On the night of November 9, 1938 Storm Troopers leading wild mobs across Germany and later Austria struck at Jewish targets with unrivaled savagery. The windows of Jewish-owned stores were shattered and every one of the 7,500 Jewish businesses and shops that had escaped earlier “Aryanization” (confiscation) were ransacked. Jewish homes were assaulted and the residents brutally attacked. Cemeteries and schools were vandalized and 2,000 synagogues were put to the torch. Killing and maiming was rampant and over 30,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps where many were murdered; all were tortured.
It took over half a year to replace the glass that had been smashed, hence the name Kristallnacht - the night of broken glass. The Jewish community was fined one billion Reichsmarks for the bedlam; insurance payments of 25 million Reichsmarks that rightfully should have gone to their Jewish policy owners went to the state while Jewish store owners were compelled to repair the shops that had been expropriated.
The accurate translation of Kristallnacht is “Crystal Night,” and Field Marshal Hermann Goering, who had just been charged with implementing the Reich’s Jewish policy, intended to use this connotation to ridicule the victims. Like so many other Nazi perversions of language (Sonderbehandlung, “special treatment” referring to gassing victims; Euthanasie, for mass murder of retarded and physically handicapped patients) this term was meant to be a cynical appellation that would free the victims of any sympathy and reinterpret murder, arson, robbery and plunder into a glistening event marked by sparkle and gleam.
History books refer to Kristallnacht as the beginning of the Holocaust. This is akin to saying that the burning of the Reichstag is what was responsible for Hitler becoming Germany's unchallenged Fuhrer. Such oversimplification conveys an ignorance of history and aborts the chance for the proper lesson to be learned.
Nearly seven decades is adequate time to soberly reflect, and set the record straight. Auschwitz did not evolve from the Wannsee Conference, which did not evolve from The Nuremberg Laws, which did not evolve from Versailles humiliation.
The eventuality of the Holocaust was inescapable regardless of Kristallnacht. Once the dynamics of hatred were engaged, annihilation was inevitable. The Nazis sought a “Final Solution” to the “Jewish problem” and they had the might, the determination and the requisite ruthlessness for its execution.
The Nazis attempted to portray Kristallnacht as a spontaneous eruption of German hatred for the Jews. Alas, nothing happens overnight; hatred festers, it doesn’t metastasize.
Rabbi Hanoch Teller, raised and educated in America, resides in Israel with his wife and eighteen children. He is a senior lecturer in numerous Jerusalem seminaries and the author of 27 books and producer of a soon-to-be-released DVD docu-drama, "Do You Believe in Miracles?"
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