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Echoes of the Holocaust are Felt to this Day

Jewish men arrested during Kristallnacht. Photo courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
by Debora Steinerman

This week we remember that on Nov. 9 and 10, 1938, the Kristallnacht pogrom took place throughout Nazi Germany and its annexed countries. Also known as the “Night of Broken Glass,” the name refers to the litter of glass left in the streets after vicious attacks were implemented by Nazi leaders against Jewish businesses, places of worship, and homes. 

About 100 Jews were murdered and many seriously hurt. More than 7,000 Jewish businesses and hundreds of synagogues were destroyed. Jewish cemeteries were vandalized, Jewish schools were defaced, and 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps, for no other reason except that they were Jews.

The indifference with which most responded to the violence indicated to the Nazis that the public was prepared for more radical measures. The days, months, and years that followed, found Jews forced from their homes, propelled into hiding, or separated in ghettos and ultimately transported to labor and death camps.

Many who managed to somehow survive were near death, several still died just after liberation. Among those who perished just before the end of World War II were my uncle, who died on a forced Nazi death march, and Anne Frank, the young girl who is among the most well-known of the six million Jews killed. By the time the Nazis were defeated in May 1945, two-thirds of Europe’s Jews — including 1.5 million children — had been murdered in what is known as the Holocaust.

Unfortunately, antisemitism, the basic principle and foundation of Nazi ideology, did not end after the Holocaust. We see its echoes daily — from celebrities, athletes, politicians, on the street street, and on social media. 

According to Anti-Defamation League statistics “incidents tracked in the 2021 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents reached an all-time high of 2,717 in the United States last year — an average of more than seven incidents per day and a 34 percent increase year over year, including assaults, harassment, and vandalism. This is the highest number on record since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979.”And antisemitism is escalating in its frequency, visibility, and intensity. 

As the child of Holocaust survivors, I am particularly aware that these current disturbing trends are a threat to us all. Vermont, thankfully, is not among the states with the highest occurrence of antisemitism, however, it is not without increasing incidence. With the recent uptick often taking place in our schools and universities comes a greater responsibility for education.

The Vermont Holocaust Memorial  was founded in response to the need to educate our young people about antisemitism, its history, and the enduring lessons learned by studying the Holocaust: That hatred can easily infect a society — in Nazi Germany, it started with Jews but did not end with them. Such lessons prove invaluable.

This school year we are working with Vermont’s Agency of Education, Echoes & Reflections, and other Holocaust education institutions to inaugurate the first “Vermont Holocaust Education Week.” From January 23–27, 2023, in commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, teachers in grades 7–12 will be offered a menu of suggested programs, lesson plans, and presentations to share the fundamental history of the Holocaust with their students. It is only through education that antisemitism, and all racism, can be a thing of the past. 

“The Holocaust has important lessons for us today, and one of them is that antisemitism cannot be allowed to flourish uncontested,” said United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Chairman Stuart E. Eizenstat. “While the United States in 2022 is not Nazi Germany, and we live in a democratic society with many checks and balances, it remains imperative for each and every one of us to forcibly reject antisemitism and racism.” 

Currently more than 20 states in the country have established Holocaust education legislation — including all New England states except Vermont. Reach out to your recently elected state senators and representatives. Let them know you believe Holocaust education is more crucial now than ever. Help us make Vermont a leader in this essential endeavor for the future of our children and the nation.

Debora Steinerman is the President and Co-founder of the Vermont Holocaust Memorial, a volunteer-run nonprofit, which is looking for sponsors to support its Holocaust education efforts. See HolocaustMemorial-VT.org for more information.