Kristallnacht Memories and the Ground Zero Mosque

Next month, some of us will be commemorating the 72nd anniversary of Kristallnacht -- the Night of Broken Glass, as it is so vividly referred to. On the night of November 9, 1938, synagogues all over Germany were destroyed, the windows of Jewish-owned shops were smashed and the merchandise looted, Jewish schools and community institutions were laid to ruin, and Jewish residents were beaten, arrested, and sometimes killed.

My family lived in the city of Breslau. I was seven years old and staying at my aunt's apartment. Late that afternoon, we heard a mob of singing and laughing merrymakers invading the building, waving Nazi flags and hurling threats as they headed for the small synagogue tucked away in a corner of the backyard. Soon we heard the sound of shattered glass.

Terrified, my young cousins and I cowered under the windowsill, furtively watching as the Torahs were thrown into the yard, unfurled, trampled, ripped, and spat upon.

That night's well-coordinated attacks marked a turning point in the Nazi's escalating persecution of Jews. Kristallnacht is widely viewed by historians as the opening shot of the most virulent phase of the Holocaust, in which six million Jews were murdered over the next seven years. 

The next morning, walking with my mother through streets still littered with shards of broken glass, we came upon the site of the city's main synagogue. Like many synagogues in Europe, the building itself had stood unobtrusively behind a thick wall, not visible from the street. The prudent placement of synagogues was intended to offer them and their worshipers a measure of protection from the periodic anti-Semitic outpourings they were subjected to.

But that night, there was no protection to be found. The stately synagogue had not escaped the mob's fury, nor had the nearby Jewish school I attended. The signs of the night's rampage were all around us -- in the ripped prayer books strewn in the courtyard, the gaping doors smashed open by brute force, and the piles of shards from the shattered windows. 



These memories came flooding back to me when I saw the newly released design for the  Ground Zero Mosque. At first glance, the design is attractive, featuring a quasi-Moorish motif with modern abstract touches. But as I looked more closely, I perceived that aesthetics have been used here in the service of an ideological agenda completely alien to the America, my land of refuge. In shock, I noticed a pattern of intertwined cascading Stars of David that disintegrate on their downward path. Could it imply anything else but a not-so-hidden message to Israel and to America's Jews? Watch out! Be afraid! We are here to make you do our bidding!




             


The sponsors of the mosque will decry this interpretation and perhaps change the façade's appearance in response to criticism. But the questions will not go away: is this design a warning meant to instill fear in America's Jews? 

After all, the builders of the mosque insist on erecting a sixteen-story structure within the ghostly shadows of the missing World Trade Towers, where once they stood before their murderous destruction by Islamic terrorists on September 11, 2001. The area is sacred ground -- the graveyard of three thousand innocent people, forever mourned by their families, their fellow citizens, and an entire nation.

The point has been made that this plan is insensitive, highly offensive to the families whose pain is still raw. That it is, but it is much more than that -- it is a clear, deliberate affront to the American people, an arrogant display of victory by the perpetrators of this unspeakable crime. To assure that the whole world grasps the subliminal message, the initial announcement projected an unrealistic but symbolic opening date: September 11, 2011. There was no chance of missing the triumphal declaration of victory: just look at us now! A mere decade after we crushed a powerful symbol of America's ethos, we are grinding its face in the dust. We turned Americans' protections of religious freedom against them, cleverly playing the injured party victimized by intolerance and religious discrimination. It worked!

And now comes the unveiling of the design itself, with its unsettling evocation of Jewish symbols in free-fall. Is the design inadvertent, produced without any awareness that a nefarious  motive can be read into it? If so, it lays bare the promoters' total incomprehension of what America is about. They have a lot to learn, and a short time in which to do it.

Recalling that little girl walking with her mom through the shards of glass that littered the streets of Breslau on that November morning in 1938, I fear for my grandchildren.

Gisele Bierzon has enjoyed freedom and safety in America since 1946.
Next month, some of us will be commemorating the 72nd anniversary of Kristallnacht -- the Night of Broken Glass, as it is so vividly referred to. On the night of November 9, 1938, synagogues all over Germany were destroyed, the windows of Jewish-owned shops were smashed and the merchandise looted, Jewish schools and community institutions were laid to ruin, and Jewish residents were beaten, arrested, and sometimes killed.

My family lived in the city of Breslau. I was seven years old and staying at my aunt's apartment. Late that afternoon, we heard a mob of singing and laughing merrymakers invading the building, waving Nazi flags and hurling threats as they headed for the small synagogue tucked away in a corner of the backyard. Soon we heard the sound of shattered glass.

Terrified, my young cousins and I cowered under the windowsill, furtively watching as the Torahs were thrown into the yard, unfurled, trampled, ripped, and spat upon.

That night's well-coordinated attacks marked a turning point in the Nazi's escalating persecution of Jews. Kristallnacht is widely viewed by historians as the opening shot of the most virulent phase of the Holocaust, in which six million Jews were murdered over the next seven years. 

The next morning, walking with my mother through streets still littered with shards of broken glass, we came upon the site of the city's main synagogue. Like many synagogues in Europe, the building itself had stood unobtrusively behind a thick wall, not visible from the street. The prudent placement of synagogues was intended to offer them and their worshipers a measure of protection from the periodic anti-Semitic outpourings they were subjected to.

But that night, there was no protection to be found. The stately synagogue had not escaped the mob's fury, nor had the nearby Jewish school I attended. The signs of the night's rampage were all around us -- in the ripped prayer books strewn in the courtyard, the gaping doors smashed open by brute force, and the piles of shards from the shattered windows. 



These memories came flooding back to me when I saw the newly released design for the  Ground Zero Mosque. At first glance, the design is attractive, featuring a quasi-Moorish motif with modern abstract touches. But as I looked more closely, I perceived that aesthetics have been used here in the service of an ideological agenda completely alien to the America, my land of refuge. In shock, I noticed a pattern of intertwined cascading Stars of David that disintegrate on their downward path. Could it imply anything else but a not-so-hidden message to Israel and to America's Jews? Watch out! Be afraid! We are here to make you do our bidding!




             


The sponsors of the mosque will decry this interpretation and perhaps change the façade's appearance in response to criticism. But the questions will not go away: is this design a warning meant to instill fear in America's Jews? 

After all, the builders of the mosque insist on erecting a sixteen-story structure within the ghostly shadows of the missing World Trade Towers, where once they stood before their murderous destruction by Islamic terrorists on September 11, 2001. The area is sacred ground -- the graveyard of three thousand innocent people, forever mourned by their families, their fellow citizens, and an entire nation.

The point has been made that this plan is insensitive, highly offensive to the families whose pain is still raw. That it is, but it is much more than that -- it is a clear, deliberate affront to the American people, an arrogant display of victory by the perpetrators of this unspeakable crime. To assure that the whole world grasps the subliminal message, the initial announcement projected an unrealistic but symbolic opening date: September 11, 2011. There was no chance of missing the triumphal declaration of victory: just look at us now! A mere decade after we crushed a powerful symbol of America's ethos, we are grinding its face in the dust. We turned Americans' protections of religious freedom against them, cleverly playing the injured party victimized by intolerance and religious discrimination. It worked!

And now comes the unveiling of the design itself, with its unsettling evocation of Jewish symbols in free-fall. Is the design inadvertent, produced without any awareness that a nefarious  motive can be read into it? If so, it lays bare the promoters' total incomprehension of what America is about. They have a lot to learn, and a short time in which to do it.

Recalling that little girl walking with her mom through the shards of glass that littered the streets of Breslau on that November morning in 1938, I fear for my grandchildren.

Gisele Bierzon has enjoyed freedom and safety in America since 1946.