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Friday, November 27, 2020

March of the Living Remembers Kristallnacht in Illuminated Campaign

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Erin Ben-Moche
Erin is the Digital Content Manager at the Jewish Journal. She also covers Jewish art, entertainment and culture.

Nov. 9 marks the anniversary of of Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass. It was Nov. 9, 1938, where Nazis instigated a two-day pogrom where more than 1,400 synagogues and Jewish institutions in Germany and Austria were destroyed. Kristallnacht marked one of the key events which lead to the Holocaust.

Over the last four years alone, there has been a global increase in racism, anti-Semitism and extremism. In a new international and interfaith campaign titled, #LetThereBeLight, Holocaust education organization, March of the Living (MOTL) is inviting people of all religions and backgrounds worldwide to symbolically illuminate homes, institutions and places of worship.

This Monday, across the world, mosques, churches, synagogues, temples and private homes are invited to share a symbol of hope in the face of hatred. At the center of this effort will stand the main synagogue in Frankfurt, one of the synagogues in Germany to survive Kristallnacht.

This Monday, across the world, mosques, churches, synagogues, temples and private homes are invited to share a symbol of hope in the face of hatred.

Phyllis Heideman, President of International March of the Living, encourages everyone to send personal prayers and messages for peace, tolerance and respect virtually (you can send yours here.) They will then be projected onto the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.

“March of the Living is determined to mark the importance of Kristallnacht for several reasons. Firstly, to remind people of the dangers of leaving anti-Semitism unchecked and secondly to unite the world against anti-Semitism and all forms of hatred, bigotry and intolerance,” Heideman told the Journal in an email. “In just the past several weeks, we have seen the shocking attacks in churches in France and in Vienna, we witnessed the murderous consequences of extremism once again. It is clear that the message of Kristallnacht, to warn and act against extremism is more important than ever.”

So far hundreds of messages of light have already been submitted from 40 countries including Brazil, Japan, United States, Germany, Israel, Mexico, Argentina and Hungary. Hundreds of institutions, Jewish leaders, celebrities and organizations have already committed to participate and dozens of organizations have also chosen to be partners in the initiative.

Screenshot from kristallnacht.motl.org

Local Los Angeles organizations are also participating including the USC Shoah Foundation, Holocaust Museum LA, Israeli American Council, The Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging, Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School, American Jewish University, Builders of Jewish Education L.A. (BJE), deToledo High School, Milken Community High School, Pico Union Project, Shomrei Torah Synagogue, Valley Beth Shalom, Sinai Temple and Stephen Wise Temple, among others.

While the number of Kristallnacht survivors are dwindling, some are still alive today and continue to share their powerful and painful stories. Senta Graff, 96, was 14 years old when she witnessed Kristallnacht. She has not shared her experience with her community in Los Angeles but told the Journal that, “it was a nightmare.”

“Our synagogue [was] in flames. SS people stormed into our house, broke furniture and windows and threw massive valuables into the street below,” she wrote via email. “They commanded my parents and myself to walk up to the next floor. As I walked, I said the Sh’ma. I was overheard by one of the SS officers and he said to me, ‘Your GOD does not hear you!’”

After Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, Graff said Germany closed all borders and many were left stranded. Among them was a couple who promised her parents they’d do everything to get her out of Germany once they left for Sweden. With their help, Graff escaped to Sweden on March 20, 1940 with two suitcases and 10 German Marks. She went on to live with a Quaker host family.

She notes while her parents did not survive the Holocaust, she was able to reunite with her brother in 1945, who left to study in Holland before Kristallnacht. Now, 82 years after the night of broken glass, Graff said she is blessed to have a husband, five healthy children, 15 grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren. She said remembering the Holocaust is important because, “we owe [those who have died] so much. It is imperative to never to be silent again and it is our responsibility to educate [and] never to be silent or indifferent to evil.”

Graff’s daughter, Naomi Chernin, told the Journal also by email that her mother’s experience taught her the importance of Jewish religion and culture, the significance of Israel, and the power of family, welcoming the stranger and friendships.

“Hitler has failed because she has raised a committed Jewish family,” Chernin said noting she is most proud of her mom’s “inner strength integrating into a new life, new language, [and] new culture alone, without her parents’ support. [Also for] being able to feel the pain of the past but able to live in the present and raise a family committed to Jewish values.”

She said her #LetThereBeLight message is one she learned from her family, “Jewish people will survive even though there will be persecution.”

Since 1988, March of the Living has continued to be the largest annual international Holocaust education program of its kind in the world. To date, more than 300,000 March of the Living participants from 52 countries have walked the annual 3.2-kilometer-long route from Auschwitz to Birkenau concentration camps.

Heideman said that due to the pandemic, this year’s MOTL was canceled, yet it hasn’t stopped the organization from turning to virtual education and social media to reach millions of people around the world. Even if they can’t meet in-person, she said the organization is committed to sharing the history of the Holocaust and examining the roots of prejudice, intolerance and hatred.

due to the pandemic, this year’s MOTL was canceled, yet it hasn’t stopped the organization from turning to virtual education and social media to reach millions of people around the world.

“We have no choice but to continue remembering the Holocaust, whatever the circumstances” Heideman said. “We cannot stand silent when we see anti-Semitism and when hatred and intolerance raise their ugly head against people of all backgrounds and religions. The message of this campaign is a message of hope, that together we can shine a light towards a brighter future.”

Individuals can upload their messages of hope in their own words at the campaign website. To learn more about March of the Living, visit their website. The anniversary of Kristallnacht is Nov. 9, 2020.

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