'Avoiding another Kristallnacht means standing for freedom and democracy'

It was exactly 82 years ago on November 9th, 1938 that the Nazi regime launched its brutal, furiously destructive all-out attack against the Jews.

It was exactly 82 years ago on November 9th, 1938 that the Nazi regime launched its brutal, furiously destructive all-out attack against the Jews. On the night of November 9th to 10th, 1938, more than 1,200 synagogues and prayer rooms in Germany were set on fire, desecrated and destroyed among them 23 synagogues in Thuringia alone. In 48 hours more than 100 Jews were murdered in all of Germany and around 8,000 Jewish-owned businesses were looted.
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The memory of victims of the Nazi regime is and will remain an existential part of the German democratic self-image in our free society. Remembrance work is not a burden or a historical mortgage, but a task that must be passed on from generation to generation. Remembrance is an inner compass to defend human dignity and our freedom.

There is more than one reason to commemorate. Of course, we owe it to the victims to keep them in honor of their memory. Letting them vanish into oblivion would be unforgivable. We also owe it to their family members, their descendants, to see their horrific fate as part of a collective memory.

However, there are too many right-wing populist and right-wing extremist objectors to remembrance. They deny whatever does not fit into their concept, ridicule it, cover it with contempt, want to forbid it. Their ethnocentrism, underpinned by arguments from the armory of racism, contradicts the idea of equality, plurality and freedom and wants to undermine the very foundation of today's Germany, a Germany that does NOT want to forget the lessons of history, that knows how dangerous the division of people into supposedly superior and inferior is.

That and more: the falsifiers of history ultimately strive for a different state. The burning desire to gloss over the Nazi era, indeed, to claim it had positive aspects, often goes hand in hand with a tendency towards violence. It is a fact that people who take an active stand against right-wing extremist hatred and racism feel threatened and intimidated even when they are not physically attacked. I think we can all vividly imagine what the racist hooligans, comrades-in-arms and Nazis think of the memory of the Nazi victims.

Upholding the memory of victims of Nazism should be a self-interest of every democratic state based on human rights. Remembrance is part of our free democratic basic order in Germany. By remembering the darkest chapter in history, we remind ourselves that any slide into anti-democracy, xenophobia, or racism is dangerous. We know where this is going. And it is not as if the unacceptable only begins when the situation reaches Nazi proportions like between 1933 and 1945. The no-go zone of a democracy begins much earlier and not only with a full-blown dictatorship. It begins where respect - not mere tolerance - for fellow human beings ends, where the basic values of democracy and the rule of law are called into question.

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 If we want to effectively fight racism for the future and save our democracy, then we must convincingly convey to our citizens and children that no matter what sexual, ideological, cultural, social, religious or other differences we might have, we as human beings have the same rights, feel, think and suffer alike. Responsible politics for a society means not to stir up resentments and prejudices, but to reduce them. It means treating one another with the same respect and responsibility, relearning to have compassion for one another and to be curious about one another. Knowledge alone does not immunize against intolerance - we also need empathy.

We are in politically uncertain times and it is not uncommon for many today – at least in Germany - to feel reminded of the times of crisis in the Weimar Republic. Let me close optimistically with the words of Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt on the occasion of his government declaration on October 28th, 1969:

“Ladies and gentlemen, in recent years some in this country have feared that the second German democracy would follow the path of the first. I never believed this. I believe this less than ever today. No: We are not at the end of our democracy, we are just getting started.”

But optimism alone will not lead us to open societies, a democratic and bright future. The Weimar Republic failed at the time not because of too many Nazis, but because of too few democrats who took to the streets to fight for democracy. We should consider that today.

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Stephen Kramer is The President of the State-Agency for the Protection of the Constitution in Thuringia, Germany

The International March of the Living, The Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience at Rutgers University, and the Jüdischen Gemeinde Frankfurt are pleased to present a specially produced media event – 2020 Kristallnacht Commemoration.

The program will air on the anniversary of Kristallnacht – The Night of Broken Glass, on November 9th at 7:00PM EST, on the Jewish Broadcasting Service (jbstv.org), Jerusalem Post website (jpost.org), International March of the Living website and social media channels.

The 2020 Kristallnacht Commemoration program will include:

·       Kristallnacht testimony from witness Norbert Strauss and archival testimony provided by the USC Shoah Foundation

·       Keynote address from noted Auschwitz-Birkenau survivor Irving Roth

·       Paul S. Miller, Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience, Rutgers University

·       Prof. John J. Farmer Jr., Director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics of Rutgers University and the Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience

·       Prof. Finkelstein, Rutgers Center for Secure Communities

·       Stephen Kramer, President of the State-Agency for the Protection of the Constitution in Thuringia, Germany

·       Moderated by Richard D. Heideman, President of the American Zionist Movement

·       Musical presentations by past March of the Living performers


This article was written in cooperation with March of the Living.