KRISTALLNACHT SEVENTY YEARS LATER – “Was There No Space in the World for Us?” -by Rabbi Marvin Hier

“Was There No Space in the World for Us?”

by Rabbi Marvin Hier Seventy years ago, while Jews in America gathered at the Algonquin Hotel and Waldorf Astoria at banquets in support of Jewish causes or in personal celebration of a Simcha, the most notorious pogrom was unleashed by Hitler’s Germany. On this day was born the Night of Broken Glass, Kristallnacht. The Nazis said it was in reaction to the killing of a German official in Paris, but as documents showed, it was a state organized pogrom involving the highest officials of Nazi Germany. As Reinhardt Heidrich instructed his SS underlings – synagogues are to be burned down but only when there is no danger to the surroundings…businesses and private apartments of the Jews may be destroyed but not looted. Jews, especially the rich, are to be arrested – as many as can be accommodated in our prisons. Upon arrest, concentration camps should be contacted immediately to arrange their confinement… In Baden Baden, a Christian who was forced to watch the march of the Jews that night wrote, they looked like Christ figures, their heads held high, unbowed by any feelings of guilt. At the local synagogue in Baden, Dr. Arthur Felhinger was forced by the SS to read to the Jews gathered, passages from Hitler’s, Mein Kampf. Every time he lowered his voice, an SS man stood behind him and clubbed him. The readings went on for a long time. Those who had to relieve themselves were allowed to do so, provided it was up against the Ark of the synagogue. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the synagogue was torched. Meanwhile, the Nazis arrived at the Dislanken Orphanage on the morning of November 10th. There were 46 people there, 32 of them children when the Nazis began their destruction of the orphanage. As the children raced outside, seeking protection, the senior police officer of the town said, “The Jews are not entitled to any protection.” Terrified and standing outside, the children watched as the books, chairs, and beds, were thrown out of the window. Encouraged by the mob of some 200 that stood outside, the Nazis continued the pogrom. As he looked at the crowd, the director of the orphanage noticed that standing with them were the suppliers of the orphanage and the trades people who were regularly employed there. There was no remorse and no compassion. None of them said a single word in defense of the children who were now left homeless. While most non-Jews acquiesced, or joined the mob, a few did not. A week after Kristallnacht, in Swabia, Pastor Julius von Jan preached to his congregation, “Houses of worship have been burned down with impunity. Men who served our nation and have done their duty have been thrown into concentration camps because they belong to a different race. Our nation’s infamy is bound to bring about divine punishment.” One week later, Pastor von Jan was brutally beaten and taken to a concentration camp. Soon after Kristallnacht, a German official in Berlin tells the US Consulate that the 50,000 Jews arrested after Kristallnacht would be released to other countries willing to take them in. In a poll taken in America in the days following Kristallnacht, “88% of Americans disapproved of Hitler’s treatment of Jews, but 60% thought it was their own fault. A few months after Kristallnacht, twelve-year-old Eric Lucas was sent by his parents to England. “We lived right on the border, beyond it stretched the free towns of Belgium and Holland. It was just an hour by train to the channel port of Ostend. It was a cold, dark February morning when I left Germany. I was the only passenger who boarded the train at the station. There were few travelers but many customs officials and soldiers. When I was at last allowed to board the train, I rushed to the window to look for my parents, whom I could not see until I left the custom’s shed. They stood in the distance, but could not come to the train. I waved timidly, full of fear, but even that was too much for the guards. A man in a black uniform rushed up to me and said, “You Jewish swine, one more sign or word from you and we shall keep you here.” And so I stood at the window, in the distance stood a silent and aging couple, to whom I dared neither speak nor wave a final farewell. But I could see their faces very distinctly. A few hours before, just before they took me to the train station, my father and mother had laid their hands gently on my bowed head invoking the ancient blessing, that G-d let me be like Ephraim and Menashe – let it be well with you, do your work and duty, and if G-d wills it, we shall see you again. Never forget that you are a Jew, do not forget your people, and do not forget us. This, my father had said – his eyes had grown soft and dim. My boy, added my mother, it may be that we can come after you, but know what? you will never be away from me, as tears streamed down her kind and sad face. With a last effort, she uttered familiar Hebrew words, “Go now in life and peace.” Standing at the window, I was overcome with the certainty that I would never see them again. Cruel hands kept us apart at that last intimate moment. Why, oh G-d does it have to be like that? There stood my parents, my father, leaning heavily on a stick, holding his wife’s hand. It was the first and the last time I had seen them both weep. As the train pulled out of the station to wield me to safety, I leaned my face against the cold glass of the window and wept bitterly.” In March of 1939, in London, Eric Lucas was still trying the find a foreign embassy willing to get his parents a Visa but, unfortunately, he was unable to do so. Eric received one final letter from his parents. In it, his mother wrote: “We shall never see you again, was there no space in the whole wide world for us two old people? I hope we shall not live very long now. There is nothing left to hope for. We are so lonely and forsaken. Was there nobody who could have helped?” Three years later, Eric Lucas’ parents perished in the Holocaust. Of course there were heroes during the events of Kristallnacht and the Holocaust and we should do all in our power to make sure that their stories live on and are passed from generation to generation, but the other part of the tragedy must also be passed on – that there were more villains than saints – more experts at closing doors than those brave enough to open them – that hundreds of train operators went to work each day with their lunch bags while women and children were loaded onto cattle cars to go to the death camps. Then, they drove the trains to Auschwitz and Maidanek, never having second thoughts about what they were doing. Let us take these lessons to heart – let us remember how many opportunities the world had to stop this, but did not – and let us vow that never again, under our watch, will we sit back and allow humanity to be so debased. May the memory of the martyred millions lead us to a better world for Jews and for all mankind.