“I can’t remember what night it was when the signal came, officially unleashing hell,” wrote Margaret Singer in the poem she read to members of Congregation B’nai B’rith Tuesday night (November 9). She was speaking of her memories of Kristallnacht, the horrific Nazi razing of Jewish temples and stores that occurred 72 years ago all across Germany. Singer united with fellow Kristallnacht witnesses Mike Wolff and Edie Ostern to share their experiences with members of the Jewish congregation on the anniversary of the event. They were joined by Reverend Aaron McEmrys of the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara; both congregations’ choirs performed together as part of the emotion-heavy memorial.
The event, whose name translates as “Night of the Broken Glass,” is considered by many to mark the start of the Holocaust; the name comes from the shattered glass that littered the streets the morning after. Nazis desecrated and burnt synagogues and destroyed shops owned by Jews as part of a government-encouraged “retaliation.”
Although Congregation B’nai B’rith holds a memorial each year on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, this year was the first time they played host to McEmrys and his choir. The partnership was birthed from a sermon McEmrys gave last spring about the Christian leader Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who died in a concentration camp for working to help Jews escape persecution during the height of the Holocaust.
Cantor Mark Childs asked McEmrys to give the same presentation for their Kristallnacht commemoration. The joined choirs performed music set to the words of Bonhoeffer, and the Congregation’s Kristallnacht survivors shared their storied before McEmrys took the stage to share his sermon.
Edie Ostern, who was not yet one year old when the Kristallnacht happened, shared the stories her son had gathered on Ostern’s father’s experiences of the Holocaust, including one of the many postcards he had written his wife with information on important family documents and coded messages. Mike Wolff was barely a toddler when he became part of the “Kinder Transport” of 10,000 Jewish children to the United Kingdom; he lived separated from his family until finally reuniting with them in Bolivia and eventually making it into the United States. Margaret Margaret Singer’s poetry reflected her emotional and lifelong pain that came from having witnessed the Holocaust.
Rabbi Steve Cohen says he’d like to continue the partnership with the Unitarian Society with this and other events. Indeed, the dead silence of the audience reflected the powerful emotion that came from the two group’s shared pain for the tragedy of Kristallnacht. As McEmrys recounted the story of Bonhoeffer’s return to Germany from America to help Jews escape — a decision that ultimately cost him his life — cheeks grew wet with the tears of a sadness that cannot be forgotten.