Days of Tolerance in Europe, November 9-16, 2008
Address by Rabbi Mark Schneier (Park East Synagogue, New York) at the Special Memorial Service on the Occasion of the 70 Anniversary of Kristallnacht
As the chairman of the World Jewish Congress of the US permit me to salute my distinguished friend, the President of the European Jewish Congress Moshe Kantor for your visionary initiative in organizing and facilitating this historical gathering. Moshe, we are so proud – you are a great source of inspiration to the American Jewish community.
In a place where there is no man, then strive to be a man. Pastor Martin Niemöller, one of the leading honest people of Germany during the Nazi era said the following and I quote: “The Nazis first came for the communist – and I did not speak up, because I was not a communist. Then they came for the Jews – and I did not speak up because I was not a Jew. And then they came for trade unionists – and I did not speak up because I was not a trade unionists. And then they came for Catholics – and I did not speak up because I was not a Catholic. And then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak up.”
Niemöller concludes with the following statement: “Injustice to anyone anywhere must be the concern of everyone everywhere.” My friends, we are each responsible for every wrong that we had the power to prevent and failed to prevent.
Seventy years ago, November 9th, 1938 – Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. The horrific prowling to the Holocaust. The angry mobs – an orgy of looting and destructions. Synagogues set ablaze. Jewish shops pillaged, Jewish men – three thousand deported to concentration camps. And yet – at that moment of crisis in the midst of the unspeakable hard the world keeps silence. The more indifference in the face of looking disaster – that even the world’s religions leaders, event their voices were not raised in screaming protest.
The American civil right leader, doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking about the Holocaust said the following, and I quote: “If Protestants and Catholics had made the oppression of the Jew their very own oppression, had they come into the streets besides the Jew to scrub the sidewalks, and had Gentiles worn the stigmatizing yellow arm bands by the millions, a unique form of resistance to the Nazi regime might have developed.” Yes, my friends, we are each responsible for every wrong we had the power to prevent and failed to prevent.
Or in the works of a great English philosopher and statement Edmond Burke: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good man to do nothing.”
In the United States just one generation ago a new movement was created, a movement whose goal was to free African Americans from racism and discrimination. Only one generation ago African Americans were told they could not vote because of the color of their skin. And it was the Jewish community more than any other segment of American society that provided the support to African Americans in their struggle for human rights and human dignity! That was why when the election of Barak Obama as the next President of the United States why we, the Jewish community in America, have the great source of pride and joy. The election of Obama is a result of singular role of the Jewish community during the civil rights struggle, because we were among the good people who did something.
So, to conclude. Seventy years after die Kristallnacht, what have we learnt from this tragedy? Have we become more sensitive to the needs, to fight hunger and diseases, or, in the words of Edmond Burke are we among good people who do nothing? Seventy years after die Kristallnacht are we willing to speak out against the ongoing horrible crimes against humanity in Darfur? Or are we among good people who do nothing? Are we willing to stand up to a mad man in Iran who is meant on Israel’s destruction, who is a self-proclaimed denier of the Holocaust? Or are we among good people who do nothing? And racial hate crimes have increased throughout Europe. The revival of anti-Semitism, the emergence of Islamophobia; the overall increase in xenophobic attitudes… Have we done everything in our power to prevent these wrongs? Are we among good people who do nothing? The lesson of die Kristallnacht 28:40 – in a place where there is no man, then strive to be that man. For any Injustice to anyone anywhere must be the concern of everyone everywhere. Thank you