Kristallnacht survivors give emotionally charged testimonies at Westminster Abbey service

Poignant event remembers 'those who were murdered, those taken captive and abused, and those whose lives were turned upside down by the events of those two days'


Westminster Abbey hosted a moving Service of Solemn Remembrance and Hope on Thursday evening to mark the 80th Anniversary of Kristallnacht.

Rabbi Baroness Neuberger, of West London Synagogue, and New North London Synagogue's Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg delivered poignant addresses to the packed congregation who attended the event encompassed both Jewish and Christian liturgical practice.

The choirs of Belsize Square and West London Synagogues, along with the Zemel Choir  and the Belsize Youth Choir, also played a leading role in proceedings.

Survivors Bea Green, Freddie Knoller and Leslie Bren all gave emotionally charged testimonies.

Ms Green spoke vividly of how, when she was just eight, she saw her father suit splattered with blood as he was beaten by Brownshirts in Munich.

She recalled how, at midnight on June 27, 1939, leaving Munich on a train for the UK, as part of the Kindertransport, which initially "seemed like an adventure" to a 14-year-old, until it dawned on her she may never see her parents again.


Mr Knoller, who was born in Vienna in 1921 and survived Auschwitz concentration camp, recalled the night of Kristallnacht. "The synagogue was in flames, the Brownshirts were attacking people", he said, adding hed asked his parents "what shall we do?"

Following an opening rendition of Al Naharot Bavel - By The Rivers of Babylon - from the choirs, The Very Reverend Dr John Hall told the congregation: "We gather again to mark the 80th anniversary of that night, itself a terrible foreshadowing of the Holocaust.

"Here in this holy place at the centre of our national life, we shall pray together as we worship the one God sharing a common experience.

"We shall pray for a growth in mutual respect and understand between the children of Abraham: Jews, Christians and Muslims."

During her Reflection, Rabbi Neuberger spoke of remembering "those who were murdered, those taken captive and abused, and those whose lives were turned upside down by the events of those two days."

She added: "We also remember those whose courage led them to stand up to the murderous thugs who carried out the burnings, beatings, the daubings and physical attacks."

She spoke of the crucial role British diplomats  - particularly Robert Smallbones and his deputy Arthur Dowden - who "stood up to the Nazis in the name of the British government saving people, including my grandparents." 

In the wake of the recent Pittsburgh Synagogue attack, the Senior Rabbi at West London Synagogue wanted to express "gratitude to those who have stood by the Jewish community in recent days" in this country, including Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and to the churches and mosques and Hindu temples who supported the community.

During a rendition of Shema Koleinu, six memorial candles were lit by Michael Newman, chief executive of the Association of Jewish Refugees, survivors Lilian Levy and Rolf Penzias as well as other dignitaries, including Israeli Ambassador to the UK Mark Regev.

In his address, Rabbi Wittenberg told how, the night after Kristallnacht, his grandfather Rabbi Georg Salzberger, a Frankfurt Rabbi, was summoned by the Gestapo to another synagogue in the city in flames.

Rabbi Salzberger was told by bystanders that night that his own Westend Synagogue, was totally gutted by fire, but its ner tamid (eternal light) continued to burn.

"So my grandfather stood between two kinds of fire - the fire of destruction and the flame of god's light," Rabbi Wittenberg said.

He said the fires of destruction burned "throughout the 30s and 40s in the gas chambers, in the unthinkable crematoria".

But the "gentle flame of God's presence," he said, "burnt in the hearts of Quakers, Christadelphians, Rabbi's, churchmen and churchwomen who were determined to save lives."

He added that "both flames burn" still, contrasting "hatred of Jews for being Jews and Muslims for being Muslims" with the actions of people like Lord Alf Dubbs, "a Kindertransport boy who desperately wishes more abandoned helpless children should be allowed into our country."

The Belsize Square Synagogue Youth Choir sang Guten Abend by Louis Lewandowski from Deutscher Schullieder 1864.

Prayers were led by the Reverend Christopher Stoltz, Minor Canon and Precentor of Westminster.

Shirley Vaughan, soprano, accompanied by Gemma Rosenfeld, cello, and the Zemel Choir and the Choirs of Belsize Square and West London synagogues also sang Through A Glass Darkly, composed by Cecilia McDowell for the 75th anniversary service in 2013.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive