St. Austin remembers ‘Night of Broken Glass’

The Kristallnacht exhibit at St. Austin Parish addressed the night of Nov. 9-10, 1938, when Jewish businesses were destroyed and set on fire. (Photo by Enedelia J. Obregón)

By Enedelia J. Obregón
Senior Correspondent

St. Austin Parish in Austin has chosen to remember Kristallnacht, one of those anniversaries that many would rather forget. 
For three days in November, the Austin parish presented a multi-media exhibit to commemorate the events that took place throughout Germany on Nov. 9-10, 1938. That night thousands of Jewish businesses were destroyed, more than 200 synagogues were burned and dozens of people were killed. The violence set the stage for the Holocaust, which killed 6 million out of the 9 million Jews who lived in the 21 countries occupied by Germany during World War II.
The seminal event was referred to as Kristallnacht –– or the night of broken glass –– because shards of glass were everywhere following the fires and destruction. Police and firefighters were on hand to protect only Christian establishments. Jews were made to clean up and then fined 1 billion German marks for the mess.
The exhibit
Lynn Hayden is the volunteer curator who first developed the exhibit in 2000 and again in 2001 with the help of the nearby Hillel Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. This year, the exhibit contained items and information from the nearby Nueces Mosque.
Paulist Father Charles  Kullmann, pastor of St. Austin, thought it was time to hold another exhibit in light of the religious conflict and violence around the world.
“It’s all very real in our world and in our community,” he said. “We need to take the opportunity to understand and educate ourselves about the need to be respectful, understanding and tolerant of others.”
Father Kullmann said it’s important for Christians not to isolate themselves and to learn about other cultures and faiths because Jesus told his disciples to “go out to all the nations and proclaim the Good News.”
He said Pope Francis is also asking us to share the Good News.
“We are supposed to share that with others,” he said. “But the first thing we have to do is respect others.”
The exhibit began outdoors with a pile of burned books in one area near the entrance to Newman Hall. Dozens of ceramic stars of David created by art students in Diane Hardin’s class at St. Austin Catholic School filled the parish fountain. Each star had an inscription of a person who might be forced to wear that star today: homeless, handicapped, homosexual, Latino, Asian and even Jesus.
Another pile contained battered suitcases and coats for adults and children, each with a yellow star of David sewn on –– seemingly thrown down by owners who never returned for them.
Hayden spent months gathering materials and furniture borrowed from St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store, including everyday items such as dishes that were broken and scattered about the indoor Room of Destruction, which was surrounded by yellow caution tape. She burned old books in her fireplace to replicate what the Germans did in Jewish homes. Gigantic laminated yellow Stars of David adorned the walls of one room with the word “Jew” in different languages of the German-occupied countries.
One frame is special. It contains remnants of a blue-and-white striped uniform with the sewn-in Star of David and the number 15774. The corresponding number would have been tattooed on the forearm of its wearer. The clothing is owned by Gregg Philipson of the Texas Commission on the Holocaust.
A short video with black and white images of the destruction of Kristallnacht was accompanied by dissonant music meant to resemble the chaos and shattering of glass. 
A timeline of the Holocaust occupied one wall and included an English copy of the Kristallnacht edict.
The experience
Deacon John de la Garza from St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Horseshoe Bay was one of the early visitors.
“It’s incumbent on us to be uncomfortable when we see this,” he said.
Many Christians, he noted, did nothing to stop the violence against Jews. He quoted Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel: “What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor but the silence of the bystander.”
Deacon de la Garza said we have to learn to live in such a way that we are not bystanders. 
“We (Catholics) can be very insular. But Jesus was not an insular person. And neither is Pope Francis,” he said.
Too often, we get comfortable in our traditions, Deacon de la Garza said. Anything or anyone who seems different is deemed a threat, heightening our fears.
“That fear leads us into inhumane thoughts and actions,” he said. 
Some of the students from St. Austin Catholic School were docents and viewed the exhibit before the rest of the students did. Among them were several seventh graders. 
“It’s sad that people were killed just because of their faith,” said Joshua Esparza.
Elissa Atkinson found the Room of Destruction to be the scariest.
“It’s an example of a house destroyed,” she said. “That would be really scary if it were my house. It was horrible that nobody did anything to help.”
Hayden Covert said he had not known how widespread the Holocaust was until he saw the stars of David from so many countries.
A poster explained that the Jews, Christians and Muslims had once lived in relative peace in the kingdoms that eventually became unified Spain. Medicine, science, the arts and commerce flourished from 711 to about 1031, coinciding with the Middle Ages in Western Europe. That ended for good with the military conquest of the Muslims by Spain and the expulsion of Jews in 1492 by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.
The exhibit included music and religious items reflecting the influences of the three faiths. 
What filled Hayden with hope is “Besa,” a book by Norman H. Gerhman about Albanian Muslims who saved thousands of Jews during World War II. Besa, which means “to keep the promise,” is an ethical code deeply rooted in Albanian culture and incorporated in their Muslim faith that demands responsibility for the lives of others in their time of need. Not doing so brings great shame and dishonor not only to an individual but to the family as well.
“We didn’t know about it because of Communism,” Hayden said, referring to the Communist take-over of the country after the war. “They see their house as God’s house, and you take in the stranger as if they were family.”
According to Yad Vashem, Albania was the only European country with a Muslim majority and lost members of only one Jewish family to the Holocaust. Albanians provided Jews with fake identity papers and Jews lived openly with the Muslim population. By the end of the war, Albania had more Jews than it did at the beginning of the war.