Kristallnacht: We Remember
David A. Harris
November 4, 2008
On November 9 and 10, we mark the seventieth anniversary of Kristallnacht, the “night of broken glass.”
Rampaging mobs, spurred by the Nazi leadership, attacked Jewish targets throughout Germany and Austria .
The damage was immense. Hundreds of synagogues were burned to the ground. Thousands of Jewish-owned businesses were ransacked. Nearly 100 Jews were murdered in cold blood. And tens of thousands of Jews were arrested and deported to Buchenwald, Dachau , and other concentration camps.
Their crime? They were Jews. It was as simple as that. Observant or atheist, Zionist or anti-Zionist, bourgeois or socialist, they were all subject to the same fate.
The Second World War had not yet officially begun. That would start on September 1, 1939, not quite ten months after Kristallnacht. But the Nazi war against the Jews was already well under way.
The goal was to rid Germany , Austria , and, eventually, all of Nazi-occupied Europe of Jews.
The Nazis almost succeeded. By the war’s end in 1945, six million Jews, or two-thirds of European Jewry, had been annihilated. And ancient centers of Jewish civilization, from Vilna to Salonika, from Amsterdam to Prague , had been all but wiped out.
On this tragic anniversary, and every day, remembrance is essential.
We remember the Jews of Germany and Austria , who had contributed so greatly to what they believed to be their homelands, and who became the targets of a genocidal policy.
We remember the new alphabet of annihilation created by the Third Reich, which began with “A” for Auschwitz and ended with “Z” for Zyklon-B, the killing agent used in the gas chambers.
We remember the vibrant lives of Jewish communities across Europe that were extinguished in the flames of the Holocaust.
We remember the 1.5 million Jewish children murdered in the relentless Nazi pursuit of the so-called Final Solution.
We remember how many borders were so callously closed to Europe ’s Jews when there was still a chance to escape.
We remember that our own country, the United States , yielding to domestic isolationism and anti-Semitism, did far less than it could have to shelter Europe ’s Jews.
We remember a world without the one country, Israel , which could have provided a haven to all Jews seeking sanctuary.
We remember that earlier in 1938, prior to Kristallnacht, Nazi Germany had moved with impunity into the Sudetenland, then part of Czechoslovakia , and Austria , with barely a peep from the international community.
We remember that just weeks before Kristallnacht, the British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, traveled to Germany for the third time in two weeks and returned to London to assure the British public that there would be “peace for our time.”
We remember the valiant forces of the Allied nations that ultimately destroyed the Nazi Reich and saved the world from Adolf Hitler’s boast of a thousand-year reign.
We remember the military cemeteries across Europe , and beyond, filled with the graves of young soldiers who fought with such courage and bravery to defeat Nazi Germany and its allies.
And we remember the examples of those few who, at such risk, sought to shield Jews from harm.
Kristallnacht reminds us of the lurking capacity for inhumanity that resides in the human spirit.
Kristallnacht reminds us of nations that prided themselves on advanced levels of civilization, yet had a capacity for barbarism that exploded in ways never before witnessed.
Kristallnacht reminds us of the dire consequences when a targeted people is utterly without recourse to any means of self-defense.
Kristallnacht reminds us of the fertile soil of anti-Semitism, cultivated for centuries by religious, racial, and political ideologies obsessed with murdering, exiling, converting, segregating, or scapegoating the Jews.
Kristallnacht reminds us that there is a slippery slope from the demonization of a people, to the dehumanization of a people, to the destruction of a people.
And Kristallnacht reminds us that, in the face of evil against fellow human beings, never can silence be an option, indifference a strategy, or “never again” a mere slogan.
The American Jewish Committee remembers today, as we remembered yesterday and as we shall remember tomorrow.
with thanks to a friend for the forward, and yes, sometimes it is hard to be in Germany.