MONTREAL — The 72nd anniversary of Kristallnacht – the “Night of Broken Glass” – had its annual community commemoration last week.
Survivor Leo Dortort lights the memorial candle at the annual Kristallnacht commemoration.
Speakers reminded listeners that the images of Kristallnacht, of shattered glass and of broken Jewish lives, are destined to endure as a permanent testament to the need for vigilance against anti-Semitism and intolerance.
“Today anti-Semitism is rising globally at an alarming rate. Who can stop it – and how?” was the question posed by Holocaust survivor Ursula Feist as she recalled in vivid detail Nov. 9, 1939.
Thousands of synagogues, Jewish businesses and homes all over Germany and Austria were set aflame, their Torah scrolls destroyed and Jews murdered and reviled.
Feist, a native of Berlin, said she “saw it all” and witnessed the full extent of the horror that evening. “I could taste the smoke,” she told several hundred people assembled at Beth Israel Beth Aaron Congregation.
Among them was Germany’s consul general in Montreal, Klaus Geyer.
“We have to be vigilant – we must teach tolerance in schools and hope that one day the world will be a better and saner place for all,” Feist said.
Shattered glass was also on the mind of Father John Walsh, a friend of the Jewish community and Israel who retired earlier this year as pastor of John Brébeuf Parish.
Father Walsh compared the image of the shattered glass to Moses’ broken Decalogue tablets on Mount Sinai. Incorporating a few biblical Hebrew phrases into his remarks, he said that both events could be seen as being an “act of God in the midst of His own people” in which the Jewish people ultimately prevail.
It is a duty to recall the past, he said, and for people of “faith and goodwill, to scream: ‘Never again!’”
Several speakers, among them Hanna Eliashiv, chair of the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre’s Kristallnacht Commemoration Committee, and Israeli Consul Avraham Lev-Louis, referred to how Kristallnacht, in Eliashiv’s words, “unleashed the Shoah while the world stood idly by.”
Lev-Louis reminded those in attendance that Israel, “built on the ashes of the Shoah,” would continue to fight for legitimacy in a world where Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad echoes the very ambitions of the Holocaust.
But the most dramatic remarks came from the shul’s Rabbi Reuben Poupko, who at times was obliged to contain his emotion.
Rabbi Poupko gave Germany “enormous” credit for embracing responsibility for the Holocaust, but he wondered “how the world is supposed to remember all the crimes?”
The crimes, he said, underscore the fact that the Nazis sought to eradicate every single living Jew. Rabbi Poupko travels often to Poland and said that no tiny town with Jews in it was too remote, and no stone went unturned, in the Nazi obsession to root out and exterminate every single one of them.
A Jewish People, he said, who, contrary to what many perceive, emerged from the Holocaust ashes prepared to embrace life and humanity again.
“To honour the six million, we have to make sure [that the world] recognizes us. We will persist in remembering,” he said.
The commemoration included a memorial candlelighting, this year by Leo Dortort, who as a 10-year-old witnessed the Kristallnacht rioting in his native Graz, Austria.
The evening also included a number of student readings in English, French, Hebrew and Yiddish; violist Ben Stolow performing the theme from Schindler’s List; several performances by the Bialik High School Choir under Lorna Smith; recitations of psalms and the memorial prayer by the synagogue’s Cantor Moishe Shur; Kaddish recited by “witness” Baruch Cohen, and the Canadian and Israeli national anthems.
One departure this year was the presence in the audience of non-Jewish students from General Vanier Elementary School in St. Léonard.
Their attendance, Eliashiv said, was part of the overall effort to instil into young people a feeling of responsibility on their part to fight all forms of racism and intolerance.