Days of Tolerance in Europe, November 9-16, 2008
Speech of Rabbi Yisrael Meir Yad Vashem Chairman of the Council, Holocaust Survivor at the Memorial Service on the occasion of the 70 anniversary of Kristallnacht
This night – the night of November 10th – seventy years ago. Can you imagine the picture? Can you hear the voices? Can you see in your imagination a Jewish street of communities of Ashkenazi? Over thousand synagogues in flames. Thousands of Jewish stores – destroyed. Hundreds of Jewish lives taken brutally, in one night. About thirty thousand Jews were deported to concentration camps – Buchenwald, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen… The majority didn’t come back. Those who came were broken, sick… In one night. And they called it spontaneous. A spontaneous reaction to assassination of a diplomat in the German embassy in Paris by Herschel Grynszpan.
This was not spontaneous. Those names I don’t want to mention in this holy place – the Great Synagogue of Brussels. Those names who were the authors – they were just waiting for a moment, for a reason, for an excuse, to send the troops to kill, to break, to destroy, to express the hatred of hundreds of years. This night the Holocaust started. The beginning of the Holocaust was tonight. It was not just die Kristallnacht. They called it die Kristallnacht. They didn’t mean to do damage to crystals – to people, to human beings, to souls, to families, to the entire nation.
The Holocaust started after the preparations of 1923 – the book came out, Mein Kampf. 1933 Hitler became the Chancellor. 1936 – he gave the Nuremberg laws. 1938 – was die Kristallnacht, and this was the start. Ten months before WWII broke out on September 1, 1939. This is the night.
When it happened, I was in Poland. My age was about a year when die Kristallnacht happened. But when I learnt the story – why did they start in the synagogues? And they called it Kristallnacht because of the synagogues’ chandeliers broken. They understood what some of us are trying to forget – that the heart of Jewish people is the synagogue. That the center of our life is here. That the identification of Jewish man, woman, child – is in the synagogue, where we are now. I came from Israel straight to the synagogue, because we know – and they understood it very well - that the soul of the Jewish people is here, in the House of the L-rd. The gate to heaven is in the synagogue.
We are in the synagogue now. I had here my colleagues – European rabbis, very honorable and distinguished men. I want to tell you one of the stories of our Sages. It’s how to believe that they understood it two thousand and five hundred years ago. They saw from far away the future which is for use is already the past. Speaking about one sentence in the Book of Genesis. The first hatred between the Jew and Esau, the grandfather of Amalek. Jacob and Esau. Esau says one sentence: “They days of mourning after my father will pass, and then I’ll kill my brother Jacob.” The first claim for final solution of the Jewish people was then. Esau was planning to kill his own brother. The farther the twelve tribes later, the farther of the Jewish people. I will kill him – but not now, not immediately. After my father passes away and the days of mourning pass. Why is he so patient? Why is he ready to wait – who knows how long? Why didn’t he kill Jacob at the spot? He took my blessings, he took my priority! He stole it! I will kill him! Why not immediately?
Sages say why – he was very wise, Esau. He said: “I will not be as foolish as Cain” just in the beginning of the Book of Genesis. Cain wanted to get rid of his brother Abel, so he killed his own brother. But he was foolish. Why foolish? He didn’t get profit by killing his brother. Because Abel was killed, Adam and Eve brought another son. The third son of Adam and Eve was Seth, the father of Enoch – the whole mankind came from them. So it’s not rentable to assassinate a brother if a new one will come. So I will be the murderer, I will have this sign on my face – everyone will know that I am a murderer. And a new brother will come, and will take over the whole property! “Fool was Cain”, says Esau, according to the sages. “I will not behave like him.” I’ll wait till my father closes his eyes, and I will know that there is no competition. And a new Jacob will never be born, because my father passed away. After the morning days pass, then I will take the life of my brother Jacob, and a new brother will never be born. This was the plan of Esau.
But there is another part in the chain of assassination. The king of Egypt before Exodus said, “How foolish was Esau. He was waiting for killing his brother till his father Isaac passed away, but he didn’t take into consideration that in the meanwhile Jacob will build a family of twelve sons and a daughter!” He wanted to get rid of his brother – but his brother will be a head of a big family till his father dies. I, said the king of Egypt, will not be as foolish. I won’t give them a chance. “Look, he said to Shiphrah and Puah , when you see a boy is born – kill him.” They didn’t want to cooperate. They didn’t want to take part in this selection – to kill a boy, and to let girls live. They refused. At the moment they knew that a woman was pregnant they were waiting at her door to check if she had a boy. “I will not let them have families” – this was peril.
But there was a third one in the chain of murderers. Haman – in Persia – today’s Iran. How ironical this is! Haman said: how foolish was pharaoh. He was ready to kill Jewish boys only, and he didn’t touch Jewish girls. He didn’t know what all Jews know – that if a Jewish daughter brings a child from a gentile, the boy is following the identity of the mother. So we will never find the final solution – isn’t that the final solution what they wanted? And he said to king Ahashverosh, the Persian king: the religion of the Jews is different from all other religions! In the Islamic world, you follow the father; but the Jews – if the marriage is not accepted according to the Jewish law, by logic the child belongs to the mother. If mother is Jewish, her children will be Jewish as well. So how can you solve the problem. I’m not doing the same thing! To liquidate all the Jewish – men, women, and children. This was his final solution.
Here comes the fifth part – and it leads me to die Kristallnacht. There will come, say the sages, Gog and Magog, the final war. Maybe it happened 60 years ago. Maybe it happened 70 years ago this night. Gog and Magog, according to Chapter 2, they came together and said – foolish were Cain and Esau, and Pharaoh, and Haman! They made all their final solutions at their wannsee conferences against the body of the Jewish people. And they forgot they had the Father in heaven! He will not permit the final solution of his own people. Beating them, punishing them – exiles, sufferings, misery – but liquidation! Never! If He is protecting them, said Gog and Magog, we cannot do anything – it’s helpless. We have to declare the war against Him. We have to separate them from their Father in heaven – Let’s destroy synagogues! No Shabbat! No High Holidays! Nothing! Forget about it! We will make them far away from Him, so He will neglect them. He will say – if you are not loyal to me, I will not protect you any longer. That’s why it’s written: all together they come – there is a coalition of nations Gog and Magog. The kings come together – and declare first the war against Him, and then against His nation. To disconnect Jewish people from their tradition, their laws, their Torah, their faith, their Father.
I think that Kristallnacht is exactly making real this story of sages of two thousand years ago. They were very smart. They understood if they touch us in this point – the center of our lives, our synagogues – the ark, the Holy Ark, if they burn the Torah, G-d forbids, we have no chance to survive. This they understood it very well. We have to learn to remember it.
King David says from my enemies I have to be wiser, to know how to oppose them. I have to learn from them. They taught a lesson, they started die Kristallnacht in the very hearth. If a leg or an arm is broken – you can survive. But if, G-d forbids, your heart is ill or broken – the whole body has no chance. This lesson we have to understand. Rabbis, leaders, people of the Jewish community: we must be loyal to our Father, to our tradition. It is the bridge between us, our unity is based on Jewish heritage. This makes us stronger. This makes us stiff-neck people with the message of friendship, understanding and love to the entire mankind. We have no enemies. We will not hate anybody, if they show us smiling face. We want to build with you a brilliant future – equal. We must shake hands and come shoulder to shoulder to fight common enemies of the mankind – and they are many, too many.
In my view, this is the message of die Kristallnacht. This was the beginning. Thanks G-d we are alive. Look at this magnificent shrine! I came in and I was shocked by the beauty of this place. How much heart was given to these walls, donations from people of good will. Who built it? Who kept it? Who gives the light to these walls? Our beautiful heritage. This shows – if we want, if we understand, if we learn from our past, we have the answer of eternal and immortal Jewish people.