German upbringing.
So the Pembroke Pines resident was honored when Peter Ranis invited him to Germany for the 75th commemoration of Kristallnacht, or "The Night of Broken Glass."
The government of Darmstadt, the elder Ranis' childhood town, invited him and 10 other German Jewish Holocaust refugees and their families for Kristallnacht ceremonies, and to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the first synagogue built in the town since World War II.
The four-day visit last month represented a trip home for the dad and a personal history lesson for Paul Ranis, an attorney in the Fort Lauderdale office of Greenberg Traurig, and his sister Maria Ranis, who lives in New Jersey.
"I am getting old. I wanted to have them experience their history, they didn't know their grandparents,'' said Peter Ranis, 78, a retired professor of political science in New York City. The government paid for his flight, hotel, meals and ground transportation from Frankfurt to Darmstadt, while his children paid for their own travel expenses. "I wanted to take them and give them a sense of their history and their heritage in a little relatively small town in Germany."
Peter Ranis was 3 years old on the night of Kristallnacht, Nov. 9, 1938, when Nazi soldiers ransacked Jewish-owned homes and businesses and burned synagogues. His father, Max Ranis, an attorney and president of the liberal synagogue in Darmstadt, was intercepted by soldiers as he tried to save a Torah. Max Ranis was sent to a labor concentration camp in Buchenwald. He later escaped and fled to England.
As Darmstadt increasingly became a police state, Peter Ranis, his older brother and their mother stayed put in their small house. Two years later, they left Germany aboard a train to Spain. There, they boarded a ship bound for the United States but it was diverted to Havana, Cuba, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941. The family remained in Cuba for two years before obtaining visas to the United States, which took them to Miami and then Connecticut. Max Ranis reunited with them there.
"Without Hitler, we would all be living in Germany today,'' Peter Ranis said.
Seven decades later, Peter Ranis returned to Darmstadt and showed his children what he remembered from his hometown, a city outside of Frankfurt with 140,000 people. He showed his children the street where his father had his law practice (now a pharmacy building) and to the actual sandbox where he once played.
"I walked in the sand with my dad,'' said Paul Ranis, 44.
The Kristallnacht commemorations took place at the new synagogue, as well as at the remains of the former synagogue that had been destroyed during Kristallnacht. A hospital wing surrounds the property, site of a memorial called "Place of Remembrance Liberal Synagogue."
Speakers from the town, including Mayor Jochen Partsch, commemorated the 11 Jewish refugees and their families for surviving and returning to Germany. Peter Ranis' father was included in a speech by the current synagogue president.
"That stood out, that my dad was mentioned by name,'' he said. "That was very moving … These are things that have to be said. We have to remember our history."
Added Paul Ranis: "This was a true celebration of life. A celebration that the Nazis have failed and, despite all the horrors of the Holocaust, people like my father survived and will be remembered."
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