Wednesday, November 06, 2013
As Remembrance Day Looms in Canada, Germans Prepare to Commemorate the 75th Anniversary of Kristallnacht.
In Berlin this weekend, about a hundred businesses will be affixing decals to their storefront windows. The decals simulate broken glass, memorializing the shattered windows of Jewish stores attacked 75-years ago on Kristallnacht.
On Nov. 9, 1938 -- 75 years ago this weekend -- one of the most notorious events in the history of the Third Reich began across Germany and Austria. Using the assassination of the German diplomat Ernst von Rath in Paris as an excuse, hundreds of Nazis destroyed Jewish-owned businesses, burned down synagogues and savagely attacked Jews and other minorities. The so-called "Kristallnacht" pogrom -- more commonly referred to in Germany as the "November pogroms" -- took place in towns and cities as far apart as Munich, Berlin and Vienna, and resulted in the detention and abuse of thousands in concentration camps. Today the death toll of the pogrom, which lasted several days, is presumed to have been as high as 1,500.
The November pogrom is especially significant because "it was the turning point when local persecution became systematic persecution" under Hitler, explains Christoph Kreutzmüller, the author of a German-language book, "Ausverkauf," about Jewish businesses between 1930 and 1945. The violence directed at Jewish businesses and people, as well as at synagogues, in 1938 wasn't only meant to harm the Jewish community, but to impress to an audience of bystanders that things had changed in Germany, that people were now divided between Jews and non-Jews. The anniversary of the pogrom "is a chance to think about categories like perpetrator, bystander and victim -- and to think about the public aspect of this event," says Kreutzmüller, a historian who works at the House of the Wannsee Conference in Berlin.
Meanwhile, another Berlin government-led initiative is encouraging people to spend Nov. 9 polishing the Stolpersteine, or stumbling blocks, that mark the sidewalks outside the homes of people murdered during the Nazi period. Specially made "stumbling block polishing rags" were inserted into Berlin magazines by Destroyed Diversity, an initiative of the Kultur Projekte marking the 80th anniversary of Hitler's rise to power, with instructions to wet them with water to clean off grime and, if desired, lay a white rose next to the stones as part of a "call to city-wide action."
Each of the stumbling blocks, which are part of a project that began in Cologne in 1995, bears the name of a victim of the Nazi regime, along with the location and date of their death. "It is an entry point into history for young people," says Sören Schneider, from the Stolpersteine Coordination Center in Berlin, "because it locates events in a social environment." On Nov. 9, guides will also give tours of neighborhoods in which stumbling blocks are located and describe local conditions during the Third Reich.