On Kristallnacht: What Happens When We Stop Looking Out For One Another


Jews under arrest being marched by the S.S. on their way to concentration camps.

Today marks the 80th Anniversary of , or Night of Broken Glass, the 1938 pogrom against German Jews that ignited the Holocaust. The night and day of terror - Jews killed, synagogues burned,  business destroyed, over 30,000 Jews arrested and sent to concentration camps - marked a new stage in the Nazi extermination project. It began, it's vital to remember, not with The Final Solution but with slowly escalating hate-infused speech and actions aimed at making life so untenable for Jews - and eventually gypsies, Communists, gay people and other "others" whose blood was deemed too impure for a superior Aryan Reich - they'd feel compelled to emigrate.

For years starting in 1933, through 1935's deeply racist Nuremberg Laws and until 1938, a growing series of laws restricted the rights of Jews - to work, go to school, own property, run businesses, marry non-Jews, enter certain towns or neighborhoods, be citizens, have passports unless they were marked with "J" for Jude and otherwise live as full-fledged human beings. In October 1938, even as hundreds of thousands of Jews were seeking asylum in other countries that were increasingly turning them away, Nazis brutally drove thousands of Jews with Polish citizenship across the border into abandoned stables - the first mass deportation.

On November 9 and 10, they went further in their ethnic cleansing project with a pogrom billed by the Nazis as spontaneous - the pretext was the assassination of a German diplomat by a young Polish-Jewish exile - but in fact organized by Joseph Goebbels and other Nazi leaders. Overnight, with the SS doing the dirty deeds, 91 Jews were shot and beaten - others committed suicide - 1,400 synagogues were burned, and over 7,000 Jewish businesses were destroyed as police obediently stood aside and many everyday Germans watched, as they also did the next day when over 30,000 Jews were rounded up and marched away for concentration camps.


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After years of ever-more-brazen enmity toward the "other" in a country grown inured to it through an unceasing  barrage of hate rhetoric, Kristallnacht marked a deadly turning point - when it was "suddenly thinkable that murder might mutate into an end in itself" - and a vital moral test, between conscience and complicity, that too many Germans failed. In the echo chamber of today's menacing political maelstrom, says the Jewish Labor Movement, the lesson resonates: "Challenge hate wherever and whenever you see it." The lesson became clear to Elisheva Avital when she recently uncovered photos that had belonged to her grandfather, who fought in World War 2. Taken by Nazi photojournalists during Kristallnacht, they show - Warning: harrowing - Nazis setting fire to synagogues and rampaging through houses as terrorized residents stand in pajamas, dazed and bleeding. "You tell us 'never again,'" writes a shaken Avital of both then and now. "I'm not so sure."

Yad Vashem's documenting of Kristallnacht, tellingly titled, "It Came From Within," highlights an excerpt from the testimony of historian and Holocaust survivor Zvi Bacharach, ten years old at the time. German Jewry was "so much a part of German society that the Nazi blow hit it from within," he writes, citing his parents' belief that "there's no way the Germans we live with will continue to do these things." On Kristallnacht, "They couldn't comprehend it...I remember my mother standing pale and crying...I remember her phoning her Gentile friends...No answer. No one answered her."


Crowds blithely mill as a synagogue burns

Ferdinand Levy and his wife Rosa were among the almost 100 victims; both were beaten to death

Challenge hate wherever and whenever you see it.
Never be a bystander. pic.twitter.com/vo4BsgffxW

— Jewish Labour Movement (@JewishLabour) November 9, 2018

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