This year, the Hebrew and secular dates of Kristallnacht are in sync: Kristallnacht began on the night of the 16th of Marcheshvan 5699, November 9, 1938.
On Sunday evening, November 11, 1984, I sat spellbound in the Main Shul of K’hal Adath Jeshurun (“The Breuer’s Shul”) at 85-93 Bennett Avenue in Manhattan. I was attending a special address delivered by the Rav of the Shul, Rav Shimon Schwab זצ”ל (December 30, 1908 – February 13, 1995). I have been present at many Holocaust commemoration events. But none was like this one.
Rav Schwab, born in Germany, lived under the Nazis and arrived in the United States in 1936 only after realizing the impending danger to German Jews. His mother tongue was German, so too could be said of many members of the Shul in 1984. It was only forty-eight years after Kristallnacht and less than forty years since the Holocaust. Almost everyone in their sixties and over, which was the majority of the assembled, lived through the Nazis.
Rav Schwab began to speak of Kristallnacht. He spoke about how the “Night of the Broken Glass” was, in reality, the “Night of the Broken Illusion.”
He spoke in graphic terms of how the brutality of the Nazis, revealed in graphic horror, was the final straw that convinced him of the futility of the belief in German Humanism.
I sat breathless as he described the delusional outlook of many Orthodox German Jews.
He drove home how their deranged belief in the moral betterment of the German people was smashed along with the shattered glass strewn in front of the Jewish-owned shops.
I sat in rapt attention as I listened to the brutally honest debunking of the delusional idea that the German people had morphed into a moral, ethical people.
It was that night that turned me into a Talmid of Rav Schwab. I attended every Shiur and lecture I could. His Sunday morning Navi Shiurim and his Shabbos afternoon Droshos were permanent fixtures of my weekly learning regimen. I met with him privately, and he shared his most personal thoughts about Jews and their standing in America.
Yet, nothing will ever match the powerful, straightforward, and authentic words Rav Schwab spoke from the heart that night in Shul thirty-eight years ago.
I recently found the printed version of his powerful words. I present key portions of them tonight, the eighty-fourth anniversary of Kristallnacht. Particularly today, as anti-Semitism is rampant in our culture, politics, and daily life, his words are as poignant as ever.
To read Rav Schwab’s immortal address, please press HERE