Eighty-one years ago, Nazi Germany launched a storm of brutal pogroms against Jews across the nascent empire that would come to be known as Kristallnacht. For two days, rabid mobs joined brownshirts from the Sturmabteilung (SA) in ransacking Jewish-owned businesses, burning down synagogues and engaging in a campaign of violence and murder, ostensibly meant as retaliation for a teenager’s assassination of an otherwise inconsequential Nazi diplomat.
By the time the chaos subsided, at least 91 Jews were murdered, though that number fails to account for the 30,000 who were forced into concentration camps. The purge acquired its English name from the smashed windows of thousands of ruined synagogues and businesses: The Night of Broken Glass.
A little more than eight decades later, North Shore communities gathered to commit to memory the atrocities of the pogroms, and memorialize the victims whose lives were smashed to pieces like so many storefront windows.
Glen Cove’s Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County (HMTC) hosted a seminar entitled “Witnessing Hate From Afar,” where HMTC museum and programming director Thorin Tritter led attendees through a discussion about how information about Kristallnacht reached Americans in its aftermath. The public nature of the pogroms, and the complete indifference or encouragement of local authorities, shocked enough foreigners that news of them spread more vigorously than any acts of Nazi aggression that came before.
Where previous anti-Semetic discrimination in Nazi Germany had been largely social and economic in nature, Kristallnacht marked the transition to outright violence against Jews living under German rule. It’s that transition that has led many scholars to mark the events of Nov. 9 and 10 as the beginning of the Holocaust, though it can be traced back years prior.
Temple Israel of Great Neck hosted a Kristallnacht commemoration of their own on Sunday, Nov. 3, which featured member Fanny Narotzky sharing her stories of living persecution as a young girl in Poland. When the Nazis poured into her hometown, Narotzky and her mother fled to shelter with kindly neighbors who hid them and others in a bunker beneath a barn. They stayed concealed in that cramped, unseemly place for 18 months, all the while living in constant fear of being captured and sent to a concentration camp.
“Her first-hand account personalizes the experiences of a Temple Israel family we know well,” Lori Oppenheimer, chair of the Temple Israel Shoah Remembrance Committee and organizer of the synagogue’s annual Kristallnacht program, said in advance of the event.