Kristallnacht Commemoration

November 9, 2015 by Roz Tarszisz
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Representatives from many communal and religious organisations, including the Consul-Generals of Austria, Germany and Greece gathered at the Sydney Jewish Museum for the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies’ (NSWJBD) annual Kristallnacht Commemoration.

Danny Hochberg, Chair,  NSWJBD Shoah Remembrance Committee welcomed the 300 guests and said that Holocaust survivors victims and survivors will continue to be honoured.

Danny Hochberg, Consul General (Germany) Lothar Freischlager, Mariah Stock and Consul General (Austria) Guido Stock, Vic Alhadeff

Danny Hochberg, Consul General (Germany) Lothar Freischlager, Mariah Stock and Consul General (Austria) Guido Stock, Vic Alhadeff

On 9 November 1938, the first Nazi-legislated riots against Jews took place in Germany and Austria, resulting in mass arrests, killings and deportations, and the destruction of synagogues and Jewish-owned stores.

This infamous night became known as Kristallnacht – the Night of Broken Glass. The pretext for the pogrom was the shooting by Herschel Grynszpan, a Polish Jewish refugee, of a German diplomat in Paris in response to his family being evicted from Germany.

“It marked the democratisation of violence against Jews. Let us use this day, not only to commemorate but to pledge to be vigilant so that this will not happen again” said Hochberg.

A short film of the testimonies of Joachim Schneweiss and the late Gerald Levy in which they spoke of their memories of living as boys in Germany and how they were affected was shown.

Robyn Bloom, daughter of Gerry Levy, spoke about her father’s life in Magdeburg, Germany as a young man where the Jewish community was 1000 years old. He had enjoyed a happy early childhood until the age of nine when race laws changed everything for German Jews. Humiliation was a regular occurrence as everyday freedoms such as travelling on a tram were taken away.

Graham Levy, Ilan Bloom, Erna Levy, Joachim Schneeweiss, Sybil and Geejay Schneeweiss

Graham Levy, Ilan Bloom, Erna Levy, Joachim Schneeweiss, Sybil and Geejay Schneeweiss

Gerald and his family were fortunate to be accepted as refugees in Australia and arrived in March 1939.  Her father became very involved in Jewish community activities in Sydney and in 1994 his contribution was recognised with the award of Order of Australia. On receiving his award from the NSW Governor Peter Sinclair, Levy said to the Governor “that he had never dreamt that a ”reffo” boy could attain such distinction.

Memorial candles were lit by Erna Levy, Robyn Bloom, Sybil Schneeweiss, GeeJay Schneeweiss and Joachim Schneeweiss who recited Kaddish, the mourners’ prayer.

Introducing keynote speaker, Cheryl Koenig , Vic Alhadeff, CEO, NSWJBD, outlined her many achievements including a lifetime award for outstanding commitment to community and NSW Women of the Year in 2009.

Cheryl Koenig, a Sydney writer and motivational speaker, sees herself as a child of mixed culture with a Jewish Romanian father and a mother who was a 4th generation Australian-born Catholic. “Chicken soup with matzo balls and Vegemite sandwiches” is her description. While raised a Catholic, she was exposed to significant Jewish occasions such as Passover at her grandparents.

Vic Alhadeff

Vic Alhadeff

Koenig admits that it was not until researching her father and grandfather’s lives for her latest book   – With Just One Suitcase a tribute to her father Frici and father-in-law Istvan – that she “came to truly understand how these tiny shards of broken glass were indeed representative of millions of fragmented lives.”

“What disturbs my understanding of our common humanity,  is who or what kind of society would allow the political and social bacteria of such times –  and the cultural indifference –  to fester unabated, leaving blameless individuals to suffer the unimaginable.  Where were the good people’s voices?

“The unspeakable horrors Holocaust survivors endured, ones that we still wince at today, are impossible to imagine.  The horror and brutality leave me shamed to be part of a species that could commit such wrongdoing.   However, there is also a sense of wonder in understanding how those persecuted and subjected to torture and annihilation of family members could possibly stay intact – stay human – and create new generations of ‘hopeful’ human beings.

Cheryl Koenig

Cheryl Koenig

“But valour, daring and imagination form only part of the mosaic that has combined to create a successful representation of life for the many refugees that continue to grace our sandy shores.   Hope and resilience were, and are, of equal importance – creating aspirations; a faithfulness to keep hold of the dream, and eventual accomplishment.

“ I used to think it was the big events that defined history, but I’ve learnt it’s not.   It’s the people.  The good people who use their voices against prejudice and the hopeful who choose resilience over submission” said Koenig.

In his closing address, Jeremy Spinak, President, NSWJBD, said for many Jews in Germany, the night was the point when “violent rhetoric, racist laws and largely disorganised and vigilante harassment became an organised, state-sanctioned murder”.

Jeremy Spinak

Jeremy Spinak

“Kristellnacht is the occasion when we remember the victims of the night and also remember the 6 million people who were soon to tragically follow.

“Jews all over the world have taken a pledge to never forget and we will not let the lessons of Kristellnacht or the Shoah go unlearned, or take for granted the events that led to that fateful night.

“We will be forever vigilant and fight anti-semitism and will not tolerate it even in small forms so it never becomes accepted as normal”. That is why we take today so seriously” he said.

Cantor Josh Weinberger, David Politzer and Robert Teicher provided moving musical tributes.

Australia’s B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission notes that this barbaric event still carries many important lessons for today, most importantly that we can ill-afford to close our eyes to anti-Semitism and to any radical ideology. The ADC stated that Kristallnacht is a potent reminder of  how evil can proliferate  if left unchecked,  and how vital it is to fight the scourge of anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance and discrimination wherever they persist.

Dr. Dvir Abramovich, Chairman of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission, said: “As we join millions of people around the world in sombrely marking the 77th anniversary of  the horrific Nazi pogroms of  Kristallnacht – “the Night of Broken Glass”–  let us remember that the enduring lesson of  this dark and monumentally tragic night is that we must always speak out against anti-Semitism, extremism and intolerance.

Today, we grieve not only for the heartbreaking destruction of Jewish businesses, homes and synagogues, and the murder of innocents, but also for  the desecration of a community and culture that had flourished for centuries. With a  firm resolve we must rededicate  ourselves to combatting prejudice and persecution wherever they exist, and ensure that such atrocities never happen again.  With global anti-Semitism and violent attacks against Jews on the rise,

Kristallnacht is potent and timely reminder of how prejudice can spread when left unchecked, and how crucial it is for governments to be ever-vigilant in their mission of confronting bigotry. By working tirelessly to combat anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination, and by vowing to never be silent in the face of persecution, we honour the memories of the victims and say in one voice: ”Never Again.”

All Photos: Giselle Haber © 2015

 

 

 

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