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On November 9, 1938, Nazi paramilitaries in the Sturmabteilung (SA) set fire to synagogues and vandalized Jewish-owned businesses across Germany and parts of Austria. Tens of thousands were arrested and interned in concentration camps, and many were beaten or killed. This coordinated pogrom was the turning point at which the increasing social and legal exclusion of Jews from German society since 1933 gave way to violence and murder.
After the “Kristallnacht”, as it came to be known, many who had never imagined leaving their homeland now saw emigration as their only choice. Others lacked the means to escape, and others still could not imagine leaving Germany despite the circumstances. Seventy-five years later, Leo Baeck Institute remembers the victims of the Kristallnacht with a film and lecture that deal with the fate of those who left and those who remained.
Refuge, a Film by Ethan Bensinger
After “Kristallnacht”, a determined group of young German Jews left behind everything that was dear and familiar and immigrated to Chicago. Here, these refugees set out to create a supportive community for themselves and others fleeing Nazi persecution, eventually establishing the Selfhelp Home for the oldest among them. REFUGE is a one-hour documentary that reaches back more than 70 years to give a voice to its last generation of victims of Nazi persecution and tell the story of this singular community that has provided a safe haven to more than 1,000 Central European Jewish refugees and survivors.
REFUGE weaves together historical narrative, archival footage and deeply personal testimony to explore the lives of six Chicagoans against the context of the Nazi cataclysm and how a small group of them came together to care for their own. The film illuminates the lost world of Central European Jewry prior to World War II–middle class, educated, cultured–and the remarkable courage, resilience and character of its final generation at Selfhelp.
Professor Sam Kassow, Author of “Who Will Write our History”
Samuel D. Kassow is the Charles Northam Professor of History at Trinity College. He is author of Students, Professors, and the State in Tsarist Russia, 1884–1917 and editor (with Edith W. Clowes) of Between Tsar and People: The Search for a Public Identity in Tsarist Russia. His most recent book, Who Will Write Our History? Emanuel Ringelblum, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Oyneg Shabes Archive, tells the story of a group of a clandestine organization, code-named Oyneg Shabes, in Nazi-occupied Warsaw. This group set out to study and document all facets of Jewish life in wartime Poland and to compile an archive that would preserve this history for posterity. They preserved thousands of documents by burying them in in milk cans and tin boxes, some of which were discovered 1946 and 1950
Co-presented with Self-Help.