Michael Berenbaum will deliver the keynote address launching Holocaust Education Month in Ottawa. The event, marking the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, will take place on Wednesday, November 7, 7 pm, at Kehillat Beth Israel.
Berenbaum is a rabbi, professor, writer and filmmaker who specializes in the study of the Holocaust. He was deputy director of the U.S. President’s Commission on the Holocaust in 1979-1980 and played a leading role in the creation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He served as the museum’s project director between 1988 and 1993.
The title of Berenbaum’s lecture is “Kristallnacht: The End of the Beginning and the Beginning of the End.”
Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” was an anti-Jewish pogrom that took place on November 9-10, 1938, carried out by paramilitary forces and civilians, while authorities looked on. Jewish homes, hospitals, and schools were ransacked and demolished with sledgehammers, as were more than 100 synagogues and over 7,000 Jewish businesses throughout Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland.
The Nazis also imposed a fine of one billion Reichsmarks on the Jewish community and barred them from collecting insurance for the damages.
In an interview with the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, Berenbaum said after the attacks, Jews in Germany were excluded from all businesses and schools, and “had increased discrimination all the way through.”
During this time, according to Berenbaum, the Nazis also decided the violence against Jews could not be spontaneous as it was during Kristallnacht; it had to be planned in advance.
“Ironically, Jews were temporarily ‘safer’ on German streets, but the government and its agencies became more lethal in a planned and systematic way, all done within the parameters of the law,” Berenbaum said. He said Kristallnacht was as a turning point in the evolution of Germany’s policy towards Jews.
While the international community expressed outrage about Kristallnacht and condemned it, Berenbaum said it “didn’t mean they were willing to do anything about it, as the idea of receiving Jewish refugees did not catch on.”
Thinking about what Kristallnacht and the Holocaust have to teach us about today’s world, Berenbaum said, “I think we have to understand the importance of freedom of religion, tolerance, pluralism and democracy, as well as respect the plight of refugees and understand our responsibility to protect human dignity and decency.”
The event is presented by the Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship (CHES) at Carleton University’s Max and Tessie Zelikovitz Centre for Jewish Studies. CHES Director Mina Cohn invited the community to come to “mark this important night.”
Cohn said of special interest this year will be the inclusion of a performance by classical violinist Niv Ashkenazi on a violin that was salvaged from the ashes of the Holocaust and refurbished in Israel. She said the Violins of Hope are “unique objects that reflects the Jewish culture before the Holocaust and the suffering and survival of those who played on them during the Holocaust.”
Admission to the Holocaust Education Month launch event is free of charge.