Kristallnacht 5778

In the 1930’s, Germany, one of the world’s great industrial powers, chose madness.

Adolph Hitler rose to power, first as the country’s chancellor and then as it’s fuhrer – it’s leader. He established what he and his followers were hoping would be a “thousand-year” reign – the Third Reich.

Germans were a people that needed a boost in self-esteem. They were, indeed, suffering from economic woes brought about by the punishments of crimes committed during the First World War. Inflation was outrageously high. People lined up in the streets with wheelbarrows filed with cash in order to buy food – which was also in short supply.

Hitler fed the German people everything they wanted to hear – he promised to “Make Germany Great Again.”

But his promise came with a mandate. Only the “pure” race would inherit the blessings of his new Germany. That meant that every human being who was not of “Aryan” descent or was “subhuman” in some way was going to have to leave Germany.

New laws were created called the “Nuremberg Laws.” These laws prohibited certain ethnic groups from being a part of the “pure” German people.

Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, mentally challenged people, those who had been born with birth defects, were considered “subhuman” and therefore given particular attention. Jewish children were not allowed to attend school and Jewish businesses were boycotted.

Jews who had emigrated from other European countries were deported, even if they had lived in Germany for years.

Sendel and Riva Grynszpan, who had lived in Germany since 1911, recounted the night of October 27, 1938:

“Then they took us in police trucks, in prisoners’ lorries, about 20 men in each truck, and they took us to the railway station. The streets were full of people shouting: ‘Juden raus! Auf nach Palästina!’ (“Jews out, out to Palestine!”).”

The Grynszpan’s 17-year-old son, Herschel, who was living with an uncle in Paris, received a postcard on November 3 from his parents asking him to “send us something” because they had no money.

Herschel then purchased a revolver and a box of bullets and went to the German embassy. He asked to speak to an official and was admitted to the office of Ernst von Rath.

Herschel shot von Rath in the abdomen. Ironic footnote here: von Rath was under investigation for expressing anti-nazi sympathies, largely because of the national anti-Jewish laws and sentiments.

von Rath died from his injuries on November 9, 1938.

Upon hearing of von Rath’s assassination, Hitler’s response was to have Geobbel announce that although destruction of Jewish property, including homes, businesses and synagogues was not something the German leadership would order, neither would it stop anyone from committing those acts.

Throughout the night of November 9 and November 10, a German government condoned pogrom destroyed 7,500 storefront businesses, 29 department stores, 200 synagogues (some centuries old), burned and destroyed sacred books, artworks and Torah scrolls; homes were ransacked and more than 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and taken to Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen.

The fires were allowed to burn – adjacent structures owned by non-Jews were immediately extinguished.

In the aftermath, the broken glass that littered the streets glittered like crystal – hence the appellation, “Kristallnacht – The Night of Broken Glass.”

Then, as if the destruction of Jewish life wasn’t enough, the Jews of Germany were fined 210 billion reichsmarks for the woodwork damage and 40 million marks for the glass replacement.

There was not enough glass in the entire country to replace what had been broken.

Kristallnacht is considered the beginning of the holocaust.

The Third Reich, the “thousand-year reign of naziism, ended with Hitler’s suicide on April 30, 1945. The public acceptance of victory was May 8, 1945

The War Crimes Tribunals were held from 1945 through 1949. The judges came from all the Allied countries, including the United States. All of the U.S. judges were exactly that – United States judges.

They were military judges. My grandfather, Judge Justin Woodward Harding, replaced retiring judge Carrington T. Marshall in 1947 in what became known as “The Judges’ Trial.”

In 1961, Spencer Tracy starred in the movie, “Judgment At Nuremberg,” in which Tracy portrayed my grandfather.

My mother, grandmother and I – at age 15 – went to see the movie. I still remember my grandmother’s critique of the film on our way home: “I thought it was very well done. But there was one thing they got wrong – Tracy’s line: ‘I’m just a small town lawyer.” None of those justices was a “small town lawyer.’ ALL of them were U.S. military judges.”

I was too young to remember, barely 2 years old, when my grandfather returned from Nuremberg. The Los Angeles Times published an in depth interview with him when he was in Los Angeles. Somewhere in my “stuff” I have a copy of the article, which was accompanied with a photograph of me sitting in my grandfather’s lap.

His part in the Trials was over on December 4, 1947 – 1 day before my 2nd birthday.

One of the questions the Times asked him was: “Do you believe that these Tribunals will end war? Do you think they will make war more ‘humane?’”

His answer was: “No, it won’t end war. As to making war more “humane,” that will depend on who wins.”

That period in American history is called “The Greatest Generation.” Not only for the courageous men and women who fought on the battlefields against the evil of naziism. It took courage to prosecute those who practiced the evil as well.

Evil is always with us. Human beings live with it every day, some more than others, but evil will never be eradicated.

My prayer on this observance of Kristallnacht, is that there are people whose innate tendency to do good, to promote peace, to love others unconditionally, who will be the ones to stop evil before it becomes the next holocaust.

Shabbat shalom.

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