November 09: Kristallnacht

2016/11/09 § Leave a comment

On this day in 1938 Nazis commenced a three-day spree of destruction that targeted places where Jews lived, worked and worshipped in cities across Germany and Austria.

During the pogrom thousands of buildings were destroyed–houses, schools, businesses and an estimated 1,000 synagogues.  (The extent of the attack is illustrated in this map.)  The shattered glass that collected in the streets during the nighttime raids in cities like Berlin, Dusseldorf, Dresden, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Munich, Vienna, Salzburg and Graz, inspired the name Kristallnacht.  It’s a terribly pretty-sounding word that sounds like it might refer to a holiday, perhaps one of those festivals that seeks to brighten the lengthening winter evenings instead of describing a string of nights in which Jewish communities were subject to devastating terror.  The sudden destruction of buildings to demoralize or cripple–if not wipe out–a culture, is nothing new: witness nineteenth-century Beijing, fourth-century Nicomedia and fourth-century BC Persepolis, among so many horrible examples.  Kristallnacht bears a heinous distinction among them for its immediate scale and its position as the inaugural event of the Nazi Party’s Final Solution.

Some say that Kristallnacht had a sort of silver lining: reports of the devastation to Jewish cultural institutions spread quickly through Europe and overseas, and turned whatever opinion about Hitler’s party that had somehow remained ambiguous staunchly against the Nazis.  Regrettably and shamefully, the outrage of those foreign nations was not turned to action quickly enough to save the 30,000 who were arrested during Kristallnacht and sent to concentration camps, nor the 5,970,000 who would follow them to their death.

Image: a synagogue in Baden-Baden (from this source)


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