Remember, never forget. A sentence I have heard hundreds of times throughout my life. But how do we really keep a memory alive? Honour people, history, hardships to the degree that they deserve? How can we ensure we do not just slip into a routine of commemoration?
Today is the 9th of November. 82 years ago tonight, on 9th November 1938, the Nazi regime carried out a pogrom against Jews and Jewish life in Germany. 267 synagogues were burned and destroyed that night, thousands of Jewish-owned shops ransacked, Jews were brutally attacked on the streets and over 30,000 Jews were deported to concentration camps. My great-grandfather was deported to Sachsenhausen that night. This was not an isolated incident, not a secret massacre or government-only execution. This was a violent attack that the German public did not hesitate to be part of and they fuelled the angry mob themselves.
Because of all the broken glass on the streets this pogrom is also called “Kristallnacht” (crystal night), although certainly more was destroyed than just a few shards of glass. Incidentally, that term was actually first mentioned by Joseph Goebbels who claimed only some “glass(/crystals)” was broken that night.
In Germany and in the worldwide Jewish community, 9th November is a known day to commemorate. However, over the years of becoming more active in interfaith spaces and being an activist outside of the Jewish community, I realised that this day, which was always so prominent to me growing up, might not be as known to the rest of the world.
Sometimes it seems people can only take so much commemoration over a period of time and then it loses its impact. On the one hand, that is completely understandable – there is certainly a degree of compassion, care and responsibility involved that can weigh quite heavy at times. It also involves an element of education – if a historic event is not taught or known to others, how can we expect it to be commemorated. On the other hand, there is the issue of Father Time. With every year passing, the people we are remembering move further and further away from us and becoming distant figures for younger generations. So every year, we not only honour days like 9th of November, but we find new words, new media, new ways to do so. Not only because it’s important to engage today’s society in those moments of remembrance but because the least we can do to remember those that suffered is to attempt to give those days a hint of the complexity and diversity of all those lives destroyed.
And so the call to action still stands: Remember, never forget! זכור אל תשכח