Rivlin commemorates Kristallnacht with Austrian, German presidents

"Even dealing with the new virus, which demands solidarity and collaboration, has not managed to obliterate the old plague, the plague of antisemitism," President Rivlin said.

President Reuven Rivlin during his opening remarks, Nov. 9, 2020.  (photo credit: KOBY GIDEON/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin during his opening remarks, Nov. 9, 2020.
(photo credit: KOBY GIDEON/GPO)
As the Jewish world painfully marks 82 years since the events of November 1938 - termed Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass) - President Reuven Rivlin hosted the Presidents of Austria and Germany on Monday for an event commemorating the horrific events, held at his official residence in Jerusalem.
As part of the international efforts to mark the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the synagogue in the President's Official Residence, as well as hundreds of synagogues, churches and mosques throughout and country and from over fifty other countries, pledged to keep their lights on tonight, as a unified symbolic gesture of hope against an increasing global trend of antisemitism.
The event hosted by Rivlin included an art exhibition called "Towers in the Air" by artist Shuli Bornstein Wolf. The exhibition presents the personal story of the artist's mother and sheds a light on the collective Jewish story as a whole. Wolf presented totem poles that she created from shards of glass and crystal, taken from various glass objects. By connecting random pieces to one another, she creates shapes reminiscent of Judaica items. Her 'candlesticks' channel the fragility of the glass from which they are made but also carry the power of beauty, healing and rebirth. 
The synagogue in the President's Official Residence was illuminated, Nov. 9, 2020. (Credit: KOBY GIDEON/GPO)The synagogue in the President's Official Residence was illuminated, Nov. 9, 2020. (Credit: KOBY GIDEON/GPO)
Testimonies from people who lived through Kristallnacht were screened throughout the event. Uri Ben Ari passed away in 2009, but his words live on: "We came to the synagogue where I had my bar mitzvah, and stood there on two paving stones in front of the synagogue and saw its dome collapse into the building. The synagogue burned and the Nazis brought out the Torah scrolls and burned them in a pile and my father and I stood there on the pavement, and we watched it and when it was over, we left."
President Rivlin opened his remarks by reminding participants of the dangers of hate-oriented propaganda.
"We remember its victims and remind ourselves how extremist hate propaganda, when it reaches the heights of divisiveness, can shatter the very foundations of society – of humanity and human rights – into a thousand fragments. To sow destruction, catastrophe, to allow the descent into the darkest recesses, is beyond any imagination," Rivlin warned.
Drawing on lessons learned from the coronavirus pandemic, Rivlin noted that "even dealing with the new virus, which demands solidarity and collaboration, has not managed to obliterate the old plague, the plague of antisemitism. The virus of antisemitism, racism and xenophobia is tougher than coronavirus. It changes shape, takes cover and threatens to break out through any crack."
He added "there can and there must be a vaccine for it, too. Education, explanation, learning and taking responsibility. Like scientists in laboratories and research institutes, we, the leaders of the world, bear the responsibility for working in our social laboratories to mount a determined and uncompromising attack on any expressions of antisemitism, racism and xenophobia.”
Testimonies from people who lived through the Kristallnacht were screened throughout the event, Nov. 9, 2020. (Credit: KOBY GIDEON/GPO)Testimonies from people who lived through the Kristallnacht were screened throughout the event, Nov. 9, 2020. (Credit: KOBY GIDEON/GPO)
President Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany noted that "the November Pogroms did not mark the beginning of the persecutions of German Jews. They were a nauseating outburst of violence following on from many years of discrimination, harassment and hostility. They foreshadowed the unspeakable crimes of the Shoah committed by my compatriots a few years later. And they offer a stark warning for our times," adding that he feels "ashamed that Jews do not feel safe wearing a kippah on the streets."
President Alexander Van der Bellen of Austria called the events of Kristallnacht as "the first cruel climax of the growing anti-Jewish violence of National Socialism," adding that "the racist ideology of the Nazis reached a new, terrifying intensity. And it rendered clear, in the most surreal and heartbreaking way, the degree to which Jewish Austrians, our fellow citizens, had been robbed of their most basic civil rights and freedoms." 
Chairman of the Yad Vashem Board, Avner Shalev, who was also attended the event, talked about the "Nazi regime’s organized policy," during the time, "which aimed to persecute, corner, humiliate and strip the assets of all Jews in the Third Reich." He added that "the violent antisemitic hatred that was incited and fanned on the 9th -11th November 1938 across Germany and Austria quashed any illusions that they could ‘get along’ with the Nazis."
Rabbi Israel Meir Lau stressed the importance of the synagogue to the Jewish people and the devastating results of the realization of that notion by the Nazis.
"The heart of the Jewish people is the synagogue. If you want to deal a blow to the morale of the Jewish people, to degrade it more than by harming its communal leadership, you must attack its synagogues, which identify it with its national spirit," Rabbi Lau said, before thanking President Rivlin for marking this important day.
Ahead of the event on Monday, Presidents Rivlin, Van der Bellen and Steinmeier released a video that they had prepared together and called on people to continue to fight against antisemitism. “Eighty-two years since Kristallnacht, and the dark shadows of the past have not disappeared from our streets," the presidents said together.
In another event commemorating the events of Kristallnacht on Monday evening, hundreds of personal messages of hope were projected onto the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, as well as on the walls of the UK’s famous Coventry Cathedral, which was severely damaged by Nazi bombing during World War II. 
On November 9, 1938, a two-day pogrom began during which the Nazis burned more than 1,400 Synagogues and Jewish institutions in Germany and Austria on Kristallnacht, a critical moment in the chain of events that led to the Holocaust. Dozens of Jews were killed and hundreds of others were beaten and humiliated. Jewish-owned shops and businesses were looted and destroyed. Kristallnacht was the term coined by the Nazis, hoping to minimize the event and portray it as a night when some shop windows were smashed.
The Jerusalem Post's staff contributed to this report.