By Molly Hayden, U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr Public Affairs November 14, 2012
FLOSS, Germany -- It was a small but intimate gathering at the historic synagogue, here, as Chaplain Rabbi (Capt.) Andrew Shulman and members of the American and German communities honored the memory of persecuted Jews on the anniversary of Kristallnacht.
Kristallnacht, or the "Night of Broken Glass," was a series of attacks against the Jewish population in Nazi Germany and parts of Austria, Nov. 9-10, 1938.
Jewish homes, shops and villages were ransacked, as storm troopers and civilians set fire and destroyed thousands of synagogues, businesses and homes. More than 1,600 synagogues were damaged and burned, while Jewish residents were displaced or sent to concentration camps.
Fred Lehner, the former mayor of the town, was a small boy living across the street from the synagogue on that fateful night. He watched from a small window as Nazis stormed the religious haven.
"They stole everything out of it," said Lehner through a translator. "But the structure was kept."
The exterior structure of 200-year-old building, though damaged, was largely intact after the attacks. The interior, being completely destroyed at that time, was renovated in 1972. The city remodeled the synagogue as an exact replica of its original design to preserve its Jewish history.
"The Jewish spirit is still here," said Mayor Guenter Stich, eyeing the curtain adorned with Hebrew Scriptures hanging above the ark. While there is currently no Jewish population in the town itself, the synagogue is used by the neighboring towns for various religious celebrations.
Floss, however, is rich in Jewish history with the first known Jewish settlers dating back to 1684. The population started with four Jewish families taking residence, according to Stich.
The numbers grew into the hundreds over the next century. During the late 19th century, however, a restriction was put on the growing population, allowing only 40 members of the Jewish faith to remain as residents of the town. Many left for the United States, or larger German cities, looking for more prosperous work. By 1938, with religious conflict on the rise, only five Jewish families remained.
"They stayed to fight for their freedom," said Stitch.
Shulman, currently the only Jewish Army chaplain in Europe, lead a memorial service during the gathering, honoring victims of a time that launched a devastating arc in history. He felt the ceremony would provide insight and solace for the ever-growing Jewish population.
"For us, Americans and Jews, it's important to hear these eyewitness accounts from Germans," said Shulman. "They vividly bring us the picture of what it was like."
"On this day we remember in public what so many spent their entire lifetimes silently trying to forget," he said.