75th Anniversary of Kristallnacht
My dear friend and colleague Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg, who is also a child of Holocaust survivors, asks: [Can you] imagine one morning you and your family are awakened by shouts and screams. Then suddenly, the police break into your house? They start breaking the china, destroying the furniture, and shattering windows while showing great satisfaction in their destruction. Then you and your family are told to get dressed and are taken to the police station for no apparent reason. On the way, you see your synagogue in flames, and your neighbors throwing rocks at it.
This is precisely what happened exactly 75 years ago on November 9, 1938. Today is the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the pogrom of organized terror that marked the beginning of the end of 6 million Jews. Kristallnacht, “The Night of Broken Glass,” was the Nazi term used to cover up that it was much more than broken glass that was destroyed. As Shmuel Ettinger writes in his, A History of the Jewish People:
On the night of 9 November, members of the S.S. together with a Nazi mob attacked Jewish homes, beating, injuring and murdering Jewish victims. Hundreds of synagogues were burned down; some 7,500 Jewish shops and businesses [and over 1,000 synagogues] were destroyed, and the number of dead totaled ninety. Immediately afterwards there commenced a series of mass arrests: 26,000 Jews, mainly well-to-do, were placed in concentration camps, and hundreds of them died as a result of brutal treatment by the S.S. A “contribution” of one billion marks was exacted from the German Jewish community. The Jews were ordered to repair the damage caused to their own businesses and shops by rioters. Subsequently Jews were expelled from all economic enterprises and from managerial positions; Jewish children were expelled from schools; Jews were forbidden to attend cultural events, their organizations were disbanded and their publications suppressed; in practice Jewish...life was brought to a standstill.
In the weeks that followed, the German government promulgated dozens of laws and decrees designed to deprive Jews of their property and of their means of livelihood. Many of these laws enforced “Aryanization” policy—the transfer of Jewish-owned enterprises and property to “Aryan” ownership, usually for a fraction of their true value. Ensuing legislation barred Jews, already ineligible for employment in the public sector, from practicing most professions in the private sector, and made further strides in removing Jews from public life. Jews could no longer gain admittance to “German” theaters, movie cinemas, or concert halls.
How did this happen in Germany, the heart of European culture and science? On November 7th—2 days before Kristallnacht—the 3rd Secretary of the German embassy in Paris, Ernst Von Rath, was murdered by Herschel Grynzpan—a 17-year-old German-Jewish refugee. Grynzpan wanted to avenge his parent’s expulsion, together with 15,000 other Polish Jews from Germany to Poland. Poland refused to admit them and they were stranded, freezing and starving at the border. The Nazis used the murder as a pretext to unleash the mobs and riots.
Was this a spontaneous riot as the Germans would have us believe? Nothing can be further from the truth! It was carefully planned, and not just by Goering and Goebbels…but by Hitler himself. Where did the concentration camps used to house 26,000 Jews come from? They were built far in advance. The world was shocked? It shouldn’t have been…for nearly a decade banners had appeared all over Germany declaring: Die Yidden sind unserer umgluck, “the Jews are our misfortune.” Hitler’s intentions were very clear. He wrote them, he spoke them, he lived them. But no one took him seriously. Even after Kristallnacht Chamberlain came to Munich with hopes for appeasement.
One may ask: How could the entire world stand by and allow such a disaster to occur? The fascist regimes in Italy, Rumania, Hungary and Poland celebrated the pogrom. The 3 Great Western powers—England, France and the United States—said the appropriate things but did nothing. Hitler, in the late 1930’s told the world, “Take the Jews,” but there were no takers! In America, while President Roosevelt expressed his shock, at the same time his administration declared that they have no intention of allowing more Jews to come.
And now 75 years later, has the world learned anything? Not if you look at Syria where 100,000 people have been killed, some with poison gas. Millions are today suffering from malnutrition and hunger and millions more have been turned into refugees. The United Nations estimates that today 800 million people suffer from the effects of hunger and more than 12 million people are enslaved.
And the world has not changed much and still seems to turn a blind eye when it comes to the Jews and Israel. Raoul Hilberg, prominent Holocaust historian, has written: “You can divide into 3 those involved in the Holocaust: the victims, the perpetrators and the bystanders.” But Hilberg is wrong! Yes, there were the victims and perpetrators. But during the Holocaust there was no such thing as “innocent bystanders.” Ultimately, you either opposed the Nazis or you were an accomplice to their evil.
It seems as if history may be repeating itself. The big news this week is that 6 world powers (the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) led by the US indicated they were making progress negotiating with Iran about slowing its nuclear program in return for relief on sanctions. Secretary of State John Kerry is pushing very hard to seal the deal. It seems the world is so anxious to be rid of an Iranian nuclear threat that it has turned a blind eye to who they are dealing with. And who are they dealing with?
Hassan Rouhani is the new president of Iran. He’s widely touted as a moderate because he’s soft-spoken, smiles and uses twitter. But his first 100 days in office have been marked by an increase in political assassinations, the prosecution of Christians for drinking communion wine during services and the arrest of homosexuals and “devil worshippers.”
From the Jewish perspective, Rouhani’s history is even worse: he was the one who planned the bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires in 1994 which took 85 lives, and of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996 in which 19 American soldiers were killed. He refuses to acknowledge that the Holocaust happened, and claims that in any case it is something only historians should be concerned with. And he called Israel “a wound” on the Middle East that must be eradicated.
Can he be trusted in the current nuclear negotiations? It was Rouhani that led the nuclear negotiations on behalf of Iran from 2003 to 2005. He later boasted how he deceived the world into believing that Iran had stopped enriching uranium when it had not. And now he’s negotiating the nuclear deal? Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, an organization that has worked closely with Congress and the administration on devising the current Iranian sanctions, said: “Sounds like Obama decided to enter the Persian nuclear bazaar to haggle with the masters of negotiation and has had his head handed to him.”
In our Torah reading this Shabbos we read about how Laban tricked father Jacob into getting what he wanted—marrying off his older daughter Leah. Later on we read how Laban had continued to trick and deceive Jacob 10 times in order to get his way. So destructive was Laban’s deceitful ways that the Hagaddah says that he was worse that Pharaoh: “While Pharaoh decreed only against the males [throwing the male babies into the Nile River], Laban attempted to uproot all.”
Make no mistake about it. Rouhani and his boss, the Ayatollah Khamenei, like Laban want to uproot all and destroy Israel no matter the cost. And like Laban, they will say anything and do anything to accomplish that goal. Israeli prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu, said this week: I met Secretary Kerry right before he left to Geneva. I reminded him that he said that no deal is better than a bad deal. The deal that is being discussed in Geneva right now is a bad deal. It’s a very bad deal. Iran is not required to take apart even one centrifuge. But the international community is relieving sanctions on Iran for the first time after many years. Iran gets everything that it wanted at this stage and it pays nothing…It’s the deal of a century for Iran; it’s a very dangerous and bad deal for peace and the international community.
The Jewish population of Israel has recently turned 6 million. Think about what that number means. The Kerry deal will only provide cover for Iran as it continues enriching uranium and make it that much harder for Israel to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities when it deems it must. There are no innocent bystanders in world that will allow Iran to get nuclear weapons and again incinerate 6 million Jews! Am Yisrael Chai, “The People of Israel shall Live!” Amen!
Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis