Loyola Marymount University’s commemoration of Kristallnacht, the 1938 pogrom against Jews in Germany and parts of Austria that marks the beginning of the Holocaust, is an annual reflection on the events and prejudices of that time of horror. As eyewitnesses to the Holocaust become fewer, accounts of the evil they saw and of the heroics they witnessed take on deeper value.
Author Suzanne Vromen spoke to an LMU audience Nov. 8 on “Shedding Light on Dark Times: The Rescue of Jewish Children.” During the summer of 1942 in Belgium, many Jewish families hid their children to evade imprisonment and likely extermination. Those children often found refuge in Catholic convents and orphanages. Vromen has detailed many of the Belgian events in “Hidden Children of the Holocaust: Belgian Nuns and Their Daring Rescue of Young Jews from the Nazis” (Oxford University Press, 2008; www.oup-usa.org).
Vromen was a youth when she, her brother and their parents fled Nazi-occupied Belgium for the Belgian Congo, then a colony. “Throughout my life, I have reflected on my lucky escape,” said Vromen, professor emeritus of sociology at Bard College in New York. “I have often felt that I needed to justify the fact that I was granted a gift of life denied to so many. Many survivors feel the same way.”
The education system in the Congo was predominately Catholic missionaries, said Vromen, who is Jewish. “At first I was bewildered by the Catholic milieu, but in time I came to appreciate the nuns, the Sisters of Charity of Ghent, as excellent teachers and kind human beings.” After retiring from academia in 2000, Vromen returned to the subject of Jewish children protected by Catholic men and women religious. “Writing the book was both an acknowledgement and a mission. Also, my work uncovered the importance of the mothers superior in the convents: They assumed the full responsibility for accepting the children and catering to their needs; they enforced secrecy and resisted Nazi intrusions; they bore the risks.”
Kristallnacht left Jewish homes, shops and synagogues destroyed; more than 30,000 Jewish men and women were sent to concentration camps that night, and Kristallnacht was the beginning of the Nazi plan to exterminate the Jewish people. Six million were killed in the Holocaust including 1½ million children. Vromen estimates that more than 100,000 children survived. “We still know far too little about what happened to children during the Nazi period,” said Holli Levitsky, director of Jewish Studies at LMU. “We know even less about those who were hidden by Catholic institutions. This year's program widened our knowledge about hidden and rescued children and those who were determined to save them.”
LMU’s Kristallnacht commemoration was sponsored by the “1939” Club, an organization of Holocaust survivors and their descendants.
Posted Nov. 9, 2009