On the night of November 9, 1938, violence against Jews broke out across the Reich. It appeared to be unplanned, set off by Germans’ anger over the assassination of a German official in Paris at the hands of a Jewish teenager. In fact, German propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and other Nazis carefully organized the pogroms. In two days, over 250 synagogues were burned, over 7,000 Jewish businesses were trashed and looted, dozens of Jewish people were killed, and Jewish cemeteries, hospitals, schools, and homes were looted while police and fire brigades stood by. The pogroms became known as Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” for the shattered glass from the store windows that littered the streets. The Nazi state imposed a fine of one billion Reichsmarks ($400,000,000) on the Jewish community in Germany. Jews were ordered to clean up and make repairs after the pogrom and were barred from collecting insurance for the damages. The state confiscated payments owed by insurers to Jewish property holders. In the aftermath of the pogrom, Jews were systematically excluded from all areas of public life in Germany.

The morning after the pogroms 30,000 German Jewish men were arrested for the “crime” of being Jewish and sent to concentration camps, where hundreds of them perished. Some Jewish women were also arrested and sent to local jails. Businesses owned by Jews were not allowed to reopen unless they were managed by non-Jews. Curfews were placed on Jews, limiting the hours of the day they could leave their homes.

Kristallnacht is seen as a decisive moment in what Lucy Dawidowicz called the War Against the Jews. Mass violence was perpetrated against the Jews of Germany and not only did the authorities not intervene, they actually participated in official and unofficial ways. It showed the world that the Jews had been completely disenfranchised and without legal support or representation.

  It is said that many Germans disapproved of the events on that November 9th. It was too much violence for them at that point, and too up close and personal. The Catholic Church and the Protestant community could have spoken up forcibly at that moment, representing those people who were shocked and offended by Kristallnacht. But they did not. Many historians wonder what might have happened had there been some official Christian response to the German violence. Certainly headlines all over the world expressed revulsion, including the New York Times, where Kristallnacht was a headline leading story. But in the end, while many were disgusted, few said something; fewer did something.

The night of Kristallnacht my father was 11 years old living at the Baruch-Auerbachsche orphan asylum in Berlin. I’ve always wondered what it was like to be a Jewish orphan on that night of terror. Were the doors barricaded? Were the windows covered? Were the kids hiding under their beds? Could they smell the smoke of burning synagogues and Jewish businesses? Did they actively fear for their lives? Were these Jewish children, already victims of misfortune to be in the orphanage, utterly hopeless and lost? When these children fled Germany the following year, did they imagine that they would live to see adulthood?

What I know as the child of a Holocaust survivor is that my father was robbed of a childhood. He was robbed of any kind of rational balance point to perceive his world. That is, my father lacked any sense of what was “normal.” How to be a parent? He had no context. Trust in others? Only at risk of losing one’s life. The importance of lovingkindness? He would’ve said he couldn’t afford lovingkindness. He suffered as so many survivors did, the loss of everyone and everything of meaning. When the anniversary of Kristallnacht arrives every November, not only do I think of the broken glass for which the day is named, I think about my father’s brokenness. I think about all of the broken people. I think about all the Jews whose lives were smashed forever.

I carry, as do most children of survivors, my share of wounds and injuries related to the Shoah. Trauma has a way of seeping into the DNA of a family. Sometimes in pictures from the Holocaust I imagine seeing relatives: could that be? It looks so much like… Sometimes I imagine that I see myself. Other times I imagine being in a particularly hellish place and standing no chance of making it. These thoughts and experiences come not only on the anniversary of Kristallnacht. Not a day goes by when some Holocaust language or imagery or allusion clouds my life. It is a bitter legacy… But it inspires me to stand proudly as a Jew in the world. It inspires me to declare the words “Never Again!” and mean it, not only for my children and grandchildren, but for all innocent men, women and children. I pray that one day no child will ever know the fear of my father or feel the pain of broken glass and broken dreams.


Shabbat Shalom


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