Kristallnacht: 75 Years Later

November 5, 2013


Seventy-five years after Kristallnacht transformed Germany’s streets into a terrifying mosaic of broken glass, the country of about 250,000 Jews — the world’s eighth-largest Jewish population — has rebounded to become a haven for Jewish innovation and education.

JDC has been a core partner in the effort to rebuild Germany’s Jewish culture.

The organization’s role centers on “partnering with Jewish communities in developing programs, projects, and leadership and professional training to revitalize Jewish life in Germany after the mass migration of Russian-speaking Jewry in the ‘90s and beyond,” said Lili Furman, JDC’s representative in Germany.

JDC was historically very active in Germany, and after the rise of Hitler’s Nazi regime enabled 110,000 Jews to leave the country before 1939. By late 1945, Jewish Holocaust survivors clustered in Displaced Persons camps throughout Germany, Austria, and Italy were given emergency aid by JDC — everything from holiday provisions and books to typewriters and Torah scrolls.

Now JDC’s signature program in Germany is Bambinim-Berlin, a project for Jewish families with small children that places an emphasis on Jewish culture and tradition.

Bambinim creates a space where young families can meet in a Jewish environment and learn together, celebrating holidays with activities that target the full spectrum of religious denominations that comprise Germany’s Jewish community. JDC works in conjunction with Chabad, Masorti, Lauder Yeshurun, the Jewish Community of Berlin, and the city’s different kindergartens and synagogues to provide high-quality programming for children and families.

Activities at the center are conducted in English, Russian, German, and Hebrew, and revolve around the Jewish calendar. They are designed to foster motor, emotional, cognitive, and oral communication skills in German Jewish children.

“Jewish life is becoming increasingly spiritual and interesting, especially in the big communities where there is a lot of multiculturalism and religious diversity,” Furman said. “The local Jewish communities are doing a great and not easy job in working with a very diverse population and in supporting Jewish education and religious education.”

In addition to Bambinim, JDC coordinates:

  • Young Generation programs targeting people in their 20s and 30s, held in conjunction with the Jewish Community of Cologne
  • Family Learning Days, where a team of four educators come to the community four times a year to teach about a Jewish issue or holiday
  • Librarian meetings and matching grant projects, where librarians are able to network, learn together, and apply for funds to buy books
  • Leadership training
  • Jewish film nights in Berlin and other cities

JDC is focused on the future of German Jewry, Furman said.

“Kristallnacht shows how the forces of evil, of complicity, and of indifference can have the upper hand and destroy a group, a culture, a nation, a continent, if we are not careful,” she said. “JDC works today in Germany with an optimistic vision of the future, reinforcing the vital, deep, and happiest aspects of Judaism — enhancing the memory of the past, through study, reflections, and commemorations.”

JDC’s JCC Without Walls Initiative in Germany is generously supported by The Thalheimer Foundation.

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