'Never Again' rings hollow in 2020

In the 21st century, people are still being murdered, synagogues and Jewish shops are being attacked, and graves in Jewish cemeteries are being defaced.

People take pictures of a light symbol, marking the place where Viennese synagogues once stood before they were destroyed, after a ceremony to mark the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, also known as Night of Broken Glass, in front of a then destroyed Synagogue in Vienna, Austria November 8, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS)
People take pictures of a light symbol, marking the place where Viennese synagogues once stood before they were destroyed, after a ceremony to mark the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, also known as Night of Broken Glass, in front of a then destroyed Synagogue in Vienna, Austria November 8, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, occurred on November 9 and 10, 1938, when Nazi bully boys attacked Jewish houses of worship, homes and places of business in Germany and Austria, sowing fear and damage.
The world-wide commemoration this year of that terrible night was held on Monday against the backdrop of rising antisemitism, racism, hate crimes, neo-Nazism and terrorism, which present a hollow ring to the post-Holocaust pledge of "Never again."
In the 21st century, people are still being murdered, synagogues and Jewish shops are being attacked, and graves in Jewish cemeteries are being defaced. In a special Kristallnacht broadcast from the President's Residence in Jerusalem, the presidents of Austria and Germany lamented that "The dark shadows of the past have not disappeared from our street."
These social evils are occurring not just in Germany and Austria, but in many parts of the world where differences in race, religion and even political affiliation are being terminated by knives, guns and explosives instead of being embraced.
For many elderly German Jews, some of the hate crimes that have taken place in Germany over the last year or two are traumatically reminiscent of their childhood’s Kristallnacht era environment and of what followed soon afterwards.
This is what prompted the leaders of the International March of the Living to reach out worldwide with a global “Let there be Light” campaign, part of which was seen on Monday evening with the illumination of the synagogue in the grounds of the President's Residence in Jerusalem, as well as messages of light and hope on the walls of Jerusalem's Old City. Elsewhere in the world, synagogues, mosques and churches were illuminated including Frankfurt Synagogue, Coventry Cathedral and the New York Mosque.
ONE OF the key elements of the campaign was delivered in a message of unity by presidents Reuven Rivlin of Israel, Frank Walter Steinmeier of Germany and Alexander Van der Bellen of Austria, who declared: "We will stand together in Vienna, Jerusalem and Berlin.  We will stand against hatred.  We will stand against racism. We will stand against antisemitism. Never again means Never again."
Steinmeier and Van der Bellen were among some 45 world leaders who came to Jerusalem in January of this year to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and who at an international forum at Yad Vashem once more swore "Never again."
Rivlin, who hosted the world leaders, subsequently flew with Steinmeier to Poland where the liberation was commemorated on the site of the notorious Auschwitz death camp, and from there accompanied him to Germany for yet another commemoration.
On Monday night, in addition to the three presidents, speakers included outgoing chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate Avner Shalev, and former Chief Rabbi of Israel and of Tel Aviv Yisrael Meir Lau, who is Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council and was a child Holocaust survivor who at age 8, was liberated from Buchenwald by the American forces. His father was murdered in Treblinka and his mother in Ravensbruek.
Lau has been associated with March of the Living since its inception in 1988.
Also present were March of the Living World Chairman Shmuel Rosenman and  the ambassadors of Germany and Austria  Dr. Susan Wassum Rainer and Dr. Hannah Liko..
MOST OF the speakers quoted from testimony given by German Jewish Holocaust survivors, and there was also Yad Vashem video footage of testimony given by two of the German Jewish survivors Uri Ben Ari and Prof. Zwi Bacharach who had contributed to Israel's defense, diplomacy and academia. 
Bacharach said that one of the reasons that it had been so difficult for German Jews to comprehend what was happening around them, was because unlike Poland, which had been invaded by an external force, what happened to German Jews came from within.
All three presidents made the point that virulent antisemitism had existed in Germany and Austria long before the advent of National Socialism. Rivlin also noted that Kristallnacht was the name given by the Nazis to the night of broken glass.
While the focus of Kristallnacht is on the number of synagogues that went up in flames and of shops in which the windows were shattered, it was important, said Rivlin, to remember the victims. He characterized antisemitism as "an epidemic worse than the coronavirus." adding that Yad Vashem was established to teach the world not to forget and to fight every vestige of antisemitism with uncompromising determination.
The witnesses to Nazi crimes are dying out, said Rivlin, "which is why it is doubly important to ensure that the Holocaust will never happen again.”
STEINMEIER, who has spoken out many times against the Holocaust and against the resurgence of antisemitism in Germany, said that the perpetrators of the Holocaust were humans who were Germans and the victims were Jewish humans who were Germans.
Kristallnacht, he noted, followed many years of harassment and humiliation which had been perpetrated against the Jews.
He was grateful that Jewish life is flourishing again in Germany, but ashamed of the fact that German Jews don't feel safe.
Van der Bellen spoke in a similar vein, saying that antisemitism did not start with National Socialism, but had been rooted in Austria long before.  Discrimination had turned to degradation and deprivation of basic civil rights, he said. In Vienna, 42 synagogues had been burned on Kristallnacht and 6,500 Austrian Jews incarcerated.
"Austria shares responsibility for the Shoah," declared Van der Bellen, adding that all forms of antisemitism must be prevented.
He concluded his remarks by saying in Hebrew: "Lizkor velo lishkoach" – To remember and not to forget.
LAU SAID that the Nazis used Kristallnacht as an excuse to avenge the death of German diplomat Ernest von Rath who had been killed by Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old Polish Jew on November 7, 1938.
But in actual fact, said Lau, Kristallnacht had been carefully planned, because the Nazis knew that the best way to rob Jews of their morale was to destroy their synagogues, their Torah scrolls and their holy books.
"In one night, they burned 1046 synagogues, and killed 3,000 Jews who were trying with their very bodies, to protect the Torah scrolls. They understood that Jewish unity is based on the synagogue and the Torah."
 Lau had been curious as to how the world had responded to Kristallnacht, and researched the international media to check out reports. “This was a test of world reaction,” he said. It was barely reported.  It was as if the world had given the Third Reich the green light. "So what – it happened. It was antisemitic, but there was always antisemitism," he said in relation to the general attitude.
Shalev described Kristallnacht as the most brutally violent action against Jews up until that time, saying that it was the blunting of the norms of morality. "Whatever remained of German morality, justice and culture" disappeared on that night.
Referring to the illumination of synagogues in Israel and throughout the world, Shalev said: "this is a sign of our continuity."
THE CAMERA then swept to the illumination of the synagogue in the presidential compound while in the background were the strains of Mordechai Gebirtig's “Unzer Shtetl Brent” (Our township is burning), which is traditionally played at Yad Vashem on Holocaust Remembrance Day, as a reminder to remember and not forget.
In Adelaide, South Australia, in tandem with the Kristallnacht anniversary, a new Holocaust Museum was opened telling the stories of survivors who live in the coastal capital of South Australia.  Among them is one of the youngest survivors in the world to be liberated from a concentration camp.
Eva Temple was nine months old when she and her grandmother were captured by the Nazis and deported to Bergen Belsen in October, 1944.  Eva's parents had been taken to Auschwitz, never to return. Somehow her grandmother managed to hide her and keep her alive in Bergen Belsen, possibly by denying herself food and giving it to the baby. When the concentration camp was liberated, Eva was found in the arms of her dying grandmother.  Today, she is a grandmother herself.