Seton Hill Kristallnacht service to mark 80th anniversary of anti-Jewish attacks

November 30, 2018

Seton Hill University’s annual Kristallnacht observance on Tuesday is more necessary than ever, in light of the Oct. 27 attack on a Squirrel Hill synagogue that killed 11 congregants and injured six, an organizer said.

“The recent massacre at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh -- the deadliest attack on a Jewish community in American history -- shows that anti-Semitism and events such as Kristallnacht are not simply items relegated to our history books but are relevant to our world today,” said Tim Crain, director of Seton Hill’s National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education.

“By commemorating the Kristallnacht, we hope to educate about the dangers of intolerance in the past and open the hearts and minds of people in order to prevent these kinds of atrocities from ever happening again,” Crain said.

The annual Kristallnacht Remembrance Interfaith Service will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Seton Hill’s St. Joseph Chapel. Featured speakers will be Ruth Drescher and Shulamit Bastacky, both of Pittsburgh.

Drescher, 84, escaped Germany with her family in September 1939, just as World War II was starting. Bastacky, 77, survived the Holocaust as a child hidden by a Catholic nun in Lithuania.

This year is the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, which happened Nov. 9, 1938.

On that day, Nazi Party functionaries of the SA and the SS went on a burning, looting, vandalism and killing spree against Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues in Germany. It came to be known as Kristallnacht -- literally “crystal night,” but usually translated as “Night of Broken Glass” -- because of the glass from Jewish storefronts that littered the streets.

Although estimates vary, the night of violence is thought to have resulted in the deaths of 91 Jews, the looting of 7,000 Jewish businesses, the arrest of 30,000 Jewish males and the desecration or destruction of 267 synagogues.

Tuesday’s observance is sponsored by the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education and the Office of Campus Ministry at Seton Hill. The center was founded in 1987 in response to the urging of Pope John Paul II for Catholics to recognize the significance of the Shoah, the Hebrew term for the Holocaust.

Also on Tuesday, Rabbi Ron Symons will give the annual Threshold Lecture at the Fred Rogers Center at Saint Vincent College. The event, which begins at 7 p.m., is accompanied by an art exhibit, “Beloved -- Children of the Holocaust,” at the McCarl Gallery in the lower level of the Rogers Center.

Some Holocaust scholars reject the popular use of the term Kristallnacht because of its Nazi provenance.

Author Victoria Barnett, in her 1992 book “For the Soul of the People: Protestant Protest Against Hitler,” notes that the Nazi press coined the term Kristallnacht as a way to boast “about the German streets being covered with the glass of Jewish store windows.”

For that reason, many Germans refer to the event as the Nov. 9 pogrom instead, according to Barnett.

Barnett was the 2018 recipient of the Nostra Aetate Award given by the National Catholic Center during its triennial Ethel LeFrak Holocaust Education Conference, held this year from Oct. 21 to Oct. 23.

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