83 years after Kristallnacht, antisemitism is rising again-opinion

Kristallnacht Commemoration

This week, Jews all over the world commemorate the 83rd anniversary of Kristallnacht, “The Night of Broken Glass,” named after the windows of Jewish businesses and homes that were shattered in 1938.

All over the Western world, Jews are experiencing a resurgence of antisemitism. Synagogue doors are being reinforced, Jewish businesses are being attacked, Jewish monuments have been defaced. People are careful not to wear anything that can identify them as Jews, and those who do are in danger of verbal or even physical attack. It’s happening all over Europe as well as the US.

Members of Antifa, the supposedly anti-fascist organization, have been known to support the anti-Israel BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement. And in Germany, where antisemitism was suppressed after the defeat of the Nazi regime, it is again unashamedly raising its ugly head.

In their recent government election, the AfD (Alternative for Germany) Party won 10.3% of the votes. It is a nationalist and right-wing populist political party that stands for opposition to the European Union and immigration. It is on the furthest right political spectrum. At a recent party congress of the AfD, there was consensus of their dislike of Islam. They agreed to include the sentence “Islam does not belong to Germany” in their manifesto. Those sentiments can easily extend to antisemitism.

Quoting from an article in The Atlantic:

“By claiming a share, however small, of Germany’s political real estate, the AfD has forced the country’s mainstream parties to broaden their tents, and in some cases, even normalize far-right positions.

“It has also forced them to consider more cumbersome coalitions that not long ago might have been unthinkable, complicating the math of forming a government in a country where a single party rarely wins an overall majority.”

Only time will tell in which direction a new Social Democrat chancellor of Germany, Olaf Scholz, will lead his country.

This week, Jews all over the world commemorate the 83rd anniversary of Kristallnacht, “The Night of Broken Glass,” named after the windows of Jewish businesses and homes that were shattered during the overnight of November 9 to 10, 1938. Most synagogues throughout Germany, Austria and the annexed Czechoslovakian Sudetenland were plundered and set alight that night. Thousands of Jewish businesses were damaged, and 30,000 Jewish men were sent to concentration camps.

The trigger for Kristallnacht can be found in March 1938, following the annexation of Austria into the German Reich.

The Polish authorities were concerned about the increased persecution of Jews in those countries. But it was not their welfare in which they were interested, but rather their fear that the many Polish nationals among the Jews would either want to return to Poland or be forced to do so. So in October of that year, the Polish government legislated a de-nationalization law that annulled the citizenship of Poles living abroad for more than five years, unless they received a special stamp in their passports from the Polish consulates before the end of the month. Not surprisingly, Jews were refused this facility.

As German policy then was not yet mass extermination but rather to get Jews out of Germany, the Nazi regime was concerned when Polish officials would not stamp the passports of Jews, thus making all of them stateless. Because without passports they would have to remain in Germany, SS chief Himmler ordered that all Polish Jews be immediately and forcefully deported to Poland.

It was during the early hours of October 28 that the Polish Jews had to respond to the dreaded knock on the door that spelled terror. Almost 20,000 Jewish men, women and children were arrested, permitted to hurriedly pack just one suitcase, and with an allowance of just 10 marks, transported to the Polish border in sealed trains. When the Poles became aware of this, they closed the border. “No Jews” was the order.

With Polish bayonets facing them and German machine guns behind them, these Jews were stranded helplessly in no-man’s-land. The Jewish welfare organization ORT was allowed to hastily erect some shelter, while the Poles and Germans argued for three days. The conditions for these Jews were grim and food was short. Eventually, the Poles were forced to accept this increasingly dejected, hungry and tired mass.

The largest number were held in Zbaszyn, a Polish border town. My father was among them. For months they slept in poorly constructed sheds and stables, with very few provisions. The severity of the conditions was witnessed by Polish historian Emanuel Ringelblum, who described the hopelessness of the deportees in a letter to a colleague: “I do not think any Jewish community has ever experienced so cruel and merciless an expulsion as this one. The future is envisaged in desperate terms. Jews have been humiliated to the level of lepers, to fourth-class citizens, and as a result, we are all affected by this terrible tragedy.”

Some months later most were transported to Warsaw.

At that time, I was in a Jewish school in a city some 70 km. north of my hometown. The categories of arrest were determined by the local Nazi chief, so my mother was spared on that day. Fortunately, she survived the concentration camps and could relate the events to me.

When asked where I was, she said I had gone out and she did not know where I was. Had I been at home, I too would have suffered the same fate and would not be here to relate the story.

Among those deported was the Grynszpan family from Hanover. Their 17-year-old son, Hershel, was living illegally in Paris. His sister, Berta, was able to send him a postcard from Zbaszyn, which detailed the cruelty and tragedy of the family’s forced relocation. Enraged and distressed by the plight of his family and the thousands of other Polish Jews, Hershel Grynszpan went to the German Embassy in Paris asking to see the ambassador. He was taken to third secretary Ernst vom Rath, and as he faced him, Hershel drew a pistol and shot him. Vom Rath died of his wounds on November 7.

That was the trigger for the “spontaneous” events of Kristallnacht two nights later.

It is documented that plans for this crime had already been laid by Himmler in great detail and communicated to all Nazi offices in the country, and that he only waited for a suitable occasion to implement it.

On that fateful November 10 morning, even before I arrived at my school that was on the premises of a synagogue, smoke hung in the air and there was more activity than usual in the streets. Then I saw it all. The fire service was in attendance, not to douse the flames that engulfed the synagogue, but to cool and protect neighboring German property from being damaged.

On that same day I left the city of Mannheim to return to my home. The day is so vividly etched in my memory that I remember distinctly that I took the 3:22 diesel train. Ask me what I had for lunch yesterday and I would have difficulty remembering.

One other fact worth mentioning. After the synagogue fires in my hometown, some remaining walls of one of the synagogues constituted a danger to the public, and to add insult to injury, the Jewish community was “asked” to pay for the demolition.

When Hershel Grynszpan was arrested by French police he protested: “Being a Jew is not a crime; I am not a dog; I have a right to exist on this earth; wherever I have been I was hounded like an animal.”

There are conflicting reports about his fate, but it can be safely assumed that he did not survive the war. Let us never forget the brave Hershel Grynszpan and the events that befell our people.

Walter Bingham, almost 98, holds two Guinness Records as the world’s oldest active journalist and the oldest working radio talk show host. He presents Walter’s World on Israel National Radio (Arutz7) and The Walter Bingham File on Israel Newstalk Radio. Both are in English.