It was seventy-two years ago this night. On the night of 9-10 November, 1938, things became so abundantly clear to the entire world, especially those who had insisted time and again with negotiation and compromise with the Nazi state, as to what the true nature of the regime of the Third Reich was. There were other warnings, of course. The secret, and then the open and massive rearmament in violation of the Versailles Treaty. The virulent anti-Semitism shrieked from the mouths of their spokesmen. Persecution of the Catholic Church, the severe and brutal imprisonment, punishment, and execution of those who spoke up against the National Socialist regime. The withdrawal from the League of Nations, and the increasingly bellicose tones of their speeches in expressing their plans and objectives. All this was set aside, as the Allies in Europe clung to frantic hope that Hitler and Germany wished to avoid war as much as they themselves did.
Fewer than six weeks before, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and France’s Edouard Daladier had agreed to the destruction of an ally and sovereign nation, selling out Czechoslovakia and its people to Nazi occupation for “Peace in our Time”. The Western Powers had negotiated with Adolf Hitler as if he had been an honorable and sincere man, and had taken him at his word that the Sudetenland had been his “last territorial demand in Europe”.
But on this night, the true horror of the nature of Hitler’s regime was laid bare for the world to see. Jews were brutalized, beaten, murdered, imprisoned. The glass storefronts of Jewish-owned businesses were smashed in the streets of cities all over Germany and Austria, giving the awful nightmare of the darkness of 9-10 November 1938 its name, Kristallnacht. The Night of Broken Glass. More than one hundred Jews were murdered in the streets and in their homes. The numbers of assaults and rapes against Jewish women and girls is unknown, but German police records show such occurrences to be widespread. Thirty thousand Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps, where hundreds died.
True to form, the Nazis provided justification for this orgy of anti-Semitic violence and murder. The death of a minor German diplomat in Paris two days after being shot by a young Jewish man of questionable stability, was the cause of the “spontaneous” displays of outrage against “World Jewry” who had planned the diplomat’s assassination. The Nazi elite, assembled for their annual Munich commemorations, saw the opportunity for brutal excesses against Germany’s Jews, and took full advantage.
Berlin No. 234 404 9.11.2355
To all Gestapo Stations and Gestapo District Stations
To Officer or Deputy
This teleprinter message is to be delivered without delay
1. At very shot notice Aktionen against the Jews, especially against their synagogues, will take place throughout the whole of Germany. They are not to be hindered. In conjunction with the police, however, it is to be ensured that looting and other such excesses can be prevented.
2. If important archive material is in synagogues, this is to be taken into safekeeping by an immediate measure.
3. Preparations are to be made for the arrest of between 20,000 and 30,000 Jews in the Reich (Germany state). Wealthy Jews in particular are to be selected. More detailed instructions will be issued in the course of the night.
4. Should, in the forthcoming Aktionen, Jews be found in possession of weapons, the most severe measures are to be taken. SS Reserves as well as the General SS can be mobilized in the total Aktionen. The direction of the Aktionen by the Gestapo is in any case to be ensured by appropriate measures.
Gestapo II Mueller
This teleprinter message is secret.
Kristallnacht represents a transition. From anti-Semitic rhetoric and legal persecution to that of open and state-sponsored terrorism that included violence, imprisonment, and murder. The events of that terrible night are a watershed, as well. From that time forward, any German or Austrian who claims not to have known what the Nazis were is either untruthful or willfully ignorant. The difference being too slight to explore here. Also from that night, any Western leader who held out hope of further negotiation and compromise with Hitler and his Reich did not deserve to be in any position of leadership or responsibility, for their naive and unrealistic view of the threat they faced put their respective nation in grave danger.
One of the greatest dialogues in the history of cinema comes from the masterpiece Judgment at Nuremburg.
To paraphrase, one cannot claim as a moral defense, that “I did not know about the deaths of the millions, I merely knew of the deaths of the hundreds”.
To a nation in a war with radical Islamic extremists seeking our destruction or subjugation, extremists who demonstrate daily their brutality and show us precisely their view of justice and freedom, these are words to be very mindful of. We have already had our Kristallnacht.
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