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  • Writer's pictureRony Alfandary

Holocaust survivor reflects on antisemitism rise 83 years after Kristallnacht

Published on NBC, 10th November, 2021

Ruth Zimbler was just 10 years old when she watched the Nazis burn down her synagogue in Austria. As the flames blazed, her great aunt asked the firefighters on the scene why they were just standing there. “We have orders to let the synagogue burn,” they said.

The targeted attacks towards Zimbler’s family that night, just for being Jewish, did not stop there. Her apartment was stripped bare of everything but the furniture and a pair of candlesticks that her family used on Shabbat.

Nazis vandalized Jewish homes, burned down hundreds of synagogues and shattered the glass in storefronts of Jewish-owned businesses — hence the name “Kristallnacht.” The Night of Broken Glass was a turning point for Jews in Germany.

In December of 1938, approximately one month after Kristallnacht, Zimbler’s parents sent Ruth and her 6-year-old brother, Walter, on the first Kindertransport out of Vienna, an organized rescue effort that took place nine months before the outbreak of World War II.

Kristallnacht is commemorated each year on November 9-10 with 2021 marking the 83rd anniversary. To this day, Zimbler says she still feels the glass from the windows crunching under her feet.

As a 93-year-old, Zimbler takes every opportunity to share her story.

“I think the only way to overcome (antisemitism) is by education. I think that you have to tell the story and you’ll have to make people understand it,” she said.

Antisemitism continues to haunt the Jewish community. 2020 was the third-highest year for antisemitic incidents against American Jews since the Anti-Defamation League started tracking the data in 1979. The past three annual reports have included two of its highest tallies.

“What we're seeing is that people aren't even able to identify antisemitism anymore,” says Oren Segal, the vice president of the Center on Extremism at the ADL. “That's when you know it has become so normalized, so much part of our public discussion and online discourse. And that's when it's really dangerous.”

Segal blames social media for the normalization of antisemitism. “The ability of disinformation and conspiracies to animate (antisemitism) has become a real issue.”

Rony Alfandary, author of “Postmemory, Psychoanalysis and Holocaust Ghosts,” believes the rise in antisemitism is especially traumatic for Holocaust survivors and leaves the Jewish community with a collective sense of generational trauma.

Postmemory, as Alfandary defines it, is the revelation that what’s influencing your life is something that happened long before you were born. It can add to the sense of trauma the Jewish community experiences when there is a rise in antisemitic events.

Emma Barnett is an associate producer for NBC News NOW and a former researcher for Meet the Press. She covers everything from politics to sports and is committed to bringing readers a unique perspective on the days’ events.

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