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Author Commemorates ‘Night Of The Broken Glass’

On the night of Nov. 9, 1938, a young Jewish boy watched Nazi soldiers torch a synagogue across the street from where he was studying in Dessau, Germany. He was forced to choose between alerting the fellow townspeople and riding his bike home to warn his mother. He chose the former and saved the lives of some 30 families.

This young boy was Gershon Wilkenfeld, and he was able to flee Germany and live to tell the story to his children. His mother, sister, and brother, however, were unable to leave and perished soon thereafter.
On Tuesday night, Alan Rosen, a renowned writer on the Holocaust who now lives in Jerusalem, came to Boston College not only to speak of the Holocaust and some of its important dates, but also to commemorate the tragedy.

He recounted the above story from an interview he conducted with Wilkenfeld last summer. Wilkenfeld had gone on to settle down in Australia where he was a businessman and philanthropist, and he had died around this time last year, Rosen said.

Like Wilkenfeld, Rosenfeld said, many Jews throughout Germany and Austria experienced horrific events on Nov. 9 and 10.

“The occasion of Kristallnacht … was a very sad day indeed,” Rosen said. On that night, some 267 synagogues were damaged, 5,000 shops were vandalized, and 30,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

Most of the 91 deaths that occurred, Rosen said, occurred on Nov. 10. Therefore, he believes that the night of the broken glass should be commemorated on Nov. 10, rather than on Nov. 9.

Rosen said that Nov. 9, which is “lodged in the enemy’s first calendar,” had an interesting history prior to Kristallnacht. On that date in 1918, the Kaiser signed the peace treaty ending World War I and abdicated the throne. In 1923, Adolf Hitler led the Putsch, which was a failed attempt to seize power, Rosen said.
This date, according to Rosen, was already tarnished, stating that commemorating Kristallnacht Nov. 9 is “absurd” because this was a day of Nazi pride during the party’s reign.

Rosen also pointed to Mariana Caplan, a writer on Jews in Germany at this time, whom he quoted saying, “I’ve always found the name Kristallnacht to be a prettifying term, and the word Kristallnacht itself, of course, is German.”

Kristallnacht is also called Reichskristallnacht and Novemberpogrome, said Rosen, who noted that he dislikes how the latter has “November” imbedded in the word. This, he highlighted, is a month in the secular calendar, not in the Jewish calendar, and thus it makes the event less about the Jewish identity.
Yom HaShoah, Rosen said, is the day on which Jews remember the Holocaust. Unlike Kristallnacht, however, the date is based off of the Jewish calendar. This, he said, allows the Jews to remember this horrific event that happened to their families and friends on a date in their calendar.

Today, Rosen said, many debate about the role of the synagogue.

“The synagogue is being expanded to be able to be filled with the echoes of the voices of those who are telling the stories,” he said.

The synagogues are still important, he argued, because although they were targeted on the night of Kristallnacht, Jews are still using these sacred spaces.

Rosen wrote a book based on interviews conducted by David Boder just after the end of World War II. In one of the interviews, which was conducted in a synagogue that was destroyed during Kristallnacht, a survivor named David Matzner reflected on his perspective on the importance of synagogues.

“This is where my bar mitzvah was held, and now I have lived,” Matzner said. “I have survived to see and to make sure that the synagogue of my family has been rebuilt.”

Featured Image: Arthur Bailin / Heights Staff

November 6, 2014