On Thursday, Nov. 8, the Colonial Theatre, working with the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College, hosted the Kristallnacht Commemoration to honor and remember the victims of acts of hate.
Kristallnacht, or The Night of Broken Glass, was the destruction of Jewish synagogues, stores and homes all across Germany in Nov. of 1938. This event marked the turning point of Nazi persecution against Jewish people as going from political and social, becoming violent in nature.
The event began with opening remarks from the Director of Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies Hank Knight that addressed the victims of recent shootings in the U.S.
“As we gather this evening to commemorate historic violence from 80 years ago, we do so in the shadows of recent violence just days ago,” Knight said.
Recent attacks, some racist or anti-semitic, have occured in Jeffersontown, KY; Pittsburgh, PA; Tallahassee, FL and Thousand Oaks, CA. The names of victims that are known to the public were read aloud and a moment of silence was held for each attack.
Executive director of the Colonial Theatre Alec Doyle also referenced recent events in his following statements.
“Given the prevailing toxic atmosphere that I think we all have been experiencing, it’s tempting to say that tonight’s message is uniquely relevant. […] The urgency of our message has always been critical in years past,” Doyle said.
Coordinator of Educational Outreach Tom White gave remarks regarding both the importance of democracy and of listening to targeted groups of people. According to White, the voices of the marginalized will help guide society toward a more fair and just way of life. White ended his remarks by quoting Martin Niemöller: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.”
A video of a synagogue being burned to the ground during Kristallnacht was shown.
In the video, police officers, firefighters and bystanders are shown watching the building burn while doing nothing. One firefighter even hoses down a non-Jewish home next to the synagogue. After this, multiple authority figures in Keene voiced their promises to the audience to provide service that is fair and equal to all citizens. This included Keene mayor Kendall Lane, Keene Fire Chief Mark Howard, Keene Police Captain Steven Stewart and representing Keene Interfaith Clergy Association Elsa Worth.
Artistic pieces at the commemoration included a song sung by the Keene Middle School choir. The lyrics of the song were taken from words found on the walls of a cellar in Cologne, Germany, where Jewish people were hiding from Nazis. There was also a dance featuring another song composed by the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Elise Girabaldi. It told the story of Girabaldi’s grandparents’ separation during the Holocaust due to being taken to different concentration camps.
Six candles were lit during the commemoration. They were lit for the victims of Nazism, the children killed, the refugees who were forced to flee Europe, the people who risked their lives to save Jewish people, Jonathan Daniels, a Keene native who was murdered in 1965 while working for civil rights, and for the future of the Keene community.
The commemoration ended with a candle recession. Assistant professor in the Holocaust and Genocide Studies department Dana Smith was one of the candle recessional holders. Prior to the event starting, Smith said she hoped attendees walk away more informed of these past events in Nazi Germany and how we can learn from them today.
“I hope we learn the role each of us have in the community in preventing hate and learning from the past,” Smith said.
In the words of the Kristallnacht Commemoration: Remember. Witness. Intervene.
Rachel Vitello can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org