Antisemitism is everyone’s problem
It’s been 84 years since the atrocities and persecution we call Kristallnacht took place in Germany on November 11, 1938. Considered the start of the Holocaust, Nazi Party officials and Hitler Youth, disguised to look like mobs, ransacked and burned synagogues, Jewish-owned businesses, homes and schools, and 30,000 Jewish men were rounded up and sent to concentration camps.
The events that led to the senseless slaughter of six million Jews and millions of other innocents didn’t begin that “night of broken glass.” The hatred had been percolating for years, behind closed doors at first, then out in the open. A nation filled with anger, division, bias and misinformation chose either to participate in or look the other way from a heinous plan to eliminate an entire culture that dressed, spoke or prayed differently.
The Jews were easy scapegoats. Age-old hatred, combined with Germany’s economic challenges and shame from losing World War I distilled a potent fuel, allowing Hitler and his acolytes to reject democracy, human rights and common decency in furtherance of their own ambitions. Sadly, not unlike today, they found many willing to believe their lies and few willing to repudiate them publicly.
Most of the Nazis who perpetuated these atrocities are dead now. So, what do Jews and other religious or ethnic minorities have to fear in 2022? Plenty, if history and current events are reliable indicators. The worst mass killing of Jews in America occurred four years ago, when a gunman murdered worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. His social media postings spoke to the white genocide conspiracy theory being promoted by far-right hate groups, implying that white people are being replaced and becoming irrelevant.
This wasn’t an isolated instance of antisemitic violence. According to FBI data on hate crimes, Jews comprise over half of all religion-based crime victims even though they represent only 2% of the American population.
Violence and hatred toward Jews often serve as a precursor for acts of malice and intolerance against other minorities. This past May, 10 black Americans were slaughtered at a neighborhood supermarket in Buffalo by an avowed racist who chose this location in a predominantly Black neighborhood so that he could maximize his carnage. The shooter was motivated by white supremacist beliefs described in his online diary entries.
It is the less-heralded mainstreaming of antisemitic, racial, xenophobic and bigoted discourse that also demands condemnation. Far-right extremists, religious nationalists and racists increasingly are being elected to public office. They build on fear, resentment and hardship to create an “us versus them” mentality that blames immigrants and ethnic and religious minorities for economic woes and other problems.
When political leaders and celebrities spew antisemitic or racist vitriol without suffering real consequences, they empower extremists and bring their horrific views ever closer to the mainstream. Most notably, the rapper Kanye (Ye) West spread inflammatory and offensive claims and posted that he was ready to go “death con [sic] 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE.” Nets basketball star Kyrie Irving posted his support for an antisemitic movie, and when asked to apologize or disavow antisemitism, he refused. Finally, under enormous pressure and facing suspension, he issued a half-hearted excuse that, along with his offer of a $500,000 donation to the Anti-Defamation League, was turned down as disingenuous.
Every college, university, school and religious organization, regardless of affiliation, should commemorate Kristallnacht as a reminder of how much we all stand to lose if we ignore the past or those willing to subjugate others for their own gain.
At Sacred Heart University, where I serve as the University’s Jewish chaplain, our interfaith clergy help organize educational programs, multi-denominational observances and guest lectures. For the past decade we have invited Holocaust survivors to speak at our chapel on Kristallnacht so students can hear their stories first-hand. This is especially important because Holocaust deniers continue to spread false information and try to erase or minimize what happened.
Without truth and the unburdened study of history, we are lost and doomed to repeat our mistakes. As a nation we should be uniformly condemning antisemitic rhetoric and actions, just as we should repudiate racism, misogyny, bigotry and xenophobia. We must counter these abhorrent outbursts and behaviors through education at every grade level, community engagement and aggressive advocacy. And we should pray, together, that today’s students—the next generation of American workers, parents and leaders—won’t fall victim to the ignorance, intolerance and injustice that surrounds them today.