This is the 75th Anniversary of Kristallnacht, November 9-10, 1938. Had you forgotten? Did you even know? If you weren’t looking in the right places, it would be very easy to miss the fact that these are days to remember—that we have a duty to remember.
In 2009, citing the cultural importance of another date in November, one that is going to be much commemorated this year (being the 50th anniversary) but that was barely noted four years ago, I said…
“Apart from national holidays, there are not an overwhelming number of calendar boxes that citizens of the United States should pause and think about every year. July 4. September 11. December 7, when America was attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor. June 6, D-Day. We can argue about others, but there should be no argument about November 22. It was a sudden, unexpected tragedy that scarred a generation, and it changed the course of national and world history in many ways.
“Year after year, Americans know less and less about their own country. This makes us incompetent in our civic duties, infantile in our understanding of America’s role in the world, stupid and apathetic on election day, and patsies for our supposed elected officials, who can tell us lies about our country’s mission and heritage as we stand nodding like cows. Most of all, it makes us disrespectful of the brave and brilliant men and women who built, sustained and defined the United States. College graduates go on “The Jay Leno Show” and shamelessly identify the faces on Mount Rushmore as the Marx Brothers or the Beatles, and giggle about it as Jay rolls his eyes. This is becoming the standard level of American appreciation of the nation’s past.”
In holding close critical events affecting the rest of the world, we are even worse, as the overwhelming ignorance of this date shows. If July 4, 1776; September 11, 2001; December 7, 1941, and November 22, 1963, are moments in history that all of us should remember, honor and think about because we are Americans, November 9 and 10th present the same obligations because we are human beings, and citizens of the world.
75 years ago, a regime of unequaled cruelty and evil announced to the world what was to come, though only in hindsight were the signs seen with clarity and understanding. Because we thought we were civilized, because we thought we had fought the war to end all wars and triumphed, because our imaginations were not sufficient to grasp the enormity of the evil in front of us, and because it was not happening to us, the Night of Broken Glass was permitted to usher in the most terrible genocide humanity had ever inflicted on itself, lighting the fuse of “The Final Solution” and ensuring that the war to come would dwarf all previous conflicts in size, cruelty, and horror.
Americans especially need to remember, because after Kristallnacht, the nation that was founded on the dual commitments to human rights and freedom from tyranny looked away for three long years as a human rights nightmare perpetrated by a hellish despot continued and deepened. Over the span of those two November days and one horrific night between, the Nazis staged violent attacks against the Jewish communities in Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland. Synagogues, Jewish-owned stores, community centers, cemeteries, and homes were vandalized, looted, and burned, or otherwise destroyed as police and fire brigades refused to come to their rescue. Germany went to war against its citizens. 1400 synagogues and 7,500 Jewish businesses were reduced to trash, glass and rubble, with more than 90 Jews killed . Across Europe, indignation was expressed and ink was spilled in barrels to express moral outrage, but the nations of the world did little of substance. The primary U.S. response was recalling its ambassador. No nation cut off diplomatic relations with Germany. 400,000 German Jews were obviously in mortal peril, yet national borders were mostly closed to them, especially ours. Six years later, almost all of the 400,000, and millions more too, were dead, victims of mass extermination.
Remembering Kristallnacht, not just every 75 years, but every year, is beyond important, and not just to honor its victims and the millions of victims of the Holocaust that followed. It is essential, if we are to be vigilant about the stealthy approach of evil around us, which always will take essentially decent people by surprise. It is vital if we are going to fulfill the United States’ historical and irreplaceable role as a nation that does not only look out for itself, but others, especially the weakest and most oppressed, with the best interests of humanity at heart. Most of all, it is mandatory for all of us to ensure that the slogan of the Jewish Defense League—“Never again!”—becomes an accurate prophecy. That is will is very much in doubt.
I do not have the eloquence, depth of knowledge or direct personal connections to the events of the Holocaust to do justice to this topic. The best I can do is to emphasize the general principle that we must not let the clarifying events of history fade into obscurity. Our priorities must remain clear. From the 2009 post:
“A shrug accurately describes our culture’s attitude toward the ideas, inspirations, concepts, visions, people and events that shaped us. This is disrespectful to our past. This is dangerous to our future.”
And not just our future, but humanity’s.
We have a duty to remember, and we have a special duty to remember, and mark, Kristallnacht.
Spark and Pointer: David Elias