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Reflections on Kristallnacht, 85 years later

I have to confess, I made it nearly 43 years without really caring so deeply about the anniversary of Kristallnacht. Like so many others in my generation, it just didn't feel pressing. Commemorating the Night of Broken Glass felt like part and parcel of a Religious School education that leaned heavily on the Holocaust as the "why" for being Jewish today. Growing up in the 1980s and 1990s the idea of that kind of hatred and antisemitism honestly just felt far away. It felt ancient, and irrelevant to my relatively easy life as a Jewish kid growing up on Long Island. I cringe remembering my youthful math on what was "old" or "a long time ago". My oldest daughter is nine years old. l did the math: when I was nine years old, Kristallnacht had happened only 51 years earlier. And now, 85 years later we will commemorate that night of rampage and violence that took place throughout Germany on November 9, 1938 once more. Except this time, I suspect I'm not alone in feeling like this commemoration feels more like a pinprick* a reminder that not even a century later, we're here again.

A couple of days ago, as the Sheloshim for October 7 arrived, I started thinking about Kristallnacht. I dove into research mode, wanting to understand how diaspora Jews had responded. American Jews especially were urged to stay quiet- not to make waves. There was no surge of public empathy, nor any demonstrable effort made to offer refuge. The word that comes to mind after reading article after article is the word timid. Students of history will know that timidity did not save us. Following Kristallnacht, the dehumanization of Jews, and subsequent systematic murder continued for nearly another decade.

The phrase "Never Again is now" has emerged as a truism and a rallying cry over this last month. Invoking the trope of the post-Holocaust ideology of "Never Again" is apt: October 7 saw the murder of the largest number of Jews in a single day since the Holocaust.

But, if 'never again’ is indeed now--there is an important difference. Unlike the diaspora Jews of 1938, our task is different. We cannot remain silent. We cannot be timid.We must find ways to protect our souls even as we have concern and worry for our lives: by remembering that we are here, because at every turn in history, the Jewish people have insisted on survival. That is what we do.

In an address to the 22nd Zionist Congress in 1946, Chaim Weizmann spoke these words:

"Now in the light of past and present events the bitter truth must be spoken. We feared too little and we hoped too much. We underestimated the bestiality of the enemy; we overestimated the humanity, the wisdom, the sense of justice of our friends."

These words, like a gut punch ring all too true.

But I believe there is one crucial difference. This time we have the souls of those lost 85 years ago today, standing hand-in-hand in the heavenly realm with those lost just once a month ago, telling us that we cannot be afraid.

May the memories of those lost on November 9, 1938 be for an evolution toward a world of justice, love, hope, and peace.


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