Thousands of houses of worship and public institutions around the world were illuminated this week to mark the observance of Kristallnacht.
“Synagogues were burned down on Kristallnacht, and the world stood by and remained silent,” says Shmuel Rosenman, chairman of the March of the Living.
On November 9, 1938, the Nazis burned 1,400 synagogues and Jewish institutions in Germany and Austria in the Kristallnacht pogrom, a two-day massacre in which dozens of Jews were murdered. Kristallnacht gave a green light to additional antisemitic events that eventually led to the Holocaust.
On November 9, 2021, under the auspices of the March of the Living, the world kindled lights in synagogues, churches, mosques, and public institutions as part of a global initiative called “Let There Be Light” to mark Kristallnacht and as a symbol of unity and hope.
Salonika, Paris, Budapest, Warsaw and the Old City walls of Jerusalem were just some of the locations that were illuminated as part of the initiative encompassing thousands of houses of worship, public institutions and private homes around the world that left a light burning, as a symbol of mutual responsibility and a joint war on antisemitism, racism and hatred. In addition, as part of the event, the prayers of public leaders and Holocaust survivors from around the world were projected on the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem and public buildings and houses of worship in Europe.
“It is enough to look at what is happening these days around the world to understand that there is complete ignorance regarding what happened to the Jewish people during the Holocaust,” says Dr. Shmuel Rosenman, who serves as chairman of the March of the Living organization. “Our initiative came from the need to remind people that it could happen again if we do keep our eyes open. Kristallnacht took place a year and a half before the outbreak of World War II and served as a green light for attacking Jews in the streets. The process of extermination of the Jewish people began first with the small things and then gained momentum.”
Rosenman adds that the world is regressing when it comes to dealing with antisemitism. “There is an acceleration in antisemitism, and at the same time, there is no broadening of the subject of Holocaust education, which is one of the main tools to understand what happened then, and how to prevent it anew.”
Carol (Mannheimer) Selig-Kinderman, 97, was born in Worms, Germany. She was 14 on the morning of November 9. On her way to school, she witnessed the Mainz shul burning down, and she understood that something unusual was happening. She returned home with her cousin to her house in Oppenheim. A few hours later, the police arrested her 16-year-old brother and her father, and at noon, the SS stormed into her home, destroying everything.
“They slashed all the sofas and beds, broke down all the closets, the mirrors. They cut off the legs of our dining table. Because they smashed our windows, we were also very cold. Later, through the smashed windows, I heard the SS marching under our house and debating whether they should burn down our house. Eventually, they realized we lived next door to a high-ranking Nazi, so they decided not to do it.
“My parents owned a winery and had special sets of wine glasses in all sizes, 144 glasses in all. They smashed them all.”
A couple of hours later, a different group of 10 SS officers arrived, took Carol’s mother to the wine cellar, and forced her to empty all their wine barrels. “They destroyed my parents’ business.”
Speaking about the fate of her family, Selig-Kinderman says the family survived the pogroms, but her brother was killed later, and her parents were sent to Theresienstadt for three years and survived. Selig-Kinderman registered for the kindertransport to Switzerland, and that’s how she survived. “In addition to myself, I registered seven other Jewish children from Oppenheim. Sadly, most of the parents refused to send their children (some were my cousins), and they were sent to Auschwitz.”
Today, Selig-Kinderman lives in Tekoa and says that she is blessed with two daughters, eight grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren, all living in Israel. When asked about the most important message she would like to deliver to the next generation, she replies: “The Jewish nation went through so many pogroms throughout its history. We are still here because of our Torah and our traditions that kept us together all those years.”
The decision of the March of the Living organization to carry out the “Let There Be Light” initiative stemmed from the need to educate and especially to warn. “Instead of marking the March of the Living only on the 27th of Nissan, we decided it was important to implement a wide range of activities throughout the year that deal with education and raise all the red flags, because on the surface nothing changes,” adds Rosenman. “Synagogues were burned, and the world stood aside and was silent. It was not only the burning of a building – it was the burning of its essence – religion and education.”
Rosenman explains that the purpose of the “Let There Be Light” initiative is to kindle lights not only in synagogues, but also in mosques and churches around the world to create a sense of unity, and to declare that together we must light the miracle of rebellion.
“We believe that a small amount of light has the power to fight the darkness, and that is the message we want to convey to millions of people around the world. Kristallnacht was a sign for Hitler that he could harm the Jews unhindered. Had the world intervened, perhaps the Holocaust would have never happened.
“Holocaust education and the fight against antisemitism are intertwined, and the organization of the March of the Living will continue to work to ensure that ‘Never Means Never.’”
Translated by Alan Rosenbaum.
This article was written in cooperation with the March of the Living.