Above: The Kristallnacht remembrance Nov. 9 at Westminster Unitarian Church.
By Ethan Hart, EGHS reporter
Earlier this month, the Westminster Unitarian Church hosted their annual memorial of Kristallnacht, 85 years to the day it occurred, on Nov. 9, 1938. Outside the church, at 7 p.m., a group of about 15 gathered with candles and blankets to note the anniversary and, importantly, never forget.
Kristallnacht – the “night of broken glass” – was an overnight pogrom in which thousands of Jewish businesses and synagogues were destroyed by Nazi rioters. It represented a precursor to the much larger Holocaust, and a clear signal to German and Austrian Jews that rhetoric was now reality, and the once unthinkable was now unavoidable.
Leading the vigil in East Greenwich were three local religious leaders: Eric Cherry, interim minister at Westminster Unitarian; Ari Saks, rabbi at Temple Torat Yisrael; and Thom Blackstone, minister at the United Methodist Church. The interfaith congregation sent a powerful message that while hate discriminates, compassion doesn’t. Through Biblical verses, joyful Hebrew and English songs, and shared contemplation, all three faith leaders communicated the importance of guarding against hate.
Rabbi Saks spoke over Zoom to the candlelit congregation about the history of antisemitism, from its biblical roots, through the horror of Kristallnacht and the Holocaust, to the present day.
He also explained the phrase, “Never forget,” which holds unique and multifaceted significance to Jews. But while memory of the past is essential, humanity demands conscious effort in the present if the perils of another Kristallnacht, which could befall any people at any time, is to be avoided.
Reverend Cherry read a quote by Martin Niemöller to demonstrate the danger of indifference. As a Lutheran minister in Germany during the Holocaust, Niemöller himself made the grave mistake of ignorance, which he described after surviving the regime.
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists. And I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me— and there was no one left to speak for me.”
While the gathering captured the solemnity of the anniversary, the congregation embodied the virtue it prioritized. The warm welcome of Rev. Cherry and the generous pile of blankets his congregation provided was enough for sadness to fade and light and hope to replace it. Leaving the vigil, on the anniversary of one of the lowest points in humanity, one could not help but feel uniquely optimistic for its future.
Ethan Hart is a junior at East Greenwich High School.