Historic Kristallnacht Contest Culminates in Exhibition

Enthusiastic groups of girls from a variety of schools in Brooklyn and beyond mingled with their mothers and teachers, as well as Holocaust survivors, educators and researchers, as they examined the exhibits at the inspirational event that took place on Asarah B’Teves/December 18, at Agudas Yisroel Bais Binyomin on Avenue L in Brooklyn.

This November 9-10, 2018, marked 80 years since the Reich’s Pogrom Night, known as Kristallnacht, that symbolizes the onset of Nazi Germany’s violence against its Jews. That night, 1400 synagogues and Jewish businesses across the Reich (Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland) were vandalized and burned while the German police and fire departments were ordered to stand by and do nothing to prevent the destruction of Jewish holy sites.

Project Witness researcher Ms. Rochel Licht prepared educational materials about Kristallnacht that were presented at a teacher-training event in mid-October, empowering educators to transmit the history and significance of this tragedy and the events that led up to it. Included in the packet was detailed historical information about some of the many shuls that were destroyed on Kristallnacht and throughout the Holocaust years. Students from around the country were invited to submit their literature, artwork and music relating to Kristallnacht and what shuls, and davening in general, meant to them.

Over 250 submissions arrived from around the country, from Portland to St. Louis, from Chicago to Queens. They came in droves by mail, truck, and personal delivery. They came from middle- and high-school girls and mesivta boys in schools across the spectrum of Orthodoxy. Over 100 of the submissions were in the literature category — heartfelt poems, inspiring essays, and riveting narratives. They were joined by dozens of submissions of art, music and crafts.

At the event, participants listened as Mrs. Devorah Schechter, educational director of Project Witness, judge of the literature submissions, introduced special guest Rebbetzin Chana Wesel, beloved mechaneches at Bais Yaakov High School and Seminary, who escaped with her family from Vienna at the age of seven just days before Kristallnacht. She described her family’s miraculous escape and the terrible choice her father had to make in leaving her grandfather behind, since he was a Hungarian citizen and the Hungarian quota had already been filled. She also spoke about her search for information about her grandfather’s fate*. She exhorted the audience not to become complacent and comfortable and always remember that we are in galus.

Rabbi Moshe Tuvia Lieff, Mara d’Asra of Agudas Yisroel Bais Binyomin, commented that Asarah B’Teves was a most fitting day to commemorate Kristallnacht. He explained that according to halachah, if Asarah B’Teves were to fall on Shabbos (technically impossible according to our current calendar), we would be required to fast.

“Why,” asked Rabbi Lieff, “is Asarah B’Teves more stringent in this regard than Tishah B’Av, the day the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, which we push off to Sunday when it falls on Shabbos?”

He answered that Asarah B’Teves was the start of the siege by Nevuchadnetzar that heralded and ultimately culminated in the Churban Beis Hamikdash. Similarly, Kristallnacht was the start of the terrible Churban Europa that followed for several long years.

In the center of the room, surrounded by creative and colorful submissions, an old metal folding bed, slightly rusted and with parts of the springs missing, was incongruously perched on a display table and surrounded by candles. The sign leaning on the bed’s head revealed its significance: This bed saved its owner’s life during Kristallnacht.

It told the story of the parents of Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum*, who were then living in Vienna. The bed, similar to one of today’s high-risers, folded under his mother’s bed, and his father hid there while the Nazis stormed his home. Seeing his mother sleeping on the top bed, they left, failing to notice his father cowering underneath. The bed that saved his father’s life eventually made its way along with the couple to England, and then to America.

After Rebbetzin Wesel’s moving talk, Mrs. Schechter revealed two surprise guests to the audience: Rabbi Moshe and Mrs. Shulamis Teitelbaum, son and daughter-in-law of Rabbi Yaakov Teitelbaum, who was saved by the bed on display!

Speaking directly to the youngsters in attendance, Mrs. Schechter closed the event with the following poignant words, “We need you because you are the ones to continue the chain.  You are our future, and we’re counting on you!”

Rena and Malka Wachsman Torah Prep School St Louis


Winning Entries

Here’s a glimpse into just a few of many submissions and a bit about what inspired the students to create them:

The high-school winner of the craft category, Tzippy Fuchs, an eleventh-grader at Nefesh Academy in Brooklyn, shared, “I was inspired to build a model of the Bornplatz Shul in Hamburg, Germany, built in the 1850s, due to its beauty and history. It was a very big and popular shul in Germany and its Rav was Rabbi Joseph Carlebach, who refused to leave his congregants behind and was later murdered with his wife and younger children.”

One side of her superb recreation showed the shul at the height of its glory and highlighted its stunning architecture. The other side of her exhibit showed how the shul was destroyed by the Nazis during Kristallnacht. Tzippy’s immense artistic talent and passion for Holocaust-related issues was apparent in her magnificent submission, which took her over a month to complete. “What the Nazis took from us was not just a building,” she said.

The middle-school winner of the craft category, Esti Greenfeld, eighth-grader at Bais Yaakov of Boro Park, depicted the Ohel Jakob Synagogue in Germany, also destroyed during Kristallnacht. Her detailed submission was lit up by a light display that symbolized the burning of the shul. In front of the shul lay a bucket of water, reminding viewers that the German firefighters doused non-Jewish buildings with water to prevent damage to them, while they stood idly by as Jewish shuls went up in flames.

One of the winners in the middle-school art category consisted of a picture of a shul on a mirrored background of thousands of hole-punched dots. Artists Rena and Malka Wachsman, sixth- and eighth-graders at Torah Prep School of St. Louis, Missouri, wrote that the numerous dots that composed their picture symbolized the many shuls that were destroyed during Kristallnacht and during the Holocaust.

Another outstanding submission, by Geulah Pinchasov and Batya Katayav of Shevach High School in Queens, depicted the Zabłudów Shul, painted entirely gold to symbolize that “even though the shul was destroyed during this terrible time in our nation’s history, the tefillos that were davened there and that we continue to daven today remain pure and unsullied.”