November 9-10th is the 75th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom, the public orgy of violence as the Nazis set their campaign against the Jews into full motion.
The US Holocaust museum has an online exhibition about Kristallnacht that can be viewed at this link. The personal testimonies are compelling. Many German Jews were completely assimilated, viewing themselves as more German than Jewish. Dealing with the shock of the violence and as Jews were being rounded up and deported to concentration camps, Jews had to comprehend the full scale of the murderous intent of the German state, the general acquiescence of the German population, together with the necessity for escape as possibilities for emigration were fast dwindling.
From the vantage point of 2013, what have we learned? In the video testimonies, the survivors point to the need to stay vigilant and to the necessity of not being a bystander to injustice.
What should we teach our kids? Last year, the Bnai Mitzvah class were introduced to the subject of the Holocaust and these are their questions:
At this point in time, there is one particular aspect of Kristallnacht I am thinking I should discuss with my kids – the fact that the destruction of Jewish owned businesses during Kristallnacht was preceded by a boycott of Jewish enterprises. As the USHMM explains it:
“Though only partially successful, it (the boycott) served as a harbinger of more drastic policies to come. Throughout the 1930s, German Jewish businessmen were pressured to close their enterprises or sell them to “Aryans” at a fraction of their true value. By April 1938, the number of Jewish-owned businesses had declined from about 100,000 in January 1933 to 39,552”
Looking through the lens of history it is impossible to ignore the fact that at the present day efforts to boycott Israel are contemporary manifestations of anti-Semitism. The documentary Anti-Semitism Today: How Hostile is Germany towards Jews? states the case very clearly (see this link for additional reporting on the documentary). I would guess that the situation is similar throughout European countries (see this article reporting on a recent survey of European Jews) even though Germany is home to the most actively growing vibrant Jewish community in Europe.
Is it alarmist to suggest that efforts to boycott Israel will legitimize attacks on Jews? What about efforts to ban circumcision? Efforts to ban Shechita currently enacted in Poland? Yes, the US is a bastion of freedom, but, as “trendy” ideas spread worldwide, these sentiments are espoused on our doorstep (see this link for a local example). We need to be vigilant in challenging the BDS movement.
Our family discussion has touched on one other lesson for our lives today which is that, from the comfort and security of our homes, we should stand ready to take in refugees without thought or hesitation. After Kristallnacht it became increasingly difficult for Jews to escape Nazi Germany. The role of the international community in providing visa sponsorship, pressuring governments to facilitate Jewish emigration etc, was very helpful although sadly insufficient in terms of the demand. These types of activities are reminiscent of the 12th century problems of Maimonedes in his capacity as a Jewish communal leader, who had to raise funds for the rescue of captured Jews held to ransom. Kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh. My grandparents z”l were assimilated Jews who lived in the UK. I never thought to ask them about how they responded as individuals during this period in history. Did they have the possibility of hosting a child on the kindertransport? In a globalized world, I hope we are able to discern the concrete actions necessary to help others and are ready to sacrifice our own comfort to respond.
ETA The Methodist Church in the UK recently conducted an open survey of their participation in the BDS movement. Check out this Commentator article and keep an eye out for other opportunities to engage in constructive dialog.