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Letters recall Kristallnacht stories

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Steven Wasserman speaks at the Kristallnacht Remembrance Lecture on Sunday in the Campus Center. Kristallnacht, or “Night of Broken Glass,” refers to the wave of violent antisemitic pogroms in Germany on Nov. 9 and 10, 1938. Wasserman is a retired attorney who has spent the last few years writing, researching and documenting his family’s history and the modern impact of Kristallnacht. / photo by Kim Toth

Liliana Castañeda
News Editor

The University of La Verne hosted its annual Kristallnacht Remembrance Lecture featuring author Steven Wasserman speaking about his book, “Grasping at Straws: Letters from the Holocaust,” Sunday in the Campus Center Ballroom.

Kristallnacht was a night-long violent act carried on by the Nazis on Nov. 9 and 10 in 1938. This night, also known as the “Night of Broken Glass,” was a pogrom – the Russian word for wreaking havoc or demolishing violently – targeted specifically against Jews. It led to more than 90 deaths and the destruction and vandalism of Jewish homes, synagogues and businesses. There was litter and broken glass left behind after the violent witch hunt for Jewish livelihood, which is where the name comes from. 

“Number one, my dream is that people will read and remember what happened to these people,” Wasserman said. “Number two, I hope that what happened here compared to what is happening (in the United States) will serve as a warning so that all of us living in the United States and elsewhere realize that horrific tragedies don’t always come like that they are like a frog in a pot and things can get to boil over time. So it’s a cautionary work as well as a reflective and commemorative work.”

Wasserman’s book follows the people of Ichenhausen, a town in Germany, as they slowly shift from living a culturally vivid life to a life of bleak horrors as they are faced with living as a Jewish family during the Holocaust. The story is mostly told through letters that the family writes, so it makes the story that much more impactful.

Wasserman said his family was affected by the Holocaust personally.

“Unfortunately it’s not that unimaginable that this could happen again and it’s really important to bring humanity to the survivors and really tell their stories,” Allison Wasserman, daughter of Steven Wasserman, said. “He gave historical context but also told the story of our family and that it felt like reading a narrative and that my family were characters in a book.”

Allison Wasserman said the book made her feel a powerful connection to her grandmother who died a few years ago and that it gave her insight she did not know about her grandmother’s life.

“Talking about this is an absolute necessity because young people have to be exposed to the reality of things and bringing it to the campus is a healthy way of doing that,” Ira Kwatcher, a Claremont resident who was at the event, said.

Kwatcher said that there are many people who believe it is their mission to eliminate Jewish people, and hence they are scapegoated and abused. He said that he finds it interesting that they remain scapegoats after being less than 1% of the population in the world.

“It brings to the forefront the difficulty of every generation. Every turn of events is new and at the same time is old because it’s the same story again,” Kwatcher said. “The fact is that antisemitism in this country has gone in sort of waves where it seems like it’s less for a while, but it always comes back and it comes back stronger.” 

Steven Wasserman said tracing back his own history and ancestral lineage was very difficult to grasp. He said he saw many similarities from that time to now after all his research.

He recalled the similarities between Kristallnacht and some of the antisemitic events that have happened recently in the United States. He compared the motives of Kristallnacht as having the same roots as the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that took the lives of 11 people. 

The man who carried out that terrorist attack had been making antisemitic comments and posts against the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society on Gab, a social media website, and on Twitter against Jewish people rooted purely in xenophobia and ethnocentrism.

The Kristallnacht remembrance event at ULV was organized by the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys in part of their 24th annual Jewish Book Festival. The organization chose Wasserman’s book after members of the book committee explored around 300 other books before coming to a consensus.

“Our mission at the federation is to bring stories to the community,” Denise Schaefer, book committee member of the Jewish Federation, said. “We try to find a diversity of topics that will be interesting to our diverse community.” 

The 30 or so guests who attended the event were invited to the reception after the talk. People gathered in groups and discussed their opinions and own experiences that dealt with the lecture. 

The Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys will host its next Jewish book festival event, featuring “By the Grace of the Game” by Dan Grunfeld, from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday at Temple Beth Israel, located at 3033 N. Towne Ave. in Pomona. Admission is $18.

For more information, visit jewishsgpv.org.

Liliana Castañeda can be reached at liliana.castaneda@laverne.edu.

Liliana Castañeda, a senior communications major, is the Fall 2022 news editor of the Campus Times. She has previously served as editorial director, arts editor, copy editor and a staff writer.

Kim Toth is a junior photography major and a staff photographer for the Campus Times and La Verne Magazine. Her work can be found in Instagram at @kim_t_photos and @kimberlytothphotos.

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