On November 14-17, 2013, Kaliningrad hosted the international forum marking 75 years after the Kristallnacht, the first wave of anti-Jewish pogroms organized by the Nazis and directed against synagogues and Jewish neighborhoods in Germany, including East Prussia in 1938.
The forum included international conference, seminars for teachers of Jewish schools of CIS and Baltic states was held at the initiative of the Russian Jewish Congress (RJC), Russian Holocaust Center and Foundation. It brought together more than 50 scholars, public figures and teachers from Belarus, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Israel, Japan, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Russia, United States, and Ukraine.
The International conference “Holocaust Lessons and Contemporary Russia” was held in Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University (Kaliningrad) November 14-16, 2013. The city was chosen as the conference site because Königsberg, as Kaliningrad was called before 1946, was the only place in contemporary Russia where Kristallnachtoccurred.
A keynote speaker was one of the most prominent contemporary Holocaust scholar Professor Michael Berenbaum from American Jewish University in Los Angeles. He spoke about the reasons and consequences of the Kristallnacht, while placing the event in the context of the Jewish history. Special emphasis was laid on analyzing the American responses to the Kristallnacht. Dr. Shimon Samuels, another keynote speaker, Director of International Programs at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre (Paris), addressed contemporary issue of Holocaust remembrance, anti-Semitism, and growing anti-Israeli stance in Europe.
One of the conference panels handled the topic of the Kristallnacht. Noteworthy was the presentation by Professor Alan Steiweis from the University of Vermont, a major expert on the topic and the author of the book “Kristallnacht, 1938”. He spoke on historical background against which this pogrom erupted and the ways it grasped by contemporary German society. Particularly illuminating were Professor Steiweis’s observations on whether the Kristallnacht could be considered as a premeditated action vs. the unfolding of the “Final Solution”. Professor Johann Chapoutot from the University of Grenoble who shed light on the hitherto neglected international aspects of the Kristallnacht. Dr. Jürgen Zarusky from Munich-based Institute of Contemporary History provided a historical background of the Kristallnacht vis-à-vis arrests of Jewish men and their subsequent fates in Nazi concentration camps.
Another panel looked into the activities of Chiune Sugihara, a famous Japanese Righteous among the Nations who during the Kristallnacht served as a Japanese Consul in Königsberg. Particularly important insights were provided by Professor Ilya Altman, Head of the Russian Holocaust Center, and Professor Chizuko Takao from Rikkyo University, Japan, who spoke on the transit of Jewish refugees through the USSR with the visas issued by Sugihara and their reception in Japan, respectively. Kiril Feferman from the Russian Holocaust Center explored the ways the escape by means of visas was viewed in rabbinical circles in Lithuania.
In the morning on November 17, the conference participants paid homage to the Holocaust victims at the memorial set in the village of Yantarnoe where the SS had massacred some 7,000 Jews on January 30, 1945. This was the last biggest execution of the Jews during the Second World war.