זכור פן תשכח: Commemorating Kristallnacht 73 Years Later

Posted on November 9, 2011 by

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On the night of November 9, 1938, Jewish homes, synagogues, shops, and towns all across Nazi Germany and Austria were targeted in a brutal campaign of antisemitic orchestrated violence and vandalism.  Tonight marks the 73rd anniversary of these grisly events.

As the mob violence broke out, the German police and crowds of spectators stood idly by as Nazi Storm Troopers, members of the SS, and Hitler Youth proudly fulfilled their Fuhrer’s call to “rise in bloody vengeance against the Jews.” At least 96 Jews were killed and hundreds more were injured. More than 1,000 synagogues were burned, and almost 7,500 Jewish businesses were destroyed. Cemeteries and schools were vandalized. This infamous night came to be called Kristallnacht — the Night of Broken Glass.

Almost immediately after Kristallnacht, all Jewish property was forcibly transferred to the ‘Aryans,’ and 30,000 Jews were rounded up and deported to concentration camps. Considered  today to be the beginning of the implementation of the Nazis’ “Final Solution” to the “Jewish Question,”  Kristallnacht was the turning point at which antisemitism began to truly pose an existential threat to the Jewish people.





How can one commemorate Kristallnacht? How can one do justice to the memories of the 6 million Jews and countless others lost in the Holocaust? As Monise Neumann of The Bureau of Jewish Education’s March of the Living program puts it, “Who can fathom 6 million paperclips, let alone 6 million lives?”

Perhaps the most honest way to commemorate Kristallnacht is to concede that it is difficult, at best, to memorialize each and every loss — every experience. Perhaps the truest way to understand Kristallnacht is to try and understand it as a single Jew would on November 9, 1938.

Below, please find the account of Holocaust-survivor Fred Heim. Remember that this is one story of many, that Kristallnacht was experienced by individuals and in color.


It was November of 1938 in the morning, and I was on the elevated train that took me from the Charlottenburg district, where I lived, to the center of Berlin where my school was located.  Previously I had been attending public school in my neighborhood, but the increasing antisemitism and harassment by Hitler Youth had made it difficult, if not downright dangerous, to continue.  So I transferred to a Jewish school which was far away from where we lived.

The train passed within half a block of our Synagogue on Fasanenstrasse (Street of the Pheasants), the largest Conservative temple in Berlin.  As we came by, I saw to my horror the temple afire – not just a small burn, but totally engulfed in flames.  It was obvious, even to my 11-year old mind, that the fire was intentional, because there were no firemen on the scene, only onlookers.  Today all that remains are two columns which flanked the entrance.

When we arrived in school, we were immediately sent home in groups of five, on the theory that it was safer and we would be less likely to be harassed or attacked.

On arriving home, I found that my father had disappeared.  The Nazis were arresting all Jewish men and, fortunately, he had been warned in time.  I never knew where he was, and six weeks later, when things calmed down, he came home.  While he was gone, the Gestapo came to our house and threatened to take my older sister in his stead.  I still remember that scene and, to this day, I admire her unqualifiedly for her courage in standing her ground.


On this day, Fred requests that you please take a moment out of your busy lives to contemplate.

Think of the fragility of human life.

Think of the power of stereotyping and racism and the horrors the horrors to which they can lead.

Think of the effect caused by those who stood idly — spectators and the international community that did not protest, that effectively gave Hitler the green light to continue with his Final Solution.

Think of the Jewish people and their special responsibility, having lived through injustices like Kristallnacht, to make sure nothing like this happens again. To any group.

But, also take a moment to appreciate. The Night of Broken Glass has not broken the Jewish people.

Fred's syanagogue after Kristallnacht

 

 

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Posted in: History