Earlier this month marked the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, which many historians point to as the starting point of the Holocaust.
Dr. Elliot Lefkovitz was Director of Education at Am Yisrael Congregation for approximately 30 years and is now a professor at Loyola University Chicago. He led a discussion commemorating the historical event and its aftermath.
Elliot started with an apology.
“I’m just sorry that we’re here on another day that we have to mourn the victims of senseless gun violence, and the question is when will it ever end,” he said, referring to the mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Elliot talked about the growing rise of anti-Semitism, and gave gave tribute to each of the 11 victims in Pittsburgh, highlighting their achievements and personal qualities.
Elliot also read first-hand accounts from German Jews from the horrific “Night of Broken Glass.’ Many of them described the terrors and screams that flooded the streets that night when the Nazis beat, raped, burned, and destroyed the Jewish communities. Jewish shops’ windows were smashed and vandalized with anti-Semitic symbols. The Nazis didn’t even let the dead rest in peace as they attacked Jewish cemeteries.
Ninety-one Jews were either murdered or committed suicide that night, and the Nazis arrested 30,000 Jewish men and sent them to concentration camps. Around 1,000 of them died there.
Elliot took care to mention the courageous Germans who did try to help and protect the Jewish people at the time.
Elliot also talked about the voyage of the Jewish refugees on the ship St. Louis. He said they were hopeful that the United States would take them in, but they were mistaken.Although 12,000 Jews were allowed into the United States on temporary visas, the American public opinion, surveyed at the time, showed that around 83% of Americans were against letting any more refugees into the country.
Elliot stated how some Americans believed that Jews would ruin American ideals and overrun the country.
Elliot presented a film called “The Voyage of the St. Louis,” which he helped create for Loyola and the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. He explained how they found as many survivors of the St. Louis as possible to interview for it. The survivors talked about their experiences on the St. Louis and footage from the voyage was shown.
Dr. Elliot concluded the discussion with the words from Elie Wiesel.
“The opposite of love is not hate, the opposite of love is indifference. There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest injustice. Therefore, we must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. There is nothing so sad as silence.”