'The October 7 terror attack brought back so many memories'

With antisemitism surging, Diaspora synagogues are ‘afraid’ to mark Kristallnacht

As Holocaust survivors reflect on Oct. 7 and the ‘global pogrom’ during Israel’s war with Hamas, some Jewish communities avoid commemorating 85 years to the Night of Broken Glass

On the morning after Kristallnacht, or the "Night of Broken Glass," local residents watch as the synagogue in Ober-Ramstadt, Germany, is destroyed by fire in 1938. (CNS photo/United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)
On the morning after Kristallnacht, or the "Night of Broken Glass," local residents watch as the synagogue in Ober-Ramstadt, Germany, is destroyed by fire in 1938. (CNS photo/United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

NEW YORK — Jewish communities from South America to Europe are canceling plans to commemorate the 85th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s Kristallnacht pogrom Thursday night due to surging antisemitism following the Hamas massacres of October 7, The Times of Israel has learned.

That day, Hamas terrorists infiltrated southern Israel by land, air and sea in a shock assault and killed some 1,400 people, mostly civilians, amid acts of horrible cruelty. Over 240 people are now in captivity in Gaza, including dozens of children. In the wake of the invasion, Israel declared war and vowed to destroy Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, where mounting casualties from the Israeli offensive have shifted public attention away from the October 7 massacres.

Thousands of synagogues had planned to participate in an annual Israel-based Kristallnacht initiative called “Light from the Synagogue,” with congregations and Jewish organizations invited to keep their lights on all night to mark the German pogrom in which 99 Jews were murdered and 30,000 men sent to concentration camps.

“When we first started to plan how to adapt this beautiful project to Brazil, we were aiming for an interreligious effort,” said Hana Nusbaum, a Holocaust educator based in Sao Paulo.

“However, due to the rise of antisemitism worldwide, we don’t think the synagogues and other Jewish institutions would be comfortable with a physical demonstration of support that highlights their locations,” Nusbaum told The Times of Israel.

Kristallnacht commemoration organizers in Los Angeles and New York City told The Times of Israel about “bolstered” security for synagogue gatherings set for Thursday evening. However, unlike Brazil, there were no reports that Kristallnacht gatherings were canceled in the US so far.

Marking this year’s wartime commemoration, the iconic March of the Living program released testimonies of Holocaust survivors who reflected on antisemitism following the Hamas massacres of October 7.

“I never thought in my life that something as terrible as now would happen again,” said Tirza, who survived Kristallnacht and later moved to Israel.

Kvutzat Yavneh’s synagogue during Kristallnacht commemoration ‘Light from the Synagogue’ (courtesy: Dalia Yohanan)

“On October 7, Hamas came and slaughtered children, young and old. I have to say honestly, all the lectures I give, and I give a lot, in Israel, in Germany and wherever I can, but I think back 85 years ago to how horrible it was, and here we are, experiencing it again,” said Tirza.

Through March of the Living (MOTL), thousands of Israelis and Diaspora teens have toured Holocaust sites in Poland followed by visits to Israel. Many of the survivors solicited by MOTL this year were uncomfortable allowing the organization to use their full names, according to a MOTL press release.

“[They] feared for their own safety, were initially hesitant to speak out, [or] worried that revealing their identities could place them in immediate danger,” said the statement.

As for synagogues afraid to commemorate Kristallnacht this week, “Light from the Synagogue” organizer Dalia Yohanan said she was deeply upset by emails she received.

In Graz, Austria, onlookers watch a smoldering synagogue the morning after Kristallnacht, November 10, 1938 (public domain)

“I nearly cried when I read how many synagogues are afraid to share their locations,” Yohanan told The Times of Israel.

“We thought those days would never come back,” said Yohanan, who lives on Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi.

Although it appears there have not been Kristallnacht cancellations in the US, that is not the case in Europe. In Groningen, the Netherlands, for example, an annual “silent march” for Kristallnacht was canceled due to fears that Palestinian supporters would find it provocative.

“We don’t want the march to be viewed as a demonstration because it is not,” said Geert Volders, director of the city’s Stichting Folkingestraat Synagogue.

Historians regard “The Night of Broken Glass” on November 9-10, 1938, as a prelude to the Holocaust, as well as a “test run” for Hitler to gauge global reaction to his plans for Europe’s Jews.

‘Jews are not safe’

Outside the Jewish state, survivors are now reluctant to wear Jewish symbols, said Manya, a Polish-born survivor who lives in the US.

“I think twice before I wear my Star of David,” said Manya. “It is a catastrophe what is happening today: not only Hamas but the antisemitism in the universities. Before, I went outside with a Magen David on my shirt, now I think twice about it,” said Manya.

In Los Angeles, a Jewish man was attacked in public by a Palestinian activist and died several hours later. One California-based survivor interviewed by MOTL said “sleepless nights” became part of their lives again since October 7.

“The October 7 terror attack brought back so many memories of what I saw as a child,” said Maud, a survivor who lives in California.

“When it all happened on October 7, I couldn’t believe it. I’ve had sleepless nights since and it just brought back so many memories. I don’t know how to cope,” said Maud.

A Jewish man falls to the ground after allegedly being struck with a megaphone by an anti-Israel protester in Los Angeles on November 5, 2023. (Screen capture/X)

Some survivors said the Hamas massacres shattered a relative sense of inner balance they toiled to achieve for decades.

“I am devastated to see how Jews are being attacked today. Jews are not safe,” said Nate, a survivor who lives in Canada.

“I am very troubled by this and am struggling to retain my equilibrium,” said Nate, who was attacked on the street for being a Jew while growing up.

“My optimism is shattered. We must collectively feel the pain felt by parents whose child is abducted and threatened with death. Hamas’s barbarism is equal and almost exceeds what I experienced during the Shoah,” said Nate, most of whose family were murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Hamas’s barbarism is equal and almost exceeds what I experienced during the Shoah

“It started with words and continued with actions. I am devastated to see how Jews are being attacked today. Jews are not safe. I saw where antisemitism can lead to and I am very concerned,” said Nate.

With hundreds of American synagogues set to go forward with Kristallnacht programs on Thursday, some have committed to keep their lights on all night, as per the Israel-based initiative.

For example, at Young Israel of Sharon, Massachusetts, a 90-minute “Light From the Synagogue” program will focus on “our light” having not been “extinguished” during the Holocaust or after the Hamas massacres.

According to Young Israel, many congregants in Sharon, located outside Boston, had not heard about the Kristallnacht event due to a strenuous news cycle. In gathering as many Jews as possible, the shul hopes to express “our continued presence and vibrancy,” said a flyer.

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