On November 9 and 10, 1938, the world witnessed the event which would turn the tide in the attempt to cleanse the world of its Jewish population. In the course of two nights, 1,400 synagogues and Jewish businesses were smashed and burned in Germany and Austria. Known as Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, this horrific pogrom resulted in the arrest of hundreds of Jewish men who were sent to Dachau, one of the earliest concentration camps. Most tragically, the event ushered in the ensuing Holocaust during which over 6 million Jewish lives and an equal number of non-Jewish lives were sacrificed on the altar of bigotry and senseless hatred as the world watched mainly in silence.
Since 1988, the March of the Living has been sponsoring youths and adults, Jews as well as non-Jews, on annual educational programs to Poland to learn firsthand about the horrors of the Holocaust and to examine the roots of prejudice, intolerance and hatred. The culmination of the trip is the emotional march on the actual tracks leading from Birkenau to Auschwitz. March of the Living’s co-founder and vice chairman Dr. David Machlis of Englewood has been heading the March of the Living since its inception, and has been joined by Eli Rubenstain of Toronto who serves as the director of education.
In marking the anniversary of Kristallnacht this unusual year, March of the Living partnered with the Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience (CPR), a division of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, headed by Professor John J. Farmer Jr.. The mission of the Miller Center is to help break down barriers and build bridges between vulnerable communities and law enforcement through site assessments of a given community’s situation and community needs, then adjusting deliverables to meet these needs.
The third partner in marking the 82nd Anniversary of Kristallnacht was the 2020 Global Campaign of Unity #Let There Be Light project, co-sponsored by the One Family Fund and its Chairman and CEO Marc Belzberg. On the night of Monday, November 9, over 200 synagogues around the world kept their lights on in a gesture of unity and solidarity against racism, hatred and intolerance. Local synagogues participated, as well as the Frankfurt Synagogue in Germany, which was miraculously spared on Kristallnacht. The project additionally urged participants worldwide to send in messages of hope and personal pledges to “unite the world by shining light over the darkness of hate.” These messages were projected onto the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem on Monday night in an additional universal marking of the anniversary of Kristallnacht.
The Monday-night broadcast was featured on multiple platforms including the Jewish Broadcasting Service (JBS), the Jerusalem Post website and the International March of the Living website, enabling a huge audience to participate. Among the speakers was Teaneck resident and former Jewish Link columnist Norbert Strauss, who has been a frequent and eloquent speaker at Holocaust commemorations in the metropolitan area for many years. Strauss was an eyewitness to Kristallnacht in his native Frankfurt. His family’s escape included their unfortunate journey on the SS St. Louis, which returned its passengers to the bloody shores of Europe after being refused permission to land in Cuba. His family was one of the few that ultimately reached American soil.
The keynote address was presented by survivor Irving Roth, longtime director of the Holocaust Center at Temple Judea in Manhasset, New York, and noted Holocaust educator. Roth spoke of the notorious Auschwitz death camp where more than 1.2 million Jews and political prisoners were exterminated over the course of 2 1/2 years,including his brother, grandparents, aunts and cousins. He has made his mission in life to educate thousands of school groups about the results of senseless hatred and bigotry.
Other speakers included Paul S. Miller, founder of the Miller Center; and Farmer, who gave an overview of the events following Kristallnacht. Dr. Joel Finkelstein of the Rutgers Center for Secure Communities gave a sobering insight into the cryptic cyber and media attacks that have been carried out and are spreading dangerous rhetoric worldwide. Stephan Kramer, president of the State-Agency for the Protection of the Constitution in Thuringia, Germany, painted a dire picture of the proliferation of extremists who are spreading anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant tropes throughout Europe.
Moderating the program was Richard D. Heideman, president of the American Zionist Movement. Interspersed throughout the program were musical renditions by past March of the Living performers including Cantor Aviva Rajsky and Happie Hoffman in renditions of “Es Brendt,” Matisyahu’s “One Day,” and “Oseh Shalom.”
By Pearl Markovitz