Commemorating Kindness Instead of Hatred: Rabbi Fulda’s Kristallnacht Speech

By: Ailin Elyasi  |  December 1, 2016
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The Student Holocaust Education Movement (SHEM) commemorates Kristallnacht every year. This year, SHEM teamed up with the YU Family Discovery Club to host Rabbi Dr. Meir Fulda.

On November 9th, one hundred people stood in Rubin Shul, waiting for Rabbi Fulda to begin his speech. Looking out at the crowd of people from the podium, the Kristallnacht survivor began in his soft-spoken manner, “I know why you got up for me, but don’t get up again; it’s not good for my middot.”

Although the event was held to commemorate Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, Rabbi Fulda spoke very little of the pogrom. He did not wish to remember the night of November 9th and 10th, 1938, when synagogues burned, one hundred Jews died and 30,000 innocents were arrested. Instead, he chose to speak about the kindness and respect that he experienced from certain individuals, commemorating acts of middot instead of acts of hatred.

Rabbi Fulda spoke of his neighbor, a member of the Hitler Youth, who lied to Nazi officers looking for the Fulda family, intending to kill them. The neighbor’s actions saved them all. Another part of his upbringing that really stuck with Rabbi Fulda was how his hometown never looked down on anyone, instead encouraging all different hashkafot to get along. “We have to reach out to everyone. Not only Jews but also goyim, with little acts of kindness,” he said.

His family managed to escape from Nazi Germany with the help of Max Stern — the founder Stern College for Women. Stern journeyed to his hometown of Fulda in order to pay for the tickets and visas of community members. Among the members he sponsored for a new start in America: the Fulda family.

Rabbi Fulda also reminisced about his father, sharing several stories of his character and middot. Given the chance to buy a Sefer Torah off of a struggling Rebbetzin, Rabbi Fulda’s father paid her double its value. He also saved another Jew from a Nazi’s whippings, refusing to accept any thanks from the grateful man.

Real proof of Rabbi Fulda’s own strong character presented itself near the end of the commemoration. An attendee at the talk wrapped his arm around Rabbi Fulda’s shoulders and recounted the help that the rabbi had offered him during his engagement to the woman he was know married to. The man’s sons sat in the front row, all of them now students at YU.

Sarah Elspas, a student who attended the speech, felt it was more than a talk about history, even calling it a shiur. It was “really inspirational,” she said. “It really changed the way I look at the Holocaust.” 

Jonathan Mintz, president of the YU Family Discovery Club, described the deep feelings inspired in the audience at Rabbi Fulda’s talk. “The entire room seemed captivated by the glimpse into the past. There were beautiful words from Rabbi Fulda. When he shared his experiences… you could see how much he affected the world.”

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