The rise of the Nazi Party to power in Germany during the early 1930s began the darkest period in Jewish history.
Adolf Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany, implemented a policy known as “the final solution” to exterminate European Jews during World War II.
On November 9 and 10, 1938 an act of destruction that swept across Germany, annexed Austria, Poland and areas of the Sudetenland in Czech Slovakia foreshadowed the atrocities that were to come.
What is now known as Kristallnacht, or “the night of broken glass”, marked the two days in which members of the Sturmabteilung (SA) and Hitler Youth smashed windows of Jewish businesses, burned synagogues and murdered dozens of Jewish people.
Seventy-four years later, on November 8 at Carmel Primary School in Yokine – Jews, Anglicans and Catholics gathered together to remember Kristallnacht and to better understand the importance of unity and the power of interfaith sharing.
Former Western Australian Supreme Court judge Kevin Parker was the keynote speaker at the event and reminded those present of the horrors of the Third Reich but also stressed the need to come together regardless of differences.
He quoted German theologian Pastor Martin Niemoller’s famous words:
“When Hitler attacked the Jews I was not a Jew, therefore I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the Catholics I wasn’t a Catholic, and therefore, I was not concerned. Then, Hitler attacked me and the Protestant Church – there was no one left to be concerned.”
Justice Parker said he never imagined he would see Catholics, Jews and Anglicans all together.
“We have come together as Jews and Christians to find a solution for the big issues facing humanity.”
He told The Record it was heartening to see such unity at the commemoration and the moving yet simple ceremony caught the essence of unity.
The solemn evening began with a rendition of Randall Stroope’s ‘Lamentations of Jeremiah’ sung by the St Stephen’s Singers.
The song is traditionally read during Tenebrae, which is the gradual extinguishing of candles while a series of reading and psalms are said during the last three days of Holy Week and mourns the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple in 6th century BC.
It is estimated six million Jews perished in the Holocaust, one million of which were Jewish children.
Council of Chrisitan and Jews WA Executive members Ken Arkwright and Eric Schneider read out the names of some of the concentration camps outloud while Carmel students Tamsin Eintracht and Lindsey Maunshewitz light candles to commemorate those who perished at places such as Auschwitz, Sobibor and Treblinka.
The Moderator of the Uniting Church Reverend Ron Larking lit a candle in memory of the righteous gentiles while Joondanna parish priest lit the eighth candle on behalf of the Archdiocese to honor of the memory of non-Jews who died because they were deemed by the Nazi Party to be racially inferior or undesirable.
“It was very solemn and very profound,” Fr Porteous said.
“We remember the destruction that division brings and the message is for unity and working with the will of God.”
“We should love and respect the diversity of faith and still be one, if we fail to respect diversity it brings about division and evil.”
After the lighting of the candles a two-minute silence was observed until the sound of breaking glass pierced through the silence from behind a thick velvet curtain.
The sound of the glass breaking seemed to last a lot longer than its intended 30 seconds and was an overwhelming moment for many of the members of the congregation who felt it was a glimpse into the horrors of the past.
Still, despite the shocking treatment meted out to the Jews under Adolf Hitler’s regime, while the commemoration remembered the victims it did not abandon hope and faith.
Prayers were led by Ms Judith Schneider, Committee Member of the CCJWA and the St Stephen’s Choir took to the stage, singing Inscription of Hope another song composed by Randall Stroope.
The lyrics were based on the words found on the walls of a cellar in Cologne, where Jews hid from the Nazis. They read:
“I believe, I believe in the sun even when it is not shining, I believe in love even when feeling it not, I believe in God even when God is silent.”
The introduction to the song summed up the theme of the evening:
“The song is a reminder of hope held firm which will eventually triumph against the greatest of odds.”
While the victims of Kristallnacht and those that perished during the Second World War were remembered, Judge Parker explained that even though the evil of the Third Reich has long since gone thanks to the efforts of the Allied countries who banded together to fight Nazism, acts of terror beyond our imaginations still occurred.
He cited Libya, Sudan and Yugoslavia as prime examples where unspeakable and horrific acts of oppression have been executed on people who shared a similar fate to the Jewish community.
“Kristallnacht is not only the memories of the Jewish people but it speaks to us all, to be cautious and to stress the need for vigilance against a totalitarian form of government,” Justice Parker said.
In honour of all who have died at the hands of a totalitarian regime the Candle of Hope was brought down the aisle, serving as a symbol of hope and liberation that light will overcome the darkness of war and hatred.
When The Candle was lit, members of the audience turned to each other and warmly shook hands with the traditional Jewish greeting: ‘Shalom, Peace.’
After the closing prayer, the hymn Let There Be Peace on Earth was sung led by the Sandwich Press, a male barbershop ensemble of St Stephen’s School.
“I thought it was wonderful,” said Perth priest Father John O’Reilly, who attended the commemoration together with seminarians from St Charles Seminary in Guilford.
“It was wonderful to see interfaith sharing and working for peace.”
In the words of Anne Frank, a 15-year-old victim of the Nazi Regime and wise beyond her years wrote in her diary:
“I simply cannot build my hopes on a foundation of confusion, misery and death. I think peace and tranquillity will return again.”