As custodians and clergy at houses of worship around the world lock up their buildings tonight, many will leave some lights on — intentionally. These lights will glow throughout the night as part of a global “Let There Be Light” initiative to remember the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht (“night of broken glass”), the first pogrom against Jews in Nazi Germany and Austria.
On the night of Nov. 9, 1938, Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels encouraged attacks on Jews after the assassination of a German diplomat in France by a Polish Jewish teenager. The Nazi SA storm troopers and members of Hitler Youth shattered windows of Jewish houses, businesses, and synagogues. More than 1,400 synagogues and prayer rooms were damaged, along with many Jewish cemeteries and more than 7,000 Jewish businesses. More than 30,000 Jews were arrested and imprisoned, and about 100 were initially reported killed though later analysis suggests hundreds more died.
In remembrance of that dark night, people driving by Second Baptist Church in Liberty, Missouri, tonight will see light streaming out through the stained glass windows.
“It was kind of the foreshadowing of the Holocaust to come,” Connie McNeill, associate pastor of administration, discipleship, and equipping at Second Baptist, told Word&Way. “So, we’re going to leave our sanctuary and chapel lights on. And we’ve encouraged our congregants to leave home lights on in commemoration of this horrible night.”
As Second Baptist leaves its light on tonight, it will join hundreds of houses of worship across the world — including Baptist churches in North Carolina, Florida, Japan, Spain, and the Netherlands. Individuals are also encouraged to leave a light on at their own homes.
The “Let There be Light” initiative is led by the March of the Living, a Jewish educational group that brings students to Poland to learn about the Holocaust, and the effort is cosponsored by numerous Jewish and other organizations. They will also host a live commemoration featuring witness accounts of Kristallnacht and the Holocaust.
First Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina, will be among those leaving a light on tonight. And they see it as an important message today.
“We are proud to join the interfaith ‘Let There be Light’ effort against bias, bigotry, anti-Semitism, racism, hatred, and intolerance, especially in a time where swastikas have appeared more frequently and neo-Nazi presence has been emboldened more publicly in our political landscape,” Alan Sherouse, senior pastor at First Baptist, told Word&Way. “This is an especially vital practice for us as a majority white Christian congregation, as some who identify as Christian continue to conflate racial identity and religious identity with national identity, even at the highest levels of our national discourse.”
“As a Baptist congregation, valuing the freedom of every conscience, this is but one way to celebrate the diversity of God’s creation and to shine a light on all that would threaten it, whether in dramatic or subtle ways,” he added. “We are grateful for the leadership of our Jewish neighbors and friends in Greensboro, and for the invitation to join them in this symbolic action 82 years after Kristallnacht. We are committed to reckoning with our history, that we may never repeat it.”
McNeill said they decided to participate as part of their “growing consciousness and discipleship for justice.” When asked why Baptists in Liberty, Missouri, would leave their lights on to remember the injustice to Jews in Germany and Austria 82 years ago, McNeill responded, “Why not disciples of Jesus around the world, wherever you are? Why wouldn’t you care for justice?”
And she noted that despite knowledge “intellectually and cognitively” about the importance of standing for justice — like reciting the oft-quoted Martin Niemöller poem “First they came…” — she felt “we obviously have not leaned into them enough in terms of our own behavior and actions.”
Although people driving by tonight will see the lights in the church building, McNeill said that even “if it doesn’t impact anybody else” it will still help the congregation with “our commitment to justice in this world.” The church talked about the effort in its e-newsletters and during worship on Sunday.
“We don’t think we can save the world, but we think that we can make a difference here on our block of God’s earth in Liberty,” McNeill added.
And tonight, that block — and others in Greensboro and around the world — will see some light pushing against the darkness.