Like Osama bin Laden’s declaration of war against the United States, delivered from a remote cave in Afghanistan by a seemingly marginal eccentric, Hitler’s stated “thorough solution … the removal of the Jews from the midst of our people” was easily dismissed at the time it was issued. In retrospect, both seem chillingly prophetic.
The slaughter that was the Holocaust ended with the murder, over a four-year period, of six million Jews and, by some estimates, almost as many others deemed undesirable. But this attempted genocide on an industrial scale began a quarter-century earlier, with the ravings of an irrelevant madman, and proceeded in graduated, and gradually accelerating, steps toward the Final Solution.
Persecution of the Jews was part of the Nazi program from the establishment of the Brownshirts, the SA, in 1921, to the formation of the Hitler Youth five years later. The party turned from harassment to murder on New Year’s Day 1930, when the brown shirt militia killed 8 Jews.
The pace of persecution accelerated with the accession of Hitler to the Chancellorship in 1933. The Nazis assaulted all the instrumentalities of liberal democracy. The rule of law was destroyed when German lawyers swore an oath of allegiance not to the German state, but to a person: Adolf Hitler. The press was condemned as an “enemy of the people.” Intellectuals were banished. Books were burned.
With the elements of civil society marginalized and discredited, the Nazis turned their attention fully to the legal destruction of the Jews. They stripped them of citizenship, of access to the press, to education and to business, of basic rights in their own property, and eventually required Jews to wear a Yellow Star. When the time came, Jewish status had been so diminished that it was a short leap to requiring that Jews’ be “resettled.”
In short, before the systematic physical extermination of the Jews began, they had suffered an extermination of legal personhood and a withering torrent of antisemitic messaging, vandalism, beatings, isolated killings, boycotts, and propaganda. "The dagger of the assassin was concealed beneath the robe of the jurist."
Kristallnacht was the event that brought the dagger fully out from under the robe; it was the event in which hatred migrated permanently across the brain-blood barrier of extremism and became open and state-sponsored violence.
On January 30, 1939, Hitler gave another speech. Reacting to international outrage over Kristallnacht, he said that even if Germany found itself at war, “the result will not be the bolshevization of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.”SHINE LIGHT! Design a free and meaningful plaque >>
We see it now, in retrospect. After Kristallnacht, the course was set.
That history alone would be worth commemorating. But that history also urges us to look closely at the world we confront today, at the way vulnerable populations are treated, at the persistence of hate and the many forms of its expression, and at the efforts extremist groups have been making to move from marginal to mainstream.
The protection of vulnerable populations is the purpose of the Miller Center at Rutgers. We have worked with communities as diverse as the Muslim community in Brussels, Belgium and the Jewish community in Whitefish, Montana, the African-American community in Louisiana and Mississippi and the Sikh community in Wisconsin. In seeking to assist these very different communities, we have been struck by a common thread and a common threat: the increasing use of social media and the cyber world as means of recruitment, incitement, and dissemination of hatred toward and violence against vulnerable populations.
The extremists spreading hate over social media may be small in number and marginalized for the moment, but the example of Kristallnacht should arrest any temptation to dismiss them.
For just as Kristallnacht and what followed resulted from intensely controlled and intensifying messaging of hateful propaganda, so the extremism of today is the product of a social media environment that reinforces every form of prejudice, that converts general proclivities to fixed convictions. And our work has shown that when the messaging of hate reaches a peak of intensity, murderous violence erupts, as in the attack on the mosque in New Zealand or the synagogue in Pittsburgh or the killing of law enforcement officers in California.
The only answer to such heat is light, the light of truth, the truth that shames every form of hate. SHINE LIGHT! Design a free and meaningful plaque >>
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: