One night that changed Jewish lives forever
Isabeau van Halm speaks to ‘SHATTERED’ curator Dr. Barbara Warnock about the Wiener Library’s Kristallnacht exhibition
In SHATTERED: Pogrom, November 1938, Wiener Library curators Dr. Christine Schmidt and Dr. Barbara Warnock explore the brutal events of Kristallnacht in Germany and Austria. On the night of November 8th to 9th, Jewish people were attacked on the orders of the Nazis.
Isabeau van Halm speaks to Barbara Warnock about how November 1938 changed the lives of Jewish women, men and children forever.
Why an exhibition about Kristallnacht now?
This year was the eightieth anniversary of Kristallnacht. It was a major setting stone and escalation in how things ended up, in the Holocaust. We also have a unique collection of eyewitness testimonies collected in the immediate aftermath of the events. We wanted to take the opportunity to showcase these.
Were there any challenges for you curating this exhibition?
Kristallnacht was a very complex event. It’s a small exhibition, but we wanted to do justice to the full complexity of it and the full manifestation of the violence. It can be challenging to do that in a finite amount of space.
Any specific themes you explored?
Kristallnacht is famous for the destruction of property, such as the windows being smashed and synagogues being burned. But the violence against the Jewish people is often overlooked and forgotten. We also wanted to highlight how the event let to an escalation of anti-Jewish measures. It really did mark the end of the road. Everybody realized they could not be safe, or hope to be safe, in Germany and Austria anymore.
Are there any stories that made an impression on you personally?
We have a ceremonial candelabrum for Hanukkah that has an amazing story behind it. It is originally from a village with a Jewish community in Germany. After the synagogue was ransacked on Kristallnacht a young non-Jewish girl found it and took it home. Her family hid it for the duration of the war. Many years later the family wanted to try to find somebody from the Jewish community of that village to return it to. Eventually, they found a Jewish family who fled to Britain after Kristallnacht. So many decades later the candelabrum was reunited with the original members of that Jewish community. It is a touching story behind a beautiful and delicate object, and it feels like it has got a lot of power.
There has been a rise of anti-Semitism and xenophobia in recent years. The Wiener library bolsters itself as a resource to oppose anti-Semitism and intolerance. Do you think exhibitions like these contribute to that aim?
Absolutely, by highlighting the devastating consequences that anti-Semitism and intolerance can have. It’s part of our mission to highlight the stories of individuals that were affected and remember what happened, but also to educate people. It is very important to understand the historical context is you want to properly understand a situation.
Finally, the exhibition lasts until February 15. Why should people go see it?
They will find lots of different objects and documents that bring the stories of individuals and families to life. They will learn about the complex mechanisms and the devastating consequences of the terrible event of Kristallnacht.
SHATTERED: Pogrom, November 1938 is at the Wiener Library until 15 February 2019. For more information, visit their website. Featured image: Kristallnacht, shop damage in Magdeburg, via Wikimedia Commons.