November 10, 2013 was the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, “The Night of Broken Glass.” On that infamous night in 1938, the Nazis vandalized thousands of Jewish owned stores . . . and the world was silent. They destroyed and set fire to over 1,000 synagogues . . . and the world was silent. They arrested 30,000 Jews and sent many of them to Dachau . . . and the world was silent. They murdered over 2,000 Jews, shooting many of them in public . . . and the world was silent.
This year, students from Rambam Mesivta rallied outside the home of Nazi war criminal Jakiw Palij and chanted in unison . . . “We will not be silent!” Rabbi Zev Meir Friedman, rosh mesivta of Rambam Mesivta, explained to all assembled why Rambam Mesivta organized the rally. “It is outrageous that the killers of our people are able to live freely within a 30-minute drive or less of the Jewish community. Furthermore, tomorrow is Veterans Day; hundreds of thousands of veterans gave their lives fighting Nazis and were unable to come back to the shores to build homes and families, and yet Nazis like Palij came to this country, collect Social Security, enjoy mail delivery and police protection, and walk the same streets that we do. Palij has no right to be here!” declared Rabbi Friedman.
His words were punctuated with chants such as “No SS in the US!”; “Kick him out!”; “Your neighbor is a Nazi!”; and “His hands are drenched in blood!”
Palij served as a Nazi camp guard and was involved in the murder of men, women, and children in a 24-hour period on November 3, 1943. According to the Justice Department, “During a single nightmarish day in November 1943, all of the more than 6,000 prisoners of the Nazi camp that Jakiw Palij had guarded were systematically butchered; by helping to prevent the escape of these prisoners, Palij played an indispensable role in ensuring that they met their tragic fate at the hands of the Nazis.”
Letters of support by members of Congress were read at the rally. Sophomore Ellie Marcus read a letter from Congressman Joseph Crowley, who wrote, “As the member of Congress representing Jackson Heights, I will continue to work for justice for Holocaust victims. We must never forget the horrors of the Nazis nor turn our backs on those seeking accountability. Please share my thanks for your efforts with the students at Rambam Mesivta.”
Shai Yastrab, a senior at Rambam, read a letter from Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, who wrote, “On the 75th commemoration of Kristallnacht, the day the Holocaust began, the world is still feeling the Holocaust’s effects. We must remember these painful events in order to prevent another Holocaust ever occurring again. Thank you for the work that you and your students are doing.”
Evan Edelstein, a sophomore at Rambam, read a letter from Congressman Gregory Meeks, who wrote about Palij, “He has been stripped of his US citizenship and ordered deported. If legal technicality prevents war criminals from being tried in the United States for crimes perpetrated in Europe, this is no reason why he should be allowed to act as if he is a citizen with all the benefits of citizenship—including the liberty to walk our streets or travel on highways and byways, perhaps even crossing the path of World War II veteran or a Holocaust survivor or descendent. I commend those who continue to shine the light of public awareness on Kristallnacht, on how the Holocaust is set in motion, and for their continuing commitment to never forget.”
Assemblyman Dov Hikind joined the rally and spoke out forcefully against Palij and other Nazi war criminals living freely in the United States. Palij, who happened to open the door just as the buses arrived, refused to answer the door when Rabbi Friedman and the Assemblyman began to knock on his door. Students from Rambam began to chant “Show your face!” and “What a coward!” when Palij refused to open the door and acknowledge his heinous past.
Students were involved in planning and coordinating every aspect of the rally. They contacted Congress for letters of support, were involved in writing the press release, and contacted members of the media. According to Assistant Principal Hillel Goldman, “Their involvement speaks volumes about their character and their commitment for Klal Yisrael. They understand that the message of ‘Zachor,’ to remember and never forget, is more than just a theoretical one—it propels them to act in concrete ways.”
Active involvement on behalf of the community has been a core educational value of Rambam Mesivta since its inception 22 years ago. The students once again demonstrated that they have learned that lesson well. Members of the media were out in force with print, web, radio, and TV stations reporting on the only protest in the United States to take place on Kristallnacht outside the home of a Nazi war criminal. v