Reflections and soul searching on the ‘Night of Broken Glass’

  • MargotCohenKristallnacht2
At the Goethe-Institut in Johannesburg last Wednesday evening, reflecting on “Kristallnacht” or “Night of Broken Glass”, the German Ambassador to South Africa, Walter Lindner, asked the question: “Why did this happen in our country (Germany) with an impressive cultural background?
by MARGOT COHEN | Nov 16, 2016

“A thriving Jewish community became isolated, were beaten up, their businesses destroyed, schools, hospitals and cemeteries vandalised and more than 30 000 were sent to Dachau, Buchenwald and other concentration camps where hundreds died within weeks of arrival. It was the beginning of the Holocaust.”

On November 9 to 10, 1938, in an incident known as “Kristallnacht”, Nazis in Germany torched synagogues, vandalised Jewish homes, schools and businesses and killed close to 100 Jews.

In the aftermath of Kristallnacht some 30 000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to Nazi concentration camps. German Jews had been subjected to repressive policies since 1933, when Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany.

However, prior to Kristallnacht, these Nazi policies had been primarily nonviolent. After Kristallnacht, conditions for German Jews grew increasingly worse. During the Second World War, Hitler and the Nazis implemented their so-called “Final Solution” to what they referred to as the “Jewish problem”, and carried out the systematic murder of some six million European Jews in what came to be known as the “Holocaust”.

Lindner said the focus of the German Republic was to take responsibility for the events which followed, face the past, never forget and to ensure that it never happened again.

“Showing solidarity with Israel and speaking up for injustice throughout the world is our moral obligation and a sign of hope,” said Lindner.

Special guest speaker, Prof Michael Berenbaum, professor of Jewish studies at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, was warmly welcomed by Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre Director Tali Nates.

Prof Berenbaum is the author of 20 books and hundreds of articles. He was project director overseeing the creation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and later served as president and CEO of the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, which took testimony of 52 000 Holocaust survivors in 32 languages and 57 countries. His work in film has won Emmy and Academy Awards.

Reflecting on the anti-Jewish violence that took place in Germany, Austria and Sudetenland on the fateful “Night of Broken Glass”, Nates said following the 1938 November progroms, life in the Reich, had become no longer possible for Jews. Most tried to leave, “but there was no place to go”.

The German anti-Jewish policy, known as “the Final Solution” with the pogroms, “are considered the beginning of the end and the end of the beginning”.

Berenbaum said “the third generation Germans are asking embarrassing questions of the second generation who were scared to challenge their parents’ involvement with the Nazis”. He believed that it takes decades to confront the past, “but it must be done, as the weight of mankind is upon us”.

He said the German Jewish community is expanding rapidly, with Jews from the Soviet Union entering the German republic.



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