On the evening of Wednesday, November 9, we commemorate Kristallnacht.
The night wasn’t the beginning of the Nazis’ repellent attempt to annihilate the Jewish people, not was it that effort’s culmination. But it was a milestone on the path to hell.
I remember an acquaintance, much older than I and now long dead, who was a child in a German city, I think Berlin, that night. She was an only child, her father was a judge, and her family was wealthy. They huddled at home and listened to the sounds of breaking glass, and very soon afterward she and her parents were on a ship, headed to New York, where she lived for the rest of her life.
Because she’d been a child, she’d forgotten the horrors of that night. She’d locked it away. But she found herself downtown on September 11, 2001, not in the World Trade Center but not far away, and the sounds of breaking glass that day — not tinkly little sounds, but crashes — freed the sounds, images, and terrors of Kristallnacht from the prison she’d managed to contain them in, inside her mind. Those memories stayed with her for the rest of her life.
Most people who’d had vivid memories of Kristallnacht are dead by now, and the others are old. But it’s still not quite out of living memory.
Some of the stories we are running this week pay respect to the victims of that night, and of the Nazi crimes that followed.
It is important for us to pay attention, not only to honor the lives and deaths of the victims — and we must do that — but also to realize that it could happen again.
Not exactly as it happened before, of course. History doesn’t repeat itself exactly. But as we are seeing, old hatreds haven’t died. Old lies slime up from the sewers. Old evil sometimes returns, even if it is cloaked in new caps and capes.
The twenty-first century is not the middle of the twentieth. Antisemitism is not state-promoted. Our enemies are not state-sanctioned. They are not Nazis. But they are flirting with fascism — a hard philosophy to define in the wild, true, but to revert to cliché, we know it when we see it — and with its cousin, authoritarianism.
We’ve seen an alarming rise in antisemitism, along with an appalling and corresponding rise in baldface lies from politicians and their celebrity supporters.
We have to pay attention to that. Maybe it will just go away. Often it does. But we can’t count on that.
A first step is to vote. Election day is Tuesday, November 8, the day before the Kristallnacht remembrance. Veterans Day, when we remember the brave men and women who fight to keep us safe, is Friday, November 11, just two
Those dates all fall during one week by accident, but there is a message in them. We are at risk, but we can see the threat, and we can help avert it.
To begin with, vote!
Vote your heart and mind and conscience. Vote for the candidate who is most honest, decent, kind, and brave. As current events show us, all those characteristics matter. If we can fill the Senate and House of Representatives with officials who embody them, we will be okay. (I know. I know! But a girl can dream, can’t she?)
So please, go vote!