Seventy years ago last night the Holocaust formally began in Nazi Germany during an organized riot since known as "Kristallnacht." On the night of November 9-10, 1938, 92 Jews were murdered and as many as 30,000 were arrested and sent to concentration camps. More than 200 Synagogues and thousands of Jewish businesses and homes were ransacked or destroyed.
Time.com reports on the observance taking place in Germany:
Germany will commemorate the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht on Sunday, through a series of events aimed at ensuring a new generation of Germans, too young to have known anyone connected with those events, about the horrors that flowed from the racism of the German past, in the hope of guarding against any future recurrence.
Chancellor Angela Merkel plans to mark the anniversary by speaking alongside the head of Germany's Jewish community, Charlotte Knobloch, in the Ryke Street synagogue in the old eastern part of Berlin. Although the synagogue had been torched on Kristallnacht, or Reichspogromnacht as some German Jews now prefer to call it, its structure remained intact and it was reopened last year for the first time since World War II. The ceremony will include the screening of a documentary on the night itself, and another on the Jewish community in Germany today.
Elsewhere in Berlin, a Mozart requiem and concert for violin by Felix Mendelssohn will be performed by the Philharmonic chamber orchestra. The mayor will accompany a ceremonial procession from the old city hall in Alexanderplatz in the former East Berlin to the so-called "new synagogue" in the center of the city, where an exhibit of rare photographs of the event entitled "Fire! Anti-Jewish Terror on Kristallnacht" is being shown.
"The questions that these exhibits continue to raise is how was this possible in a democracy? Why didn't the fire department put out the fires?" says Andreas Nachama, director of the Topography of Terror Foundation, an independent research foundation that is sponsoring the Kristallnacht exhibit. The mass circulation Bild newspaper set aside its usual fare of crime and sports to show one of Berlin 's largest synagogues in flames under the headline "The night that the Synagogues burned!" while German TV is carrying documentaries about the pogrom.
Remnants of that destruction were recently uncovered. The Guardian reports:
A huge dumping ground for the destroyed remains of Jewish property plundered during Kristallnacht has been found north of Berlin by an investigative journalist.
The site, which is the size of four football pitches, in Brandenburg, contains an extensive array of personal and ceremonial items looted during orchestrated nationwide riots against Jewish property and places of worship on the night of November 9 1938. It is believed the goods were brought by rail to the outskirts of the village and dumped on designated land.
Yaron Svoray, the Israeli journalist who made the discovery, said it was a happy coincidence that he had stumbled across the artefacts so close to the 70th anniversary of the pogrom, also known as the Night of Broken Glass.
"I wasn't fully aware of the historical significance of the find until it was pointed out to me by a historian," Svoray told the Guardian. "We were looking for something completely different when we came across all these items and trinkets."
Svoray, a private detective turned journalist who has a list of wartime-related investigations to his name, was researching a story on the nearby hunting lodge of the Nazi Luftwaffe commander, Hermann Göring, when the local forester, who had been a young boy at the time of the Kristallnacht, pointed out the rubbish dump. Under mounds of earth Svoray uncovered the first items within two hours. "The locals of this site have basically been living with this dark hidden secret for 70 years," he said.
Among the items he found were glass bottles engraved with the Star of David, Mezuzahs, painted window sills, and the armrests of chairs found in synagogues. He also found an ornamental swastika. His search continues, under the protection of bodyguards after threats to his life.
Pope Benedict XVI, who as a youth was impressed into the Hitler Youth, expressed pain at the memory of the night.
Speaking on the 70th anniversary of the 1938 pogrom, or "Night of Broken Glass", when the windows of thousands of Jewish businesses and synagogues were smashed, the German-born Pope said "Still today I feel pain over what happened in those tragic events, whose memory must serve to ensure such horrors are never repeated and that we strive, on every level, against all forms of anti-Semitism and discrimination".
"I invite people to pray for the victims of that night and to join me in expressing profound solidarity with the Jewish world," the pontiff said during his Sunday Angelus address. Nearly 100 Jews were killed in the pogrom and 26,000 were sent to concentration camps.
The controversy surrounding the role of Christians generally and the Catholic Church in particular in the holocaust is still very much alive. The Pope is being pressured to halt the process towards the Beatification and Canonization of Pope Pius XII. He has resisted the pressure and has defended Pius XII's role.
The Pope said that Kristallnacht "began the violent persecution that concluded with the Holocaust." However on Saturday he defended Pius XII in a message to a Rome conference at which Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, described claims that the wartime pontiff failed to help the victims of the Holocaust because of pro-German sympathies as "outrageous."
In remarks to the conference, marking the 50th anniversary of Pius XII's death and focusing on his thought and teaching, or magisterium, Benedict said that "in recent years, when Pius XII is spoken of, attention has been concentrated in an excessive way on only one problem, treated, for the most part, in a rather unilateral way".
Insensitivity still reigns as it is learned that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints continues to perform ritual "baptisms" for Holocaust victims despite a 1995 agreement to stop. The Salt Lake Tribune says:
A group of Holocaust survivors says 14 years of negotiations with the Mormon church over posthumous baptism of Jews killed in Nazi concentration camps have fallen apart. Some of the aging survivors were to gather in New York City on Monday at the Center for Jewish History to denounce the church for its practice. Ernest Michel, honorary chairman of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors, said in a statement that talks with leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are over. Posthumous baptism is a sacred rite practiced in Mormon temples to offer church membership to the deceased. Mormons are encouraged to conduct family genealogy research and forward the names of ancestors for baptism by proxy. The Mormon church contends that the baptism offer can be rejected by the intended recipient in the afterlife. Church spokesman Mike Otterson said the church does not intend to perform baptisms or other rites in its temples for Holocaust victims, except "in the very rare instances" when they have living descendants who are Mormon. Michel, whose parents died at Auschwitz, scheduled Monday's news conference for the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Nazi-incited riots against Jews. "We do not ask for, or want your love," Michel's prepared message to Mormon leaders read. "We ask you to respect us and our Judaism just as we respect your religion. ...We ask you to leave our six million Jews, all victims of the Holocaust, alone, they suffered enough."
The Jerusalem Post reports that "more than 150 Jewish communities across Europe kept the lights of their local synagogues on overnight Sunday, as the Jewish world marked the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht - the Night of the Broken Glass."
"The Nazis' objective was to darken Israel's eyes and turn off 'the light of the world,' the light of the Torah and prayer that shone out of synagogues and midrashot [centers for Jewish learning]," read a joint message published by Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog and chief rabbis Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar.
"As such we call on all of the people of Israel, in the State of Israel and in the Diaspora, to light candles and leave lights on in synagogues and midrashot in order to remember and to remind future generations never to forget the cruelty and evil actions that befell us," the statement read.
The Very Rev. George Werner, 31st President of the House of Deputies, reflects on Kristallnacht on the House of Bishops & Deputies listserve (which we reprint with permission).
I told my Kristallnacht story Sunday during a sermon on the Beatitudes. Some of you have heard me tell it in detail, but I think it must be repeated again and again until we understand how living in an atmosphere of hate, lies and fear can change our very DNA.
On November 9-10, 1938, in Austria, Bavaria and Germany, virtually every building connected to Jews had its glass broken. Homes, schools, kindergartens, gymnasia, businesses, museums and galleries were attacked by mobs. Those inside were dragged out to the street and often beaten, some were killed and many carted off to prison and concentration camps.
Audrey and I drove 2000 kilometers in Germany seeking our grandparents' villages. We discovered that Kristallnacht was more than an alien race called Nazis. It was carried out by the neighbors, by Christians and by people who had the same DNA as Audrey and me.
One story: A German Naval hero from World War I was a Jew. He had a shop in a little, beautiful village. One day, early in Hitler's Third Reich, two storm troopers came and blocked his doorway and chased customers away. He hung his medals in the window and rolled up his
sleeves to show some of his scars from battle. His neighbors rallied around him and chased the storm troopers away. Sadly, as time passed and the governments propaganda and venom poisoned the village, when Kristallnacht came, his neighbors destroyed his shop, beat him and
sent him to prison.
Around 1935, Sinclair Lewis wrote a book titled "It Can't Happen Here." He described in chilling detail just how it might happen in the USA. One line: "When Fascism comes to the United States, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a Cross."
I am more than uncomfortable with the language, the propaganda and venom which seems to be the new standard of "decency" and "conventional wisdom" both sacred and secular. Condemning it in others will do little good. Proclaiming a different way based on the Gospel, Beatitudes, Summary of the Law, and a New Commandment way of life among our own groups could help.