Sacred Heart Commemorates Kristallnacht

News Story: November 13, 2015
                                           Rabbi Marcelo Kormis speaks during the service.

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More than a hundred students, faculty and guests remembered Kristallnacht at an annual commemoration ceremony at Sacred Heart University November 11 at the Chapel of the Holy Spirit.

The cloudy, rainy day set the tone for the somber topic of Kristallnacht, also known as the Night of Broken Glass, when Jews living in Germany encountered violence and destruction from the Nazi regime on the night of Nov. 9, 1938. Nazis broke the windows of Jewish businesses, schools and synagogues, littering glass in the streets. The violence resulted in death, arrests and the beginning stages of the Holocaust.

In between psalms sung by the University’s Liturgical Choir and passages read by various students, faculty and staff, speakers at the commemoration spoke of the tragedy and the need to remember and learn from it.

“Today we must remember what it means when we say never again. In honor of those who perished at the hands of the evil Nazi regime, we must stand up to anti-Semitism and put an end to the racist intolerance that is creeping into our communities today,” said Rabbi Marcelo Kormis of the congregation Beth El in Fairfield.

Kormis, a native of Chile and guest speaker at the commemoration, told two stories to those sitting in the pews. After giving a detailed description of what the Jews endured that night—businesses set on fire, windows smashed, cemeteries desecrated and lives changed forever—he spoke of Rabbi Leo Baeck.

Baeck was teaching at the Higher Institute of Jewish Studies in Berlin when he and others began to see and hear the brutality going on outside. Teachers and students were “paralyzed” with fear, Kormis said, but Baeck instructed those around him to pick up the stones that were thrown through their windows and make a promise to escape the violence and use the stones to create Jewish schools and synagogues.

“With these stones in their pockets they built a renewed Jewish life in South America,” Kormis said.

It was at the same time, Kormis’s grandfather, a Jewish business owner living in Berlin, had his life uprooted due to the same violence. His business was destroyed and while reluctant to leave his home and the life he created in Berlin, he and his wife made the decision to run away. By September 1939, his grandparents arrived in Chile where they would eventually learn the culture and find faith in a new land. These two stories intertwined and Kormis said it was likely his grandparents went to many of the Jewish institutions that were created by those who fulfilled Baeck’s promise.

“To me, Kristallnacht is a day of remembrance and introspection. It is a day when we mourn and honor the memory of our brothers and sisters who were humiliated at night and massacred years later,” Kormis said.

After Kormis’s speech, two local Holocaust survivors helped light six candles, which represented the six million people who died in the Holocaust.

The event concluded with a final psalm from the choir.

In the Chapel’s narthex, photos on loan from the Merkaz Community High School for Judaic Students were on display. They featured images of 1940s Germany and the devastation that filled Jewish lives.

Jonathan Vergara ’17 was observing the photos after the commemoration. He said he never learned about Kristallnacht in any of his history classes growing up. “I truly got introduced to this event in history through SHU,” he said. “Words don’t quite capture the feeling as they should. Silence does it better.”