On Monday evening, students of my section of World History II attended the Kristallnacht Commemoration designed by the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College. It was a haunting and beautiful event.
The commemoration began with the smashing of glass panes, giving a sense of the physicality of the destruction wrought on the night of Nov 9-10, 1938. Documentary footage of synagogues burning while firemen and policemen looked on, joking with the onlookers, seared an image of the wanton hostility of that evening.
At the event, the mayor of Keene, the Fire Chief, and the Police Chief affirmed their commitment to protecting Keene’s citizens and its and the climate of respect for all people and justice.
Two Holocaust survivors spoke of the meaning of Kristallnacht in their lives. Stephan Lewy, who has twice spoken at Dublin School, described his bar mitzvah and the arrest of his father on multiple occasions in 1938. Kathi Preston was a child who lived because she was hidden by a peasant woman in Hungary. She spoke words of thanks to this woman in Hungarian.
A Hebrew prayer of remembrance was read by all, led by Rabbi Amy Lowenthal of Congregation Ahavas Achim, and she sang a stirring prayer of mourning. A dance by the Moving Company dramatized the loss suffered that night. The Keene Middle School choir offered a song, and the Apple Hill Chamber players played a movement of a string quartet composed by the Czech Pavel Haas, who died at Auschwitz. Commemorative candles were lit by community members, and the ceremony closed in silence.
Students were most impacted by the string quartet and the Hebrew prayer. The music provided a window into the emotional complexity and the continuing tensions of the experience. Every student returned to campus with a deeper sense of the consequences of racism.
“We remember Kristallnacht to remind ourselves to care for one another, to build peace, and to be a community in which compassion, respect and justice thrive.”