Thursday, November 30, 2017

Seeing Light in the Darkest Times

November 9 was the 79th anniversary of the beginning of Kristallnacht (German for "Night of Crystal" but usually translated in this context as "Night of the Broken Glass"), a two day state-sanctioned pogrom in Nazi Germany, German-occupied Austria and German-occupied Sudetenland during which over 260 synagogues were burned to the ground, nearly 100 Jews were killed and as many as 30,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps. Nazi Germany then imposed a one billion Reichsmark fine (equivalent to $400 million in U.S. dollars at the time) on the Jewish community to make sure that the Jewish people--not German-owned insurance companies--paid the economic price for all of the destroyed Jewish properties/businesses.

Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras' family experienced the horrors of Kristallnacht firsthand; his grandfather--who was 14 years old at the time--saw Jewish stores being looted, Jewish books being burned in bonfires in the street and signs declaring "Kill the Jews." Stras' great-grandfather was sent to Dachau, the Nazis' first concentration camp. Stras recently wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal about his family's experiences during Kristallnacht specifically and the Holocaust in general. Stras noted that four years ago, for the first time, he spoke publicly about what happened to his family during the Holocaust and how his grandfather narrowly survived Auschwitz. Stras explained that his grandfather never lost his faith in humanity:

My grandfather had the uncommon gift of being able to see the light of human generosity in the midst of near-total darkness...
Only after years researching their stories and reflecting on their lives do I understand the message my grandparents had tried to impart--one of hope and gratitude, not bitterness or pity. As my grandfather said in a memorial service speech in 1979, we remember those who "lost their freedom, the freedom of us and the freedom of mankind." He emphasized that "we, the survivors, have to let the world know that we will never again allow another Holocaust" and told the audience that "you, and you alone, have the responsibility to speak up for our fallen relatives and friends."
My grandparents always said they were the lucky ones, and that they were left on earth to speak for those who had perished. Their guidepost was humanity, not indulgence in their own sorrow and suffering.
The human capacity to do evil and inflict suffering is terrifying and tragic but the human capacity to endure, survive and retain compassion/hope despite suffering is inspirational.

Here is a link to the entire article (subscription required): My Grandparents Saw Light, Even After the Dark of Kristallnacht

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