This year, the 80th anniversary of the Kristallnacht atrocities, coincided by a week with the Pittsburgh massacre. Each event in its time served to shake our people to the core.
This week, an essay and a book demonstrate to us the wisdom of the old truism: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
One of our community’s leading educators is Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky, the rosh yeshiva of Toras Chaim at South Shore in the Five Towns. In a recent essay in Ami Magazine, he shared the following haunting thoughts:
“Kristallnacht taught us the shocking lesson of what happens when suddenly many ‘lone fanatics’ begin acting in unison. Though it was inevitable and a vicious excuse for a night of murder waiting to happen, people forget what the original Nazi excuse and sanctioned catalyst of the terrible Kristallnacht pogrom was.
“The overt entrée into the finality of the Holocaust was set off on November 7, 1938, by lone gunman Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year old Polish Jew, who walked up to German diplomat Ernst Von Rath in the German Embassy in Paris and fired at him five times at close range.
“Although Grynzpan claimed that the shooting was not religiously or politically motivated but based on a personal feud, it was too late.”
The Nazis used this incident to ignite the events of Kristallnacht and as the prelude to the Holocaust itself.
Fast forward to 1986. Rabbi Kamenetzky’s narrative continues. “During the early and mid-1980’s, I lived not far from the Tree of Life [synagogue], and I learned in the Pittsburgh kollel, whose support came from a wide array of community members, some of whom I believe were members of Tree of Life.
“I can never forget a Sunday in September of 1986. It was my last month living in Pittsburgh and we had just heard the terrible news of the barbaric attack on the Neve Shalom Synagogue in Istanbul. A suicide attack by two terrorists armed with automatic rifles and hand grenades killed 22 mispallelim at Shabbos morning services.
“One of the members of our kollel was married to a Turkish girl whose parents were there that Shabbos.
“The horror of the attack struck us all, even in what we thought then was an extremely safe and quiet community. But even in that seemingly safe environment of Squirrel Hill … the whispers had begun. Everyone who sees tragedy relates it to his own life and circumstance.”
Rabbi Kamenetzky concludes with the following thoughts:
“I know that there is a Ribbono Shel Olam who watches over His people, and works only with Divine calculations. We do our hishtadlus.
“Now is the time to daven for the dead, the injured, the traumatized … And I think of the words of my friend on that morning of September 7th, after the attack on the shul in Turkey:
“‘It is not a question of if it can happen here. It is a question of when.’ ”
Take note of the following excerpt from the conclusion of the book 48 Hours of Kristallnacht, by Mitchell Bard:
“Many Germans on Kristallnacht foresaw the consequences of their countrymen’s actions. ‘We Germans will pay dearly for what was done to the Jews last night,’ a German soldier’s aunt told him. ‘Our churches, our houses, and our stores will be destroyed. You can be sure of that.’ She was prescient. The flames of the synagogues reached up to the heavens that later brought retribution in the form of the Allied bombs that crushed the Reich.”
I conclude this week’s essay with the following prayer by Rabbi Kenneth Brander, the rosh yeshiva of Ohr Torah in Efrat:
“May G-d open the wellsprings of strength and resilience to our brothers and sisters during this time of enormous sorrow and pain, and may we merit in this generation to bring an end to baseless hatred and racism. Am Yisrael Chai, Amen.”