On Monday, November 11, the Farmington Main Library was honored to host Dr. Leon Chameides as the speaker for our 7th Annual Kristallnacht Holocaust Lecture. Dr. Chameides served as the founding Chair of Pediatric Cardiology at Hartford Hospital and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center for 30 years, as Chair of Pediatrics at Hartford Hospital for 10 years, and as Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. But as a seven-year-old Jewish boy in Poland in the late 1930s, he could not have foreseen the path his life would take.
As the German persecution of Jews grew and the pogroms in Poland intensified, Leon’s father took him and his brother to a monastery in the Russian section of the country that went on to become part of the Ukraine and asked the leader of the country’s Greek Catholic Church to shelter and protect his sons, knowing the threat of discovery would be life-threatening not only to Leon and his brother, but also to the brave priests who hid them and worked to keep them safe. Separated into different orphanages for security reasons, Leon would not see his brother again until after the war. He would also later learn that within six years the rest of his family left in Poland would be killed.
He told stories of learning multiple languages and a new religion, assuming different names and new identities, and never sharing who he was or where he came from. His education took him from Poland to the Ukraine, to London and eventually to New York, where he came in 1949. He holds a BS degree from Yeshiva College, a Hebrew Teacher’s diploma from the Teacher’s Institute of Yeshiva University, and an MD degree from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He and his wife, Jean, came to Hartford in 1967.
Dr. Chameides shared his story within the context of Kristallnacht, also referred to as the Night of Broken Glass. Kristallnacht was a series of coordinated attacks against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and parts of Austria on November 9-10, 1938. German authorities looked on as SA paramilitary and civilians carried out these attacks and covered the streets with broken glass from the windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings, and synagogues. At least 91 Jews were killed in the attacks, and a further 30,000 arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps. Jewish homes, hospitals, and schools were ransacked, over 1,000 synagogues were burned, and over 7,000 Jewish businesses were destroyed or damaged.
This annual event at the Farmington Libraries commemorates the human spirit’s ability to overcome such persecution, and Dr. Chameides’s story was an outstanding testament to courage, perseverance, and grace during this frightening time in our world’s history. More information on Dr. Chameides’s story can be found in his book, “Strangers in Many Lands.”
This Kristallnacht lecture has been videotaped and is available to watch in its entirety on the library’s YouTube channel.