Kristallnacht: Seventy years later

Kristallnacht: Seventy years later

On Nov. 9 and 10, we mark the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the “night of broken glass.”

Rampaging mobs, spurred by the Nazi leadership, attacked Jewish targets throughout Germany and Austria.

The damage was immense.

Hundreds of synagogues were burned to the ground.

Thousands of Jewish-owned businesses were ransacked.

Nearly 100 Jews were murdered in cold blood.

And tens of thousands of Jews were arrested and deported to concentration camps.

Their crime? They were Jews. It was as simple as that.

The Second World War had not yet officially begun. That would start on Sept. 1, 1939, not quite 10 months after Kristallnacht. But the Nazi war against the Jews was already well under way.

The goal was to rid Germany, Austria, and, eventually, all of Nazi-occupied Europe of Jews.

The Nazis almost succeeded. By the war’s end in 1945, 6 million Jews, or two-thirds of European Jewry, had been annihilated. And ancient centers of Jewish civilization, from Vilna to Salonika, from Amsterdam to Prague, had been all but wiped out.

On this tragic anniversary, and every day, we remember.

We remember the Jews of Germany and Austria, who had contributed so greatly to their homelands in every way imaginable, and who became the targets of a genocidal policy.

We remember the vibrant lives of Jewish communities across Europe that were extinguished in the flames of the Holocaust.

We remember the 1.5 million Jewish children murdered in the Nazi pursuit of the so-called Final Solution.

We remember how many borders were closed to Europe’s Jews when there was still a chance to escape.

We remember that our own country, the United States, yielding to domestic isolationism and anti-Semitism, did far less than it could have to offer a safe haven to Europe’s Jews.

We remember that in the same fateful year, 1938, prior to Kristallnacht, Nazi Germany had moved with impunity into the Sudetenland, then part of Czechoslovakia, and Austria, with barely a peep from the international community.

We remember that just weeks before Kristallnacht, the British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, traveled to Germany for the third time in two weeks and returned to London to assure the British public that there would be “peace for our time.”

We remember the valiant forces of the Allied nations that ultimately destroyed the Nazi Reich and saved the world from Adolf Hitler’s boast of a thousand-year reign.

We remember the military cemeteries across Europe and beyond, filled with the graves of young soldiers who fought with such courage and bravery to defeat Nazi Germany and its allies.

And we remember the examples of those few countries and those few individuals who, at such risk to themselves, sought to shield Jews from harm.

Kristallnacht reminds us of the lurking capacity for inhumanity that resides in the human spirit.

Kristallnacht reminds us of nations that prided themselves on advanced levels of civilization, yet had a capacity for barbarism that exploded in ways never before witnessed.

Kristallnacht reminds us that there is a slippery slope from the demonization of a people, to the dehumanization of a people, to the destruction of a people.

And Kristallnacht reminds us that, in the face of evil against fellow human beings, silence can never be an option or indifference a strategy.

The American Jewish Committee remembers today, as we remembered yesterday and as we shall remember tomorrow.

David A. Harris is executive director of the American Jewish Committee.