Nov. 15 Event to Commemorate the Night of Broken Glass
November 9 marks the 72nd anniversary of Kristallnacht, commonly referred to as the Night of Broken Glass. On this day, terror swept through German streets and cities—killing tens of Jews, desecrating hundreds of synagogues, and sending tens of thousands to concentration camps in Sachsenhausen and Dachau.
Safe to say, we lost much more than could be physically perceived. Discrimination took to new levels. Freedoms were challenged as they were never before. The stakes, without a doubt, were raised significantly and, over the course of twenty-four hours, Europe was different. But woe to he who associates Kristallnacht with a beginning. It was, if anything, the end of the beginning.
German poet Heinrich Heine predicted it best: “Where books are burned, in the end people will burn.” Indeed, we would do well to remember that Kristallnacht began not with torches and guns, but with words, ideas. It began with Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, and the passing of the Nuremberg laws—those which erected fences and slowly, derisively, excluded Jews from mainstream society. It began with the burning of books in city squares, and the banning of Jewish intellectuals from academic settings. It began with a hatred that propagated and consumed, with bystanders who stood to allow fascism as it fomented, peaked.
The ultimate tragedy is not that the world stood by as desecration took place in 1938. The ultimate tragedy is that it stood by in 1933, 1934, and 1935. Genocide is preventable insofar as it is treated early—when the warning bells sound. We needed humanity to be vigilant when it mattered; to decry extremism when it was sewn onto hearts of children. We needed humanity when the Jew was stripped of the right to sit on park benches; when he was forbidden to dine in public clubhouses, to swim in recreation pools. We needed humanity when the Jew was no longer allowed to laugh and to live and to dream. Not when he was murdered.
The November 1938 pogroms were a culmination of discriminatory acts that transpired over the course of years. It was a breaking-point. What fell to the ground as the Nazis razed the shops and shuls were not pieces of glass. Rather, they were pieces of hopes and aspirations that would never be. By that point in the world of Nazi Germany, the fate of the Jews was sealed.
What Kristallnacht teaches, more than the ease and swiftness with which civil society may collapse, is the need to uphold it. In remembering Kristallnacht, we do well to remember that genocide does not happen overnight. Futures—are not stripped overnight. Murderers may not awake and decide to annihilate a people without endorsed consent. In remembering Kristallnacht, we would do well to remember the importance of watchfulness; the frailty of our freedoms. Above all, that we cannot take our democracy for granted. For, if we do, someone somewhere will take it from us.
Simon Goldberg is a history and political science major at Yeshiva College and president of SHEM, the Student Holocaust Education Movement at Yeshiva University. A special ceremony to commemorate Kristallnacht will take place on the evening of November 15 at 7 p.m. in Koch Auditorium, Beren Campus, 245 Lexington Ave., New York City. The program will feature worldwide scholar, author and educator, Dr. Michael Berenbaum and will focus on the evolving role of the synagogue in Nazi Germany and the relevancy of anti-Semitism in today’s world. An exhibit of images, quotes and poems on the November 1938 pogroms will be unveiled, followed by a video presentation.