Sunday, November 09, 2008

Kristallnacht + 70

Seventy years ago tonight, over 90 Jews were murdered and 200 synagogues destroyed in what has since come to symbolize the turning point in Nazi Germany's campaign to eradicate Jews from the face of the earth. Kristallnacht, or the "night of broken glass," was the flashpoint of five years of rising state-sanctioned anti-Semitism following Hitler's rise to power.

We all know what happened next.

I've already written volumes about my feelings surrounding the kind of institutionalized hatred that drove this darkest period in human history. So I'll resist the urge to add more (links below). But this anniversary, coming barely a week after the U.S. elected its first non-white leader, gives me - and hopefully all of us - additional reason to pause and consider the things that make us different, and the choices we make when we ponder the meaning of these differences.

In other words, it's up to us to decide whether those differences represent an opportunity to learn and advance, or an excuse to hate and destroy. Sadly, the world continues to be filled with too many individuals who would be just as happy rehashing Hitler's victim-as-scapegoat model.

Your turn: Never again. What does that mean to you?

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12 comments:

Beth@Pages of Our Life said...

When I was in college I sat with a man who was 94 and had lived through this. He would sit up at night and want to talk about it. His wife showed me the scratches on her wedding ring from one of their escapes. It was a very moving experience to have known someone that had been there.

Elizabeth McQuern said...

I think the only way to keep things in a "we will never forget" and "never again" state is to always make sure the newest generation really hears from people who were there what happened and why it was so wrong.

Maybe it's a combination of education and media and just improved human relations, but we have to make sure the newest humans are somehow related these distant events in a way that makes real, immediate sense to them, otherwise, yes, these things might happen again.

sage said...

I remember the 50th anniversary. I was in graduate school, it was the first time I heard of Kristallnacht. Never again should be all our prayers.

bobbie said...

I was too young to be aware of these things at the time. We had no TV - nor did most of the people I knew. At the age of 8, the only newspapers I read were the funnies. During WW2 things like blackout curtains and V-mail to my brother, even ration books seemed like fun to me.
In school, things like this were touched on briefly. It was several years before I became aware of what had transpired.
I believe that young people today must be taught. It should be made very clear to them, and as Elizabeth said, those who experienced it should be talking to them. Who else could possibly convey the truth so clearly.
People in this country have been "sheltered" far too long.

sheila said...

I think the best way we can prevent this from ever happening again is to educate our children early. When appropriate let them see the pics, read the books. My kids all went to see the holocaust museaum in DC and were VERY moved (as teens). What a wonderful experience.

I've also made them watch documentaries about Selma and Rosa Parks, and the horrible ways blacks were treated in the US not that long ago.

Teaching our children is the best prevention. If they have empathy and good cores this will never be allowed to happen again, great post.

Beverly said...

Carmi, I have no words. I was not much of a history student, but I think this would have struck me had I read it in the history books.

My first knowledge of the Holocaust came through a TV series by that name many years ago. When I asked my mother about it, she was not able to tell me much.

I have read several books; I started to say many, but not really about ones who hid Jews during that time. The Hiding Place is the one that comes to mind foremost. The Dutch ladies spent time in the camps as well. One of them lived to tell and write about it.

I had the opportunity to visit the museum in Washington in June after it opened in April. The carpet was already worn from the visitors who passed thrugh those doors. I have spent time in the museum in St. Petersburg and there have had the opportunity to talk with survivors hwo work in the museum.

Thank you for the links. I will read them, and I will pray to G-d to preserve the nation of Israel. It is hard to realize how such hatred for mankind could exist.

photowannabe said...

I just can't imagine such hatred in the world but our children need to know what happened and the real stories not what is printed in some history books.
In 2001 my husband and I visited Israel and went to Vad Vashem Memorial. It was the most heart rending and poingant place I have ever been. The memory of it will be with me forever....the faces...the reverant quality...

photowannabe said...

Sorry it should read Yad Vashem.

rashbre said...

Yours is the first place I have seen this horrific anniversary mentioned.

I agree with your sentiments, and am consequently surprised at the lack of commentary this year.

The sadness is also that similar actions continue in very recent times such as the atrocities in Darfur.

Mojo said...

Wow. I had forgotten (or more likely never knew) that this was the anniversary of Kristallnacht. I was familiar with the history, just not familiar enough to have recorded the date in my fast access memory.

I dated a woman for a while whose father escaped Germany as a 14-year-old, slipping across the border into France to work as a courier for the French Resistance. Most of his family was not so lucky. He was one of only three to survive the war.

Unfortunately, I see far too much evidence that we are not so much more enlightened now than we were in 1938. More aware, more educated, possibly even more sensitive. But fundamentally, those in one group will still demonize those in another -- or all others -- if it furthers their agenda. The veneer of civility is only wafer thin, and it wouldn't take much to peel it away revealing the ugly, frightening creatures underneath.

My most fervent hope is that we can somehow reinforce that layer of understanding, of compassion, of empathy to a point where the beast is no longer strong enough to break through it.

But such things require generations to accomplish. My father scraped off much of the prejudice he grew up in the middle of in Eastern NC. I hope that I have excised even more of it and that my sons have purged more of it still. Will it be their children who are finally able to view another human being as simply another human being? Or will it be their children. Or grand children. How many generations will it take? And do we have that much time left to us as a species?

I am resigned to the idea that I will probably never know the answer to the first question. I can only hope that those who come after me will find the answer before the second becomes relevant.

Shalom my friend.

Barbara Weibel said...

I have just added you to my feed reader - great writing, which is hard to find.

lissa said...

Thank you for this entry, Carmi. As you know, my 7+ years' experience of interviewing Holocaust survivors holds a profound place in my heart, for the stories I heard and the people I met. I interviewed those whom had experienced Kristallnacht, several times, and each story was different, though each had similarities. It struck me - with each interview - how the same event was perceived and experienced in so many different ways.

And yet the common thread shared is the resolve to survive and to make sure this type of horror never happens again.

Sadly, it is happening in other nations in other ways, and for the same reason. What is heartening is that people are faster to recognize it for what it is, and to act to stop the atrocities and rescue those who are victims....bringing perpetrators to justice seems to be as difficult as it was back in the 40's, though.

Awareness. That's my key word, it's my philosophy of education and my focus in my degree and my career. Your writing perpetuates it, and I thank you for that - personally and on behalf of those I've known who would do the same.