A prayer for Kristallnacht

Vincentian View

Fr. Patrick J. Griffin, CM,, Special to the Torch

In my role as a minister at St. John’s University, I have been invited to represent the Catholic/Christian community at a Kristallnacht commemoration service at Queens College on Nov. 15. Kristallnacht, you may recall, refers to the night of Nov. 9, 1938, when a large coordinated attack was launched against the Jewish community throughout the German Reich. It has come to be called the “Night of Broken Glass” as it references the Nazi shattering of windows throughout Germany and Austria. Throughout the night, estimates indicate that 7,000 businesses were destroyed, 900 synagogues were set afire, 91 Jews were killed and 30,000 men and women were sent to concentration camps. The horrors of the coming years were clearly in evidence.

The Center of Jewish Studies at Queens College runs a program called: “Kristallnacht: Commemoration and Recommitment in Combating Anti-Semitism and Hatred.” It involves an interfaith service containing prayer (offered by a Rabbi, an Imam and a Priest), a lecture, some musical interludes and a candle-lighting ceremony. Thus, the community receives an opportunity for thoughtful reflection on an ugly moment in human history.

I have been thinking about my prayer. The story of Cain and Abel in the First Testament has always been a challenge for me to read. It drew my attention in this case. This is my prayer:

Great God, from the very beginning of our human story we are reminded of how we can do violence to our brother and sister. Cain kills his brother Abel and the blood of Abel cries out to you for remembrance and action. And you do act, and we do remember.

What was the reason of Cain? What allowed him to attack his only brother with whom he lived and spoke? How could this have happened? Yet it did happen, and it continued to happen, and it happens in our own day.

We gather here today to remember a time when hatred drove brother and sister against brother and sister. The damage of homes, businesses and sacred places was as nothing compared to the taking of human life and human dignity. And this action marked a step toward greater and more horrible sibling destruction.

We remember, Lord, and in remembering we face a frightful truth about ourselves. Yet, there is another truth. Before the murder, Cain is warned that “sin lies in wait at the door: its urge is for you, yet you can rule over it” (Gen 4:7). We recognize the possibility of violence in ourselves, but we can also be men and women who choose peace and fraternal love. We are promised your help to rule over the darkness which seeks to reign within us.

We remember today, O Merciful God, our brothers and sisters who have died because of sibling hatred. We ask that you bring these innocents to yourself and

welcome them at your table. And we ask that you enable us to learn the terrible lessons of our past and allow them to teach us the path of peaceful coexistence for the future.

We make this prayer as your beloved children, all of us. AMEN.