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Fuchs to deliver invocation, share father’s story of Kristalnacht


PHOTO PROVIDED Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs

The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee has invited Rabbi Stephen Fuchs, with the Bat Yam Temple of the Islands, to deliver in a pre-recorded video an invocation and a brief story of his father’s journey as a survivor of the Night of Broken Glass.

Kristalnacht or the Night of Broken Glass, also called the November Pogrom, was a pogrom against Jewish people and property throughout Nazi Germany on Nov. 9-10, 1938. The name comes from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after windows of stores, buildings and synagogues were smashed. Thirty thousand Jewish men were beaten, arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps.

Fuchs’ father was one of 500 men rounded up and arrested in Leipzig and taken to the zoo. They were stood in a stream, where they were spat on, cursed and worse, before being taken in trains to the Dachau concentration camp. Historians view Kristalnacht as a prelude to the murder of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust.

“We gather together tonight in honor of God’s sacred command ‘Remember,'” Fuchs shared in his invocation. “Remember that night when precious scrolls were ripped from their arks, stomped beneath Nazi jackboots, remember how windows in homes, shops and synagogues were smashed … after that horrible night no one could doubt what Hitler’s purpose was, but we endure. Bless those survivors and we remember with gratitude and bless the righteous among non-Jews who put themselves in danger helping Jews to survive. With memory comes awesome responsibility — never to turn aside in the face of evil.”

He explained how we should always choose life — Fuchs exhorted us to do this when faced with a choice. He blessed the gathering and then talked of his personal story.

“I first learned of Kristalnacht when I was 22 years old from a professor of mine,” Fuchs said. “But I never knew my own father had been arrested on that night in Leipzig. It was only when I flew home to visit my ill father and heard him shouting in German, a language I had never heard him use, that I asked my uncle what dad is saying and I was told, ‘He is asking the guards to stop beating him.’ Years later, in 1982, I went to Leipzig, but entry was initially declined. It was only when I told the authorities I was an art teacher and wanted to visit Leipzig’s famous museum was I allowed entry.”

He remarked that the first glimpse of Leipzig was the train station; it was his father’s last glimpse as he was taken by train to Dachau. Fuchs immediately went to the zoo and stood on a bridge spanning the stream. There he had an imaginary conversation with his father — then he wept. The next day Fuchs visited a tiny Jewish records office, where he asked for his family’s record. He found out that at the peak of the Jewish population in Leipzig, there had been 18,000 Jews. Fourteen thousand out of that population died in the Holocaust. One-third of the Jews alive in Germany in 1935 were dead in 1945 because of Hitler. Two-thirds is the number of European Jews who died in the Holocaust, and three-fourths of that were rabbis, cantors, teachers — all professionals perished. Seven out of nine was the fate of the Jews in Leipzig.

Fuchs is well aware how fortunate his father was to have had relatives established in the United States who petitioned for his father’s entry into this country.

In 2014, Fuchs and his wife, Vickie, were invited to Leipzig, Germany, to speak on Nov. 9 at three Kristalnacht commemorations. One was at the stream at the zoo; another was at the previously great synagogue, which is now filled with empty chairs; and the third was at the St. Thomas Church (Thomaskirche) at a ceremony, which atoned for the horror and prayed for a better future. He and his wife have visited Germany each year for five years. They had to cancel this year because of the pandemic. There they both speak at schools and always say, “We cannot undo the past but the future is ours to shape.”

This is the message Fuchs will leave the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee: We should look to the past with our eyes on the future. We can do better if each of us does what he can to stand against evil and wrongdoing. We can move the world a little bit closer to the ideal expressed by the prophet Isaiah. The prophet Micah spoke of a time, “When violence will no longer be heard in our land and each of God’s children will be able to sit under their vine, their fig tree with none to make them afraid.”