In the book of Leviticus, the God of Israel gives His children a series of calendar dates to respect and commemorate each year. We read: “The Lord spoke again to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘The Lord’s appointed times which you shall proclaim as holy convocations (Leviticus 23:1-2).”
These are known as the Feasts of the Lord or the Feasts of Israel, and no, they have nothing to do with Kristallnacht per se, except maybe and within reason, the principle of yearly repetition found in those verses. God knew all along that mankind can have a tendency to become complacent and even forget about important events like His festivals, so He laid them out in a chapter of the Torah for believers to commemorate for years to come.
There is much value in remembering. We must remember not just the good that happened to us but also the bad. This is why many special dates have been set aside by various countries over the centuries to either celebrate the birthday of an important character of history, an event or even a place. Likewise we must remember the days that negatively punctuated mankind’s history such as Kristallnacht each November since the event took place.
This unexpected event occurred 76 years ago on November 9-10, 1938, throughout Nazi Germany and parts of Austria and Czechoslovakia. It continues to be remembered as Kristallnacht or “the Night of Broken Glass”. It consisted of a series of pogroms (organized riots) against Jewish communities during which over 260 synagogues and 7,000 Jewish businesses were destroyed and 91 Jewish people killed. Additionally, 30,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps.
This attack against the Jews of Europe was orchestrated by the paramilitary division of the Nazi Party known as the SA (Sturmabtellung) or “Stormtroopers”, originally under Herman Göring until Hitler took it over from 1930 to 1945. The chief instigator of the riots was Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.
Originally, the reason given for Kristallnacht was the assassination of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath by a young Polish Jew living in Paris at the time. The life of one German man precipitated the destruction of thousands of Jewish properties and the deportation and death of tens of thousands of Jews. This is somewhat reminiscent of the corporate anti-Semitism demonstrated by Haman in the book of Esther for what appears to be the disobedience of one Jewish man, namely Mordecai. This is quite an imbalance by any ethical or judicial standards.
In reality the death of Ernst Vom Rath was simply a pretext for pogroms and mass boycotts against the Jewish community. Reputable historians see Kristallnacht as the inception of the “Final Solution to the Jewish Problem” that is the Holocaust. But what we must realize is that Kristallnacht wasn’t only a demonstration of hatred against the Jews. It might have been fueled by anti-Semitism but there was also an equally devastating enemy at work there. I call it was apathy.
Whenever there is any kind of abuse in the world being the tight vise of a dictatorship, religious fanaticism or ethnic cleansing to name just a few, the grip of abuse is always facilitated by the apathy of those who could make a difference.
There were many Germans during Kristallnacht who could have made a difference. They could have stood in the way of evil. To be sure, some did and we certainly do want to generalize. As to what other civilized countries could have done to help a wounded Jewonistish community escape a much darker fate, history tells us that it was also too little and way too late, if at all. Doors for immigration were closed except for a few countries like England for a short while. Words come easy but when not followed by actions, they are just a collection of clinging cymbals making noise with no purpose.
Any time in history that a community becomes complacent or indifferent to the fate of one of its minority groups, it is only a matter of time until that minority runs the greater risk of extinction, all of it simply observed by their apathetic neighbor.
76 years after the original “Night of Broken Glass” anti-Semitism is at its highest since that gloomy episode of history that saw the death of 6,000,000 Jews. Do we run the chance of another Kristallnacht? Well, if we consider the level of anti-Israel sentiment displayed around the globe in words AND deeds, I would posit that YES, we do indeed. We could see another event of the sort that might again serve as a catalyst to a greater loss of life. All we have to do is watch the events of the last six months in Western Europe (France in particular). We can also look at what Iran’s Ayatollah Khameini just published against Israel on the very day of the anniversary of Kristallnacht. His nine-point plan on the annihilation of the “Zionist regime” leaves no stone unturned.
When it comes to Israel and the Jewish people, we live in an age of “supporter fatigue”. The events of the Middle East still make the 8 o’clock news but do not carry the same impact as they did even a decade ago. By extension, what happens to global Jewry has also become a rather tiresome story to most. People simply don’t care any more unless there is “something in it for them”. When self-gratification reigns, apathy is a co-regent, crippling those who could help.
We must remember Kristallnacht if only to be able to tell our children about it. We shouldn’t hold a grudge or even seek retribution, but we should simply do our part to remain instrumental in teaching our world about evil and how to fight it.
“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” – Albert Einstein