Kristallnacht

November 6, 2013
BY Maayan Jaffe
75 years since the Night of Broken Glass

NO ONE TO HELP
Many others left for they could not survive without a livelihood.

Herta Baitch, who was 5 in 1938, said her memory of Kristallnacht is not clear. However, what she recalls is that her family lost its grocery store.

“My mother said people were coming in and taking what they wanted, and there was no one to report to, nobody to help. … We could not go to the authorities. … They did what they wanted to do, and then [my mother] just closed it,” Baitch, of Maryland, recalled. “After that, we didn’t have the store anymore.”

Baitch’s father was taken to a labor camp.

“He came home one night and died,” Baitch said. “It was then that my mother began to talk about sending me to America.”

Baitch, who said, “I grew up in an atmosphere of fear,” arrived in Baltimore in 1940 on a Kindertransport.

“I left my mother at the railroad station and never saw her again,” said Baitch. Her mother was killed in the Holocaust.

Neumann said her father — and most Jews — completely lost their businesses.

“There was no longer a livelihood in Germany, and that meant most people wanted to leave as soon as possible. But where to go was the big question. Many countries in Europe, even if they accepted Jews, they were caught by the Germans and occupied. And others were not even accepting Jews,” said Neumann.

This fact is striking, noted Barnett, in that the events of Kristallnacht were wildly covered in the English and United States media.

“You would see the reports of the outbreak of violence, the desecration of synagogues,” said Barnett. “It was shocking to people, especially to people of faith, who looked at that and were horrified by it.”

Barnett said that there was a brief outrage in the U.S. In the weeks following Kristallnacht, there were numerous editorials, radio broadcasts and sermons. In a few cases, such as in the historic Church of the Pilgrimage in Plymouth, Mass., local Christian clergy invited their Jewish colleagues to address their congregations for the first time. There was a growing level of awareness among U.S. Christians about what was happening in Nazi Germany.

The Federal Council of Churches, a national Protestant organization that included 33 member churches, declared Nov. 20, 1938, to be “a national day of prayer” for the “victims of racial and religious oppression.”

However, said Barnett, the churches lagged sadly behind Jewish organizations in staffing, support and financial assistance. She said that while after Kristallnacht there was a brief resurgence of activism by a few Christian leaders, such activism came only from a few prominent ecumenical and church leaders and didn’t seem to find much of an echo among ordinary church members.

“Once the war began, religious refugee work was moved to the sidelines. This is one of the moments that I think about. It is not that people didn’t know, it is not that they weren’t outraged,” said Barnett. “But it didn’t translate into a coherent policy that could address what was happening in Nazi Germany.”

Werner Cohen was arrested on Nov. 9, 1938 at the age of 16.

Werner Cohen was arrested on Nov. 9, 1938 at the age of 16. (Photos by David Stuck)

Barnett continued: “A few years later, people were being led to their deaths in horrifying ways. Why didn’t people do something then [in 1938]? What if the world had challenged what Germany was doing to the Jews in 1938?”

But Barnett said there is still no “one-size-fits-all policy that addresses human-rights atrocities, but I think the events between 1938 and 1945 show there needs to be policy makers and leaders who think about this. There is a necessity, when a minority position is being targeted in that way, that the world cannot just stand by.”

But, Barnett said, responses are “very complicated, and that is why we don’t know how to do it very well.”

She said the Holocaust raised the world’s awareness of the stakes.

“That has driven those kinds of policy discussions,” she said.

Seventy five years later, the policy discussions are inconclusive, however. Conclusive is the trepidation — the horror of knowing that since the Holocaust there have been additional mass murders around the globe and that such an assault by one group against another group could be pulled off again — unless we remember it and educate ourselves to stop it. Unless we stop hating.

Neumann tells this story:

“There was a young man in Hamburg, a teenager at the time [of Kristallnacht], who lived across the street from a big synagogue in Hamburg, which was severely damaged — the one I walked by on my way to school, the one in which they were throwing stones through the stained-glass windows. This young man, after dark, when the hordes of people had left, he snuck out of the house and picked up shards of the stained-glass windows, and they eventually made their way to Palestine in 1939; he had taken these shards with him.”

Neumann continued: “According to his wife, who I spoke with … he had kept these broken pieces of glass in a special box on his night table all his life. When he passed away, a few of the pieces were buried with him, and one of the pieces is incorporated in his headstone.”

Chilling?

“When we Jews talk about the Torah scrolls, this is the basis of our belief, of our observance, of our lives. The Torah was thrown into the streets, it was torn up, desecrated by hordes of people who lost all respect for other people’s religions,” said Neumann. “So often, you hate for the sake of hating, but you don’t really know why you are hating. … It still gives me the shivers when I talk about it.”

The Baltimore community will commemorate Kristallnacht on Shabbat evening, Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. at Beth El Congregation with a program co-sponsored by BJC and the Jewish Museum of Maryland. For more information, visit baltjc.org or call 410-542-4850.

The Annapolis Jewish community will commemorate Kristallnacht on Sunday, Nov. 10 at 10:30 a.m. with a lecture and book signing by Charles Heller, whose family was nearly destroyed by the Holocaust. His book, “Prague: My Long Journey Home,” recounts that story.  The event will be held at Kneseth Israel Congregation and costs $8. For more information, visit knesethisrael.org or call 410-263-3924.

See related articles:
‘Tell Your Story:’ Two concerts to commemorate Kristallnacht, bring beauty out from the darkness >>
On Deaf Ears: Cartoonists spoke out against Kristallnacht, called for the U.S. to help save the German Jews >>

Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief
mjaffe@jewishtimes.com

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