Today marks the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht. We will be hosting a commemorative dinner this evening and I will be speaking on the subject tomorrow. Memorial prayers will be shared at our Shabbat Services. Our commemoration of Remembrance Sunday will be next week and on 25th November.
Speaking about Kristallnacht Simon Schama, shared “You can’t really overstate it’s importance; not because a thousand synagogues were burned or 90 people were killed or twenty thousand people taken off to what were then concentration camps but because it was a theatre for the public. And once people were humiliated and defiled, and their property was looted and synagogues were burned down and nothing happened except the sound of applause, there was a kind of aha! moment in the core of the Nazi party itself after which … the Final Solution.” These are the spectators watching on as the furnishings of the Mosbach synagogue are burned in the town square.
Treating the burning of Jewish artefacts as a kind of gruesome entertainment, of course, is several steps beyond habituation to the suffering of others. But it is only a matter of steps. First we don’t trust the other. Then we feel bad for their suffering, but fail to protest. Then we no longer feel bad. Then we feel they must deserve their penury. Then we watch on with a sense of falsely placed righteousness. And then ...
There is too much disaster in the news. I know. There is too much suffering. I know. And we are, quite rightly, afraid for our own safety - the memories of last week’s attack in Pittsburgh remain deeply painful. But we dare not, we must not, become habituated to the dehumanisation of humanity, in any form. And we certainly must never gloat at the distress of others.
In a remarkable blog I found this awful article from the Daily Mail of the late 1930s - stateless Jews are “pouring in,” it warned. Taking pride in its vigilance, the un-named ‘Daily Mail Reporter’ takes pride in pointing out the risks and the possibilities for rebutting and rejecting these “aliens.”
But outrage and opposition to fascism and the trail of human disaster fascism leaves in its wake isn’t enough without a call to action. The New Synagogue in Berlin (saved from destruction on Kristallnacht by a heroic single police officer, Lieutenant Otto Bellgard,) recently hosted an exhibition entitled From the Inside to the Outside: The 1938 November Pogroms in Diplomatic Reports.
“What is noteworthy about the documents,” the curators wrote, “is what they do not contain. The diplomats almost unanimously condemned the murders and acts of violence and destructions. The British described the pogrom as ‘Medieval barbarism’, the Brazilians called it a ‘disgusting spectacle’, and French diplomats wrote that the ‘scope of brutality’ was only ‘exceeded by the massacres of the Armenians’, referring to the Turkish genocide of 1915-1916. Nevertheless, no country broke off diplomatic relations with Berlin or imposed sanctions, and only Washington recalled its ambassador. Most of all, however, the borders of almost all countries remained largely closed for the roughly 400,000 Jewish Germans.”
Last Shabbat I shared some possible responses to the challenges we face healing contemporary societal fracture and human suffering. I’m proud of the work of our destitute asylum seeker drop in. Every month we provide those who have fled countries under fear of persecution for who they are as human beings, with food, clothing and a small amount of financial support. We stand with them as humans should stand with other humans. To volunteer; to offer time or money or skill, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
I also spoke about Citizens UK, the organisation behind the Living Wage Campaign and other campaigns designed to heal our society and bring together the diverse centres of engagement in our great city - so many of which are hidden from us, or even feel threatening. I’m proud to be a co-signatory of this letter on the subject, which appeared in last week’s Sunday Times. If you are interested in hearing more about Citizens UK and possibly attending a London Assembly to put questions to Mayor Saddiq Khan, please let me know.
May this never happen again,