Posts Tagged ‘Kristallnacht’

My friend Tom Johnston reminded me of something critically important.

In 1938, on the night of November 9th and continuing into the 10th, Sturmtruppen acting on a government order destroyed Jewish shops, Jewish homes, and virtually  every synagogue in Germany and Austria. This was Kristallnacht, “the night of broken glass”. It foreshadowed years of increasingly intense efforts to obliterate the Jewish people. On this day, each year, I pray that such a horror forever cease.

In 2016, 76 years to the day later, in the early morning hours of November 9th, Donald Trump because the president-elect of one of the greatest experiments in liberty and individual human value ever to be created, the United States of America. Trump rose to power amid promises to “Make America Great Again” but proposing to do so via strategies of mass deportation and xenophobic religious discrimination.

Perhaps the most significant change in American politics began on the same day as one of Europe’s greatest tragedies. This could be interpreted as a terrifying coincidence but I am optimistic that it is just that, a random coincidence. None the less, since Mr. Trump has been actively promoted by white supremacists, the KKK, and violent Islamophobic xenophobes, I would like to use this “coincidence” to ask you all for one thing. As we move into the uncharted waters with a new captain who has never sailed before, please, please, please, please remember this:

Ours is a nation of immigrants founded explicitly on the principles of liberty and respect for individuals. It took a while to get the kinks out and, yes, the 3/5 clause represents a horrific injustice. But, we Americans are supposed to respect each other’s individual worth regardless of race, religion, gender, gender identity, or any other variable. I hope you will stand with me on this night of broken glass with a continually strengthening devotion to liberty, justice, and the dignity of every single human being. Remember what CAN happen; know that it CAN happen here; and work to make America great for even those of us who aren’t Christian, white, and wealthy. Nip in the bud, any tendency to allow this change to to make worse the lives of others.

Love each other no matter what.



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.

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.

Today is the very sad anniversary of one of the most terrible pogroms against the Jews – Kristallnacht.

My intellectual master, Robert Nozick, has said: “The Holocaust is a massive cataclysm that distorts everything around it… a massive and continuing distortion of human space… It’s vortices and gnarled twistings will extend very far.”

After the Holocaust (and later 20th century atrocities) it seems to me a very distinct possibility that humans have no special, elevated, place among the animals. Reason is our distinguishing characteristic. But when even reason does not raise us above the murder of 2/3 of an entire segment of the European population, there is cause to question whether it makes us all that special as animals. Surely it makes us no more inherently moral than our opposable thumb. Perhaps had we heeded the warning of the moral emptiness of Kristallnacht. I’d have been proven wrong.

In memory of this horror and the subsequent even greater horror of the destruction of both humanity and morality I offer a line from a poem by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (The poem itself is not about Kristallnacht but, rather, about the 1933 Nazi book burning. The line is still àpropos.) :

On this, your blasphemous holy day, hatred is your sanctity.

Never again.