Members of Temple B’nai Israel and prominent civic and faith leaders of Laconia came together to commemorate Kristallnacht on Wednesday, November 9, marking the 84th anniversary of the “Night of Broken Glass.”  Kristallnacht was a turning point in the history of the Third Reich, marking the shift from antisemitic rhetoric and legislation to the violent, aggressive anti-Jewish measures that would culminate with the Holocaust.  The event was well attended by members of the local community to unite in solidarity against the culture of antisemitism, racism, hatred, and intolerance that is still prevalent today.

 The observance was coordinated by temple member Lois Kessin who grew up in Laconia and within the temple community.  Outside the front door of the building, at the top of the steps, Lois called upon the dignitaries to speak to the historic event and its relevance today.   Melody Funk, cantorial soloist of Temple B’nai Israel opened the ceremony with the singing of Kol Ha’Olam Kulo, “the whole entire world is a very narrow bridge and the main thing is to have no fear at all.”  Lois then introduced Ira Keltz, president of the synagogue, who recounted the events that led up to the rioting and the destruction that occurred to the Jewish communities across Germany.  The riots were a reaction by the Third Reich to the assassination of a German foreign official who had been shot two days earlier by a 17-year-old Polish Jew distraught over the deportation of his family from Germany.  Over the next 48 hours, violent mobs destroyed hundreds of synagogues, burning or desecrating Jewish religious artifacts along the way.  Acting on orders from Gestapo headquarters, police officers and firefighters did nothing to prevent the destruction.  Approximately 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses, homes, and schools were plundered, and 91 Jews were murdered.  An additional 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps.  Nazi officials immediately claimed that the Jews themselves were to blame for the riots, and a fine of one billion reichsmarks (about $400 million at 1938 rates) was imposed on the German Jewish community.

Barbara Katz, a temple board member, followed Ira to read a message from Rabbi Jan Katz, who could not be in attendance that night.   Rabbi Katz wrote, “For us today at this moment, the connection that looms large in our memory and in our heart is that of the Night of Broken Glass on November 9, 1938, when the large to infinitesimal, jagged, sharp, penetrating glass shards shattered the lifelines of Jewish existence – the stores, synagogues, and community service organizations.  The Nazis and their sanctioned acts of brutality threatened to quash the spirit and freedom of the Jewish people.  Despite the ensuing rotting away of civil and human rights and the eventual genocide of 6 million Jews, the Jewish people persisted.”

The evening continued as Mayor Andrew Hosmer spoke passionately about his regard for the Jewish community of Laconia.  Mayor Hosmer asked where the people were to speak up for their neighbors in Germany in 1938.  “Our community stands together and comes out for each other.  We stand up to the face of evil.”    The mayor was followed by Carol Pierce of the Laconia Human Relations Committee who shared her own personal history as the direct descendant of German immigrants.  As a young child, Carol was told by her mother not to tell anyone about her German heritage.  As Carol grew up and learned more about the Holocaust she began to feel a personal responsibility for the atrocities of Nazi Germany and spent her life working towards social justice for all.  Roger Andrews from the Unitarian Universalist Society of Laconia spoke about the commitment of the Unitarian community to the Jewish community.  Roger spoke to his personal connection to his German roots. “How could ‘people like us’ stand aside and allow the violence to happen around them?  People must not be silent, they must act.”    Father Marc Drouin from Laconia’s St. Andre Bessett Parish offered his homily that every person is worth dignity and respect and the last speaker, Judge Jim Carroll, made an impassioned plea as a retired judge of Laconia for the community to learn from the lessons of history. Judge Carroll paid tribute to the those families of Temple B’nai Israel who were builders and contributors to the city of Laconia; the families who were the retailers, healers, and insurers of justice.  Judge Carroll quoted the famed witness to the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel who wrote, “It is true that not all the victims were Jews, but all the Jews were victims.”

The evening ended with Melody Funk singing the emotional Eli Eli (My God, My God), a poem by Hannah Senesh (1921-1944) that was set to music in 1945. The song is considered to be one of Israel’s unofficial anthems and is the most commonly played song on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) in Israel. The Hungarian-born Zionist who left Hungary in 1939 at the age of 18 to make her home in Israel, returned to Europe in 1943, at the height of World War II.  She volunteered to go into Nazi-controlled areas in Europe to save Jewish lives. In 1944 she parachuted into Yugoslavia and eventually found her way back to Hungary, where she was discovered and executed by the Germans. She is known both for her heroism and her poetry.

 My God, My God, I pray that these things never end,
The sand and the sea,
The rustle of the waters,
Lightning of the Heavens,
The prayer of Man.