On October 27th, 1938, Zindel Grynszpan and his family were deported from Germany to Poland – most of their business and personal possessions taken from them. Grynszpan’s son, Herschel, was living in France at the time, and – in his anger – went to the German Embassy in France with the intent to kill the German Ambassador. Herschel shot the Third Secretary who died a couple of days later.
This event was the impetus for the pogrom against German Jews and of Kristallnacht. On November 9th through the 11th, 1938, 30,000 Jews were deported from Germany to concentration camps. Nearly 100 people were murdered on that night. Ten’s of thousands of Jewish owned businesses were destroyed and hundreds – if not thousands - of synagogues were obliterated.
Hitler’s regime, which began five years before, had been anti-Semitic from the start. After Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass), the Jews were held responsible for the events that took place, and additional laws and prohibitions were created in hatred of the Jewish people. This was the beginning of the Holocaust that took Six Million Jews and twelve million people from our world.
This evening, the Jewish Day school my children attend sponsored a memorial for the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht. The 7th graders at this school began a project on tolerance the year before, and tonight was the culmination of their efforts.
Walking into the event, we were greeted by a table lined with masks – the faces of the seventh graders and the three Holocaust survivors who had visited them and spent time with them during their learning last year. Throughout the year, the students were asked to complete journal entries, to interview each other and to cast each other’s faces. They also each took part in the casting of the faces of the Holocaust survivors. This year, they decorated those masks.
The work, the emotion and the passion that each student put into these very unique expressions of the Holocaust and their understanding of the necessity for tolerance was evident with one quick look. Some of the masks had the colors of the rainbow; others were black and white. Some had mirrors and broken mosaics of glass. Others had chains, written words and even symbols of hope. They were spread out on the tables among broken chards of glass. Several of the students were standing around to answer questions about their masks as well as their experience.
Kaddish was recited led by a local Rabbi, and between the words of the Kaddish prayer were the names of the concentration camps. A Brazilian classical pianist who also has children at the Jewish day school played several moving pieces by a variety of composers.
I looked around at all the people who were present at this event. Many were from the school and several were from elsewhere in the community. “Where is everyone else?” I wondered. It was a free event and surely there should have been standing room only. Who wouldn’t want to pay homage to the memory of those whose lives were forever changed by Kristallnacht? Who would pass up the opportunity to hear a well-known pianist share her talent at this memorial?
Then a friend of mine told me how she was one of the few people from our generation who attended a community event where the names of those who perished in the Holocaust were read out loud. “Where was everyone?” she asked me. “How come I was the only one representing our age group? How come the entire community was not present?”
Her words struck me. I was not at that particular event. We cannot be at all of them. Perhaps, we cannot be at any. But, we can all DO SOMETHING. Our last generations of Holocaust survivors are getting older. Children will not have the opportunity to hear their words directly. It often takes a connection of emotion to move people to action.
It is our obligation to ensure that not only are the lessons from the Holocaust passed along to our children and our children’s children, but to guarantee that they embrace the deeper lessons of tolerance and acceptance, of differences and open minds, and of taking action and creating initiatives.
These 7th graders can be an inspiration to all of us – to learn enough that we are touched and moved to action, to educate others and to keep those who perished in the Holocaust –as well as those who survived - in a place of esteemed honor.
Please keep your eyes open for a future article on the amazing woman who led the instruction on tolerance & mask making and more descriptions of the works of art that came out of this.