The crystal night

The 9th of November will remain in history for very good reasons and rather bad reasons – the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, but also Crystal Night, a terrible night 76 years ago when thousands of stores owned by Jews and hundreds of synagogues were destroyed in Germany as part of a major progrom of coordinated actions against the Jewish population. image001-792278

It’s the year 1988 and the cold weather makes you wish the Christmas market would be there already, inviting you to drink a glass of Glühwein while walking the streets of central Bonn. After a regular visit to the record store Musikland and to the bookstore Bouvier, our favourites in town, a small poster on a wall grabed our attention. “Theatre marathon for the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Crystal Night” reads the poster. Despite the official ceremonies planned for that day, this event came somehow as a surprise. We knew this was a difficult date for many Germans, and even more so for Jews, but we never dared asking. Hence, this event would be a good opportunity to sense and check how, fifty years after, people reacted to such a dreadful date. We were not looking for sense of guilt, we were just interested in knowing how many people would attend an event like that, whether it was important for them or not. We took the tram heading south along the Rhine and we were surprised to see a packed hall with people with different motivations. Some were there to pay tribute to the victims, like Mandy, a young American studying German at the Bonn University. Others were there as actors and playwriters, like Manfred and Otto, from Frankfurt, two actors actively engaged in preserving the memory of this event with their work. As for Dietmar und Angelika, two sociology students from Cologne, the motivation to be there was the debates that would take place that night, not as a form of exorcism but rather to get all the facts rights. “We do not wish to play down the German wrongdoings, we just want to get different perspectives on the events so we can better understand what happened and therefore understand what has led people to participate in these dreadful acts and others to throw a blind eye and only some to stand by their Jewish neighbours.” Not an easy task to get a different perspective considering that most of the attendants were there to pay homage. We left the building at 6. A.M. with a bag full of printed material on Crystal Night with the notion that a considerable number of Germans do take this issue seriously as it became clear two days after, when Philipp Jenning was forced to resign as president of the German Parliament for having delivered a speech during the official ceremony of the 50th anniversary of Crystal Night and where he, despite condemning the Nazi Progrom, said that “many Germans initially found Hitler’s rule ‘glorious'” and praised the early years of the Third Reich. “This event shows us how the darkest chapter of German history is still a present-day thing”, Hans-Jochen Vogel, leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party told the Associated Press when asked to comment on Jenninger’s resignation.

synagoge_1938b The Night of Broken Glass

Better known as Reichskristallnacht, Crystal Night took place on the night of 9-10 November and marks the “official” start of persecution against Jews in Germany when thousands of stores and hundreds of synagogues all over Germany and Austria were destroyed under coordinated action by the SA, and when the homes of members of the Jewish community were raided and dozens of thousands of Jews were imprisoned. This was apparently a reaction against the assassination of a German diplomat in France by a young Jew. But many claim this was just the “official” start of physical violence against Jews after the verbal violence inflicted by Hitler in his inflamed speeches against Jews whom he blamed for many of the evils of Germany. Seventy six years after, many fear this date may run the risk of leaving the spotlight and losing its importance amidst the euphoria around the fall of the Berlin Wall. But when looking at the events scheduled for today we see a reunited Germany and the rest the world doing their best to remember this tragic event of broken glass and broken lives.

Carlos Tomé Sousa

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