Kristallnacht took place on the night of November 9-10, 1938 in Germany. During that dreadful night, a critical event took place that would seal the fate of six million European Jews. That was 83 years ago. The event is known as Kristallnacht or “The Night of Broken Glass.” The reason given by the Nazis was the assassination of German official Ernst vom Rath, shot two days prior by Herschel Grynszpan, a Polish teenager reacting to his parents’ deportation. In reality, the boycott/pogrom of Jewish synagogues, schools, businesses and homes resulting in the death of almost 100 Jewish people and the destruction of 7,500 properties were well planned, and anything but a reaction to the death of a German official. As a result, 30,000 Jewish people were sent to concentration camps. Historians agree that Kristallnacht was the onset of the Holocaust, shifting Nazi antisemitism from mere rhetoric to pure violence and murder. It set in motion the death factories aimed at accomplishing “the final solution to the Jewish question.” They almost succeeded! Whenever there is any kind of abuse in the whether it be 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.
It has been my intention, each and every year, to remind my audience about the importance of that event and why we should remember and commemorate Kristallnacht. Given that a recent survey showed that 32% to 50% of young Americans had very little to no knowledge or understanding of the Holocaust, my job is not done. In following current events on the topic of antisemitism against global Jews and Israel, it is not difficult to see that another event akin to Kristallnacht could very well happen today wherever there is a sizeable Jewish community. There are five criteria that connect to Kristallnacht: identification, demonization, ostracism and apathy. All these were employed in preparation for the final destruction planned by Hitler. They have parallels in today’s world and how the Jewish people are perceived and handled.
- Identification (1933): Hitler was obsessed with streamlining the population to bring about the ultimate Aryan race, but he would have to identify people to do it efficiently. As early as January 1933, soon after his ascent to power in Germany, he set up a passport. It was known as the Ahnenpass or “Ancestor Pass”. It was created to establish an Aryan identity as opposed to other races or ethnicities. It was based on the pseudo-science of Eugenics, in an effort to create a superior race. The Ahnenpass became an official piece of identification for people to prove that they were of “German blood”. The other side of that coin was that anybody who didn’t have an Ahnenpass would be identified as “non-Aryan” and stigmatized for further actions against them. Anytime a passport is created to divide the population, it is only the beginning and it inevitably creates hardships, division and inequality. A passport can be started for social, political, racial or even health reasons.
- Demonization (1935): What the Ahnenpass started was reinforced by new racial laws enacted by the Nazi party known as “Nuremberg Race Laws”or more commonly, “The Nuremberg Laws” (not to be confused with the post-war “Nuremberg Trials” of the Nazi murderers). The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 were divided into two categories. One was The Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour and the other was The Reich Citizenship Law. Both were based on the false science of Eugenics or racial purity. In their entirety, The Nuremberg Laws were aimed at ostracizing the Jews from German society to the point of making work, life and socializing virtually impossible. They represented the foundation for the Nazi definition of who is a Jew, who is Aryan and as a result, who deserved to live and who deserved to die. It is always easier to demonize those you first ostracize.
Marriage between Jews and non-Jews became forbidden. Jewish-owned stores were taken over. Jews wanting to leave Germany were taxed up to 90% of their estates. Jews were required to carry identity cards with the letter “J” stamped on it as well as being forced to insert the middle name of “Israel” for males and “Sara” for females on their papers. Jewish doctors could no longer treat non-Jewish patients. The Jew became demonized and as such, became unwanted. A complicated bureaucracy of anti-Semitic statutes was enacted, transforming the Jews from humans to animals to parasites, and thus requiring their “extermination” for the betterment of the world, or of the Third Reich at the very least. Demonization was soon deemed not enough and Nazi Germany had to take it a step further and ostracize the Jews.
Today, the modern Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) seeks to demonize both the Jews and the land of Israel. It takes its cue from the evil era of the Holocaust and paints a picture of Israel as an occupier, colonizer and committer of ethnic cleansing. This unfounded demonization is from the devil, and he uses all walks of life to commit his crimes, from the right to the left to academia to Hollywood to the Church.
- Ostracism (1938): During the night of November 9-10, 1938, a pogrom took place in Germany that would result in great property damage and loss of Jewish lives. Jewish stores were attacked and looted, synagogues were burned to the ground, people died, but more importantly, the Jewish community understood that they were not safe anymore and that they had nowhere to go. They were officially excluded from all aspects of German life and society. They lost all their privileges. There are countries today that are trying to ban kosher ritual laws and as a result, cripple Jewish life for some segments of the Jewish religious community.
- Destruction (1939): Not too long after Kristallnacht, the Nazi killing machine was set in motion. It claimed the lives of a grand total of twelve million people who didn’t fit the “Aryan” mold, half of them simply because they were Jewish. First with the Einzatsgruppen or “mobile killing squads”, who shot Jews in large numbers. Yad Vashem explains, “The Einsatzgruppen killed their victims—men, women, and children—by gathering them in ravines, mines, quarries, ditches, or pits dug specifically for this purpose. Jews were forced to hand over their possessions and remove their clothing and were then shot. Their bodies were thrown into the ditches.” That required a lot of bullets which at the time were needed for the war effort, so the Reich developed the “gas vans”, to kill more Jews faster and without shooting them. The gas vans proved more efficient and they led to the construction and usage of the infamous gas chambers. Destruction was moving speedily forward.
Today, Jews are being killed again, simply for being Jewish. We are not seeing mass murder of Jews like in the Holocaust, not even close. Yet. Although we know biblically that the whole world will eventually turn on Israel (Zechariah 12:9), and even though God will come to Israel’s rescue, based on His covenants and His character, many Jewish people remain at risk. The main reason why Jewish people remain at risk is not antisemitism by commission, but apathy, which I call antisemitism by omission. The less people care, the more damage can go unnoticed. Apathy happens for a variety of reasons, none of them justifiable when it comes to human life.
There are many similarities today between the way the Jewish people were treated as a result of the events of Kristallnacht and the way our liberties are shrinking exponentially. Convenience has become the mother of tyrannical slavery. We are willing to let go of our freedom for the sake of having a more comfortable life. In the process, people don’t dare to get involved in what they feel doesn’t concern them. The Jewish people have fewer and fewer friends in the non-Jewish world.
Kristallnacht happened under the nose of a very civilized and educated German society. What makes us believe that another Kristallnacht could not happen today? We live in a civilized and educated world that has also become politically correct and apathetic… the soil is fertile for such a tragedy. It is up to us to remember and speak up.
“First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Martin Niemöller, German Theologian and Pastor, 1946