Kristallnacht Still Casts a Long Shadow On Europe

Seventy-five years after Kristallnacht, anti-Semitism persists in Europe.

Kristallnacht. Seventy-five years later, the very word (Night of Broken Glass) still casts its long shadow. On Nov. 9th, 1938, a mass pogrom was unleashed by the German High command against the Jews of Germany and Austria. It marked the Nazi regime’s transition from the quasi-legal discriminatory Nuremberg Laws to coming of ‘Final Solution’ genocide against European Jewry.

The official statistics — 91 Jews were killed, thousands more put into concentration camps, 267 synagogues burned, and 7,500 Jewish businesses vandalized — fail to describe the overwhelming sense of terror and foreboding which enveloped German Jewry. They had just experienced the overwhelming indifference and antipathy of neighbors, when police and fire departments were deployed not to douse the flames engulfing historic houses of worship or stop vicious beatings, but only to protect the property of proper Aryans.

In his diary, Reich Minister Goebbels celebrated: “As I am driven to the hotel [in Munich], windowpanes shatter. Bravo! Bravo! The synagogues burn like big old cabins.”

He and Hitler had reason to celebrate. The world didn’t give a damn about the Jews and soon the path from burning synagogues would lead to the plumes of ashes of mass murdered Jews spewing forth from death camp crematoria, covered by the fog of war and buried by an indifferent humanity.

Their celebrations continued as other conflagrations enveloped all of Europe. Cities from London to Warsaw to Leningrad were devastated by the Nazi Blitzkrieg. But by May 1945, when WWII ended, the very same streets in Munich and Berlin whose synagogues were torched and whose Jews were disappeared, were themselves reduced to rubble by the onslaught of Allied firebombs.

Seven and a half decades later,  we are left with grainy images of that night of horrors. As the last of the surviving victims and victimizers, heroes and bystanders inexorably leave the world stage, it is time to ponder, what, if anything we’ve learned from Kristallnacht:

Is European hatred of Jews a thing of the past?

In his latest book, “Demonizing Israel and the Jews,” Manfred Gerstenfeld, analyzes polls taken across the continent and estimates that at least 150 million Europeans still harbor extreme anti-Jewish and/or anti-Israel animus.

Do Europe’s Jews feel safe?

According to Gerstenfeld, 25 percent are afraid to wear kippot or Star of David jewelry in public. While today armed police stand on guard across Europe protecting synagogues, 80 synagogues have been attacked in recent years in Germany alone. Jewish children have been targeted for bullying in Scandinavia and for insult, injury, even death on the campuses of day schools and Yeshivot in France.

And there is more, much more. This isn’t only about Islamist extremists for whom Jew is a dirty word. There is increasing mainstream hate and disrespecting of Jews and core Judaic values.

From Greece to Hungary to Ukraine, political parties increase their clout by playing the anti-Semitism card. Campaigns are underway in leading European democracies to criminalize the core Judaic mitzvot of brit milah and Shechita.

And in the ultimate insult to Jews– living and dead–respected European NGOs, politicians, media and prominent church leaders cast Israelis as latter-day Nazis. Even Holocaust commemorations have been hijacked. In Norway, on the 65th anniversary of Kristallnacht, Norwegian authorities — “not wanting any trouble” — forbade any Jewish symbols, including the Star of David and the Israeli flag, from being displayed. Jews attempting to join the commemoration were firmly told by police to “please leave the area.” What’s wrong with Europe’s memory is encapsulated in comments made by my colleague and mentor, Rabbi Marvin Hier, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s dean and founder during our audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican. Rabbi Hier quoted, revered Jewish thinker, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik who said,“Evil is an undeniable fact. It exists. I will neither deny it nor camouflage it….” Rabbi Hier added, “Evil existed during the time of Moses as it did in Jesus’ time and as it does in our own time. “That is the reason why, Soloveitchik taught, the Torah has two ways of expressing memory. One is positive, Zachor, to remember, reach out, dialogue, to find common ground. The other dimension is negative, Lo Tishkach, do not forget to act when you are dealing with evil.

The Nazi Holocaust was the quintessential example of humanity’s capacity for evil. Here are three points for gentile and Jew to reflect on this Kristallnacht.

First: If European leaders refuse to protect live Jews, they shouldn’t bother attending memorials for 6 million dead Jews.

Second: Stop de-Judaizing the Nazi Holocaust. Evil is not merely an abstract idea. The Nazis murdered Anne Frank and six million of her brethren for death only because she and they were Jews. Public memorials and teaching modules omitting this truth desecrate the dead.

Third: We Jews have to toughen up. Accepting the status quo in Europe is demeaning and only emboldens the bigots on the street and in the halls of Parliaments.

2013 is not 1938. But, we Jews dare not repeat the mistakes of the 1930s by pinning our hopes that Europe’s leaders will do the heavy lifting to defend our rights. Only we can secure our dignity. As Simon Wiesenthal himself often said: “Freedom is not a gift from heaven. It must be fought for every day.”

Zachor, Lo Tisckhach.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center 

Image via sixtwelve.

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  • haveaheart

    For those of us non-Jews who support and agree with Rabbi Cooper’s position, there is a single large stumbling block. It is encapsulated in this quote:

    ” . . .at least 150 million Europeans still harbor extreme anti-Jewish and/or anti-Israel animus.”

    The insistence on linking criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish sentiment creates a strawman argument that is untenable.

    I am neither Jewish nor anti-Semitic. I come from a long line of Eastern European oppressed peasantry, so I have no animus toward others who have suffered at the hands of bigoted and cruel authorities.

    At the same time, I do oppose Israel’s continued oppression of Palestinians, and I do ask the question “Why are Israelis treating Palestinians in ways that they been treated in earlier eras?”

    I see in Israel the same kind of creeping clerical power and authority that we’ve been seeing in so many Muslim countries in the Middle East. Increasingly, fundamentalist religious leaders are making policy for non-religious citizens and attempting to coerce religious behavior.

    Opposing such behavior is not anti-Semitic. (Nor, presumably, would most Jews consider ultra-Orthodox groups such as the Satmar to be anti-Semitic despite their fierce opposition to the very existence of Israel.)

    So the whole question of what constitutes anti-Semitic attitudes throws huge obstacles in the way of those of us who sympathize with Jews the world over and who would stand with the Jewish people against any attempts to once again marginalize or extinguish their lives.

    It is critical, I think, that American Jews stop demonizing American non-Jews who oppose the actions of the Israeli government against the people of Palestine. Opposing the continued growth of settlements is not anti-Semitic. Opposing the claim of “rights” by Israel to own or control shared sacred plots of land is not anti-Semitic.

    I am opposed to Israel’s policies, but I am not an anti-Semite. Two totally different things. Please learn this!

  • haveaheart

    For those of us non-Jews who support and agree with Rabbi Cooper’s position, there is a single large stumbling block. It is encapsulated in this quote:

    ” . . .at least 150 million Europeans still harbor extreme anti-Jewish and/or anti-Israel animus.”

    The insistence on linking criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish sentiment creates a strawman argument that is untenable.

    I am neither Jewish nor anti-Semitic. I come from a long line of Eastern European oppressed peasantry, so I have no animus toward others who have suffered at the hands of bigoted and cruel authorities.

    At the same time, I do oppose Israel’s continued oppression of Palestinians, and I do ask the question “Why are Israelis treating Palestinians in ways that they been treated in earlier eras?”

    I see in Israel the same kind of creeping clerical power and authority that we’ve been seeing in so many Muslim countries in the Middle East. Increasingly, fundamentalist religious leaders are making policy for non-religious citizens and attempting to coerce religious behavior.

    Opposing such behavior is not anti-Semitic. (Nor, presumably, would most Jews consider ultra-Orthodox groups such as the Satmar to be anti-Semitic despite their fierce opposition to the very existence of Israel.)

    So the whole question of what constitutes anti-Semitic attitudes throws huge obstacles in the way of those of us who sympathize with Jews the world over and who would stand with the Jewish people against any attempts to once again marginalize or extinguish their lives.

    It is critical, I think, that American Jews stop demonizing American non-Jews who oppose the actions of the Israeli government against the people of Palestine. Opposing the continued growth of settlements is not anti-Semitic. Opposing the claim of “rights” by Israel to own or control shared sacred plots of land is not anti-Semitic.

    I am opposed to Israel’s policies, but I am not an anti-Semite. Two totally different things. Please learn this!

  • doubtfull

    Americans should be ashamend then and now for their anti semetic attitudes. We let Nazis go and then hired the ones we needed. After unbeleivable slaughter we still give them up. I am 100% pro ISRAEL- they wouldnt have a country if the haddent blown up the brits- balfour or not. I hang the Israeli flay from the mirror in my jeep Go IDF and make Iran a parking lot

  • doubtfull

    Americans should be ashamend then and now for their anti semetic attitudes. We let Nazis go and then hired the ones we needed. After unbeleivable slaughter we still give them up. I am 100% pro ISRAEL- they wouldnt have a country if the haddent blown up the brits- balfour or not. I hang the Israeli flay from the mirror in my jeep Go IDF and make Iran a parking lot

  • dcheretic1

    So America’s inaction during WWII genocide is shameful, but genocide against Iran is something to be lauded?

  • dcheretic1

    So America’s inaction during WWII genocide is shameful, but genocide against Iran is something to be lauded?

  • CCNL

    The Top Five:

    The Muslim Conquest of India

    “The likely death toll is somewhere between 2 million and 80 million. The geometric mean of those two limits is 12.7 million. ”

    Rank …..Death Toll ..Cause …..Centuries……..(Religions/Groups involved)*

    1. 63 million Second World War 20C (Christians et al and Communists/atheists vs. Christians et al, Nazi-Pagan and “Shintoists”)

    2. 40 million Mao Zedong (mostly famine) 20C (Communism)

    3. 40 million Genghis Khan 13C (Shamanism or Tengriism)

    4. 27 million British India (mostly famine) 19C (Anglican)

    5. 25 million Fall of the Ming Dynasty 17C (Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Chinese folk religion)

  • CCNL

    The Top Five:

    The Muslim Conquest of India

    “The likely death toll is somewhere between 2 million and 80 million. The geometric mean of those two limits is 12.7 million. ”

    Rank …..Death Toll ..Cause …..Centuries……..(Religions/Groups involved)*

    1. 63 million Second World War 20C (Christians et al and Communists/atheists vs. Christians et al, Nazi-Pagan and “Shintoists”)

    2. 40 million Mao Zedong (mostly famine) 20C (Communism)

    3. 40 million Genghis Khan 13C (Shamanism or Tengriism)

    4. 27 million British India (mostly famine) 19C (Anglican)

    5. 25 million Fall of the Ming Dynasty 17C (Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Chinese folk religion)

  • tombukowski

    Well said. I agree. It is very tiresome to be called anti-Semite when a persons arguement is against the Isreali goverment. The two are completely separate issues. My grandmother and uncle would be surprised to hear me called anti-Semite.

  • tombukowski

    Well said. I agree. It is very tiresome to be called anti-Semite when a persons arguement is against the Isreali goverment. The two are completely separate issues. My grandmother and uncle would be surprised to hear me called anti-Semite.

  • ShovelPlease

    As the adage goes, scratch the surface of someone who’s anti-Israel and you’ll find an anti-Semite. It’s pretty simple.

  • ShovelPlease

    As the adage goes, scratch the surface of someone who’s anti-Israel and you’ll find an anti-Semite. It’s pretty simple.

  • Oracle9

    Pretty strong words you make with the use of the word “genocide”.

    You don’t know anything about the words and actions of the Iranian regime, do you? Please provide evidence to show that the intentions of the mullahs are benign.

    Please also provide evidence which indicates that anyone has genocidal intentions against the Iranian people.

    If you cannot, then I ask you why you would make such a serious comment.

  • Oracle9

    Pretty strong words you make with the use of the word “genocide”.

    You don’t know anything about the words and actions of the Iranian regime, do you? Please provide evidence to show that the intentions of the mullahs are benign.

    Please also provide evidence which indicates that anyone has genocidal intentions against the Iranian people.

    If you cannot, then I ask you why you would make such a serious comment.

  • Martin Leaf

    With all due respect, Rabbi Cooper is clueless. Is the Wiesenthal center winning the war for the hearts and minds ? No. They are losing badly. Why ? Because the Weisenthal Center is living in fantasy land. The anti-Semitic message is no longer the crude caricature from the 1930’s . It has evolved.

    The problem is that the Weisenthal center is fighting back, if you can call it that, with a 1930’s style message. The Jewish people would be better off without the Wiesenthal Center, and the false sense of security it gives the Jewish people.

    There is a science to projecting a positive image. Advertisers use it all the time. The enemies of the Jewish people use it. Maybe the Weisenthal beaurocrats will one day wake up and realize it is the 21st century, before it is too late. I doubt it.

  • Martin Leaf

    With all due respect, Rabbi Cooper is clueless. Is the Wiesenthal center winning the war for the hearts and minds ? No. They are losing badly. Why ? Because the Weisenthal Center is living in fantasy land. The anti-Semitic message is no longer the crude caricature from the 1930’s . It has evolved.

    The problem is that the Weisenthal center is fighting back, if you can call it that, with a 1930’s style message. The Jewish people would be better off without the Wiesenthal Center, and the false sense of security it gives the Jewish people.

    There is a science to projecting a positive image. Advertisers use it all the time. The enemies of the Jewish people use it. Maybe the Weisenthal beaurocrats will one day wake up and realize it is the 21st century, before it is too late. I doubt it.

  • tompainejr

    “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
    – Mark Twain

    Your so-called adage is a useless way to justify grouping together both those who question Israel’s legitmacy (I don’t) and those opposed to some of the wrong-headed and inhumane policies such as the various measures used to clamp down on and isolate Gaza and a provocative settlement policy in the West Bank. By giving moderate Palestinians nothing to show for their efforts Israel only emboldens more extreme elements. Israel’s policy stance appears to accept perpetual cold, warm, or hot war and a negotiated peace that takes into account Israel’s legitimate security concerns (I agree that the ’67 borders are militarily untenable) should be the direction of its foreign policy. After so much reliance on the stick toward Gaza and the West Bank, isn’t it time to negotiate a form of carrot palatable to those among the Palestiniani people who are just as worn down by perpetual conflict? If peace will ever be attained, I don’t see any reasonable alternative to two secular states separated by religion but subordinating that to common interests.

  • tompainejr

    “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
    – Mark Twain

    Your so-called adage is a useless way to justify grouping together both those who question Israel’s legitmacy (I don’t) and those opposed to some of the wrong-headed and inhumane policies such as the various measures used to clamp down on and isolate Gaza and a provocative settlement policy in the West Bank. By giving moderate Palestinians nothing to show for their efforts Israel only emboldens more extreme elements. Israel’s policy stance appears to accept perpetual cold, warm, or hot war and a negotiated peace that takes into account Israel’s legitimate security concerns (I agree that the ’67 borders are militarily untenable) should be the direction of its foreign policy. After so much reliance on the stick toward Gaza and the West Bank, isn’t it time to negotiate a form of carrot palatable to those among the Palestiniani people who are just as worn down by perpetual conflict? If peace will ever be attained, I don’t see any reasonable alternative to two secular states separated by religion but subordinating that to common interests.

  • surferpl

    Historian Simon Shama’s most recent series clarifies Europe’s historical and present attitudes towards we Jews and Israel. Enlightening. The reality is that non-Jews simply will always be suspicious of us and perpetrate the myths emanating from the original “big lie” of the “blood libel.”

  • surferpl

    Historian Simon Shama’s most recent series clarifies Europe’s historical and present attitudes towards we Jews and Israel. Enlightening. The reality is that non-Jews simply will always be suspicious of us and perpetrate the myths emanating from the original “big lie” of the “blood libel.”