Thursday, 10 November 2011

Kristallnacht: Ignoring The Lessons Of The Past


What happened to the Jews on Nov. 9, 1938, has a modern parallel
To the Editor:
Before WWII, the unemployment rate in Germany skyrocketed, industry was stalled, and families were suffering. Hitler's party tried distracting people by scapegoating minority German Jews, blaming them for Germany losing WWI and for the economic crisis. Many laws and policies were enacted discriminating against Jewish citizens. On the night of Nov. 9, 1938, roving gangs of German civilians, aided by SA storm troopers began a pogrom throughout Nazi Germany and Austria, smashing with sledgehammers the windows of more than 7,000 Jewish businesses, assaulting any Jewish person who had the misfortune of walking down the street, and destroying almost every synagogue in Germany. This time is remembered as "Kristallnacht "(night of breaking glass) and stands for the beginning of the Holocaust. (More details from www. Wikipedia.com.)
It is a sad fact of human history that when a society is in economic trouble, one response is to blame some group and target them in brutal ways. In our own country some politicians have tried distracting us from the pain of our depression by suggesting we hunt down and jail illegal immigrants, including children. There are organizations of American citizens whose sole purpose is to remove illegal immigrants from our society. Some so-called leaders grandstand about refusing to allow Muslim citizens to build a house of worship in their own community. Some mosques have been defaced. Yet other self-appointed leaders blame Latino citizens for "cheap labor," or complain that they don't speak American English. Policies that attack these groups and other minorities are introduced at local, state and federal levels. This scapegoating is easier than examining the betrayals and failures of our government representatives and their wealthy friends.
Some of the people we try to "other" are third- and fourth-generation Americans. Similarly, the Jews of pre-war Germany were citizens who contributed with great music, medicine and science, as well as business to German society. Much of what we still admire about European culture was created by the Jewish people of Germany before the war.
Today, we remember Kristallnacht for two reasons. First, we continue to mourn the terrible loss and victimization of so many Jewish citizens who had simply tried to live their lives with dignity and peace. We must also stay awake about the willingness of a society that is hurting, to look for some kind of emotional release for the pain and rage of losing jobs, homes and retirement security, in addition to watching one's children suffer. Historians report that during the pogrom, many non-Jewish German citizens stood by and wept, but tears are not enough. We need to speak out and stand up for people who are targeted. During our own economic crisis, it is important that we stay awake to the blaming of innocent people and reject it.
Pat Dewees
Athens

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