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Never Forget: Kristallnacht Commemoration Reminds Community of Atrocity, Educates Children

Children walked with electric candles from the New City Jewish Center to the Rockland County Courthouse for the commemoration ceremony.

On November 9, 1938, the Nazis set off a violent pogrom against the Jewish population in Germany, destroying Synagogues, businesses, and homes in attacks that lasted into the next day.  Retrospectively, it is seen as a turning point – an explicitly declarative attack on the Jewish people that overtly started the Holocaust.  

Seventy-three years later, the New City Jewish Center informed teens and children with an interactive piece on Kristallnacht- often referred to as “Night of Broken Glass- on Wednesday evening.  Following the event, the 30 children, with electric candles in hand, were led on a march to the steps of the Rockland County Courthouse to partake in a Kristallnacht Commemoration ceremony.  Approximately 200 people attended the ceremony.    

“I think the teens might have not had any knowledge of Kristallnacht, so by getting teens together intimately with their peers, it was nice to learn a piece of history that they might have known nothing about or they might have known little about,” said Cathy Izen, the JCC Parenting Center Director.  “I thought Carol Berkman [from Rockland Jewish Family Service] did a great job.” 

The educational portion of the event began with a video sent from Yad Vashem, the world center for research and education on the Holocaust.  The children heard first-hand accounts of those who suffered on Kristallnacht.  Berkman and Izen then led a group discussion with the children about what they had just watched and heard.   

When they arrived with their electric candles at the courthouse, the children placed the candles on a Jewish Star.  Every attendee was given a real candle to hold throughout the commemoration.  

“I thought it was extremely meaningful, and it’s inspiring,” said Tanja Sarett, the executive director of the Holocaust Museum and Study Center.   “You have to walk away from it a little bit and let it sink in.” 

“I thought it was very powerful,” Izen said. 

Rabbis, elected officials, Jewish student group leaders and Jewish community leaders spoke at the event, each with a similar theme: never forget and never again.  Charlotte Wertheim, a survivor of Kristallnacht, told her story to those gathered.     

“I think it’s very important to have a mixture here of a survivor, and also elected officials and people in our community,” Sarett said.  “As I mentioned before, Kristallnacht happened in our midst; it was a very open pogrom.  I think it’s important to bring all the different decision makers in Rockland County together and to give them an opportunity to speak.  By having them here- each one of us, including myself- you take on a certain responsibility to do your part to make sure that Rockland County remains a good place to be.”

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