Morristown, N.J. (November 9, 2016) – The 26th Annual Kristallnacht Commemoration on November 7 began a week of Holocaust Remembrance at the College of Saint Elizabeth that continues through November 11. Activities throughout the week include second generation survivor testimonies, a premier documentary film screening and classroom discussions. All these events are open to the public. A complete listing can be found at www.cse.edu/kristallnacht.
President Helen Streubert welcomed the audience and recognized both Dr. Amy Weiss, the new director of the College's Center for Holocaust and Genocide Education, and Dr. Harriet Sepinwall, the retired director of the Center.
"I see familiar faces and am pleased that you come back year after year to participate in this event," she said.
Approximately 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. Kristallnacht is the German designation of the historic "Night of Broken Glass", which signifies the beginning of the Holocaust to the Jews.
Erwin M. Ganz, a survivor of Kristallnacht, gave a deeply emotional talk about his life as a Jewish child at the beginning of the Nazi era in Germany. He spoke of having to attend a Jewish school in another town because the public school in his town refused to enroll him. He was beaten by the Hitler Youth on a regular basis.
Perhaps the most difficult part of his story to hear was experiencing Kristallnacht. Not only were the Jewish shops looted, but his own home as well.
"I will never forget that sight as long as I live," he explained.
The Hitler Youth had become so powerful under the wing of the Gestapo that parents who sympathized with the Jews were afraid that their own children would report them.
"Every night we could hear the Hitler Youth singing about killing Jews," he recalled. "It was nightmarish."
Forty years after leaving Germany, Ganz returned to his former home of Berncastel Cues. "It was full of bad memories," he said. But 10 years ago, he and his wife returned to Frankfort, the city of his birth, and spoke to a group of high school students about his childhood. "The students were welcoming and very well aware of the rise in anti-Semitism in their country," he said.
The history club from Union City High School, Union City, N.J., under the advisement of history teacher Jeanne Baridon, were quite taken by the story they heard from Ganz. Sophomore Giselle Velasquez noted, "This was an amazing experience to actually meet someone who survived."
"The survivors were so young to experience this trauma." said sophomore Sorayda Ruano. "The world is so diverse and we should accept all people."
Baridon's father was among the troops that liberated Buchenwald. "I heard some of the stories from my father and it sparked my interest in both history and teaching," she explained.
Senior Veronica Bido was very passionate when talking about the injustices both then and now. "I got very emotional when the survivors stood," she said. "There are so many similarities particularly with the rise of anti-Semitism now. We have to keep learning!"
The Ashrey Choir, the Northern New Jersey Regional Jewish Teen Choir, directed by Cantor Joel Caplan, sang Mark Miller's "I Believe".
Dr. Mary Boys, dean of academic affairs and a Skinner and McAlpin Professor of Practical Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York, N.Y., gave a more academic view of the Holocaust, Jewish-Catholic relations, and Christian responsibility during the Holocaust. She focused on the works and actions of renowned French historian, Jules Isaac, who confronted Jewish-Christian relations through his research and writings. His meetings with Pope John XXIII inspired the Pope to open a commission to study the question of the church's relationship with the Jews.
Cantor Caplan led the audience in Kaddish, the Hebrew prayer for the deceased. Marjorie Feinstein, a member of the Center's advisory board, thanked all for their attendance, their dedication to the subject, and continuing to teach the next generation. She said, "The survival of memory lies in our hands."