Approaching a Horrific Anniversary in Jewish History: Kristallnacht

As Jews and people of conscience of all ethnicities reel from the horrors that took place at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, we once again approach another heinous epoch in Jewish history: the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht.  With that in mind, it's important to remember that Kristallnacht and its aftermath the Holocaust did not occur in a vacuum.

With the exception of insular Holocaust-deniers, most people have heard and recognize the unspeakable horrors and inhumanity Jews suffered all over Europe during this horrific period in time.  However, not so many are familiar with the vehement anti-Semitism that permeated Eastern Europe and Russia at the dawn of 20th century.

Beginning in the 1880s and ending for the most part around 1922, there were three distinct, increasingly violent cycles of debasement committed against the Jewish people.  In what is collectively known as pogroms, perpetrators on both the right and left took turns raping, murdering, and looting the property of helpless Jewish victims, lacking only in scale and organization what was to come a decade later. 

If nothing else, the pogroms portrayed Jews as defenseless and their blood and property as easy pickings for marauding bands of mercenaries, a fact not lost upon later generations of Ukrainians and Russians at the dawn of the 20th century as well as Hitler and his Nazi cohorts in the 1930s.

Hitler came into power in 1933 with a plan to expand Germany's rule and to completely annihilate world Jewry.  During this time between his ascension and 1938, progressively strident anti-Semitic laws known as the Nuremberg Laws were enacted in which governmental policies regulated every aspect of Jewish life.

As conditions increasingly worsened for Jews, a Polish Jewish student, Herschel Grynszpan, whose family was being deported after a lifetime living in Germany, acted out against the Nazis and assassinated a German diplomat, Ernst vom Rath, on November 7, 1938.  Hitler could not have been happier: it was the pretext he had been seeking to up the ante of anti-Semitism from "law-based" to mob violence. 

By November 9, rioting was already in full swing in all quarters of the Reich, which by this time included Austria.  Minister of propaganda Josef Goebbels encouraged Hitler to allow further punishment of the Jews through more "spontaneous demonstrations" of violence.  According to Goebbels's diary, Hitler responded: "[D]emonstrations should be allowed to continue.  The police should not be withdrawn.  For once the Jews should get the feel of popular anger."

And did they ever.  On the nights of November 9 and 10, 1938, unspeakable assaults upon Jewish women and men took place in Germany and Austria.  When the majority of the mayhem finally ended on November 11, 30,000 Jewish men had been arrested and taken to concentration camps.  Although figures vary, at least 100 fatalities were initially reported, the number growing into the hundreds due to subsequent mistreatment of those arrested.

Over 1,400 synagogues were burnt to the ground, and more than 7,500 businesses were likewise looted and torched.  Jewish hospitals, homes, and schools fared no better.  Those two nights of havoc would ignominiously become known as Kristallnacht: the night of the broken glass.

Soon, the world came to know the depredations wrought upon the Jewish people those nights.  It was just the beginning, a precursor to the greatest ethnic mass murder of a people in the history of the world: the Holocaust. 

For certain, Kristallnacht was not a hidden event.  In real time, correspondents throughout the globe published what had just occurred.  All the major newspapers were well represented throughout Germany and sent in reports such as Hugh Greene's at the Daily Telegraph: 

Mob law ruled in Berlin throughout the afternoon and evening and hordes of hooligans indulged in an orgy of destruction.  I have seen several anti-Jewish outbreaks in Germany during the last five years, but never anything as nauseating as this.  Racial hatred and hysteria seemed to have taken complete hold of otherwise decent people.  I saw fashionably dressed women clapping their hands and screaming with glee, while respectable middle-class mothers held up their babies to see the 'fun'.

To further accentuate the results of this living hell, in the days following Kristallnacht, Hermann Goering and the other officials, including Nazi minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels decreed that the Jews were to blame for the destruction, and all insurance payments were confiscated by the government.  Not only did the Jewish people have to pay for the repairs out of their own pockets, but they were also fined 1 billion reichsmarks for the assassination of vom Rath.

Still not satisfied with their handiwork, these denizens of evil continued to dehumanize the Jewish people.  Jews were no longer allowed to own businesses, nor could they attend public schools and universities, the movies, or the theater, nor use gymnasiums.  Jewish doctors, if they were allowed to practice at all, could treat only other Jews.

In addition to financial losses, the Kristallnacht pogrom also marked the beginning of mass deportations of Jews.  Although the war would not officially begin until 1939, the die had been cast: concentration camps had already been built and were being filled by unfortunates caught up in the web of Nazi anti-Semitism. 

Fast-forward to 2018, It's indeed ironic and macabre that just days prior to the memorialization of Kristallnacht, Jews would suffer the greatest mass murder in the history of the United States.  It's further proof that even in the greatest country in the world, anti-Semitism, bigotry, and hatred are still alive in the hearts and minds of some very sick people.  But if any solace can be taken from this dastardly event, anti-Semitism in this country is not government-sponsored and is roundly denounced by all people of goodwill.

As Jews and people of conscience of all ethnicities reel from the horrors that took place at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, we once again approach another heinous epoch in Jewish history: the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht.  With that in mind, it's important to remember that Kristallnacht and its aftermath the Holocaust did not occur in a vacuum.

With the exception of insular Holocaust-deniers, most people have heard and recognize the unspeakable horrors and inhumanity Jews suffered all over Europe during this horrific period in time.  However, not so many are familiar with the vehement anti-Semitism that permeated Eastern Europe and Russia at the dawn of 20th century.

Beginning in the 1880s and ending for the most part around 1922, there were three distinct, increasingly violent cycles of debasement committed against the Jewish people.  In what is collectively known as pogroms, perpetrators on both the right and left took turns raping, murdering, and looting the property of helpless Jewish victims, lacking only in scale and organization what was to come a decade later. 

If nothing else, the pogroms portrayed Jews as defenseless and their blood and property as easy pickings for marauding bands of mercenaries, a fact not lost upon later generations of Ukrainians and Russians at the dawn of the 20th century as well as Hitler and his Nazi cohorts in the 1930s.

Hitler came into power in 1933 with a plan to expand Germany's rule and to completely annihilate world Jewry.  During this time between his ascension and 1938, progressively strident anti-Semitic laws known as the Nuremberg Laws were enacted in which governmental policies regulated every aspect of Jewish life.

As conditions increasingly worsened for Jews, a Polish Jewish student, Herschel Grynszpan, whose family was being deported after a lifetime living in Germany, acted out against the Nazis and assassinated a German diplomat, Ernst vom Rath, on November 7, 1938.  Hitler could not have been happier: it was the pretext he had been seeking to up the ante of anti-Semitism from "law-based" to mob violence. 

By November 9, rioting was already in full swing in all quarters of the Reich, which by this time included Austria.  Minister of propaganda Josef Goebbels encouraged Hitler to allow further punishment of the Jews through more "spontaneous demonstrations" of violence.  According to Goebbels's diary, Hitler responded: "[D]emonstrations should be allowed to continue.  The police should not be withdrawn.  For once the Jews should get the feel of popular anger."

And did they ever.  On the nights of November 9 and 10, 1938, unspeakable assaults upon Jewish women and men took place in Germany and Austria.  When the majority of the mayhem finally ended on November 11, 30,000 Jewish men had been arrested and taken to concentration camps.  Although figures vary, at least 100 fatalities were initially reported, the number growing into the hundreds due to subsequent mistreatment of those arrested.

Over 1,400 synagogues were burnt to the ground, and more than 7,500 businesses were likewise looted and torched.  Jewish hospitals, homes, and schools fared no better.  Those two nights of havoc would ignominiously become known as Kristallnacht: the night of the broken glass.

Soon, the world came to know the depredations wrought upon the Jewish people those nights.  It was just the beginning, a precursor to the greatest ethnic mass murder of a people in the history of the world: the Holocaust. 

For certain, Kristallnacht was not a hidden event.  In real time, correspondents throughout the globe published what had just occurred.  All the major newspapers were well represented throughout Germany and sent in reports such as Hugh Greene's at the Daily Telegraph: 

Mob law ruled in Berlin throughout the afternoon and evening and hordes of hooligans indulged in an orgy of destruction.  I have seen several anti-Jewish outbreaks in Germany during the last five years, but never anything as nauseating as this.  Racial hatred and hysteria seemed to have taken complete hold of otherwise decent people.  I saw fashionably dressed women clapping their hands and screaming with glee, while respectable middle-class mothers held up their babies to see the 'fun'.

To further accentuate the results of this living hell, in the days following Kristallnacht, Hermann Goering and the other officials, including Nazi minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels decreed that the Jews were to blame for the destruction, and all insurance payments were confiscated by the government.  Not only did the Jewish people have to pay for the repairs out of their own pockets, but they were also fined 1 billion reichsmarks for the assassination of vom Rath.

Still not satisfied with their handiwork, these denizens of evil continued to dehumanize the Jewish people.  Jews were no longer allowed to own businesses, nor could they attend public schools and universities, the movies, or the theater, nor use gymnasiums.  Jewish doctors, if they were allowed to practice at all, could treat only other Jews.

In addition to financial losses, the Kristallnacht pogrom also marked the beginning of mass deportations of Jews.  Although the war would not officially begin until 1939, the die had been cast: concentration camps had already been built and were being filled by unfortunates caught up in the web of Nazi anti-Semitism. 

Fast-forward to 2018, It's indeed ironic and macabre that just days prior to the memorialization of Kristallnacht, Jews would suffer the greatest mass murder in the history of the United States.  It's further proof that even in the greatest country in the world, anti-Semitism, bigotry, and hatred are still alive in the hearts and minds of some very sick people.  But if any solace can be taken from this dastardly event, anti-Semitism in this country is not government-sponsored and is roundly denounced by all people of goodwill.