This weekend, Nov. 9-10, marks the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” when the Nazis staged an anti-Jewish pogrom throughout Germany.
In a period of 48 hours, more than 1,000 synagogues were torched, along with their Torah scrolls and prayer books. According to the Encyclopaedia Judaica, Gestapo Chief Heinrich Mueller sent a telegram to all police units telling them that “in shortest order, actions against all Jews and especially their synagogues will take place in all Germany. These are not to be interfered with.” Fire companies stood by and watched as synagogues burned, intervening “only if a fire threatened adjacent Aryan properties.”
Around 7,500 Jewish businesses were trashed and looted, 91 Jews were killed, and some 30,000 Jewish men, from 16 to 60, were arrested. To accommodate the arrestees, the concentration camps of Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen “were expanded and now contained a majority of Jews, often for the first time.”
On the eve of Kristallnacht’s 75th anniversary, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on the people of Germany to display “civil courage,” JTA reported this week. “Merkel, speaking on her weekly podcast with 17-year-old Jewish student Samuel Vingron, also said the fact that Jewish institutions still need police protection is a sobering reality 75 years after the pogrom.”
JTA also reported that “Dieter Graumann, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, will address some 200 members of the Conference of European Rabbis on Nov. 10, in a synagogue that escaped destruction and is now part of the Rabbinerseminar zu Berlin.”
And in Weimar, American expatriate musician Alan Bern is coordinating a sound installation that will include the ringing of hand bells at former Jewish homes and businesses; citizens will then broadcast the music of once-banned composers from their doors and windows. Also, church bells will be rung across the city.
“The city should be flooded with the sounds of bells and once-forbidden music, bearing witness to what happened in 1938 but also celebrating the freedom we have today,” Bern told JTA.
Kristallnacht was a signal event in the eclipse of the rule of law and the descent into barbarity across Europe. Events in Minnesota also will mark the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht. On Page 6 of this edition of the Jewish World, there is notice of events that are part of a documentary exhibit, “Lawyers Without Rights: Jewish Lawyers in Germany under the Third Reich,” which will be on display at different venues here — the Minneapolis federal courthouse, the Minnesota Judicial Center, the Duluth federal courthouse, the University of Minnesota Law School, the IDS Center, and the Minneapolis Marriott City Center — through Nov. 21.
A press release about the “Lawyers Without Rights” exhibit — which is being sponsored locally by the U.S. District Court, the Minnesota Chapter of the Federal Bar Association, the Jewish Community Relations Council, Justice David Stras of the Minnesota Supreme Court, the Cardozo Society of the Minneapolis and St. Paul Jewish federations, and others — explains that the displays explore “Hitler’s systematic exclusion of German judges, prosecutors and lawyers from practicing their profession — a calculated strategy to set the stage for an unfettered dictatorship which then committed unthinkable crimes against humanity. The lesson to be learned from this assault on the rule of law is its fragility even in a civilized nation — and the ease with which a popular ruler can employ intimidation and fear to achieve an oppressive, totalitarian state. It is a vivid reminder that we must vigilantly guard against any threat to a fair and just legal system and an independent judiciary.”
In this vein, I would add only that this editorial space has been devoted on occasion to pointing out the abuse of civil rights, in the United States and abroad, especially in the emotionally fraught post-9/11 period. I am not drawing an analogy between the U.S. government and the Nazi regime; but once our rights are curtailed in the pursuit of an ostensibly noble pursuit, such as fighting terrorism, we are on the slippery slope to fascism. The newspaper you’re holding in your hands is a testament to our First Amendment freedoms, and the AJW will continue to try to point out where we are going astray in our political life. We cannot assume that the maintenance of our civil liberties will continue on autopilot. It is up to each of us to speak out when we see attacks on our basic rights coming from any quarter.
The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the “Wobblies” of yesteryear (and today), had a slogan: “An injury to one is an injury to all.” Once upon a time, the Jews of Germany thought they were an integral part of a humane society; but the Third Reich ended all that. On the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, we remember the Jewish victims and rededicate ourselves to the protection of civil and human rights.
— Mordecai Specktor
editor [at] ajwnews [dot] com
(American Jewish World 11.8.13)