Days of Tolerance in Europe, November 9-16, 2008
Address by Rabbi Arthur Schneier (Park East Synagogue, New York) at the Memorial Service on the occasion of the 70 anniversary of Kristallnacht
Seventy years ago as a child in Vienna I lived through die Kristallnacht. I can still hear screaming, and looming and ransacking of Jewish homes in our apartment building.
I don’t have to read books. I don’t have to go to Holocaust museums. I am a survivor, I am a witness to a man’s inhumanity to a man. Then, in the morning of the tenth as I walked out of the buildings I saw and felt glass all over streets. Broken windows of Jewish homes. Broken windows of Jewish department stores. As I approached the temple which was my synagogue it was set to fire. The fare brigades were standing by, not doing anything to extinguish the fire. They were only concerned about protecting the neighboring buildings.
Yes, we are here to remember. We are here to remember what preceded die Kristallnacht. The burning of books, the dehumanization of the Jew ending up in the burning of men, women and children in crematoria of Auschwitz and other crematoria.
Here I want to remember my grandfather Joseph Schneier who ended up at Lublin; and my mother’s grandparents deported from Hungary in 1944 – burnt in death camp Auschwitz.
Die Kristallnacht on November 9-10, 1938 was the beginning of the Shoah. The beginning of the Holocaust. One thing we learnt – those of us who survived: we know that silence leads to tragedy and disaster. Silence of the world. This is why when we gather on die Kristallnacht or any other Holocaust remembrance day – Remember, remember, remember! Never again! Never again should the Jewish people be silent in the face of any challenge!
What pains me most is that seventy years after I thought the world would have seen the light. I had to appeal before the European Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg last year, urging them to introduce a resolution for the protection of Jews against anti-Semitism.
I have to hear enough people telling me that there was no Holocaust – Holocaust denial. I don’t have to be told that. I know there was. So, we survivors have a job to do.
I thank G-d every day of my life – having survived when my family perished, never knowing that I will ever live to see another day. Thank G-d I’m here today with my son – rabbi Marc Schneier. What a blessing! What a privilege!
What a privilege it is for a survivor who saw a synagogue aflame on Kristallnacht – the rebirth of Erez Israel. We wanted to leave Germany. We could have left Germany judenfrei. But there was no place to go, there was no Israel.
And then – the tragedy of the communist rule in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe that killed Jewish culture. And thank G-d we see the revival of Jewish identity and Jewish culture.
So we live in a time which is not all bad. It’s good. Sixty years of the State of Israel – who would have thought of that? Revival of Jewish communities – all over!
You know, Hashem gave a very peculiar blessing to Abraham. He gave him a blessing: your descendants will be like the dust.
What kind of blessing is this? Not like stars in heaven – like dust.
Now let me give you interpretation of what this means. Basically Hashem was telling the Jewish people what their destiny will be. You will be persecuted, you will be trampled upon, you’ll be oppressed, you’ll be Wandering Jew – from country to country. But – dust can never be destroyed. You put on a white shirt in the morning – look at that shirt at night. You clean your desk, but a few minutes later what happens? Dust reappears.
That is the Jewish destiny. Invincible, indestructible! That is what it is all about.
But how do we carry on? To carry on in this challenging dangerous time by reaching out to those who believe in live and let live. Live and let live! I, as a Jew, want to live in dignity and harmony. And I will give the same honor to others, who are not members of the Jewish faith, but it has to be reciprocity. Mutual respect.
Let me tell you that in these challenging to confront anti-Semitism when a member state of the United Nations openly says - I am going to wipe Israel off the map – we need allies, to confront this danger.
We are all responsible for one another. This principle also applies in relationship to those who believe in coexistence.
And here I want to salute my friend Moshe Kantor, European Jewish Congress and Yad Vashem for taking this initiative. We have to reach out. And this is why I have devoted my life for the last forty years to making sure that not only are Jews tolerated, but the Jews are accepted. If you know French “to tolerate” means you are superior, and I tolerate you. No, tolerance is just a minimal step. We have to have mutual acceptance.
And in this spirit I welcomed Pope Benedict XVI - not tolerating. Coming to my synagogue for the first time in history of the American Jewish community. The Pope coming to a synagogue!
Nonetheless, you remember what Pesach was, particularly in Europe – pogroms, violence. And you know what it means to have the Pope at the end of Pesach come to the Synagogue. He gave me his respect, I gave him my respect. That’s what we have to strive for. And this is why, Moshe Kantor and all his colleagues with the initiative of tolerance – I say to you: you have to reach out. Let us not be paralyzed by the past – we have to move forward.
I just came from Jerusalem where I had a meeting with Shimon Peres, Tzipi Livni and the others. So, November 12 in the United Nations the king of Saudi Arabia initiated an inter-religious dialogue conference. And Shimon Peres will be meeting for the first time with King Abdullah in the presence of other heads of state. Why is that important? Because we have to make sure that those who want to destroy us and the world should not win the day.
So die Kristallnacht for me is one of pain, one of painful memory and also one of hope for the invincibility of Jewish people. If we play smart, if we help Hashem – everything is achievable, everything is possible. So I pray for you – here in Europe, Europe which was soaked with Jewish blood, and I include here also Russia – Babi Yar, Auschwitz, Lublin, Buchenwald, Dachau – these are memories deeply edged. You and I – even though we were not there – we are all survivors. And we have to make sure that people of Israel will survive.