Tuesday, Nov. 9, marks the 83rd anniversary of Kristallnacht, The Night of Broken Glass, when Nazis and Nazi sympathizers raided synagogues, Jewish homes and Jewish businesses throughout Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia.
They burned synagogues, desecrated holy texts, rounded up Jews and brought them to concentration camps and smashed the windows of Jewish homes and businesses. Local officials were told to look the other way and let the terror happen. Ordinary citizens, who had been influenced by years of antisemitic propaganda, joined in the destruction and chaos and terrorized Jews in their own communities.
Recently the Valley News reported that someone tagged swastikas and wrote pro-Nazi statements on The Temple monument at St. Gauden’s National Historic Park in Cornish, N.H. This graffiti occurred less than a mile from Vermont soil. The hateful symbols and words were etched into Vermont marble.
There have been several antisemitic acts in and around Vermont in the last two years, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s website.
In September 2021 a mural in Swanton village was defaced with graffiti that police described as racist and antisemitic hate speech. Similar graffiti was reported days earlier near a local elementary school.
During the 2021 Jewish High Holy Days an individual in Townsend flew a Nazi flag on their property for two weeks, and on July 13, 2020, an unknown person or group distributed fliers with antisemitic remarks. They were found in St. Albans near the office of a lawyer who is Jewish.
On April 29, 2020, the Essex County Democratic committee candidate forum that was held via Zoom in Brattleboro was disrupted by unknown individuals who drew swastikas and insulted a Jewish candidate. And, according to a Sept. 12, 2021, article on medium.com there has been a spike of antisemitic incidents at the University of Vermont. This includes a teaching assistant who instituted a “discriminatory grading policy against Jewish students.”
In December 2020 somebody shot out the lights of the Chabad menorah on the Dartmouth College green in Hanover, N.H., about one half mile from Vermont soil. This hate crime literally consisted of a night of broken glass.
These are just a sample of many more incidents that have happened in and close to the state that I call home.
These incidents are happening here in our communities. These acts of hate are being committed by our neighbors against our neighbors. Many of these events remain unsolved and the perpetrators have yet to be held accountable for their actions.
As we approach the 83rd anniversary of Kristallnacht I ask you to consider the ramifications of hateful words and actions. I ask you to consider what happens when slogans of racial prejudice and religious intolerance are written on our monuments, spewed in our universities and handed out on flyers. These messages embolden larger acts of violence. Hateful words lead to hateful actions and endanger our friends and neighbors.
The Vermont Holocaust Memorial, founded in 2017 by three daughters of Holocaust survivors, offers speakers to your community who share their families’ lessons of survival against the largest atrocity that stemmed from antisemitism — genocide. By engaging and educating the community, the memorial envisions a time when prejudice, bigotry and hatred will be replaced with respect for all.
The memorial is working with Vermont lawmakers and educators to bring about legislation creating Holocaust and genocide standards for our schools’ curriculum and plans to host an educators’ workshop in March.
Vermont can be better than this. We must clean up the graffiti and teach our children and our neighbors what tolerance and inclusiveness means. We should reach out to those who worship differently or speak a different language or come from a different place. We can be kind.
On the Kristallnacht anniversary I ask you to take action to help repair the world. In Judaism we call this tikkun olam.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson said, “If you see what needs to be repaired and how to repair it, then you have found a piece of the world that God has left for you to complete. But if you only see what is wrong and what is ugly in the world, then it is you yourself that needs repair.”
Look at your corner of the world, find something that needs repair and then take action to fix it. You can help move the world beyond hate and maybe together we can pick up the broken shards of glass.
K. Heidi Fishman, a psychologist, is a Vermont Holocaust Memorial board member and author of “Tutti’s Promise.” She lives in Norwich. For more information, visit holocaustmemorial-vt.org.