Canberra remembers Kristallnacht

November 9, 2018 by Yvette Goode
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The ACT Jewish Community and the Wesley Uniting Church in Canberra have combined to present a multi-faith Commemoration of Kristallnacht, praying together in hope and love for friendship and peace among all the peoples of the world.


Many members of the Diplomatic Corps were in attendance.

To begin, dignitaries and representatives of many faiths and backgrounds assembled at the National Jewish Memorial Centre to walk together as one in a Walk of Peace. Leading the walk were descendants of William Cooper, an indigenous man, who in 1938 when he was 77 years of age, walked from Footscray to the German Consulate in Melbourne to protest the events of Kristallnacht he had read about in the newspaper.

The official welcome was given by Rabbi Shimon Eddi of the ACTJC and Rev Dr Ockert Meyer of the Wesley Church. They both warmly welcomed in mutual respect and peace all in attendance from such diverse religious, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. They spoke of the need to strengthen our commitment to peace, healing and restoration in the world.

Rabbi Eddi reflected on the events of Kristallnacht, not as a history lesson but for what we can learn from such an appalling tragedy, to inform our future actions. We need to remember what human beings are capable of doing to one another. Just as there were those non-Jews who risked their lives to help Jews and others during the Holocaust, it is symbolic that on this occasion people of various faiths joined together to see the inherent humanity in each other. We need to remember we are more alike than different.

Music was a key element in this special commemoration, which commenced with “Prelude on an Old Synagogue Intonation” by Moritz Deutsch (1818-1892), played on the church organ. This was closely followed by the 23rdPsalm, sung in Hebrew by a combined choir of the ACTJC and Wesley Uniting Church. Hearing the Psalm rendered in this manner was powerful, beautiful and haunting.

The focus on Kristallnacht was the reason for the gathering. Two eyewitnesses, both members of the ACTJC, spoke movingly about their memories of that terrible time. Peter Witting spoke first. This is his powerful, heartfelt testimony.

On the night of November 9th1938, anti-Jewish violence erupted in a well-organised rampage throughout the German Reich, which then included Austria and the Sudetenland. This pogrom which had been carefully orchestrated and planned well in advance by the Nazi regime was called Kristallnacht – Crystal Night or the night of the broken glass.

Within 48 hours hundreds of synagogues were burnt, 7,000 Jewish businesses were trashed and looted, 96 Jews were killed and Jewish cemeteries, hospitals, schools and homes were destroyed. Some 30,000 Jews were arrested and incarcerated at the Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen concentration camps.

Jews could not claim for damages and any insurance payments received were confiscated by the Reich. As a further irony, the Jewish community was held responsible for clearing the rubble of the ruined synagogues and a fine of 1 billion Reichsmark, about 400 million US dollars, was imposed collectively on the Jewish community as punishment for their “hostile attitude towards Germany and their abominable crimes”. Wealthy Jews were held to ransom.

It will be 80 years since this shameless event happened and I was 10 years old at that time. My experiences of that day have been indelibly imprinted on my mind.

My parents, sister Marion, who is a year younger than me, and I were living in Berlin at the time in an apartment in Berlin – Schoeneberg.

On 9thNovember my father had been warned to stay away from home for that night by a righteous gentile neighbour. So my father spent the night travelling around on the circular subway line to avoid being caught. As it so happened, the Nazis did not call at our apartment.

Elena Kats-Chernin

Not having been aware of what had happened during the night, my mother sent my sister and I on our way to school in the morning. I still vividly remember walking to the Joseph Lehmann Jewish School at 13 Joachimsthalerstrasse, near Kurfuerstendamm, on the morning of 10thNovember and seeing the shattered shopfronts, people being brutally beaten and taken away, graffiti on Jewish shops and homes such as dirty Jews, Jews perish, etc.

It was a very frightening experience for us kids of 9 and 10 which we shall never forget. We, of course, did not have any understanding of what was going on. When we arrived at the school we were immediately sent home again as some of the teachers had been taken away and nobody knew what was going to happen next.

These crimes were committed in full view of the German public yet most Germans remained silent, either because they were paralysed by fear or indifferent to the plight of the Jews. The ultimate German goal was to make Germany “Judenrein”, to free Germany, Austria and other countries they had occupied of all Jews. 

However, Kristallnacht was only the beginning of the atrocities which were committed during what later became known as the Holocaust.

On this solemn occasion I would like to laud and honour the brave and principled action of William Cooper and his Yorta Yorta Aboriginal Elders who were so incensed by the Crystalnight events, that they walked from his home in Footscray to the German Consulate near the Yarra River in Melbourne in order to deliver a protest note. However, they were barred from the Consulate.

Cooper and his small Indigenous community stood up for the Jews under Nazi oppression in a largely indifferent world. I understand that some of Cooper’s family members are here tonight.


Let us hope that these terrible events will never happen again so that our children and grandchildren will be able to live in peace.

Finally, I would like to quote Pastor Martin Niemoeller, who had been imprisoned by the Nazis :


First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

Ruth Landau then spoke and recounted how as a 9 year old her father took her out onto the streets to see the broken glass, smashed shop and house windows and destroyed synagogues. She spoke of the significance of the 9thof November, listing all of the both terrible and auspicious historical events that have fallen on that day or within a day or two.

In just the 20th Century:

  • 1918 the Weimar Republic was proclaimed;
  • 1923 was the first (failed)Nazi beer hall putsch;
  • 1925 saw the SS formed by the Nazis
  • 1938 the end of law and order with Kristallnacht
  • 1989 remarkably the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In a more light hearted tone Ruth also added that Trump became President of the USA on that day.

Ruth concluded by saying that she felt honoured to be asked to speak about the events she witnessed as a child as she is the last surviving member of her family to be able to do so.

After these testimonies, Rabbi Eddi gave a brief explanation of the traditional prayers of El Male Rahamim and the Kaddish as being a sanctification of His name. All joined in these memorial prayers.

A poem, ‘Kristallnacht’ by Barbara Fisher was read by Professor Jocelyn Chey. The poem was written after Ms Fisher returned from a visit to Germany. ‘Kristallnacht’ considers the German ‘flair for poetry’ that applies such an appealing word to an outrage, to a point of such duplicity. Fisher adds the further contradiction whereby the Bayreuth synagogue was spared destruction similar to the German Parliament, on account of the synagogue’s proximity to the Wagnerian Festspielhaus.

Professor Chey reflected on life as we age. Having witnessed hostility and xenophobia she thought it incumbent on us all to build bridges of understanding between and among people.

Because she believes that music can help us build a better future, she commissioned a piece of work by Elena Kats-Chernin, “To mend Broken Crystal.” It commemorates the anniversary of 1938 in Germany as well as other disasters in the same year, such as the deliberate breaching of dams on the Yellow river in China by Chiang Kai-shek, leading to the drowning of hundreds and thousands of civilians. The work expresses a hope for reconciliation between faiths and peoples of the world and for a future peaceful future for us all.

The composer, Elena, then spoke about the piece to be performed. She understands as we do that music can touch emotion, not describe an event, but her aim was to provide the feelings we might have about horrific tragedies such as Kristallnacht.

The piece was in three movements. The first was trumpet and organ, representing memory before an event, like a child’s song, a happy time. The second movement, again in trumpet and organ, was harsh, ugly, more like a strident march but also anxious, on edge. The third was optimistic for the future and featured the addition of a soprano using her voice as an instrument, which lent a calm feeling, almost like a lullaby. At the conclusion silence was observed.

Art Sound FM, a Canberra radio station, generously recorded the musical segments of this commemorative event. They will broadcast this as a program early in 2019.

“Golden Crystal Hope” by Sarah Agnew was used as the concluding Benediction and was recited by both Rabbi Eddi and Rev Meyers.

Hope is the gold we melt and pour

between the crystal pieces, shattered,

smatterings and scatterings beneath our feet.

Tread carefully, hold gently the shards,

bear the wounds the healing cuts.

Offer the sacred price for peace, to mend

the broken crystal at our feet.

May the Holy bless us as we go, in peace.


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