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How can it be that as we commemorate the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, we are speaking about the cold-blooded murder of Jews at prayer—not as a matter of historical record, but as a point of breaking news?

Eighty years ago, on November 9-10, 1938, Nazi-organized mobs across Germany and Austria torched synagogues, looted Jewish homes and schools, and murdered 91 Jews.

In Magdeburg—a city with a Jewish presence dating back to the 10th century—Jewish shops were pillaged, their windows smashed by axe-wielding SS men. From Baden-Baden to Hamburg, more than a thousand synagogues were gutted, and 30,000 Jews arrested for the crime of existing. In Vienna, where 18 synagogues were bombed and set ablaze, the mob brought Torah scrolls and prayer shawls out into the street, piled them up and burned them, to the applause of the crowd.

We know what followed.

Historians now refer to Kristallnacht as a prelude, a precursor, a foretelling of the coming Holocaust. But at the time, the gleeful pogrom was reported in The New York Times as “a day of terror surpassing anything even the Third Reich has seen.”

Today, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, we light candles to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht. But as we do, we carry in our minds the massacre of 11 Jews at Tree of Life * Or L’Simcha Congregation in Pittsburgh.

This wasn’t supposed to happen in America. Twenty years ago, the Museum of Jewish Heritage was dedicated by Holocaust survivors. Starting over after unimaginable devastation, they had all sought in America a country that “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” Those words were written by none other than George Washington, after he visited a synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island in 1790.

To be sure, America has not always kept these promises. But it is all of our sacred duties to remind each other of these promises and to redouble our efforts to keep them—not only for Jews, but for all. At the Museum, Holocaust education inspires students to practice tolerance, and to resist in-group pressures towards racial and religious bigotry.

This is the vision we share, and these are the freedoms we cherish. It is this America that our community of refugees and survivors sought on our shores.

Let Pittsburgh never be spoken of as a “prelude.”

Bruce C. Ratner
Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust

Michael S. Glickman
President & CEO
Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust