The 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht was commemorated and its lessons for today discussed at Congregation Machane Chodosh in Forest Hills on Nov. 10.
The Night of Broken Glass happened on Nov. 9-10, 1938 in Germany and Austria, where 91 Jews were killed, more than 30,000 Jewish men were sent to concentration camps, over 7,000 Jewish businesses’ windows were smashed, and over 1,000 synagogues burned. It is considered the beginning of the physical violence that led to the Holocaust.
The senior rabbi at Machane Chodosh, Manfred Gans, linked the event to economic conditions.
“Someone disillusioned with no work, what does he do with his time? He finds something to hate,” said Gans. “We must not stand idly by where the Recession takes hold of society.”
After Germany’s defeat in World War I, the nation was laden with impossible reparation payments and runaway inflation, said the German-born Gans. “In this predicament rose an evil man who exploited this situation. He focused on the lower middle class, saying, ‘It’s not your fault, it’s the Jews.’
“We have to be at the forefront to those afflicted with these views and try to help them as much as possible,” he said.
“At these moments when we remember these stories, we have to stop and ask ourselves what it means to be Jewish. We have to appreciate life for what life is,” said Rabbi Yossi Mendelson of Congregation Machane Chodosh. “We understand who we are and what we stand for.”
Fire officials from Engine 305 and police officers from the 112th Precinct in Forest Hills were honored for their service and protection to the community, with Mendelson calling them “a great symbol of what we can be.”
Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) said, “As a daughter of immigrants, and in a diverse world, we must stand up to all instances of prejudice and intolerance.”
Guest speaker Hanna Liebmann described her firsthand experience of the Holocaust to the audience.
On Oct. 22, 1940, 6,504 people were deported from Germany including herself, mother, sisters, and her 91 year-old grandmother. For three days on a train, they had no food or water. Arriving at a site in the Pyrenees area of France, there was “every kind of disease, rats, mice, lice, fleas, bedbugs, poor sanitary, little food or water,” Liebmann said. “People died in the mud.”
But there also were social workers from Quaker, Catholic and Protestant welfare societies, the Red Cross, and even the OSE, a French Jewish agency.
People shared their food with the new arrivals, and more than 3,000 were given false identity papers.
“The village was an example of what people could do: man’s humanity to man. It was a turnaround of what we knew in Germany,” said Liebmann.
Her husband, who introduced his wife as the keynote speaker, was helped to Switzerland, which Liebmann eventually got to her on her own.
“We have never gone back to Germany even though we have been asked,” she said.
Liebmann wasn’t the only Jew who had survived the war at the event.
Polish-born concentration camp survivor Abe Cyzner, when asked what he was feeling about the day, turned to his wife, Betty, and said, “Tell him about the nightmares,” but both remained quiet.