This Night

Speaking in Leipzig, Kristallnacht 2014

On this night in 1938 my father, Leo Fuchs was one of 500 Jewish men in Leipzig rounded up by the Gestapo in his native Leipzig and marched to the city Zoo.

There they were forced to stand in the stream that runs through the park, and citizens were directed to gather round and curse, jeer and throw mud at the “vermin Jews” who stood helplessly in the water. Then the Nazis took my dad to Dachau where they shaved his head and abused him.

84 years later this event continues to shape my life.

Fortunately, my father was one of the very lucky ones. An older brother and an uncle in New York gained his release through diplomatic channels, and he set sail for New York on December 10,1938.

I had never heard of Kristallnacht, let alone that my father was arrested on that horrific night, until I was a rabbinical student at the Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles.  In the spring of my first year, my father fell gravely ill. I flew home to New Jersey where my brother-in-law Jack drove me straight to the hospital where, for the first time in my life, my father did not recognize me.

In a state of delirium, he was shouting in German, which he never spoke at home as my mother was an American. I asked my uncle, the same one that had saved him, what he was saying, and he replied, “He is asking the guards to stop beating him.”

I like to think I was an alert and precocious kid. I loved my father dearly and felt very close to him. So, I keep asking myself.  How could I not know? It is a question that to this day I cannot answer.

My penance, as it were, for my ignorance, has impelled me to speak about Kristallnacht in churches, synagogues and schools in the United States, in German high schools and more than two dozen German churches, including the famous Thomaskirche in Leipzig, and at many of the 65 plus communities around the world I was privileged to visit during my tenure as President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism.

In every one of these venues, the people treated me with graciousness and respect that warmed my heart. In return I have tried to offer a message of hope especially in places where many of those sitting before me had relatives once connected to the Nazi regime: We cannot undo the past, but we can learn from it to create a better future for our children, our grandchildren and generations to come.