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Kristallnacht Commemoration Program

This annual event seeks to bring the community together to bear witness and recognize our responsibility to promote an active and informed citizenry, recognize individual and societal responsibility for each other, and foster mutual respect and justice.

Begin pull-quote...This was an evening I will not forget. I was so touched by how many people came and how so many different people were involved. You are doing an amazing work! Every evening I wrote down new ideas I got from what I saw or heard. I got a lot of inspiration. Thank you. ...end pull-quote
– Gunda Trepp (2012)

The Commemoration is held in the heart of the community in downtown Keene’s Colonial Theatre and is framed within three themes, “We Commemorate”, “We Create”, “We Make a Difference.” It includes candle lighting; eyewitness testimony; participation by the mayor, police and fire chiefs of Keene; community groups such as MoCo Arts; and a candle recessional. The Commemoration is free and open to the public.

Though commemorative, the evening is a way to allow us to mourn together as a community, recognize what was lost, and remind ourselves of the work we need to do to strengthen our compassion and our hospitality. It is the mission of the Cohen Center to hope that present and future generations take responsibility for building a world free of antisemitism, intolerance, and hate.

Past speakers Keynote speakers have included:

  • Michael Berenbaum, Director of Sigi Ziering Institute, Professor of Jewish Studies, American Jewish University
  • Gunda Trepp, widow of Rabbi Leo Trepp
  • Congressman Tom Lantos and his wife Annette Lantos, rescued by Raoul Wallenberg
  • Pierre Sauvage, Le Chambon Foundation;
  • Gerhard Weinberg, the 2001 Shapiro Senior Scholar in Residence at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.,
  • Dr. Hans Heilbronner, survivor and eyewitness to Kristallnacht
  • Marion Pritchard, Dutch Rescuer and Yad Vashem recognized "Righteous Among the Nations"
  • Warren Priest, Liberator of Dachau and Buchenwald and founder of the "Buchenwald and Beyond Foundation"
  • Sibylle Niemoeller von Sell, widow of Pastor Martin Niemoeller
  • Dr. Martin Rumscheidt, theologian
  • Peter Eisenstadter, second generation survivor

The event illustrates how the Center confronts contemporary issues of genocide, injustice, and bigotry through the memory of the Holocaust and has served as a model for other communities wishing to commemorate these events.

What Was Kristallnacht?

Begin pull-quote...More than 700 people gathered in downtown Keene, at the heart of the Keene commons to recall the events of November 9-10, 1938 that shattered the commons of Germany. People of all ages, races creeds and backgrounds came together to reinforce the mutil-cultural and pluralistic world in which we live and reminded each other of what a precious and precarious privilege it is to live in one such community. I was moved again and again. This was Holocaust remembrance and Holocaust education at its finest. ...end pull-quote
– Michael Berenbaum 2013

More than 700 people gathered in downtown Keene, at the heart of the Keene commons to recall the events of November 9-10, 1938 that shattered the commons of Germany. People of all ages, races creeds and backgrounds came together to reinforce the mutil-cultural and pluralistic world in which we live and reminded each other of what a precious and precarious privilege it is to live in one such community. I was moved again and again. This was Holocaust remembrance and Holocaust education at its finest.After more than five years of growing Nazi power and persecutions Kristallnacht was unleashed against Germany’s Jews on the evening of November 9, 1938. Although portrayed as a “spontaneous” action in response to the shooting of Ernst vom Rath in Paris two days earlier, the pogrom (violent mob attack generally against Jews) was planned well in advance, coordinated by the Nazi party's security apparatus and carried out by the SA, SS, and local Nazi party organizations. 267 synagogues were burned or destroyed, 7,500 Jewish businesses were vandalized or looted, and at least 91 Jewish people were killed. They also damaged many Jewish cemeteries, hospitals, schools, and homes as police and fire brigades stood aside. Kristallnacht also marked the beginning of mass deportations of Jews to concentration camps.

1938 had seen an intensified focus in anti-Jewish measures as the Nazis experimented with ways to “solve” the so-called “Jewish question” while preparing to unleash their European war for “race and space.” How could the Nazis move from antisemitic rhetoric and legislation to even more aggressive and violent measures? What might the dangers be in intensifying the attack on this German minority? What would the public stand for? The passivity with which most German civilians responded to the violence of 1938 signaled to the Nazis that the public was prepared for more radical measures and proved to be an essential threshold moment. After Kristallnacht the Nazi SS would assert control and help drive the German state and its collaborators to the Holocaust or Shoah (Hebrew, meaning Catastrophe).

The Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies advances the public liberal arts mission of Keene State College by studying and bearing witness to the Holocaust and genocide. The Cohen Center joins the campus community and its many partners in promoting an active and informed citizenry committed to mutual respect and justice.

Why We Commemorate

We commemorate that night as a moral obligation to the victims and the survivors as well as for ourselves, for the sake of our children, and for our community.

We recognize our responsibility to care for others in our midst who might be overlooked, targeted, or victimized in their circumstances.

We commemorate so that individuals may refuse to become perpetrators, “bystanders” or collaborators.

We commemorate in the hope that present and future generations take responsibility for building a world free of antisemitism, intolerance, and hate.

Therefore, we commemorate Kristallnacht to remind ourselves and others to care for one another and be a community in which compassion, respect and justice thrive.

The Lighting of the Candles

Candle Lighting

To be read before the lighting of the first candle:

I light this Memorial Candle as we recall with bitter grief the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust and to remember the countless Gypsies, handicapped, homosexuals, Jehovah's witnesses, Poles, and others who were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. May we never be numbed, indifferent or complacent to the magnitude of this horror. In honor of their memory, strengthen our commitment never to forget."

To be read before the lighting of the second candle:

I light this Memorial Candle in memory of the 1.5 million Jewish children whose lives were taken from them before they had had the opportunity to live. In their memory we commit ourselves to all our children and the world they inherit."

To be read before the lighting of the third candle:

I light this Memorial Candle in honor of those compassionate men and women who, at the risk of their own lives, saved Jews from the Holocaust. In the midst of the most frightening reality, they made room for their Jewish neighbors. May the memory of these righteous individuals guide to us in creating peace and justice."

To be read before the lighting of the fourth candle:

I light this Memorial Candle for all who have risked or given their lives on behalf of others. May the courage of people like Jonathan Daniels remind us of our responsibilities to one another and help us to build a community in which respect and justice thrive. May we never forget that when one of us is violated, each of us is wounded and all of us bear the burden."

Witnessing Kristallnacht: Stephan Lewy, child witness and survivor

Kristallnacht – A Night To Remember

The date was November 9, 1933; the place, a Jewish orphanage in Berlin, Germany. On that night, uniformed Nazi police herded all 100 children into the synagogue, severing the gas line fueling the eternal light and bolted the door from the outside, leaving the children to die. I was among those 100 children.

Fortunately, one of the older boys recognized our plight and threw a chair through the stained glass windows, releasing the deadly fumes and saving the lives of 100 children. This, of course, was Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, which left 91 Jews dead, 30,000 incarcerated and 7,500 shops and 300 synagogues vandalized and destroyed. This destruction can best be described as the END OF THE BEGINNING and the BEGINNING OF THE END.

1938 – A Year I Will Not Forget

Just before the year 1938, Jewish and gentile students were segregated into separate school buildings. While we were provided with the same education, we had to deal with one additional problem. After school on most days, the Jewish students were forced to run a “gauntlet” of Hitler youth, who whipped us with their steel-buckled belts while the police stood by to make sure that we didn’t defend ourselves or fight back.

On my 13th birthday in 1938, I had my Bar Mitzvah at the orphanage synagogue, which consisted of a service and a small lunch. It should be noted that the service was attended by two Nazi secret service agents. They were wearing civilian clothes in order not to be identified. I can only guess that they wanted to make sure that neither the rabbi nor I should say anything against the government.

That evening we invited about 10 guests to my parents’ apartment for dinner. As we entered the apartment building, we were met by an SS Trooper, who arrested my father. We waited and waited, and as luck would have it, my father returned late that evening. Why the arrest? The German government decided to give each soldier who fought in WW I a medal. Why on this day did they choose to give him this medal? Why did it take 8 hours? The best gift for me was that he returned home unharmed.

The constant fear of loved ones being arrested and harmed and beatings was a heavy burden to carry. Should we forget what happened? Absolutely not. Should we remember? Of course we should, so that we make sure that this will never happen again.


We Commemorate

Keene, NH - A Community That Cares

Coming together each November to commemorate the events and trauma of Kristallnacht has become a community tradition for us. Why do we choose to do this? With the exception of those here tonight who did experienced those terrible days, we know that their trauma was not our trauma. We know that Kristallnacht erupted in a different place and at a different time. Yet we recognize that when we place our experience within a larger context of their experience, we gain a broader perspective and a better sense of what our roles and responsibilities should be. Kristallnacht has become a touchstone for us - a bridge to something unsettling - as we explore the impact of extremism and prejudice on society. Coming together is our way of not looking away, of reminding ourselves and our children to be attentive to the needs of others in order to further the common good through compassion. It forces us to reflect and ask difficult questions: What can we draw from this experience? How do we recognize the dangers to human freedom when we target others? How do we resist prejudice and extremism? How do we responsibly live in the shadow of experiences like Kristallnacht and the Holocaust? What is required of us?

These are questions that our community does not shy away from and is reflected on the city’s web page:

“We envision a strong, just and resilient city where the health and well-being of Keene and the people who live, play, study and work here are nourished and supported. We visualize a community where our residents work together and participate in meaningful civic life.”

As most public officials in Nazi Germany looked away or followed orders not to intervene during the November pogrom it is indeed a powerful moment when our city officials stand with us tonight to publicly rededicate themselves to their mission to serve, protect, and minister to all members of the community. We will be asked by the mayor to join together in a statement of solidarity and witness and pledge our commitment to care for one another.

Dr. Martin Rumscheidt

I would like to tell you what an incredibly good day it was for me to be among you and to share with you in your labors as teachers of the Holocaust. The warmth with which you received me, the attentiveness with which you listened to me and responded, the challenge and affirmation you gave me and, above all perhaps, the renewed energy and confidence you instilled in me – all this and more makes me profoundly grateful to you. I now have you all as companions, indeed, I would say: guardian angels, on my way. I shall remember my time with you for long and hold you in my thoughts. Let me assure you that I accompany you all on your journey in this important commitment you and I share together. I wish you my best and hope that our paths may cross again, and I may meet the four of you, who were present not 'in the flesh' but certainly 'in spirit.'

Dr. Martin Rumscheidt

Keene Fire Department

The mission of the Keene Fire Department is to provide levels of excellence in emergency, prevention, education and community services to minimize loss of life and property damage due to fire, hazardous materials, medical and other emergencies in an efficient, professional and fiscally responsible manner. We serve our community and are responsible, as professionals and individuals for our actions.
Therefore, we choose to commemorate.

Keene Police Department

The mission of the Keene Police Department is to protect life and property and to maintain order within the City while assuring fair and respectful treatment of everyone. As members of the Keene Police Department, we commit ourselves to being capable, caring people doing important and challenging work for the benefit of all citizens within our community.
Therefore, we choose to commemorate.

Keene Interfaith Clergy Council

The Keene Interfaith Clergy Council brings together people of various faith communities for common purpose in social action and prayer. We look to our faith to lament the sins of the past and work together for justice in the future, remembering the words of Isaiah 43:
'You are my witnesses.'
Therefore, we choose to commemorate.


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Contact the Cohen Center

Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies

Keene State College

229 Main Street

Keene, NH 03435-3201
603-358-2490