Phyllis Zimbler Miller
Writer of Nonfiction Holocaust Material to End Antisemitism

Remembering Kristallnacht – “Unconscious” or “Conscious Bias”?

First, an important comment on the term Kristallnacht, which in German refers to the night of broken glass Nov. 9-10. 1938, when the Nazis staged (although claimed it was spontaneous) an attack on Jews throughout Germany and Austria.

A German friend of mine told me that in Germany the night is referred to as Reichspogromnacht – and, even if you do not know German, you will recognize the word “pogrom.”

That night of the Nazis’ planned destruction of Jews was no less a pogrom than when my great-great-grandmother was killed in a pogrom in Romania in the 19th Century.

And now 83 years after Kristallnacht …

The November 7, 2021, JTA article by Cnaan Liphshiz titled “Royal Court Theatre changes character’s name following antisemitism charges” begins:

A theater in London apologized for the “unconscious bias” that led a playwright to give an avaricious billionaire character a Jewish-sounding name in a play set to open this week.

The Royal Court Theatre issued the apology Saturday over the name Hershel Fink, which was applied to the character of a high-tech executive in the play “Rare Earth Mettle,” by Al Smith. The character, which closely resembles Tesla founder Elon Musk, is not Jewish and the play makes no references to any Jewish identity, the theater said.

“We acknowledge that this is an example of unconscious bias and we will reflect deeply on how this has happened in the coming days,” the theater, which is part of the English Stage Company, a prominent thespian non-profit, wrote on Instagram Saturday. “We and the writer are deeply sorry for harm caused. In response to our learning the writer has changed the name, as of last night.”

The character will be renamed Henry Finn and programs for the play will be reprinted, according to a statement by the theater Saturday.

Unconscious bias?

To me, especially as a writer who creates names for fictional characters, this seems much more likely to be conscious bias.

And, in another example of this, the same JTA article ends with this paragraph:

This is not the first time that a character’s Jewish-sounding name has raised questions about antisemitism. Last year, a character named Hiram Epstein on HBO’s “Lovecraft Country” trafficked in children, an antisemitic trope. In that case, the show’s creators did not respond to questions about the name choice, and it was not changed.

Who would come up with a name such as Hiram Epstein without conscious bias?

And if this isn’t disquieting enough news from England the week of the anniversary of Kristallnacht, there is really upsetting news from Oxford University as reported in the November 8, 2021, Algemeiner article by Benjamin Kerstein titled “Jewish Student Groups Criticize Oxford University’s Decision to Accept Donation From Family of Notorious British Fascist Oswald Mosley”:

Jewish student groups at Oxford University strongly criticized the university’s decision to accept a donation from the family of a notorious British fascist leader, saying that it “serves to commemorate and revere” his legacy.

As originally reported in the Telegraph, Oxford received a donation of £6 million ($8.1 million) from a charitable trust that Max Mosley set up with an inheritance from his father Oswald Mosley.

Oswald Mosley was the leader of the British Union of Fascists, which during the 1930s was the vanguard of the UK far-right and a strong supporter of fascist movements throughout Europe, including the Nazi party.

Mosley was openly antisemitic and his followers famously clashed with left-wing and Jewish activists at the legendary Battle of Cable Street in 1936.

The Oxford Jewish Society and Union of Jewish Students both criticized the university’s decision to accept the donation, the campus Oxford Student outlet reported.

Commemorating Kristallnacht each year is equally important for remembering the victims from then and speaking up against antisemitism now.

Two-minute video from Moriah Films about Kristallnacht.

About the Author
Phyllis Zimbler Miller is a Los-Angeles based writer who is the co-author of the Jewish holiday book SEASONS FOR CELEBRATION, the founder of the nonfiction Holocaust theater project and the co-host of the NEVER AGAIN IS NOW podcast about antisemitism --
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