Remembering Nov. 9th on Nov. 10th

  • November 10, 2010
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Kristallnacht, November 9-10, 1938

One of my dedicated blog readers complained today that I didn’t properly mark the anniversary of Kristallnacht.

“You haven’t been keeping up your blog lately,” she said.

“Yes, I know,” I said. “I’ve been in and out of town for the last month.”

“Well, I thought you’d write something about Kristallnacht yesterday. Do you think the kids today have ever heard of it? Do you think they know much about World War II? Who’s going to tell them?”

She has a point. Even those of us educated in the 1960s and 1970s didn’t get much history of the last half of the 20th century. Seems like the school year ended around the time we got up to The League of Nations. So, as far as we knew, nothing happened after the end of World War I. Consequently, many of us — including me — didn’t learn about the Holocaust in high school.

A woman raised in Louisiana in the 1960s said she received an even narrower education in history. She wrote me after reading Motherland and said, “Thank you for telling your mother’s story. I was raised in the South and the only thing we studied in history class was the Civil War.”

My German friends tell me that they received no education in the Holocaust since Germany was unwilling to face its own history at that time. Finally, in 1965 schools began to require students to read The Diary of Anne Frank. When the mini-series, Holocaust, was broadcast in 1978, German schools began to expose students to more material from that time period. In recent years, when I have spoken in German public schools, students have said they are weary of the topic. They claim that every year they have units on the Holocaust and they don’t understand why they need to learn the same thing every year.

But I digress…

Here is the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s description of Kristallnacht:

“On November 9–10, 1938, the Nazis staged vicious pogroms—state sanctioned, anti-Jewish riots—against the Jewish community of Germany. These came to be known as Kristallnacht (now commonly translated as “Night of Broken Glass”), a reference to the untold numbers of broken windows of synagogues, Jewish-owned stores, community centers, and homes plundered and destroyed during the pogroms. Encouraged by the Nazi regime, the rioters burned or destroyed 267 synagogues, vandalized or looted 7,500 Jewish businesses, and killed at least 91 Jewish people. They also damaged many Jewish cemeteries, hospitals, schools, and homes as police and fire brigades stood aside. Kristallnacht was a turning point in history. The pogroms marked an intensification of Nazi anti-Jewish policy that would culminate in the Holocaust—the systematic, state-sponsored murder of Jews.”

Though the event is remembered on November 9th, the riots continued through Nov. 10th.

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