Meir Fachler

Kristallnacht – 85 Years On

Today is November 9th, exactly 85 years since Kristallnacht, that took place on November 9th 1938. 

10 years ago, my late father Eli Fachler at the tender age of 90 years young, was invited to be the main speaker at the official 75th year commemoration of Kristallnacht. The event was organized by the Jewish community of Germany, the German Government and the Conference of European Rabbis and was held at the Beis Zion Synagogue in Berlin where my father and family were members up until the outbreak of WW2. 

My father was escorted by an entourage of 26 family members who made the trip from Israel, the UK and the US in order to witness this amazing closing of a circle. It really exceeded all expectations and after my father spoke he received a standing ovation. 

During his address, my father mentioned that as he watched the events as they unfolded on that fateful night from the Fachler apartment window, at some stage the mob that had totally vandalized the shul, left and moved out to the courtyard. One of them looked up to the adjacent apartment building where the Fachlers lived. My father recalls: “All of a sudden we hear a loud half-drunk voice: “Are there still Jews left alive up there? Are there still Jews left alive up there?” I froze. I started to shake. I couldn’t move. This was the first and only time I feared for my life. “Are there still Jews left alive up there?” I stood there, paralyzed, I couldn’t move. Thank God, no one spoke… and they left.”

Kristallnacht is viewed by many as a great turning point in the history of the Holocaust. Some 100 people were murdered that night, and approximately 30,000 were arrested and sent to Nazi concentration camps – most never to return.

Soon after Kristallnacht, my father and his sister Miriam left Germany on the Kindertransport. But his parents were deported to Poland and were eventually murdered in the Holocaust.

This was a classic first-hand witness account of the beginning of the Nazi solution to the Jewish question and the ensuing Holocaust. All of us gathered at that event viewed this as a classic Holocaust story, a history lesson, a story that happened 75 years ago, a story that depicts the decimation of a third of the Jewish people.  

The stories that we hear from the Hamas massacre on October 7th just over a month ago bear a chilling resemblance to my father’s recalling  “Are there still Jews left alive up there?” How many people, in hiding from the marauding murderous mob, heard these or similar words – in Arabic, not in German? For how many was it the last words they ever heard before they were slaughtered and how many survived to tell the tale?

The murder of over 1400 (predominantly) Jewish souls that day was a pogrom of epic proportions, a pogrom that we are all still reeling from, and will do so for many years to come. 

10 years ago listening to my father speak, we never imagined that the events that occurred on October 7th could ever happen, that we would experience a massacre of Jewish souls of such huge proportions, 85 years after Kristallnacht. And yet here we are today and it really did happen. And we have to struggle and come to terms with the gruesome murder of over 1400 innocent souls, and some 240 individuals kidnapped and held as captives in Gaza. 

The comparison between these events shocks us to the very core.  And yet we are also aware of the difference between what happened in Europe from 1938 till 1945 and what happened to us on October 7th. Then we had no one to protect and defend us Jews from our enemies, no one who would retaliate, no one to create a deterrence, no one to ensure that this is the last pogrom, ever. And yes, it should come as no surprise that one of the world’s oldest and fatal diseases – antisemitism, is still alive and has now raised its ugly head all around the world and not just within extreme Islamic fundamentalism but also in what we considered to be enlightened Western societies. 

The game-changing difference between now and then is that now we have a State of Israel, a thriving democratic and boisterous society with its institutions of State, including its own Police Force, Courts System, and of course the Israel Defense Forces. We are no longer at the mercy of whatever our host country has decided to do to us simply because we are Jews. We are no longer alone. Israel is in a position to protect its citizens as well as all Jews around the world, to retaliate, and to create a deterrence. The antisemites of this world are in shock that after thousands of years, Jews are fighting back. They better get used to it and understand the consequences of the Zionist revolution. Unaccountable open season on the Jews is over.

We are privileged to live in a generation that is witnessing this unbelievable change-around. The October 7th massacre should never have happened. But it did, and as a result we and our children and all of Am Yisrael unite, serve in the IDF, including reserve duty, and witness how Jews will simply not take this lying down, will fight back, and prevail. My murdered grandparents never dreamed that their grandchildren and great grandchildren would be serving in the IDF and fighting back as Jews against the evil that all antisemites wish to bring upon the Jews.

The mission statement of the State of Israel is to be a Homeland for Jews from all over the world – a safe haven from a hostile non-Jewish world, as well as being a dynamic laboratory where we can experiment in looking for ways to develop and build an ideal society that can eventually fulfill the Biblical prophesy of being “A light unto the Nations”.

As my father concluded his address in Berlin 10 years ago: Shehecheyanu, Vekiyamanu, Vehigiyanu Lazman Hazeh – Blessed be the Lord who has kept us alive, who has sustained us, and has brought us to this unique time! 


About the Author
Meir Fachler is the director of Gemara Berura, a web-app for learning and teaching Talmud.
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