On Tuesday evening, November 9, a community-wide commemoration of the 83rd anniversary of Kristallnacht took place at Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck. The event was co-sponsored by the Northern New Jersey Holocaust Memorial & Education Center and the Bnai Yeshurun Adult Education Committee.
The event featured Irene Black, a 92-year-old Holocaust survivor who was born in Nurenberg and moved to the small town of Zeckendorf to live with her grandparents while her father went to the USA to arrange to bring the rest of his family to America. Irene Black spoke about her recollections of Kristallnacht.
The event also featured Dr. Rafael Medoff, a founding director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies in Washington, DC. Dr. Medoff has authored more than 20 books about the Holocaust, Zionism and American Jewish history. Dr. Medoff spoke about America’s response to Kristallnacht.
The program began with introductory words from Steve Fox, co-chair of the Northern New Jersey Holocaust Memorial & Education Center, who introduced Rabbi Elliot Schrier, the new spiritual leader of Bnai Yeshurun. Rabbi Schrier emphasized the importance of remembering events like Kristallnacht that led up to the Holocaust. The next speaker was Irene Black.
Black retold the story of how she witnessed the Nazi war machine rally the people with mass political demonstrations, with Hitler leading the charge. She saw the harassments of Jews prior to Kristallnacht and when her father was arrested for splashing a pedestrian with his car. When her father set out for the United States, she and her mother stayed with her grandparents in Zeckendorf. It was during this time that Kristallnacht rocked Germany and neighboring countries.
Irene and her cousins went to the local country school where their German classmates studied with them in the morning and harassed them with rocks after school. During Kristallnacht, a few Jewish families huddled together in her grandparents’ house and from there they witnessed the local shul get torched. The Germans then came to arrest her grandfather, who had just suffered a stroke, but because he lost a son who had been given an Iron Cross in World War I, they didn’t take him away. In the end, her grandparents and many of her relatives were killed. Black and her mother fortunately were able to leave Germany just before the outbreak of war and came to the United States, where she met her husband, a survivor of Auschwitz.
Dr. Rafael Medoff followed with his presentation. Dr. Medoff, who has done extensive research on America’s response to Kristallnacht, pointed out that Kristallnacht was a well-known event throughout the world, getting extensive coverage in all of the major newspapers. He showed archival notes from FDR’s press conferences where FDR expressed concern for German Jews but never criticized the Nazis for instigating and orchestrating Kristallnacht. He also pointed out that even though the American government had strict quotas for accepting Jews from Europe, that quota were never even nearly filled and episodes like the ill-fated St. Louis ship that was turned away from American shores were indicative of FDR’s negative policy towards Jewish immigration.
The informative and at times emotional evening ended with the Kel Maleh prayer recited by Bnai Yeshurun’s Associate Rabbi Ari Zahtz. According to NNJ Holocaust Memorial’s co-chair, Steve Fox, “this program is another example of what our organization can offer the community. We will continue to offer educational programming for the Jewish and the broader community while trying to raise the funds for a central Holocaust Memorial & Education Center, where people of all walks of life can memorialize the victims while learning the history and lessons of the Shoah.”
Go to www.nnjholocaustmemorial.org for more information on the project.
By Tzvi Allen Fishman