75th Anniversary of the Horrors of Kristallnacht

How many times have you heard it said that 80 is the new 60 and 30 is the new 20?

A referendum in New York elections this week proposes that the mandatory retirement age for judges be increased from 70 to 80. Judges have argued that with longevity and advances in health care, 80 is the new 60 in mental acuity, even if physical ailments may require a judge to use a cane.

A 20-year-old once dreamt of being a millionaire by age 30. With technology advancing at such a rapid pace, with new apps designed by 20-year-olds and sold to software giants for mega millions — this all makes a 30-year-old long to talk like a 20-year-old, to make him feel he is still in the game.

Through what prism should we view the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht this Saturday, November 9? Is it the new 50 and wash away a few years or decades of the devastation brought upon European Jewry that infamous night?

If you watched your business torn apart that night, it’s a full 75 years. If you witnessed Torah Scrolls removed from your synagogue strewn and burnt on the street, it’s seared in your memory. If your spouse and children were killed in a concentration camp, not many days go by without a wistful thought of them. If you still suffer physical or emotional pain today from your months or years in a concentration camp, every day of the 75 years is a rekindled memory.

If you are a child of a survivor, you cannot forget the silences, the loneliness of a parent in whom the horrors of his or her war experiences were deeply embedded.

An anniversary is a day to remember.

Be it a wedding day, the first day on a job that you can vest your pension five or ten years hence or the many special milestones in your life, such enjoyable anniversary days are long savored.

So, too, traumatic anniversary days are never forgotten.

Every survivor who was victimized on Kristallnacht, whose memory is not diminished by dementia or Alzheimer’s, can recall that night. Every concentration camp survivor can describe, in all the time you have to listen, details of their days of hell as well as their day of liberation.

I recently attended a lecture and saw a new video on America and the Holocaust organized by Project Witness. Survivors were interviewed. Luminaries and leaders of the world Jewish community reflected on how a civilized people can follow a maniacal racist bent on eradicating a nation. It was a powerful evening to watch, listen and learn. The problem was that the majority of participants were septuagenarians and older — the very people who need the least reminding.

No, 75 years since Kristallnacht is not the new 60 or 50 or any other year. It remains a full 75 years. We should use this day and other Shoah anniversaries to remind ourselves (as if we need a reminder!) to understand that a civilized society is, in fact, capable of such cataclysmic behavior. Moreover, we should teach our children that while 80 may be the new 60 and 30 the new 20, certain anniversaries remain their true age.

This year the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht is 75. For those who lived it, it may be just another day. For the rest of us it is a day in infamy.


David Mandel is CEO of OHEL.