The 9th of November is an important day in Germany, because it is the anniversary of the “Night of Broken Glass” (Kristallnacht), which is the symbol of the explosion of violence against Jewish. In fact, during the night between the 9th and the 10th of November 1938, synagogues, houses and shops belonging to Jewish were vandalized and destroyed by members of the National Socialist Party, of paramilitary groups (the SA, the SS), and even members of the Gestapo, the German secret police. It did not happen in a single city, but all over the country; so, the historians have good reasons to think that it was not an unplanned outburst, but an actively coordinated anti-Semite action.
In Leipzig, my hosting organization, Die Villa Soziokulturelles Zentrum, wanted to commemorate this day by engaging the current European volunteers (of which I am part) in a “Memorial Day Project”. The project, proposed and planned by our coordinator Kathrin, covered the entire day, and different kind of activities took place.
In particular, the Memorial Day was divided into three moments. The first was a workshop in which we thought about the topics of discrimination, fascism, and racism. Kathrin divided us into groups, and we had to answer questions like “What is discrimination?”, “Where and when does it start”?
After that, each group presented its work, explaining to the others the main points of their discussion. The workshop was a constructive moment of dialogue, where everyone could share its own ideas or personal experience. It was great to reflect together on such important topics, because as volunteers from different European and non-European countries we could see other points of view, perspectives we never thought about, but also we agreed on many aspects of the topic.
The second moment focuses on a historical figure, Victor Armhaus, who was one of the victim of Holocaust. He was a polish man born in a Jewish family who move to Leipzig. He worked as a translator (he could speak 23 languages!) and thanks to his skills he could help a lot of people to emigrate by dealing with bureaucratic stuff. After the approval of racial laws in Germany, he lost his job. He was deported in September 1942 to the concentration camp of Theresienstadt, where he died the 7th of November at the age of 83.
In Emilienstraße in Leipzig there is a Stolpersteine (i.e. a cobblestone made of brass) dedicated to him. We went together to clean it with salt, vinegar and water. Then, we put flowers and candles, and we remembered Victor Armhaus by mentioning five important facts about his life.
The last part of the project took place in a small square in Gottschedstraße, where there was a synagogue which was burnt and destroyed on the 9th of November 1938. Today, there is a Denkmal to remember the fact – on the monument there is written Vergesst es nicht, i.e. “don’t forget”. Here, the mayor of Leipzig made a speech about the Kristallnacht and the importance of historical memory. To not forget. To not repeat.
The “Memorial Day Project” was really stimulating, as it involved us in a full-immersion activity that went beyond the mere symbolic events that often take place in these kind of situations. In fact, we had an ‘active’ moment, where we reflected and discussed of the topics of discrimination and fascism; a ‘commemorative’ moment, when we cleaned the Stolpersteine, and a more ‘passive’ moment (the speech of the mayor), when we could listen and observe an important event of the German culture.