On Tuesday night, I attended the Kristallnacht remembrance at the University of Dayton. It was an incredibly beautiful and moving program, especially with the voices of the World Music Choir. I was in awe at the grace and dignity displayed by the organizers who remembered those who suffered at the hands of Nazi Germany on November 9-10, 1938.
It is so heartwarming that in our community, our local Catholic university keeps the memory alive of those who suffered and perished on Kristallnacht, and those who would go on to suffer and perish in the Holocaust. Sister Laura Leming, Professor of Sociology, originated the remembrance program. Her decision to not remain silent is a courageous and spiritual act in our world today, just as it was so many years ago.
Hearing stories about “The Night of Broken Glass” evokes so much emotion in me. It’s difficult to imagine the horror that took place on that late fall evening. However, I learned Tuesday night that in the midst of the darkness, one community’s fire brigade refused to remain silent. They refused to be a part of the terror and destruction of Jewish owned businesses, buildings and synagogues.
As told by Dr. Robert Conard, Emeritus Professor of German, there were 1,400 residents who called Drove home. Only 34 residents were Jewish. On the evening of November 9, 1938 the fire brigade of Drove was ordered to burn down the synagogue in town. But they refused. They would stand up for their Jewish neighbors, and defy orders to participate in activity they knew was wrong. They told the Nazis “we put out fires; we do not start them.” In the end, other people came into the town and destroyed the house of worship. But the fire brigade’s refusal to comply ~to stay silent ~ let the enemy know that their convictions were stronger than any orders forced upon them.
Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz, Senior Rabbi at Temple Israel also spoke at the remembrance. There was one comment that resonated profoundly with me. Her message reminded us all that the significance of Kristallnacht is to never be complacent. “My faith teaches me that words are sacred and that we have a moral obligation to speak up and speak out when we witness abuse, injustice and hatred.”
There is power in our voices. When we choose to do what’s right, it may not always lead to a good outcome. But to know we won’t waiver, and remain strong in our determination ~ that speaks volumes. I encourage you to use your voice and stand up for what is right. It is only through our power that we can help stop injustices, and prevent history from repeating itself.
Tuesday night’s Annual Kristallnacht Commemoration at Wright State with Holocaust survivor Sam Heider was so well attended, the Zusman Judaics Professor Dr. Mark Verman had to move the venue. Originally set in a conference room for about 200 in the Student Union, approximately twice that number, mostly students, showed up for the program. Within a half hour, the Student Union Atrium was reset for the program, thanks to the fast-acting Student Union staff.
As many times as Sam, 93, has shared his story, it always weighs heavily on his heart to talk about how his entire family perished in the Holocaust, and how he survived five concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Dachau. But Sam feels a strong obligation to retell and relive the pain. He shares his story with anyone who is willing to listen, and will continue to do so as long as he is able.
Mark charged those present to always remember that they met a Holocaust survivor that night. If they ever encounter someone who denies the Holocaust, they can refute such accusations because they met a witness who experienced the Holocaust firsthand.
After Sam’s hour talk, dozens of students and community members waited in line for another half hour to meet Sam personally, to embrace and kiss him, ask him questions, share their stories, and take photos with him. The Holocaust survivors I know are concerned that with each passing year, fewer and fewer young people will know about the Holocaust. Tuesday night’s program was heartwarming for the active engagement of so many on the Wright State campus.
*Cathy Gardner, CEO, attended the University of Dayton Kristallnacht Remembrance, which was held on Tuesday, November 7th. Marshall Weiss, Editor and Publisher of the Dayton Jewish Observer, attended the Wright State University Kristallnacht Remembrance, which was also held on Tuesday, November 7th. We are honored both universities memorialized such a horrific night in our Jewish history with such moving remembrances.