MONTREAL — Speakers at last week’s annual Kristallnacht commemoration warned Jews not to let their guards down lest forces of antisemitism and hatred spiral out of control, as they seem to be doing again.
“Are we opening our eyes?” Israeli Consul General Joel Lion rhetorically asked a nearly full sanctuary at Beth Israel Beth Aaron (BIBA) Congregation. “We have to take seriously people who say they want to kill Jews.
“We are seeing the signs…”
The message from the shul’s Rabbi Reuben Poupko, his voice at times cracking with emotion, was equally disquieting.
“When the enormity of what happened [during the Holocaust] was known, we said with confidence, ‘Never again,’ he said.
“Seventy-three years later, we know that it didn’t work… in our unreasonable naïveté that the world had learned a lesson.”
As has become customary, the hundreds who gathered at the shul were able to look at images on screens of the terrible things that happened on the nights of Nov. 9 and 10, 1938, when Nazi storm troopers and civilians alike unleashed a massive pogrom in Austria and Germany.
They torched 300 synagogues, killed 2,000 Jews and destroyed thousands of Jewish-owned shops, businesses and cemeteries.
Most significantly though, as evening chair Hanna Eliashiv pointed out, Kristallnacht – the Night of Broken Glass – set the stage for the Holocaust, shattering not only lives and windowpanes but all illusions as well.
Jews who had built up wonderful lives, “realized it had all been for naught,” she said.
Kristallnacht survivor Ilse Matalon, who was only six years old at the time, still remembered the terror of “men’s heavy boots running up the stairs… fists banging on the doors, demanding entry.”
Matalon felt like a “heroine” for keeping one of the invaders from examining one of her dolls containing cash, but the family’s apartment was still ransacked and looted.
In a departure this year, the program included more musical performances – of works by Ernest Bloch, Maurice Ravel, and Max Bruch – performed by cellist Joanne Grant and pianist Michael Waytiuk, both members of the World Symphony Orchetra.
There were other departures, too. One – an apparent oversight – was that no remarks were delivered in French. Another was that besides the participation of the Bialik High School Choir under Lorna Smith, the event also saw a Yiddish composition sung by members of the non-Jewish General Vanier Elementary School Choir under Jason Lipstein.
Their participation, Eliashiv said, was intended to make the commemoration more inclusive by “melding” the event with other communities.
The program also included the lighting of a memorial candle by Kristallnacht “witness” Charlotte Lintzel, as well as Kaddish recited by survivor Baruch Cohen and psalms and a memorial prayer recited by the shul’s Cantor Moishe Shur.
Guests in attendance included Michael Kutz, who founded the annual event, as well as numerous figures from government and the diplomatic corps.
They included Liberal MP Marc Garneau; Snowdon district city councillor Marvin Rotrand; NDP MP Isabelle Morin; Quebec Liberal MNA Nicole Ménard; as well as mayors and councillors from Hampstead and Cote St. Luc.