Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I didn't want to write about the Holocaust again. It hurts too much. Surely with so many other things happening in the world, I could just let mention of the 71st anniversary of Kristallnacht pass by unspoken, couldn't I? Just once?

Then I read this, reported in the Sacramento Bee about events this week:

Officials at Congregation Beth Shalom on El Camino Avenue contacted the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department about 10:40 a.m. to report that racist symbols and messages, including a swastika, had been spray painted on the sanctuary, said sheriff's Sgt. Tim Curran.
The vandalism included the "SS" lightning bolts - the symbol of the Nazi security forces; a swastika and the message "Kristallnacht still lives," Curran said.

But it did not just happen there. In Dresden, Germany, this week, this happened :

Swastikas have been daubed on the wall of the New Synagogue in the eastern German city of Dresden on the eve of the 71st anniversary of the Nazi's ‘Kristallnacht’ pogrom in 1938. The interior minister of the state of Saxony, Markus Ulbig, condemned the desecration. “We will not allow such things to happen. In Saxony, there is no place for anti-Semitism,” he said. Uhlig paid a visit to Dresden’s Jewish community on Monday.

And as if that were not enough, then I saw the UPI report about an event in Florida:

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla., Nov. 10 (UPI) -- Swastikas and the words "Jews shall die" were found painted on the walls of the Soref Jewish community center in Coral Springs, Fla., police said.

So, yes, I do have to write about this anniversary -- an anniversary which is called "Kristallnacht", an anniversary of the terrible night that the Holocaust officially began. Hitler and his Nazi thugs hatched a plan to send up a sort of test balloon for larger acts of horror. If the populace of Germany and Austria did not attempt to stop the events of Kristallnacht, and if the world leaders did not take action, they saw it as a sign that they could proceed on unimpeded in geometrically larger acts of systematic evil and hatred.

And so it began. Kristallnacht. The Night of Broken Glass.

Seventy-one years ago, Kristallnacht began all over Germany and Austria and also in other Nazi controlled areas. It was an organized and methodical attack on Jewish neighborhoods. It was, in every sense, a pogrom. Shops and department stores all had their windows smashed and their contents destroyed. Synagogues were directly targeted for destruction and burning, including the deliberate desecration of Torah scrolls. Hundreds of synagogues burned while local officials stood by, or while local fire departments prevented the fire from spreading to non-Jewish buildings. Every single synagogue in Austria was attacked that night.

Estimates are that about 25-30,000 Jewish men and boys were taken to concentration camps that night. Over 700 synagogues were destroyed.

Jodie calls Kristallnacht a "timeless lesson" and adds:

Thus Kristallnacht should have removed the blinders from the eyes of the Western world as to what awaited them a few short months later from Germany — a world war that would destroy tens of millions and destroy Europe for generations. Part of the tragedy of Kristallnacht is that it did not send the necessary wake-up call to those who could have yet stood up to Germany. And so the deluge arrived.

The deluge arrived. And if we listen closely, it is not over. It re-appears in the obvious ways, when a synagogue is targeted with blazing swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti -- but it echoes as well in any act of intolerance, any act of hatred because of race or religion or national origin or gender or sexual preference.

And it is hard to look at. It hurts. It feels awful. Hatred can make us frantic with hope that it will just go away. Or perhaps someone else will handle it. Isn't that why we elect people? Or, worse yet, because it is not happening to me, or in my neighborhood, or town or school, or job -- than it is OK to stand back.

But when we do that, when we remain silent, we are like the citizens in Vienna, or Berlin that day who woke up, had breakfast, walked outside and saw streets full of broken glass, terrified Jewish neighbors, still-smoking synagogues and just simply reported to work at their offices.

Songbird speaks about Mitzvot - acts of human kindness -- and Kristallnact:

today was Mitzvah Day at our synagogue. It's a special day focused on doing mitzvahs....
we wrote greeting cards to be mailed to Israeli and American soldiers. we packed toiletry kits to be given to the homeless. we made sandwiches for a soup kitchen. we collected food for a food pantry and clothes for an outreach program. we collected cell phones for recycling, the proceeds of which will be turned into phone cards for soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
why do we do this?
tikkun olam. repair of the world...
May the goodness represented by Mitzvah Day overcome the darkness we see in Kristallnacht.

"The repair of the World"...tikkun olam. This is what we must be about. Nothing less will do. No matter what religious tradition you claim, healing the world is an obligation. There is no spiritual position that could legitimately deny this.

Tamar reminds us:

Whether we are survivors of Kristallnacht or descendants of survivors, or we are survivors of any persecution or witnesses to it, we must understand and remember what happened. And act responsibly, ethically, and justly every day, everywhere.

There are people who lived through Kristallnacht who are still alive, and who tell their stories.

Ruth brings forward the memories of a number of Kristallnacht survivors, Lotte's story being only one:

Lotte Kramer attended a school in the Liberal Synagogue in Mainz. Before leaving for school, her cousin called and told her to stay home because the synagogue was on fire. She also warned Lotte to tell her father to hide because all the men were being taken to concentration camps. Lotte’s father hid in the woods until nightfall and then returned home and began calling other members of the family to check on them. Lotte’s father found that his brother had been beaten and led through the street on a leash like a dog. Altogether six synagogues were destroyed in Mainz.

The US Holocaust Memorial Museum has recorded memories of a woman, Susan Warsinger, who was 9 years old the night of Kristallnacht. She and her brother realized something was wrong when members of their town threw rocks through their bedroom window. They looked out the window and saw the police standing and watching. She tells what happened when the crowd broke down the door of their apartment building.

Or, you can watch this eye-witness account of Susan Strauss Taube:

Look around you. Could something like it happen now? Are there no jagged rips in the fabric of world community? Heard any racist jokes lately? Any cruel slang words about Muslims or gay people? These are all building blocks for a wall of hatred.

Start calling people out. You not only do not have to listen to ignorant hatred, you should not stay silent in its presence. If you hear it on TV, write a letter, send an email, write to a sponsor. If you hear it from a colleague, tell them it is not OK to speak that way around you. Get others to speak out with you, act proactively compassionate with you.

To paraphrase Edmund Burke:

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing."

And do good -- tikkun olam -- it will help repair the world.

Thou shalt not be a victim.
Thou shalt not be a perpetrator.
Above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.

- Holocaust Museum, Washington, DC

(this post was also posted at blogher.com)


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