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14th Annual Kristallnacht Commemoration Set to Inspire

A special commemoration of Kristallnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass, will be held on Sunday, November 15 at 9 a.m. on Zoom.  This event is free and open to the public.

All are invited to a community-wide Kristallnacht Commemoration to be held at 9 a.m. on Sunday, November 15th, via Zoom.  This year’s Commemoration, presented by Congregation Or Shalom in Orange in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven, will honor the conscience and courage of Mr. Odd Nansen of Norway.

What was Kristallnacht?

The horrific event known as Kristallnacht, which took place on November 9th and 10th, 1938, is regarded by historians as the prelude to the Holocaust.  In the course of 48 hours, mobs rampaged throughout Nazi Germany, Austria and German-occupied Czechoslovakia, murdering, maiming and sending tens of thousands to concentration camps.  During those two days, hundreds of synagogues were fire bombed and thousands of Jewish-owned businesses were plundered.  The violence of those days would be infamously called “The Nights of Broken Glass” – “Kristallnacht”- referring to the shattered windowpanes that littered the streets in the aftermath of the nightmare.  Tragically, in the face of all this, the world was largely silent; almost no countries reached out to the Jews living under Nazism.  “That widespread inaction in the face of evil,” according to Rabbi Wainhaus of Congregation Or Shalom, “is all the more reason to highlight the moral courage shown by a few.  At our community’s Kristallnacht Commemoration, we focus on the unsung heroes whose life-saving acts defied the moral darkness of the Holocaust.  This year we’ll focus on the heroism of Odd Nansen of Norway.”

The Norwegian anti-Nazi resistance

As Adolf Hitler’s noose was tightening around the neck of German Jewry, Odd Nansen, a Norwegian architect, threw himself into the work of providing a haven for Jewish refugees and all who were fleeing Nazi persecution.  To that end, he and his wife Kari formed a humanitarian organization in Oslo called “Nansen-hjelpen” (“Nansen-Relief”) along with a Children’s Shelter.  On April 9, 1940, Norway was overrun by Nazi Germany.  Tragically, therefore, most of the Nansen’s refugees, along with many of Norway’s Jews were murdered by the Nazi regime.  Nansen’s staff at the Children’s Shelter, however, managed to rescue 14 of their children by secretly transporting them to neighboring Sweden.  These children survived the Holocaust and subsequently found new homes all over the world.

Meanwhile, Odd Nansen went underground and joined the Norwegian anti-Nazi resistance.  As a result, he was arrested by the Gestapo in 1942 and deported to the Nazi concentration camp at Sachsenhausen, Germany.  In Sachsenhausen, Nansen courageously maintained a secret diary on tissue-paper pages which included his drawings of the horrors of concentration camp life in real time.  (Nansen was a sketch-artist.)  This diary and its drawings, published after the war, provided an important first-hand account of the atrocities perpetrated at Sachsenhausen.  After the war, Nansen’s diary was published in Norway, where it was and still is widely known.  (The diary was re-published in 2016 under the title, “From Day to Day” by guest speaker Timothy Boyce.)

At Sachsenhausen, Odd Nansen risked his life to save a ten-year-old Jewish boy named Tommy who had miraculously survived the infamous death march from Auschwitz.  Today, Tommy is Professor Thomas Buergenthal, a former judge on the International Court of Justice at the Hague, and Professor Emeritus at George Washington University Law School in Washington, DC.  Years later, Professor Buergenthal would write, “Odd Nansen not only saved my life; he also enriched it with his philosophy of life.”

About the special commemoration Sunday, November 15 at 9 a.m. on Zoom

The event will begin with the lighting of a yellow Holocaust candle and brief remarks about the significance of Kristallnacht.  Mr. Timothy Boyce Esq. will eloquently recount Nansen’s life-saving work, and Senator Richard Blumenthal will present Odd Nansen with a posthumous U.S. Senate Commendation.  The Nansen family in Oslo will “virtually” receive the Commendation in the presence of Odd Nansen’s rescuees.  This Commemoration will be emceed by Rabbi Alvin Wainhaus, spiritual leader of Congregation Or-Shalom, and Judy Alperin, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven.

Please sign up for this event at jewishnewhaven.org/Kristallnacht.  Pre-registration is required.

This event is presented by Congregation Or Shalom in Orange, in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven.  Thank you to our co-sponsors:  the Jewish Community Relations Council of the United Jewish Federation, the Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County, the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut, the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, the Jewish Federation of Western Connecticut, and UJA-JCC Greenwich.

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