KRISTALLNACHT, for most, is mainly a historic event. But a
significant proportion of the congregation at Westminster Abbey for
a service of commemoration and hope a fortnight ago had family
connections to "the Night of the Broken Glass". A very few were
actually in Germany on the night of 10 November 1938.
Among them was John Izbicki, who gave an eye-witness account of
how he had screamed at the atrocities he was witnessing until he
"I heard a loud crash of broken glass. I looked out of the
window, and saw that a large group of Hitler Youths had smashed a
window of the leatherware shop opposite," he said. "An elderly
woman doubled up with arthritis limped past and started to scream
'Heil Hitler! It serves you right you Jewish swine.'
"A slither of glass still holding on to the frame began to
quiver, and as another 'Heil Hitler!' reached a crescendo, it broke
away and split open her head. She collapsed in a growing pool of
blood, and I, as a child, vomited. And when I stopped vomiting, I
believed in God.
"It was a night to remember. It was certainly a night that I
have never forgotten. My screaming had left me with a hoarse voice
which is still with me 75 years later, just after my 93rd birthday
- a present from Hitler which I would dearly love to return."
A Holocaust survivor, Lilian Levy, spoke of the wider atrocities
committed against the Jews by the Nazis. She and her parents,
hiding in Holland, had been tricked by a radio announcement that a
prisoner exchange had been agreed between Germany and Britain.
"My family and I left our hiding place, and applied to be
exchanged," she said. "But instead we were transported to Belsen,
where people starved to death, or were shot at random, or savaged
by dogs at the whim of sadistic guards. In those conditions, my
parents made me eat what little food they had received, while they
starved to death early in 1945. I was then five years old.
"I would like to think that my parents' hope for me has been
fulfilled. They gave me their food that I might live. And they now
live on in me, and in my children, and in my grandchildren."
Three Holocaust survivors spoke during the service. Their
testimonies were painful to hear; but also full of hope, fulfilling
the event's billing as "A service of solemn remembrance and hope on
the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht".
At the start of the service, the Shoah candelabra from Belsize
Square Synagogue was processed into the Abbey's Sacrarium. Later,
its six candles were lit by a Kristallnacht survivor and her
grandson; a rabbi; a canon of Westminster Abbey; and by senior
diplomats from the Israeli and German embassies in London,
including the Israeli ambassador, Daniel Taub.
The service included elements of both Christian and Jewish
worship, including music led by the choirs of Belsize Square and
West London synagogues. The Cantor from Belsize Square, Paul
Heller, recited the Holocaust prayer El Malei Rachamim.
There were readings from Lamentations, and the Sermon on the
The music included a new composition, Through a Glass,
Darkly, which had been specially written for the service by
Cecilia McDowall, using words from the Hashkiveinu prayer,
and an unsigned inscription found on the wall of a cave in Cologne:
"I believe in the sun, though it is late in rising; I believe in
Love, though it is absent; I believe in God, though he is
The actress Ruth Rosen read an extract from Martin Gilbert's
book Kristallnacht: Prelude to destruction, which
summarised the events of 10 November 1938: "A day in which violence
against the Jews of Germany was unleashed in a whirlwind of
"In 24 hours of violence, 91 Jews were killed [and] more than
30,000 Jewish men between the ages of 16 and 60 . . . were arrested
and sent to concentration camps. There they were tortured and
tormented for several months."
After the service, the Dean of Westminster, the Very Revd John
Hall, described the gathering as "extraordinary".
"This is obviously a profoundly moving and important
anniversary.We had no idea that it was going to be as popular as
this. To have over 1500 people here was really quite