Powered by WebAds

Friday, November 09, 2007

69th anniversary of Kristallnacht

I have to at least mention that tonight is the 69th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the 'Night of the Broken Glass.' On this night in 1938, German 'youths' burnt over 100 Jewish synagogues to the ground in what many historians regard as the beginning of the Holocaust. My first Gemara teacher, Rabbi Isaiah Wohlgemuth Shlita (may he live long and good days), was the Rabbi of one the synagogues that was burned down, in the town of Kitzingen.

There's an excellent description of how Kristallnacht came about here.
Almost immediately upon assuming the Chancellorship of Germany, Hitler began promulgating legal actions against Germany's Jews. In 1933, he proclaimed a one-day boycott against Jewish shops, a law was passed against kosher butchering and Jewish children began experiencing restrictions in public schools. By 1935, the Nuremberg Laws deprived Jews of German citizenship. By 1936, Jews were prohibited from participation in parliamentary elections and signs reading "Jews Not Welcome" appeared in many German cities. (Incidentally, these signs were taken down in the late summer in preparation for the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin).

In the first half of 1938, numerous laws were passed restricting Jewish economic activity and occupational opportunities. In July, 1938, a law was passed (effective January 1, 1939) requiring all Jews to carry identification cards. On October 28, 17,000 Jews of Polish citizenship, many of whom had been living in Germany for decades, were arrested and relocated across the Polish border. The Polish government refused to admit them so they were interned in "relocation camps" on the Polish frontier.

Among the deportees was Zindel Grynszpan, who had been born in western Poland and had moved to Hanover, where he established a small store, in 1911. On the night of October 27, Zindel Grynszpan and his family were forced out of their home by German police. His store and the family's possessions were confiscated and they were forced to move over the Polish border. Zindel Grynszpan's seventeen-year-old son, Herschel, was living with an uncle in Paris. When he received news of his family's expulsion, he went to the German embassy in Paris on November 7, intending to assassinate the German Ambassador to France. Upon discovering that the Ambassador was not in the embassy, he settled for a lesser official, Third Secretary Ernst vom Rath. Rath, was critically wounded and died two days later, on November 9.

The assassination provided Goebbels, Hitler's Chief of Propaganda, with the excuse he needed to launch a pogrom against German Jews. Grynszpan's attack was interpreted by Goebbels as a conspiratorial attack by "International Jewry" against the Reich and, symbolically, against the Fuehrer himself. This pogrom has come to be called Kristallnacht, "the Night of Broken Glass."

On the nights of November 9 and 10, gangs of Nazi youth roamed through Jewish neighborhoods breaking windows of Jewish businesses and homes, burning synagogues and looting. In all 101 synagogues were destroyed and almost 7,500 Jewish businesses were destroyed. 26,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps, Jews were physically attacked and beaten and 91 died (Snyder, Louis L. Encyclopedia of the Third Reich. New York: Paragon House, 1989:201).

The official German position on these events, which were clearly orchestrated by Goebbels, was that they were spontaneous outbursts. The Fuehrer, Goebbels reported to Party officials in Munich, "has decided that such demonstrations are not to be prepared or organized by the party, but so far as they originate spontaneously, they are not to be discouraged either." (Conot, Robert E. Justice at Nuremberg. New York: Harper & Row, 1983:165)

Three days later, on November 12, Goering called a meeting of the top Nazi leadership to assess the damage done during the night and place responsibility for it. Present at the meeting were Goering, Goebbels, Reinhard Heydrich, Walter Funk and other ranking Nazi officials. The intent of this meeting was two-fold: to make the Jews responsible for Kristallnacht and to use the events of the preceding days as a rationale for promulgating a series of antisemitic laws which would, in effect, remove Jews from the German economy.
The synagogue in Kitzingen was one of those destroyed. The legend in Boston when I was growing up said that Rabbi Wohlgemuth was the youngest Rabbi in Germany to have his synagogue destroyed. He never spoke about the Holocaust to us; he was interviewed for the article about Kitzingen more than twenty years after my high school graduation.

Rabbi Wohlgemuth escaped to the United States within a relatively short while after that and moved to the Boston area. He became the Rabbi of what was then known as the Norwood Jewish Congregation in November 1940.

To shock you back to the present - and how little things change - neo-Nazis are scheduled to march through the streets of Prague tomorrow.
Saturday is the Sabbath, the day of rest for the Jewish people, but this Saturday looks like being anything but quiet, as dozens, possibly hundreds of far-right extremists from the Czech Republic and abroad are due to descend on Prague's Josefov quarter. They're threatening to march through the former ghetto on the 69th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom against Germany's Jews, running the gauntlet of City Hall bans and a strong police presence.

The march is being organised by the far-right Young National Democrats, who say they will announce by Thursday a route and gathering point for participants. The group describes the march as a "protest against Czech participation in the occupation of Iraq".

It's filed request upon request to march down Maiselova street, home to a number of synagogues as well as the headquarters of the Federation of Jewish Communities and the Prague Jewish Community. The Young National Democrats want that route because they claim the Iraq war is being fought in the interests of Israel, but the night of November 9-10th is also the 69th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

The Young National Democrats deny being either neo-Nazi or anti-Semitic, describing such claims as "meaningless labels". The group's spokesman Jan Peterka says in an interview published on their website that neo-Nazi organisations are illegal in the Czech Republic and he doesn't know of any in existence here.

Later on, however, he claims the Czech Republic is under pressure from the "international Jewish lobby", pointing out that while the march was declared legal by the Czech courts, the Czech president has promised the president of the World Jewish Congress that the march wouldn't take place. "A better example of who's really pulling the strings in this country can't be found," he added.
Officially, the march has been banned. It remains to be seen whether - God forbid - these 'youths' will succeed in following in their grandparents' footsteps.

Shabbat Shalom.


At 12:30 AM, Blogger Yehudi said...

Many of my family members suffered during this period and it makes me sad. Awareness and might will ensure it never happens again!
I started a new blog that's connected to Jewish Pride and I'd like to invite you over to visit and let me know what you think!
L'Shalom, Yehudi

At 5:20 AM, Blogger no2liberals said...

What a sad chapter in human history, and a painful anniversary.
As a Christian, I stand with my Jewish brothers and sisters, and will always take the lessons from the holocaust, as a cautionary tale for dealing with madmen, monsters, and tyrants.


Post a Comment

<< Home