Re­sponse to ha­tred then, now

Albany Times Union - - FAITH & VALUES - By Michael Beren­baum ▶

Four score years ago, there were 525,000 Jews in Ger­many and 2,200 syn­a­gogues. Many had been built in the cen­ter of town. Their neigh­bors were Catholic and Protes­tant churches. Syn­a­gogues were part of the pub­lic pres­ence of Jews in a plu­ral­is­tic, multi-re­li­gious so­ci­ety.

Un­der the Nazis, syn­a­gogues came to play a unique role. On Mon­day, a syn­a­gogue be­came a the­ater be­cause Jewish ac­tors could not per­form on the Ger­man stage. On Tuesday, it was a sym­phony hall be­cause Jewish mu­si­cians were dis­missed from Ger­man orches­tras. It served as a school for chil­dren ex­pelled from Ger­man schools. It be­came a wel­fare of­fice and train­ing ground for new lan­guage skills and pro­fes­sions that would be use­ful in ex­ile.

In Oc­to­ber 1938 a wave of pogroms be­gan. Then, on Nov. 9 and 10, 1,000 syn­a­gogues were burned, 7,000 Jewish busi­nesses were ran­sacked and 30,000 men were sent to con­cen­tra­tion camps. The cat­a­strophic night was given the name: Kristall­nacht — Crys­tal Night. Jews lost their homes and free­dom. The Buchen­wald, Dachau and Sach­sen­hausen con­cen­tra­tion camps over­flowed with new Jewish in­mates. Jewish life in Ger­many was no longer pos­si­ble. Some fam­i­lies sent their chil­dren to Eng­land, 10,000 of them, on what came to be called the Kin­der­trans­port.

In 1938, Amer­ica em­bod­ied the free­dom of re­li­gion. Catholics and Protes­tants con­demned the at­tacks on syn­a­gogues. Pres­i­dent Franklin Roo­sevelt called his am­bas­sador home.

But he didn’t sever diplo­matic re­la­tions, pub­lic opin­ion on im­mi­gra­tion did not move by more than 3 per­cent, and an ef­fort to bring 20,000 chil­dren to the United States led by Sen. Robert Wag­ner of New York and Rep. Edith Rogers of Mas­sachusetts, failed. Congress feared that chil­dren would grow up and take Amer­i­can jobs.

Why was the at­tack on the syn­a­gogue in Pitts­burgh, hor­rific as it was, so very dif­fer­ent? The an­swer is so­ci­ety came to­gether. The mayor de­nounced the hate crime, the po­lice risked their lives to save Jews, sports teams wore the star of David. The Mus­lim com­mu­nity, often vic­tims of en­mity in our so­ci­ety con­trib­uted might­ily to the Jewish com­mu­nity. How we re­spond to ha­tred — ei­ther com­ing to­gether or pulling apart — makes all the dif­fer­ence in the world.

Michael Beren­baum is a writer whose books in­clude “Not Your Fa­ther’s An­tisemitism, A Prom­ise to Re­mem­ber: The Holo­caust in the Words and Voices of its Sur­vivors.”

A Kristall­nacht In­ter­faith Com­mem­o­ra­tion on Wed­nes­day at the Univer­sity at Al­bany’s Page Hall will fea­ture Holo­caust sur­vivors and mem­bers of many faiths in the Cap­i­tal Re­gion and the film “Above the Drown­ing Sea,” about the es­cape of thou­sands of Jews from Aus­tria to Shang­hai, where they found safe har­bor thanks to the Chi­nese con­sul in Vi­enna. The pro­gram, at 135 Western Ave., is free.

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