By Lillian Rappaport
The entire community is invited to join with us on Thursday evening, October 29 from 5:30-6:30pm as we observe the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, an event that marked the beginning of the end for European Jewry.
We will be joining a virtual program entitled The State of Hate in Pennsylvania - Awareness, Response and Prevention. This program is being co-sponsored by Community Responders Network, ADL Philadelphia, Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg, and other local groups. It will focus on awareness of hate crimes, bias incidents, and organized racial supremacist groups. It will also discuss responses and prevention of these incidents. The panelist will be experts from Anti-Defamation League, PA Office of the Attorney General- Civil Rights Enforcement Section, and PA Human Relations Commission.
The topics presented in this program strongly connect to subjects promoted in teaching about the Holocaust. Educating about the relevance of the Holocaust and its lessons in the 21st century includes dealing with hate groups, taking a stand when we see something wrong, and being proactive in promoting fair and equitable treatment of all people.
The term "Kristallnacht" (Night of Broken Glass) refers to the organized anti-Jewish riots in Germany and Austria on November 9-10, 1938. These riots marked a major transition in Nazi policy, and were, in many ways, a harbinger of the "Final Solution."
Nazi anti-Semitic policy began with the systematic legal, economic, and social disenfranchisement of the Jews. This was accomplished in various stages (for example, the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, which, among other things, stripped German Jews of their citizenship). One of these steps involved the deportation of 56,500 Polish Jews who were residing in Germany.
On the night of October 27, 1938, 18,000 Polish Jews were deported, but were initially refused entry into Poland by the Polish authorities. Caught in between, the Jews were forced to camp out in makeshift shelters. Upon hearing that his family was so trapped, 17 year-old Herschel Grynszpan, a student in Paris, shot the third secretary of the German Embassy, Ernst vom Rath, whom he mistook for the ambassador. This assassination served as a welcome pretext for the German initiation of Kristallnacht.
Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the Reich Main Security office, gave instructions for the immediate coordination of police and political activities in inciting the riots throughout Germany and Austria. "...The demonstrations are not to be prevented by the police," he ordered, rather, the police are "...only to supervise the observance of the guidelines."
The result of this policy was the first violent pogrom on Western European soil in hundreds of years. 36 Jews were killed (some authorities have this figure as high as 91); 30,000 more were deported to concentration camps; 267 synagogues were burned; and over 7,000 Jewish shops, businesses, and homes were vandalized and ransacked.
Immediately after Kristallnacht, a fine of one billion marks was levied, not upon the criminals, but upon the victims, the Jewish community of Germany. Along with the fine came a decision, taken in a conference of Nazi leaders on November 12, 1938, to "Aryanize the German economy, to get the Jew out...." Nazi policy had now moved into the overt destruction of all Jewish life in the Third Reich.
There are important lessons to be drawn from Kristallnacht, for it served as a bridge experience for both Jews and Nazis. For the Jews, there was the terrifying realization that political anti-Semitism can lead to violence, even in Western Civilization and during modern times. It also demonstrated that apathy can still pervade the world when the lives of Jews or other minorities are threatened. For the Nazis, Kristallnacht taught that while the world might condemn their pogroms, it would not actively oppose them. World opinion, however, taught the Nazis the value of secrecy in the perpetration of future actions against Jews. On Kristallnacht, the stage was set for the "Final Solution"--the state-organized genocide of 6,000,000 Jewish men, women, and children—and 5,000,000 other persecuted peoples.
We invite the entire community to join with us as we observe the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht.