Holocaust Expert Speaks on Finding Unity amidst the Broken Glass

by Alessandra Luedeking


On Tuesday, November 4, the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning welcomed Holocaust expert, Alan Rosen, in commemoration of Kristallnacht. Rosen studied in Boston under the tutelage of Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, and is currently the author or editor of over ten Holocaust-related titles.

Kristallnacht, or the “night of shattered glass,” was a pogrom unleashed by the Nazis which resulted in the desecration of 267 Jewish synagogues throughout Germany and Austria, the decimation of over 5,000 Jewish shops, the death of 91 Jews. Additionally, over 30,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps. The day of its commemoration, November 9, is significant in the Jewish culture because it is the date accepted as the death of Rachel, the Biblical matriarch who is regarded as the “quintessential one” who could beseech on behalf of the people Israel in their time of need. More importantly, however, the date is noteworthy because it is anchored in the secular calendar, despite it being an event perpetrated against Jews.

The date, Rosen claims, “has this outrageous backdrop of being associated with the enemy, and the enemy’s own claim of trying to get justice for a terribly unjust cause.” November 9 was also the date that the German Kaiser signed the peace treaty ending World War I, as well as the day of Hitler’s failed Beer Hall Putsch in 1938, which served to bolster Nazi popularity nonetheless. The date was “tarnished” and “sullied” by Nazi celebrations of pride. “It was their holiday! It was their date!” Rosen exclaimed. Yet, he argued that commemorating Kristallnacht on November 9 turns the sordid association with Nazis inside out. “The ‘turning inside out’ of the date is such that we take the venom of the enemy and transform it into sacred observance in the Jewish calendar.” The positive inversion is further reinforced because it marks the fall of the Berlin Wall, which occurred in 1989.

However, Rosen makes a distinction between the Jewish date used in remembrance of the Holocaust and the secular date commemorating Kristallnacht. Jews observe the Holocaust Memorial Day on Yom HaShoa, the 27th day of the Jewish month, Nissan. “The striking-ness of that date, of it being the date of commemoration, is felt particularly…because it is the only Jewish date that orchestrates governmental activities in the United States,” Rosen pointed out. Indeed, the secular calendar reserves two dates: the commemoration of Kristallnacht on November 9, and the Holocaust Remembrance Day in the spring. The spring date is informed by the Jewish calendar, which operates on lunar cycles, which is why it is never on the same day each year. For one day of the year, then, the secular and Jewish calendars are unified.

Rosen concluded with an account of Holocaust survivor, David Matzner, who commented on the tragedy of Kristallnacht: “I have survived to see and to make sure that the synagogue of my family has been rebuilt.”

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