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by Thomas M. Wolf
Kristallnacht (“Night of Broken Glass”) took place on November 9 and 10, 1938. The Nazis used the murder of a low-level German diplomat in Paris by a 17-year-old Polish Jew as an excuse for ordering a pogrom in Germany, recently occupied areas of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia and annexed portions of Austria. The teenager, Herschel Grynspan, wanted revenge for the sudden deportation of his parents (along with thousands of other Polish Jews) from Germany to Poland. Kristallnacht is viewed by many to be the beginning of the Holocaust. It was then that the policies of the Nazis turned violent and became law.
Since there were little or no protests from the United States (although President Franklin D. Roosevelt did denounce anti-Semitism and violence in Germany and recalled his ambassador to Germany, Hugh Wilson) or other countries, it gave Hitler the green light to target the Jews of Europe. A gradual implementation of discriminatory laws ensued, followed by the establishment of ghettos, mobile killing squads, and concentration and extermination camps. The Nazis believed in the racial superiority of the Aryan race and the importance of territorial expansion and world domination. Thus, non-Aryan “races,” such as Jews, had to be expelled and destroyed. The Final Solution was implemented to address the “Jewish problem,” which led to the systematic murder of 6 million European Jews.
I feel fortunate that I did not lose any immediate members living in Germany at the time. They had sponsors in the U.S. and escaped in May 1937 and May 1938, prior to Kristallnacht. Many factors contributed to their decisions to leave Germany where they had lived happily for many generations. They were discriminated against in school where they were belittled, humiliated, and given lower grades than they deserved. My maternal uncle was beaten up periodically on school property and had to be withdrawn from school for his own safety. He continued his schooling in Florence where he lived with relatives. For similar reasons, my father completed work apprenticeships in Paris, Milan, and Barcelona in the textile trade, which was the profession of his father. My mother’s first love and boyfriend at age 16 came to school one day in a Nazi uniform and stopped speaking to her, as did many of her close friends.
The most important factor that contributed to their decisions to leave was that their very successful businesses were taken away from them, and as a result, they had no means of a livelihood to support themselves and their families. It is hard to imagine what they went through, and I do not take my own freedom for granted.
There is a long history of anti-Semitism, and I find it disturbing that anti-Semitism is dramatically on the rise in the U.S. and around the world. I have reviewed different surveys and am amazed how few people have ever heard of Kristallnacht or the Holocaust. Many Holocaust survivors are no longer with us or are elderly. Who will carry on their stories if not us? History can repeat itself. We know that silence and indifference can lead to terrible and unthinkable consequences.
In closing, I am proud to be a member of the Holocaust Speakers Bureau. I think it is essential to educate our children (as well as adults) about the Holocaust and the steps we can take to counter anti-Semitism, racism, and discrimination in our world through our words and actions. I hope the Holocaust becomes a required part of the history/political science curriculum in all schools. A bill mandating Holocaust education is awaiting passage in the North Carolina Legislature.
Click above image for more information (PowerPoint presentation).
During those two days of violence, 90 Jews were killed (some estimates are much higher), 7,500 Jewish businesses were damaged, 1,400 synagogues were torched, 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps, and Jewish-owned shops, homes, schools, and cemeteries were vandalized, plundered, and destroyed. Following Kristallnacht, the Nazis blamed the Jews and fined them about $400 million dollars (at 1938 rates).
The Center for Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Education of North Carolina
(the Holocaust Speakers Bureau)
inspires students and members of our community to respect the dignity of all human beings by
teaching the challenging topics of the Holocaust, genocide, and tolerance. We work with schools, museums, libraries and houses of worship to develop age-appropriate materials, presentations and programs to help make the Holocaust relevant in light of current events in the United States and globally.