November 9th, 2020 marked the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht, an event often considered a seminal point in the persecution of the Jews under National Socialism. Kristallnacht was a series of violent attacks on Jewish communities across Germany, perpetrated by both the Nazi party as well as German civilians on the night of November 9th, 1938. Although there had been much discrimination against the Jewish community prior to 1938, Kristallnacht is generally viewed as the beginning of the Holocaust.
The purpose of this post though is not to give a history of Kristallnacht or what led up to it – all of that information is readily available online. If you’re not familiar with it, I deplore you to learn. A couple credible resources you can start with are The Holocaust Encyclopedia, by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Britannica.
What I want to talk about is one of the ways in which this fateful night is remembered. Every year on November 9th, Germans remember the Kristallnacht pogrom by polishing or placing flowers on the Stolpersteine. Meaning ‘stumbling stones’, Stolpersteine are brass memorial blocks laid amongst the cobblestones outside the homes of Holocaust victims. There are 70, 0000 of these Stolperstein across Europe, and it’s the world’s largest decentralized monument to the Holocaust. The inscription on each stone begins the same: “Here lived”, followed by the victims name, date of birth, and fate, which in most cases was deportation and murder. I first learned about Stolperstein last year when my husband and I were on a private tour in Rome. We asked our guide to show us the Jewish Ghetto and he pointed out the Stolperstein to us. Since then, I have noticed them on all our travels throughout Germany and Europe.
I learned about this remembrance ceremony a day late, on the morning of November 10th, but I was so moved by it that I immediately went to the florist around the corner, bought 3 roses and went to lay them on one of the Stolperstein in our neighbourhood. While I was standing there, a woman came up to join me in a moment of silence before continuing on her own way.
Part of the reason I felt such urgency to do this is because of rising anti-Semitism that is happening around the globe. Just last year in Berlin, 16 Stolperstein were dug up and stolen before the anniversary, fueling alarm about a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Germany.
This led me to start thinking about my own conversion to Judaism. While not Jewish yet, I am in the process of converting and recalled a conversation I had with my rabbi when we first discussed my conversion. We had a lengthy discussion about rising anti-Semitism, with him citing recent events of violent attacks against Jewish people, and he repeatedly asked me if I understood the additional risks I was opening myself and future family up to, and if I was sure that I still wanted to convert to Judaism knowing these dangers. Of course, as someone who has obviously never experienced any form of anti-Semitism, and who is lucky enough to have been born and raised in Canada, it’s easy to say yes, as these concerns still seem very much abstract to me. And right now, it truly isn’t something I actually worry about for myself or our future children, but it is something that I do think about from time to time with growing concern.
So, that is why I rushed to the florist right after my morning coffee to buy flowers to lay on the Stolperstein a day late in remembrance. With anti-Semitic tensions rising across the world and an increase in far-right rhetoric, the issue of remembering and dealing with the past has never been more important. I think Eli Wiesel put it perfectly when he said: “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
If you would like to learn more about the Stolperstein project or sponsor a stone, you can do so here.