Remembering Kristallnacht – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Remembering Kristallnacht

Seventy-two years ago, two November nights of broken glass foreshadowed unthinkable horrors in Europe.  Houses, places of worship, and countless other important buildings in Jewish communities were destroyed in what is today known as the Kristallnacht.   “Most historians mark this as the beginning of the Holocaust because it was the first public display of violence against German Jews, showing what the Nazis were capable of,” explains Professor of Religious Studies Michael Dobkowski.

Dobkowski, with the aid of HWS students, reflected on Kristallnacht during a remembrance ceremony held Nov. 10 in the Blackwell Room.  “It’s especially important to remember Kristallnacht because it can remind us of the dangers of standing aside while others are suffering,” remarks Dobkowski.  “On this campus, we have the opportunity to learn and to inform.  This presentation was taking that opportunity.”

During the course of the remembrance, students who took part in “The March: Bearing Witness to Hope,” a student leadership program and mission to Germany and Poland, spoke on their experiences visiting the death camps and speaking with Holocaust scholars and survivors.  “By going to Europe for the March and standing on the streets in the shadow of these buildings that were destroyed 70 years ago, the students have a physical memory which is much more powerful,” says Dobkowski, who leads the trip every other year.  “One student worded it as remembering events through her feet.”

A major focus of the remembrance was the Wannsee Conference.  Held on Jan. 20, 1942, the Wannsee Conference was the beginning of the final solution. “When we arrived in Berlin, Wannsee was so beautiful, it was hard to believe such an evil event happened here,” said Beth O’Connor ’12.  

Not only did the remembrance and presentation allow students who attended the march to reflect on their experiences, but it generated important discussion for all in attendance.  “The March helps students to think through difficult issues and questions,” explains Dobkowski.

Above all, one must not think that the horrors of Kristallnacht and the events of the Holocaust should be repressed or forgotten; the point of the Kristallnacht Remembrance is quite the opposite, in fact.  “It’s important to remember the crimes of the past; they can enable us to be sensitive to the crimes of the present and the future,” says Dobkowski.  “We owe it to the victims as fellow human beings.  We can’t bring back their lost lives, but we can bring back the memory of what happened – it really is the least we can do.”