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University Hosts Moving Kristallnacht Commemoration 

Stories of two rabbis illustrate the effects the ‘Night of Broken Glass’ had on Jewish lives

Rabbi Marcelo Kormis speaks during the service.

A cloudy, rainy, November day set the tone for the annual commemoration of Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, when Jews in Germany encountered violence and destruction from the Nazi regime.

On the night of Nov. 9, 1938, Nazis broke the windows of Jewish businesses, schools and synagogues, littering glass in the streets. The violence resulted in death, arrests and the beginning stages of the Holocaust.

More than 100 students, faculty and guests gathered in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit to remember — and learn from — the historical tragedy.

In between psalms sung by the University’s Liturgical Choir and passages read by various students, faculty and staff, speakers at the commemoration spoke of that night and the lessons it offers now.

“Today we must remember what it means when we say ‘never again,’” said Rabbi Marcelo Kormis of Congregation Beth El in Fairfield. “In honor of those who perished at the hands of the evil Nazi regime, we must stand up to anti-Semitism and put an end to the racist intolerance that is creeping into our communities today.”

Kormis, a native of Chile, told two stories to those sitting in the pews. After giving a detailed description of what the Jews endured that night, he spoke of Rabbi Leo Baeck.

Baeck was teaching at the Higher Institute of Jewish Studies in Berlin when he and others began to see and hear the brutality going on outside. Teachers and students were “paralyzed” with fear, Kormis said, but Baeck instructed those around him to pick up the stones that were thrown through their windows and make a promise to escape the violence and use the stones to create Jewish schools and synagogues.

“With these stones in their pockets, they built a renewed Jewish life in South America,” Kormis said.

At this time, Kormis’s grandfather, a Jewish business owner living in Berlin, saw his life uprooted due to the same violence. His business was destroyed and, though he was reluctant to leave his home and the life he created in Berlin, he and his wife decided to run away. They arrived in Chile in September 1939, and eventually they learned the culture and found faith in the new land.

The two stories intertwined, as Kormis said his grandparents likely went to many of the Jewish institutions that were created by those who fulfilled their promises to Baeck.

“To me, Kristallnacht is a day of remembrance and introspection,” Kormis said. “It is a day when we mourn and honor the memory of our brothers and sisters who were humiliated at night and massacred years later.”

After Kormis’s speech, two local Holocaust survivors helped light six candles, which represented the six million people who died in the Holocaust.

The event concluded with a final psalm from the choir.

In the Chapel’s narthex, photos on loan from the Merkaz Community High School for Judaic Students were on display. They featured images of 1940s Germany and the devastation that filled Jewish lives.

Jonathan Vergara ’17 was observing the photos after the commemoration. He said he never learned about Kristallnacht in any of his history classes growing up. “I truly got introduced to this event in history through SHU,” he said. “Words don’t quite capture the feeling as they should. Silence does it better.”

To view photos from this event, click here.