Does Krystallnacht still evoke images for us today? On the night it happened, the 9th of November, 1939, the “Night of Broken Glass” sent shock waves around the world. The Daily Telegraph in London carried this account on November 11th:
Mob law ruled in Berlin throughout the afternoon and evening and hordes of hooligans indulged in an orgy of destruction. I have seen several anti-Jewish outbreaks in Germany during the last five years, but never anything as nauseating as this. Racial hatred and hysteria seemed to have taken complete hold of otherwise decent people. I saw fashionably dressed women clapping their hands and screaming with glee, while respectable middle-class mothers held up their babies to see the “fun”.
The historian, Max Rein, writes that Kristallnacht changed the nature of persecution from economic, political, and social to the physical with beatings, incarceration, and murder. The event is often referred to as the beginning of the Holocaust.
According to Wikipedia, Krystallnacht damaged or destroyed nearly every synagogue in Germany, plus many Jewish cemeteries, and over 7,000 Jewish shops and department stores. Some Jews were beaten to death while others were forced to watch. More than 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and taken to concentration camps. In Austria events were equally horrendous.
Since the Holocaust many Christians have acknowledged the church’s responsibility in laying the groundwork for it. This became clearer when I read James Carroll’s book, Constantine’s Sword: the Church and the Jews: a History. Any lingering doubts came to an end when I read in the same Wikipedia article that shortly after Krystallnacht a Protestant bishop in Germany, wanting to endorse those events, collected and published Martin Luther’s anti-Semitic writings, calling Luther “the greatest anti-Semite of his time, the warner of his people against the Jews.”
OUR LEGACY OF WORDS
I write all this to keep the atrocity alive in our memories, lest we grow complacent. Following World War II the churches tried to make amends in many ways. Our good intentions included interfaith dialogue, official statements of respect, and other measures.
They did not include, however, stemming an ever-flowing spring of invective, trickling out to water the field of anti-Semitism.
That trickle flows from passages of the New Testament that, decades later, continue to be read aloud on many Sundays throughout the church year. These passages vilify or disparage Jews and Judaism in the ears of congregants who have no choice but to listen. Subtly or blatantly, they reinforce prejudice, and potentially can provoke “hooligans” to acts of violence.
When we know there is a clear cause-effect between words and actions, how can we Christians allow these passages to go on being read aloud year after year? Doesn’t this practice directly contradict the principles of respecting others we pay lip service to? Can we doubt that we are perpetuating hostility toward Jews? Others must feel as I do: at a loss to know how to make a difference, given the staggering scale of violence. Yet reversing this practice is one tangible way to off-set this rise in violence toward Jews, and by extension, violence in general.
KRYSTALLTAG: THE DAY OF CRYSTAL
Somehow we can transfigure Krystallnacht, so that its negative energy levers positive results. Call it Krystalltag. Action steps can include:
- Each year, leading up to the Sunday closest to 11/9, petition your worship leader(s) to include special prayers of remembrance and appreciation for Jews and their faith. Prayers can encompass all the places of ‘broken glass’ in today’s world.
- Petition your worship leader to find some way to nullify the vitriol when readings prejudicial to Jews are scheduled to be read in church.
- Forward the petition on to your friends in other parishes and denominations.
- Share this message and the petitions on Facebook and Twitter.