On Kristallnacht, the night of Nov. 9, 1938, Nazis in Germany and Austria murdered more than 90 Jews, decimating Jewish homes, hospitals and schools, and burning places of worship.
The English translation, Night of Broken Glass, memorializes the shards of shattered windows scattered in the streets on the tragic night, which many consider to be the start of the Holocaust. Over 7,000 Jewish businesses and homes were destroyed, along with more than 250 synagogues, and 30,000 Jewish men were incarcerated in concentration camps.
The City of Long Beach commemorated the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht — the city’s 17th annual ceremony — at City Hall last Sunday afternoon. It was sponsored by the Holocaust Committee of Long Island, whose co-president, Vincent Marmorale, who served as master of ceremonies, welcomed city, county and state officials as well as religious leaders and more than 250 community members.
“It is generally acknowledged that Kristallnacht was the night the Holocaust began,” Marmorale said, “and was the direct result of the lack of concern for the plight of the Jews.”
In his invocation, Rabbi Binyamin Silver, of Young Israel of Long Beach, said, “We pray that the world can learn from the past and will never again allow the disease of hatred and violence to sprout on these shores, or in any part of the world.”
Although communities around the world commemorate the Holocaust, Long Beach is one of relatively few that pay tribute to Kristallnacht.
Police Commissioner Ron Walsh, who is also the acting city manager, read a chilling memorandum that was issued to the Nazi State Police in 1938, ordering them to “only take such actions as to not endanger non-Jewish lives and property.” Walsh said that learning from the past “can guide us to a future where human rights and diversity prevails, and allows each of us to live our lives in reconciliation and in freedom.”
City Council President John Bendo explained the history of the Nazi platform of denying citizenship and rights to Jews, “serving as a stark reminder of the horrors that can unfold when intolerance, prejudice and hatred are allowed to fester and escalate into violence and brutality. The fabricated Nazi claim that the Jews intended to destroy the Germans became the excuse for the Germans to destroy the Jews,” Bendo said. “On the Night of Broken Glass, the Nazis wanted the Jews fractured and scattered. We must celebrate our diversity and prioritize humanity over anything else, so that Kristallnacht remains locked into the past and does not become a part of our future.”
Keynote speaker Ira Birns, whose parents were Holocaust survivors, is a former Long Beach resident and a former president of the Holocaust National Memorial Committee of Long Island. He recalled how his mother, Edith Birns, who died in 2018, would take part in the candle-lighting ceremony during the Long Beach event, flanked by her grandchildren.
“My mother’s memory, and the memory of all those who suffered through the Holocaust, continue to inspire us, lighting the way for future generations,” Birns said. “All children of Holocaust survivors like me are miracles who are obligated to speak, teach and remember, and to ensure that we avoid the likes of what happened 85 years ago, as well as five weeks ago.”
Among the survivors, and children of survivors, who were invited to light candles during the commemoration, were members of the Long Beach High School choir, who performed “A World of Peace,” composed by survivor and former keynote speaker Inge Auerbachner. The song was chosen by Long Beach resident and Holocaust Committee member Nina Goldenberg, who thanked district Assistant Superintendent Janna Ostorff and choir director Michael Capobianco for “the first intergenerational Commemoration of Kristallnacht here in Long Beach City Hall.”
The choir’s a cappella performance was enthusiastically applause.
“I’m so proud that these kids have committed to standing up with us today,” Goldenberg said. “They are each more than a light; they are an unwavering flame of hope for our future.”