By Emily A. Canal
November 10, 2008
Dr. Margot Segall-Blank stood yesterday in front of a photo of smoke billowing from a synagogue and spoke about what she saw in Berlin on Nov. 9, 1938, the first day of Kristallnacht, a two-day, anti-Semitic rampage in Nazi Germany in which approximately 91 people were killed and about 267 synagogues destroyed.
"I couldn't believe my eyes," said Segall-Blank, an endocrinologist who lives in Brookline, as she recalled being a child and seeing her synagogue burn. "I didn't understand that the fire was not an accident."
Segall-Blank spoke at Hebrew College in Brookline yesterday as part of the program, "Remembering Kristallnacht: Standing Together 70 Years Later," which featured the opening of an art exhibit, "Standing Again: A New Generation Responds to the Holocaust."
Segall-Blank recalled that distant day when she was in second grade, walking two younger children to synagogue before her religious classes.
"We got to be about half a mile away and saw smoke and smelled smoke," Segall-Blank said. "I saw the Nazi boys in their brown shirts waving swastika flags and singing, 'Death to the Jews.' "
Julie Hock, New England's regional director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, introduced Segall-Blank and explained that the name Kristallnacht means "the night of broken glass," and is named for all the windows broken during the violence.
Segall-Blank escaped Nazi Germany in 1941 and emigrated with her family to Australia. She studied medicine there, and in 1955 went to Israel for three years to work in an Army hospital. She also treated children in Israel, which inspired to her to focus on pediatrics.
She moved to Brookline in 1973.
"I don't consider myself a German," Segall-Blank said. "I consider myself an Australian because that was the country that saved my family and my life. Our story ended happily unlike the other several millions."
Segall-Blank remembered being frustrated as a child in Berlin with the passive reaction of Jewish elders to the persecution they faced.
"I wanted to defend myself and wanted to take action, but the elders just stood by and watched," Segall-Blank said. "The mistake was not to realize that something really terrible was lurking."
People who attended yesterday's event were invited to browse a new exhibit of art inspired by Kristallnacht and the Holocaust. The hallways of the Hebrew College were decorated with the photography of Emily Carbato, paintings of Stepheny Kotzen Riemer, and a sculpture by Carol Cohen.
A bent glass sculpture that encased a dead bird and was partially painted orange to suggest fire drew the most attention, according to Evelyn Herwitz, the college's director of marketing and communications.
"It looks like an explosion and a house on fire," Herwitz said. "The glass looks like the wings of a bird and reminds me of a phoenix rising from the ashes."
Herwitz said the show, which will remain open until Jan. 31, is designed to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive.
Michael Laufer of Canton, who attended the event with his wife, said his father was a Holocaust survivor and had lost relatives and friends in concentration camps. He said those who suffered should never be forgotten.
"We need to see more of this taught in public schools," he said.