Morristown, N.J. (November 9, 2017) – Seventy-nine years ago, during the night of November 9-10, Nazis in Germany set fire to synagogues, vandalized Jewish homes and killed nearly 100 Jewish people in an incident known as Kristallnacht, or the night of broken glass.
This week, CSE's Center for Holocaust and Genocide Education held its 27th annual Holocaust remembrance events to commemorate Kristallnacht and remind the public about the atrocities of anti-Semitism.
"Kristallnacht was the first manifestation of government-sponsored violence, and if the world had stood up then, perhaps things would have been different," said Dina Cohen, a representative of the Holocaust Council of Greater MetroWest, who are partners in the event.
President Helen Streubert then welcomed the audience and recognized Dr. Amy Weiss, the director of the College's Center for Holocaust and Genocide Education, for her efforts in organizing the event. Streubert spoke about the importance of resisting violence and never being complacent in the face of injustice.
"I ask you to think deeply about the violence in our country and what so many in this room have been subjected to and how that violence continues around the world today," she said. "We have an unending responsibility to stand up and speak out. It doesn't end because a period of our history seems to end. It will end the day we truly rid ourselves of violence in the world."
Nearly 20 people rose when Weiss asked for those in the audience to stand if they were a Kristallnacht survivor, a Holocaust survivor, child of a Holocaust survivor, a member of a family of liberators, or those who shielded the Jews from persecution.
Maud Dahme, who was only three years old when Kristallnacht occurred, spoke about her experience as a Jewish child in the Netherlands during the 1940s. She described the impossible decision her parents were forced to make when they realized that the Netherlands was no longer safe. In a matter of hours, they arranged to have Dahme and her sister flee in the middle of the night with complete strangers. The girls then spent the next four years memorizing new identities, hiding with strangers and attempting to avoid notice by the Nazis.
When the war ended, Dahme and her sister were reunited with their parents only to realize they were the only four out of their entire family to survive. Her paternal and maternal grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all perished in the infamous extermination camp, Sobibor.
"I can say Hitler did not succeed with my family," says Dahme, who went on to marry, have four children and nine great-grandchildren. "My family will continue to grow and it's all because people cared so much and risked their lives for us. It didn't matter that we were Jewish and they were Christian."
Dr. Jeffrey Shandler, professor of Jewish studies at Rutgers University, discussed Jewish life in pre-war Poland and had audience members read autobiographies of Jewish adolescents that were collected by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research during the 1930s. Each biographical excerpt provided a glimpse into the complexity and diversity of pre-war Poland.
Shandler ended his speech with a quote by one Jewish adolescent, known only as G.W., written a few months before the war even began. He said, "young people live with hope and faith in a bright future. Those who are deeply convinced, believe. But there's a question as to when that day will come. When do we stop hoping? No one has determined this yet."
Sadly, G.W. did not survive the Holocaust.
The event concluded with a Yiddish prayer and Clare Ettensohn, CSE's new campus minister, recited a poignant dedication to Kirstallnacht.
"We pray that with the looting of schools, we too are pillaged of false pride and nameless fear, so that we might stand up for our neighbor. We pray that with the destruction of orphanages, hatred and oppression may be forever destroyed and the innocent be protected. We pray that those who suffered might teach us the enormity of silence in the face of injustice. God in Heaven, hear us we pray."
For more information about CSE's Center for Holocaust and Genocide Education, visit: http://www.cse.edu/holocaustcenter.