Sacred Heart University Commemorates Kristallnacht
The Sacred Heart University community was urged to stand up in the face of bigotry and violence at its annual Kristallnacht commemoration ceremony recently in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit.
Staff, faculty, students and community members gathered to hear reflections on the tragic event that happened 79 years ago in Germany. Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, was a large-scale, pre-WWII event that occurred on the night of Nov. 9, 1938. Nazi leaders caused looting and destruction of Jewish businesses, littering the streets with broken glass. Jewish homes were attacked, people were killed and synagogues were destroyed. The violence perpetrated by the Nazi regime marked the beginning of the Holocaust.
At the commemoration, guest speaker Rabbi Herbert Brockman of Congregation Mishkan Israel in Hamden said, “Today we all walk the mourners’ path.”
After relating the story of Kristallnacht, Brockman shared courageous stories of people who risked their lives to save as many Jewish people as possible. He talked about Muslims who lived in Albania and took in hundreds of Jews. When German officials asked who they were, the Muslims claimed them as relatives. “They protected them,” Brockman said.
In Istanbul, a group of nuns took in Jews as students and protected them. Brockman said a bishop in Bulgaria laid his body across a train track to prevent a train full of Jews from leaving. “The bishop saved the lives of all those people,” Brockman said. “We must think of the dangers of what can be,” he continued.
The rabbi quoted author and philosopher Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” He said the “lessons of Kristallnacht are not just a reminder of the tragic past, but the commitment that we can never do ‘nothing’ again.”
All ceremony speakers urged guests to take action when confronted and not to look the other way, like many German officials did when the Nazis rampaged on Kristallnacht.
“And so today, we do pause to recognize the insanity and ignorance of hatred that cost millions of lives. We pause in respect,” said SHU President John J. Petillo. “Yet here, at this University, we need to do more. We need to recognize that the lessons of the past still teach. We need only look at the public square in our country…So today we pause and bow in silence, remembering those millions of our brothers and sisters who were unable to live as freely as we do here.”
Sacred Heart senior Roy Colter told the audience, “We cannot deny the existence of bigotry in modern society. It’s important for us to uphold community.” Colter noted that through the University’s Catholic intellectual tradition courses, students learn about all religions and faiths, helping create an understanding and acceptance of all people.
Rabbi Marcelo Kormis of Congregation Beth El in Fairfield and alumnus Mark Block, a fellow in synagogue administration at Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Bridgeport, shared stories about the day’s meaning and the need to ensure a tragedy like Kristallnacht never happens again.
Between reflections, faculty took part in readings, and the SHU Choir performed songs and psalms.
Junior Erin Curly concluded the event, encouraging the audience to have a conversation with someone who is different, whether by race, gender, sexual preference or religion. There is a lot to be learned from embracing others, she said, and “differences exist to enrich us, not divide us.”