Kristallnacht to be remembered on May 1

On Nov. 7, 1938 a 17-year-old Jewish youth named Herschel Grynszpan who was living in Paris and was enraged by his family’s expulsion from Germany, walked into the German Embassy there and fired five shots at a junior diplomat. Three days later the diplomat was dead and Germany was in the grip of skillfully orchestrated anti-Jewish violence. In retaliation, in the early hours of Nov. 10, an orgy of co-coordinated destruction broke out in cities, towns and villages throughout the Third Reich.

This terrible event came to be known as Kristallnacht, when in a single night, more than 3,000 synagogues were destroyed and vandalized, tens of thousands of Jewish businesses and homes sacked, 91 Jews killed and more than 30,000 Jewish men were rounded up and taken to concentration camps. After this pogrom, legislation intended to isolate and disenfranchise Jews, dramatically increased.

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Sixty years later, on Thursday, May 1 from 7 to 9 p.m. there will be a community-wide Holocaust Remembrance Commemoration at United Hebrew Congregation, 13788 Conway Road. The theme, “Broken Glass, Shattered Lives” will honor the 60th anniversary of Kristallnacht and will feature testimonies of St. Louis survivors who witnessed Kristallnacht. The Holocaust commemoration will also include readings, music performed by members of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, a candle-lighting ceremony by survivors and their families and a procession of Torah scrolls rescued from the Shoah. Testimonies of St. Louis survivors who witnessed Kristallnacht are being gathered and coordinated by Marci Rosenberg and include Ilse Altman and George Spooner. “Eleven survivors will speak and bear witness to the events of Nov. 9. What is important is that when a young child or teenager witnesses something as traumatic as someone throwing rocks through their window or the synagogue set on fire, it stays in their memory just as if it happened yesterday,” Marci told me. She is chair of the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center, a Department of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis. Kent Hirschfelder is chair of this year’s commemoration.

The story of the Holocaust Torahs, which will be in the procession on May 1, is fascinating and tragic. In 1941, when the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia, they seized over 1,500 Torah scrolls and threw them in a Prague basement to be the nucleus of a proposed museum showing the “relics of a destroyed race”. In 1964, a London art dealer discovered them and purchased these parchments from the Czech government on behalf of the Jewish community in London. The rescued scrolls filled five freight cars on a trip across Europe. Bloodied, torn, desecrated, they were lovingly stored on shelves in special areas of the Westminster Synagogue in London. The rabbis in London convened a special Beth Din (court of law) and decreed that these sacred scrolls were not to be buried, but were, if possible, to be repaired and sent to needy synagogues and temples anywhere in the world. Those scrolls deemed not repairable were to serve as Holocaust memorials. Seven Yom Hashoa Torahs from our own community, permanent memorials to the Holocaust, will be in the procession. They belong to Congregation B’nai Amoona, B’nai El Congregation, Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel, Shaare Emeth Congregation, Shaare Zedek Synagogue, Congregation Temple Israel and United Hebrew Congregation.

Beginning at 5:30 p.m. and again after the program, B’nai Brith St. Louis will coordinate Unto Every Person There is a Name, an international program in which the names of Holocaust victims will be read by members of the St. Louis community. Those interested in participating should contact Michelle Gralnik at 314-569-4122 or via email at [email protected].

‘OH, WHAT A NIGHT,’ on a much lighter note, is an evening with the cast of Jersey Boys to benefit the outstanding education and outreach program of STAGES ST. LOUIS. With its usual pizzazz, STAGES is planning a fun evening on Monday, May 12 at 6 p.m. at the Purser Center at Logan College of Chiropractic, 1851 Schoettler Road, Chesterfield. Cocktails, an hors d’oeuvres buffet, silent and live auctions will precede a musical review created just for STAGES featuring Christopher Kale Jones, a STAGES company member currently starring in the national touring company of Jersey Boys as Frankie Valli. For reservations at $150 per person send your check to Stages St. Louis, 444 Chesterfield Center, Chesterfield, MO 63017 or for more information, call 636-530-5959.