Antisemitism and Islamophobia/anti-Arab hate are on the rise exponentially in the United States and across the world in the wake of Hamas’ horrific terrorist attack of October 7th – the deadliest day for Jews in this world since the Holocaust – and the ravages of the ensuing Israel-Hamas War. Against this backdrop, America plans to observe Kristallnacht on November 9th by once again fuelling the fires of state violence with a premeditated act of state-sponsored murder on this date, for the second year in a row. This year, it will be via Texas’ slated execution of our pen pal Brent Brewer.
Kristallnacht (German: “Night of Broken Glass”) was an infamous pogrom against Jews that the Nazis, Hitler Youth and German civilians carried out across Nazi Germany on 9–10 November 1938. The name Kristallnacht is derived from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after the windows of synagogues and Jewish-owned stores and buildings were smashed. Jewish homes, hospitals and schools were ransacked, 267 synagogues and over 7,000 Jewish businesses were attacked or destroyed, and 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps. The exact number of victims is unknown, ranging from 91 Jews murdered to a death toll in the several hundreds when considering post-arrest maltreatment and suicides. Historians view Kristallnacht as the ominous prelude to the Final Solution and the murder of six million Jews during the Holocaust.
Texas’ observance of this day via state-sponsored murder is not the same as Kristallnacht nor the Holocaust that it foreshadowed. The Holocaust was a genocidal conflagration of singularly horrific proportions and one that impacts generations of Jews and human beings, including many of the members of “L’chaim! Jews Against the Death Penalty,” of which I myself am one. And yet, there are lessons that must be learned from the Holocaust that indeed apply to the awful synchronicity of another Kristallnacht execution in America, especially this year.
First and foremost, the means of state murder that Texas will employ as the world commemorates Kristallnacht is lethal injection. Lethal injection was first implemented in our world by the Nazis in 1939 – not long after the “Night of Broken Glass”- as part of their infamous Aktion T4 Protocol to kill people deemed “unworthy of life,” as designed by Dr. Karl Brandt, personal physician of Adolf Hitler. Like the various American gas chambers now being utilized for state killings, including via Zyklon B, every use of lethal injection carries on this Nazi legacy In a horrific combination of these two Nazi killing methods, I have learned as I am drafting this post that Alabama now intends to use gas to put to death our pen pal Kenny Smith, who earlier this year survived hours on the gurney during a botched lethal injection attempt.
If this were not enough, just as Kristallnacht opened the floodgates for more killing decades ago, so too does America’s Kristallnacht execution this year once again open the proverbial Pandora’s Box of state killing at a time when anti-semitic and anti-Arab violence in the United States seem to be at a breaking point in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war. Death penalty abolitionists have warned us for many years of what can happen when we open the door to state-sponsored killing. Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel knew very well of the danger of inviting the Angel of Death, and famously said of capital punishment: “Death is not the answer.” Prof. Wiesel also said this, which is akin our anthem at L’chaim:
“With every cell of my being and with every fiber of my memory I oppose the death penalty in all forms. I do not believe any civilized society should be at the service of death. I don’t think it’s human to become an agent of the angel of death.”
It is for this reason that renowned Jewish leaders such as Martin Buber were appalled at the Israeli government’s execution of Adolf Eichmann and protested it until the very end. Indeed, over time more and more Holocaust survivors like Eva Mosez Kor and their scions began to champion ideas of restorative justice, rather than execution. A most powerful example of this is a stirring op-ed from Jewish abolitionist and fellow third-generation Holocaust survivor Stephen Cooper, entitled “A Life Without Parole Sentence – not the Death Penalty – for Hitler.”
We, the thousands of members of “L’chaim! Jews Against the Death Penalty,” stand with the more than seventy percent of nations in the world that have abolished the horror of capital punishment, as we advocate for absolute abolition – without exception. The American Kristallnacht execution of Nov. 9th, 2023/5784 not only carries on the Nazi legacy, but it threatens to further ignite passions for vengeance and bloodlust at this terribly fraught moment in the United States and across the world. The members of L’chaim cannot stand by silently and allow this to happen without raising our voices vociferously in objection. And so, we chant for our pen pal Brent Brewer, as we do for all of humanity: “L’chaim…to Life!”
Cantor Michael J. Zoosman, MSM
Board Certified Chaplain – Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains
Co-Founder: “L’chaim: Jews Against the Death Penalty”
Advisory Committee Member, Death Penalty Action