After 75 Years, Remembering Kristallnacht

After 75 Years, Remembering Kristallnacht

[by Phyllis Shaikun, Special to Community]
Kristallnacht or the Night of Broken Glass took place on the night of November 9, 1938. Nazi Storm Troopers and German citizens launched a massive, government-coordinated attack on Jews throughout Germany. Mobs burned synagogues, destroyed businesses, ransacked Jewish homes, and brutalized the Jewish people. From that day forth, Jews had no rights in the Third Reich, and those who did not escape became victims of the Nazi Holocaust.

Every five years, the Louisville Jewish community gathers together for a solemn ceremony in early November to mark this horrific event in our history and to pay tribute to both the victims and the survivors of the Holocaust. Before Mike Meyer, a member of Congregation Adath Jeshurun, who together with his wife, Ilsa, z”l, survived the Holocaust, died, he told Cantor David Lipp that he wanted to ensure that the community would never to forget the tragedy of Kristallnacht, and Cantor Lipp agreed to ensure there was a community-wide observance every five years. This year’s program, “Kristallnacht: Pogrom as Prelude,” which marked the 75th anniversary of that horrific night, took place at Adath Jeshurun on Sunday, November 10, and Cantor Lipp chaired the event.

The evening was extraordinary. With lights dimmed in the very full sanctuary, the program began with Ballard High School’s impressive Concert Choir singing Elaine Broad’s haunting song “We Remember Them.” Hearing a chorus of young people sing “So long as we live, they too shall live, for they are part of us; we remember them,” set the mood for what was to follow.

Hans Bensinger, who was a child living in Baden, Germany, in the 1930s, told about his experiences during that time. In 1933, the Nazis brought a form of anti-Semitism to the country that escalated when the Nuremberg Laws were passed in 1935 forbidding Jews to work or go to school. They were considered so inferior they could not live in an Aryan state. After Kristallnacht, the Jews that remained had no future and no hope.

Although Bensinger’s father, one of 15 siblings, fought with Germany during the First World War, he was arrested the day after Kristallnecht and sent to Dachau. Christian neighbors risked their lives to help the family, and after his father’s release 10 days later, the family was told to leave Germany. However, no country wanted them. They finally settled in Bolivia in 1939 and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee sent money there to keep Jewish families alive until 1945.

In 1966, when Bensinger and his father returned to Baden for a visit, they met one of the men with whom his father had served in the army. The man acted as if the Holocaust had never occurred.

“At least now,” said Bensinger, Jews have a place to escape to in Israel.

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Other speakers followed with their own personal stories of life before, during and after the Holocaust. Fred Gross, whose parents left Germany and took refuge in Belgium, smiled as he announced that one of his five grandchildren just celebrated her bat mitzvah on November 9 this year. “It was,” he said, “a day for celebration.”

Rachel Klein read a letter about her great-grandfather about his exile from Germany before Kristallnacht and how her grandfather, Elias Klein, and his family were harassed by Germans and Poles in the no-man’s land that constituted their border. Elias Klein was fortunate enough to be sent away on a Kindertransport. His parents did not survive the Holocaust.

Rabbi Josh Golding introduced a series of Kristallnacht memoirs by survivors, their children and grandchildren. Dan Streit told about his family’s harrowing escape from Germany in 1938 by virtue of a tip his father received, warning that the Nazis were coming. The family was saved and Streit was born the following year.

On November 9, 1938, Carl Bensinger’s family lived in Donaueschingen, Germany. Nazi soldiers entered their home and broke everything that was glass. His father was jailed in Dachau, where conditions were intolerable. Jewish men were made to sign notes saying they were being well treated. Most would not leave alive. “This marked,” he said, “a violent end to the feeling that Jews were valued German citizens.”

Several years ago, Monica Meyer, granddaughter of Ilse and Mike Meyer, accompanied her grandmother on a trip back to her home in Germany. Photos of Ilse’s home flashed on the screen as Monica reported the Nazis ransacked everything on Kristallnacht. Thereafter, Jewish children were not allowed to go to school; they were fingerprinted and forced to wear yellow stars on their arms. Torah scrolls were burned.

In 1938, when Ann Dorzback and her sister, Charlotte, finished training classes and returned home to Ulm, Germany, they learned the frightening truth about living conditions there. A stranger told her family how to avoid being captured on Kristallnacht and the family was able to escape. They left Germany on May 7, 1939.

Rabbi Stanley Miles read excerpts from the final sermon given by Rabbi Julius Cohn on the Passover post-Kristallnacht at a German synagogue. “We are somber and feel the tragedy of our own fate,” said Cohn. “May God be with us as He was with our fathers. Farewell to our future generations.” One month later, the rabbi went to England and died a year later as a result of the beatings he had suffered in the camps.

Cantor Sharon Hordes followed with El Malei Rachamim – sung in memory of those who perished in the Holocaust.

Isabelle Miller and Holly Zoeller, students from St. Francis of Assisi School, spoke lovingly of their classroom experiences with the late Holocaust survivor, Ernie Marx.  Although he spent seven years of his life in concentration camps, he urged students to take hate out of their minds and hearts and taught them lessons they will never forget.

Cantor Lipp led the Kaddish and the choir joined him, students and families for Oseh Shalom. Rabbi Laura Metzger led the Gomel prayer, traditionally recited by those who have gone through a life-threatening situation, and the choir followed with the melancholy “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” from Les Miserables, which was selected because it expresses the guilt many of the survivors felt.

Bob Sachs, chair of the JCL’s Jewish Community Relations Council, said that from a moral point of view, there is no such thing as an innocent bystander. “If you are there,” he said, “you are in it. Be advised: 76 percent of Jews think anti-Semitism has increased and may have seen it happen.”

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