On the night of November 9th/10th, the Nazi Sturmtruppen, acting on Herr Gobbels mandate that every Synagogue in Germany and Austria be burned, destroyed Jewish homes and businesses, as well as almost every synagogue in those countries. Often these“Stormtroopers” wore civilian clothes to make it look like this was just a spontaneous anti-Jewish uprising. It was really the first of many well planned and well executed acts of horror perpetuated by the National Socialist regime.
On than night, nearly 400 Jews were murdered and about 30,000 were imprisoned. By Christmas of 1938 over 2000 of those imprisoned were dead. In an equally vicious showing of bullshit, the Nazi bastards ordered the Jews themselves to pay for the destroyed property and imposed fines on those who had been attacked.
This, my friends, was Kristallnacht. It was a sign of things to come on a scale so massive that European Judaism virtually disappeared in the ashes of six million corpses. By the end of the war in 1945, tens of thousands of human beings were being incinerated DAILY in an intricate network of murder factories. Every one of those murdered humans was an individual soul who felt individual fear, individual pain, and individual emotional anguish. Every one of those murdered humans had individual loves, individual hopes, individual dreams, and individual relationships. Everyone of those individual murders (by individual murderers) affected the families and future families of the individual victims; reaching down through the generations such that we, today, still bear the scars.
This night is “the night of broken glass”. As always, this night I write in memory of six million of my people. As always, I want to share some thoughts.
For a long time my “holocaust belief system” was based on Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem“. I used to believe in the concept of “the banality of evil”; that evil can be an artifact of a bureaucracy so massive that individuals were not necessarily accountable for their actions. I no longer believe this and I think Arendt’s premise is nonsense. In my opinion it does not matter how big a bureaucracy is; it does not matter if all one is doing is to “make the trains run on schedule”; no mater the political or environmental factors, every human being is a living, breathing, THINKING, SELF-AWARE, INDEPENDENT actor. We CHOOSE and, even when forced to choose evil over death, we must be accountable. We often have little or no influence on the systems that govern us. Still, once we have made our choice to comply with evil, we must be held to account: COMPLIANCE IS COMPLICITY. My belief in the ultimate supremacy of individual human action leaves me no choice but to place blame on every single person who “just did what they were told”, who “just followed orders”, who COMPLIED. Arendt was wrong.
While I’m pondering Arendt, I must say that I always contextualize her with Heidegger. Heidegger saddens me more deeply than almost any of the Nazis. There were lots of evil people in Germany during the Shoah. There were lots of people who did what they were told. But Heidegger! Heidegger, the genius who wrote “Being and Time” was so far the intellectual superior of almost everyone else, that he had no business utterly forsaking his intellect and his profoundly rational gift of reason to even join the Nazi party, let alone to be among its public spokesmen. As long as the National Socialist party existed, Heidegger paid his annual membership dues. Never, even after the war, did he forsake the party. He complied with the political norms and, in doing so, forsook his human reason. As far as we know, only humans are self-aware, rational animals. To be a genius and to forsake reason entirely is to be inhuman. I must set aside everything I learned from “Being and Time” because I must set aside Heidegger’s humanity. As for Hannah Arendt, I suppose having sexual relations with Heidegger is its own sort of bestiality. That said, she and I do have one thing in common: I too enjoy thinking “screw Heidegger”.
And speaking of German Intellectuals, who can forget the theologians. I did not know this until I recently read Suzannah Heschel’s latest book, “The Aryan Jesus“, but Germany actually had an institute for the eradication of Judaism from the New Testament. There were “intellectual” papers written to deny the Jewish Heritage of Jesus. There were more than one edition of the New Testament that actually removed any positive references to Judaism and the lineage of Jesus but left in all the negative references . I’d find it funny that one could edit the New Testament to remove the entire premise for Jesus being the Messiah from the book about Jesus being the Messiah, if it weren’t that the purpose of doing so was to make a religion of “love” into a justification for mass murder. It seems that even the highest of academic traditions can be bastardized by politics and transformed into a tool of terror.
So, on this night of broken glass I want you to consider a couple things.
First, always stand against hatred, inequality, sexism, racism, homophobia, and religious intolerance. Those thoughts and actions ARE evil. Doing nothing is complicity and as an individual, rational actor in the world, YOU ARE accountable.
Second, always question. Genius can be as evil – or more so – than stupidity.
Third, judge for yourself. The high priests of academia have as many ulterior motives as anyone else. “Rational” argumentation can be used for good or evil. You have individual reason and the ability to make your own decisions.
So, tonight, in memory of Kristallnacht, I pray for a world of tolerance, accountability, individual decision-making, and free rational thought. Baruch Hashem.