On October 28th 1938, somewhere around 17,000 Polish Jews in Germany were arrested and sent to the Polish border. The Polish officials allowed in only about 25% of them. They denied entrance to the other 75% who were now declared to be “stateless”. These innocent people were placed in camps, in the middle of nowhere, on the German-Polish frontier. Meanwhile, angry at the treatment of these poor people, the son of one of them killed an official at the German embassy in Paris.
In that delightful style of National Socialist retribution, our dear friend Mr. Goebbels, ordered all German and Austrian synagogues burned in retaliation for the killing of this German minor bureaucrat. So, on the night of November 9th/10th, the Sturmtruppen, acting on Gobbels mandate, trashed the Jewish shops, Jewish homes, and almost every synagogue in Germany and Austria. Sometimes, our evil “Stormtroopers” wore civilian clothes to make it look like this was just an act of spontaneous destruction; and, or course, to incite further violence. In the end, nearly 400 Jews were murdered and something like 30,000 Jews were interned. By the time Christmas of 1938 rolled around, about 2000 of those imprisoned were dead. Believe it or not, when the giant antisemitic pogrom had ended, the Nazis ordered the Jewish community to pay for the damage and even imposed fines!!!
This “Night of Broken Glass”, or Kristallnacht, was just a foreshadowing of the terror to come from this point forward until 1945. It was the quintessential indicator that Jewish life in Europe was about to come to a horrible end. Yet, few were able to really read the signs. This is not because they were not clear. It is because no one could really envision the magnitude of the crime to come. No one could imagine that a “Night of Broken Glass” was a signal to begin years of broken homes, broken families, and broken lives. No one could imagine that a pogrom was the entrance to a time of destruction like none before. No one could imagine that a Night of Broken Glass foreshadowed years of broken community that would culminate in six million deaths in a sophisticated network of murder factories.
So, although I am a couple of days late in writing this; my prayer, this year, in remembrance of the horror of Kristallnacht, is that we humans can become more sensitive to the signs of cultural insanity and more aware of the dangerous power of sociological cults of leadership. No leader, not Barack Obama, not Mitt Romney, not ANY political leader, is a savior; no movement, not Occupy, not the Tea Party, not ANY mass of unconstrained humans is a breeding ground of rational discourse; and the moment you start to believe they are, watch out. You might be surprised just how out of control we humans can get.