Holocaust survivor implores people to do more than remember at Seton Hill Kristallnacht service
As candles were lit in memory of the six million Jewish people killed in the Holocaust, those gathered Tuesday evening in the St. Joseph Chapel at Seton Hill University read:
“That we might remember, and yet not lose hope. We must face evil, and in doing so, reaffirm our faith in future good.”
Holocaust survivor Ruth Drescher, 84, of Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood, implored those gathered to do more than remember: Research the vicious inhumanity, read stories about the brutality people had to endure. Learn the history.
“I just think people need to know more,” said Drescher, now a member of Congregation Dor Hadash, one of three congregations housed at the Tree of Life Congregation building where 11 people died in a shooting Oct. 27. The gunman opened fire while shouting anti-Semitic statements.
“When this thing happened in Pittsburgh, in a place where we worshiped, it was terrifying,” Drescher said.
The annual Kristallnacht Remembrance Interfaith Service, sponsored by the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education and the Office of Campus Ministry at Seton Hill, was held Tuesday to commemorate Kristallnacht, known as “the night of broken glass,” which occurred in Germany on Nov. 9-10, 1938. About 30,000 Jewish men were detained and sent to concentration camps as Nazis destroyed Jewish homes, businesses, synagogues and schools. Broken glass covered the streets. It was a violent turn in the Nazis’ treatment of Jews.
This year, the annual service commemorated the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht. Shulamit Bastacky, 77, of Pittsburgh, also spoke. Hidden by a Catholic nun in Lithuania, she survived the Holocaust as a child .
Drescher, whose family left Germany in September 1939, noted that Tuesday’s service was especially meaningful because she could speak to honor those who were killed 10 days earlier.
Drescher was not at Tree of Life at the time of the attack. But her husband, who regularly attends study sessions on Saturday mornings, had pulled up to the building just as the shooting started. Heeding a warning from others in the parking lot, he returned to his car and made it home safely.
“Had he been there two minutes — no exaggeration, two minutes earlier — he would not be with us,” she said.
Drescher was 4 years old the night soldiers arrived at her family’s home to detain her father, a German Jew, who had left town at the advice of a friend who lent him the keys to a cottage in the woods. When the soldiers arrived, Drescher’s mother calmly told them that her husband was away on business.
“I don’t know that I was terribly afraid,” Drescher said. Her sister, who was 12 at the time, saw flames grow from her school that night.
The only real memory Drescher said she has of that time period was when a friend’s mother passed out candy to the neighborhood kids. Everyone got two pieces. Drescher only got one.
“Because you’re Jewish,” was the reason she gave, Drescher said.
Drescher has shared her story at the annual service several times. This year, she said that she hoped to encourage the students in attendance to develop a broad perspective on the world and to make an effort to understand other cultures. Use the time to travel, study and “to be open to new ideas,” she said.
“The message is love, not hate,” Drescher said. “And it’s hard in the face of what happened.”
Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.