In Memory of Broken Glass

Kristallnacht blog

I missed this by a few days, but better late than never; and, while we’re remembering our veterans today, both alive and dead, it’s appropriate that we remember others as well, who died for no reason other than the desires of a madman. I will tell you right now that this isn’t a light article, a happy fashion piece or a visit to some beautiful vista, and I pull no punches in my subject or my choice of language. If you find this a hard thing, my sorrow for you, and you should move on to another blog for now. But an evil this great must be remembered; must be kept alive in the history of the world, so that we may see the signs and take steps to stop it before it grabs hold of us again.

The place I’m at here is a small recreation of Yad Vashem, the official monument in Israel that commemorates those who died in the Holocaust.  Not to reduce the importance to the world of all those millions of other ethnicities who were killed in the concentration camps, as well as the ocean of military and civilian blood shed in World War II; but never has so determined, so ruthless and so effective a genocide — “ethnic cleansing” is far too polite a term, as I can personally testify to — been undertaken against any single ethnic group.  Many historians fix the beginning of this darkness as the night of November 9-10, 1938, what has become known as Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass.  On that night, organized bands of thugs of the SA (Sturmabteilung), the original paramilitary arm of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party, rampaged through Jewish neighborhoods in Germany and parts of Austria, destroying property and terrorizing Jews where they found them. The property damage amounted to millions of dollars, and 91 Jews were killed, while thousands more were thrown into the early concentration camps.

By the end of the war, the further atrocities committed in the Holocaust made Kristallnacht pale in comparison. Wonderful attempts at explanation and handwaving have been made to claim that none of this happened. These attempts come up hard against the stacks of bodies, the mountains of clothes, the piles of canisters of Zyklon-B used to gas the inmates of the death camps, and the ashes in the crematory ovens.  I have been to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D. C., and I have seen all these things; I have heard the testimony of the survivors and of the soldiers who found the camps; and I have prayed for the peace of their souls in the Museum chapel.  Against that evidence, how can there be any question of the truth of the acts that were done?

  • “The things I saw beggar description…The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering…I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations to propaganda.” — General Dwight D. Eisenhower, from a letter to Gen. George Marshall, April 15, 1945
  • “All the Dachaus must remain standing. The Dachaus, the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzes – all of them. They must remain standing because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the Earth into a graveyard. Into it they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, but worst of all their conscience. And the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance, then we become the gravediggers….” — Rod Serling, “Deaths-Head Revisited,” The Twilight Zone (third season)


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