Monday, 11 November 2013

Remembrance and Hope

The Service was titled “A Service of Solemn Remembrance and Hope on the 75th Anniversary of Kristallnacht”.  The part that interested me was “hope”.  How do you keep hope in the face of death and destruction?

Kristallnacht – or the Night of Broken Glass - took place on the 9/10 November 1938 across Germany, occupied Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia occupied by Germany. We went to Westminster Abbey on Sunday night for an interdenominational service of remembrance.  It is rather poignant that this anniversary occurs during our Remembrance Week. 

This “spontaneous” violence was carefully orchestrated and 267 synagogues throughout Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland were attacked - broken glass referring to the streets littered with the glass of the windows. Many synagogues burned throughout the night, in full view of the public and of local firefighters, who had received orders to intervene only to prevent flames from spreading to nearby buildings. SA and Hitler Youth members across the country shattered the shop windows of an estimated 7,500 Jewish-owned commercial establishments. Jewish cemeteries became a particular object of desecration in many regions.

Although murder was not directed, close to 100 Jews died. The SS and Gestapo arrested about 30,000 Jewish men, and transferred most of them from local prisons to Dachau, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, and other concentration camps. Hundreds died in the camps as a result of the brutal treatment they endured; most obtained release over the next three months on the condition that they begin the process of emigration from Germany.

Ironically this probably saved many thousands of Jewish lives as the effects of Kristallnacht served as a spur to the emigration of Jews to those countries that would have them and, as Rabbi Julia Neuberger so eloquently said – there were individuals amongst the British consular staff who stretched every rule to help thousands enter Britain.

We heard very moving testimonies from a man, who as a boy had seen from the balcony of his apartment his parents’ shop smashed with his parent in the store, a woman who survived in the camps because her parents starved to death so she could eat and another, as a boy, had managed to survive the camps and ended up here building a successful life. Is that where hope comes in?

Chillingly, the passivity with which most German civilians responded to the violence signaled to the Nazi regime that the German public would accept measures aimed at removing Jews entirely from German economic and social life, moving eventually towards policies of forced emigration, and finally towards the realization of a Germany “free of Jews” (judenrein).

"All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing."

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