November 7, 2018

The 80th Anniversary of Kristallnacht Ushers in a Three-Part Lecture Series on the Jewish Experience

Kristallnacht Night of Broken Glass

On Nov. 9, 1938, Nazi soldiers stormed cities in Germany and Austria, setting fire to synagogues and destroying Jewish homes, schools, and businesses. Thousands of Jewish citizens were arrested and sent to concentration camps and nearly 100 Jews were killed. The event, known as Kristallnacht or the “Night of Broken Glass,” ushered in the Holocaust.

“With the 80th anniversary it’s an important time to reflect and educate people about how traumatic this particular incident was,” says Jonathan C. Friedman, professor of history and director of West Chester University’s Holocaust and Genocide Studies master’s program. “This was the moment many Jews decided they had to flee Germany.”

Friedman will elaborate on the significance of Kristallnacht in a commemorative presentation on Thursday, Nov. 8, opening a special series of three November lectures focusing on historical and contemporary Jewish experiences. All three sessions will be held at 7 p.m. in Sykes Student Union Theater and are free and open to the public.

Friedman will discuss how the massacres in Frankfurt, Giessen, and Geisenheim impacted Jewish citizens and how Christians responded to the violence.

“The three towns are in the heartland of Germany,” he says. “Frankfurt had the second largest Jewish population prior to 1933, Giessen has a Protestant majority, and Geisenheim is Catholic.” The latter two towns provide an interesting contrast to Frankfurt in terms of demography and social structure. The lecture will conclude with a question and answer session.

Friedman began planning the series two years ago. “I tend to plan a lot of my programming around anniversaries. I consider what happened in the timeline of Holocaust history and plan according to that and what the students would like to see as far as programs.”

On Tuesday, Nov. 13, Robert Miller, ordinary professor of Old Testament at Catholic University will discuss his book The Dragon, the Mountain, and the Nations: An Old Testament Myth, Its Origins, and Its Afterlives. The story explores the origins and meanings of a myth that plays a crucial role in the Hebrew Bible and an important role in the New Testament: the biblical myth of Daniel slaying an infamous dragon (or serpent) that the Babylonians worshipped.

The series concludes on Thursday, Nov. 29, with a program that compares and contrasts the experiences of LGBT Jews in the United States and the United Kingdom. Steven Henry Goldring, a San Francisco-based AIDS activist and musician, will talk about his memoir Unbelievable, which relates his experiences of coming out to his family at age 21, being the only Jewish family in his hometown of Orville, Ohio, and his pain as a man living with HIV.

Goldring is joined by international public speaker Surat-Shaan Knan, founder and manager of Rainbow Jews and Twilight People. Launched in 2012, Rainbow Jews is a pioneering oral history project that records and showcases Jewish LGBTQ history from the 1950s to today. Twilight People explores and celebrates the hidden history of transgendered and gender variant people of faith.

WCU has been a pioneer in Holocaust Studies since 1978, when an undergraduate course in the Holocaust was first offered. The program now includes a master of arts in Holocaust and genocide studies, a certification program, an undergraduate minor, a regional education center, and a library collection.

For additional information, contact Jonathan Friedman.