November 9−10, 2013, marks the 75th Anniversary of Kristallnacht – “the night of broken glass,” foreshadowing the Shoah and the beginning of Hitler›s “Final Solution”. During this terrifying night in 1938, Nazi storm troopers, police, and Hitler Youth raided and destroyed thousands of Jewish homes, shops, and synagogues. Ninety-one Jews were killed and 30,000 Jewish men were taken away to concentration camps, 5,000 Jewish shops were looted and 191 synagogues attacked, bonfires being made of Sifrei Torah, sacred texts and other books of Jewish learning. In the years that followed most of the world stood mute as the atrocities continued to mount.
Already, prior to this, from the time of his ascension to power, Hitler had begun his attack against the Jewish people, promulgating legal actions against Germany’s Jews. In 1933, he proclaimed a one-day boycott against Jewish shops, a law was passed against kosher butchering and Jewish children began experiencing restrictions in public schools.
By 1935, the Nuremberg Laws deprived Jews of German citizenship. By 1936, Jews were prohibited from participation in parliamentary elections and signs reading “Jews Not Welcome” appeared in many German cities. In the first half of 1938, numerous laws were passed restricting Jewish economic activity and occupational opportunities. In July, 1938, a law was passed requiring all Jews to carry identification cards.
After Kristallnacht, the German government sought to accelerate the pace of forced Jewish emigration. The German Foreign Office and the Propaganda Ministry also hoped to exploit the unwillingness of other nations to admit large numbers of Jewish refugees to justify the Nazi regime’s anti-Jewish goals and policies both domestically in Germany and in the world at large. The St. Louis, a ship that carried nearly 1,000 Jewish emigrants, was refused entry in ports overseas, its refugees having to return to Europe. With the outbreak of World War II, the war against the Jews began in earnest.
We remember the events of Kristallnacht and its aftermath this weekend, paying honour and respect to its victims. We learn with our teaching of “Never Again”, we should be ever alert as American Jews to language that marginalizes minorities and rejects refugees.