Written by: Jaqueline O’Rourke
Sacred Heart University held its annual Kristallnacht Commemoration on Nov. 7 in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit. The event featured traditional Jewish music, prayer, and a special guest speaker, Judith Altmann, who is a Holocaust Survivor.
“I thought it was beautiful. We got to sit in front of a row of people who knew the prayers and songs in Hebrew. So it was really awesome to hear them sing, it was really nice and felt very moving.” said sophomore nursing major Meghan Briggs.
Careful consideration went into choosing the prayers and songs that were included in the event.
“I tried to pick selections in Hebrew that would fit the event today and that would give a strong message,” said Dr. John Micheniewicz, the Director of Choral Programs.
“We picked the music in such a way that it would provide an element of hope as well. I think we need to be hopeful that humanity will not allow these horrible things to happen again,” said Micheniewicz.
Kristallnacht is known as “the night of broken glass.” According to the event’s program, “Kristallnacht was a large-scale, pre-WWII pogrom in Nazi Germany that began on the night of November 9-10, 1938.”
In his welcoming address, President of Sacred Heart University, Dr. John Petillo said, “Let this annual remembrance remind us, although evil exists around us, it is our strength and hope that proves love is much stronger.”
“The intentional violence perpetrated by the Nazi regime on the night of Nov. 9, 1938 spelled the beginning of the Holocaust and the end of hope for Jews,” said the program.
“This year felt a little deeper than usual.” said junior Chris Conte who is a Business Management Major and has attended the Kristallnacht event for the past three years.
While this event was held in honor of a part of the Holocaust, it happened to fall about two weeks after an attack on two synagogues in Pittsburgh, PA. That too was remembered and brought up frequently at the event.
“The tragedy in Pittsburgh was a direct attack on Judaism and the American Jewry. Something is profoundly wrong in our society when people can’t go to synagogues, mosques, churches, schools or theaters without fearing for their lives and the lives of their loved ones,” said Rabbi Marcelo Kormis.
“It is very hard for me to comprehend how 80 years after the horrible events that we just remembered, our country can be a fertile ground for racism, hatred and anti-semitism. Today, more than ever, we must remember what it means when we say ‘never again,’” said Kormis
The Special Guest of the event, Judith Altmann provided a message of hope and inspiration to everyone in attendance by sharing her story of surviving the Holocaust.
Judith was born in a small country in Czechoslovakia called Jasmina which was eventually invaded by Nazis in 1939. After the invasion, her family was the last Jewish family on the street.
“There was no fight, we were just sold,” said Altmann.
“Our life was drastically changed. Jewish people could not walk on the sidewalk, we could not go to any place, we could only go shopping only after everyone else had shopped, we were called subhuman,” said Altmann.
Throughout telling her story, Altmann went into great detail about her harsh living conditions and the disturbing things she had to witness as a young Jewish girl during the Holocaust.
“After the occupation, they took everything away. We Jewish children could not go to school so our parents taught us how to knit, how to sew and how to cook in order to keep us busy but we knew nothing good was going to happen,” said Altmann.
Having freedom, knowledge, and education taken from her at such a young age is something Judith Altmann will never forget and something she wants college students to realize and remember.
Once she was free, Judith spent some time in Sweden recovering and taking care of herself.
“I took a whole year to get well. After that year, I went back to school to learn my profession, I’m a technical writer and designer and I learned another language,” said Altmann.
As soon as Altmann learned to speak other languages, Altmann began to share her story with others.
“I made up my mind. I said ‘If God will give me and I survive, I promise I will tell young people that they should know what it means to have freedom and what a difference hate can produce. You young people, ladies and gentlemen, you are our future. You are going to provide a better world,” said Altmann.