With the November 1938 pogrom the campaign towards the destruction of Jewish people in Nazi Germany began, unopposed and in the very eyes of the whole world. However it was simply a logical step in a route that had begun much before. A route that the German Nazis had not invented but nevertheless, by means of the proverbial German efficiency, determination and organization, was carried out to the ultimate heights of inhumanity and unequalled cruelty.
A route the responsibility of which the whole of Christianity must accept. Christian Conciliums and Synods originated many antijewish pogroms and created many of the regulations that were later found in Nazi Laws and decrees, the ones that led to the political anihilation, economic ruin and mass murder of millions of persons.
Thus, we see that the Synod of Elvira in 314 forbids the marriage between Christians and Jews under penalty of excommunion. Emperor Theodosius forbids these marriages under penalty of death. In 438 the Theodosian Codex forbids Jews the assumption of administrative appointments in the Roman Empire. The Fourth Lateran Concilium of 1225 forbids Jews all agricultural and cattlebreeding activities, prohibits their engagement in trades and forbids Jewish doctors to attend Christian patients. It also imposes a special tax duty for Jews, as well as separate dwellings and distinctive apparel (Jewish hat and yellow badge.)
Moreover, as Crusaders had received an anticipated pardon for the murders and robberies to be committed on their way towards the liberation of the Holy Land, they murdered and burned the Jewish communities that they encountered on their journey.
Martin Luther culminated his dispute with the Jews in 1534 with the recommendation of seizing their gold and silver, burning their synagogues and destroying the Talmud.
The Fifth Jesuit General Congregation prohibited the acceptance of Jews and Muslims and their descendants in the Order due to the fact that their ”bad blood” made them of inferior value and because they did not live up to the requirement of ”cleanliness of blood” which was indispensable in the Order. This measure was the first to introduce the concept of race in this matter, which up to that time had been limited to religious rejection. This 1593 rule was only annulled in …1946 (!)
The 19th century Enlightment and the secularization of states brought about equality of rights to Jews, but did not bring insight or theological comprehension to Christians.
On January 30, 1933, Alfred Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany. Immediately all Socialist and Communist structures were eliminated and the campaign of terror against Jews began. Jews were deprived of German citizenship as was Albert Einstein, in March 1933.
On March 29th, a boycott against Jewish University Professors was declared and on March 31st Julius Streicher (editor of the ”Stürmer”, an intellectually worthless hate pamphlet) declared the boycott of all Jewish shops and enterprises. He justified this a countermeasure taken in retaliation of the ”Jewish boycott in foreign countries” and declared the German Boycott to be ”a defensive action of the German People”. As a result of this campaign signs appeared on walls and members of the SA stood in front of Jewish enterprises with similar billboards that read: ”Germans defend yourselves, do not buy from the Jews”.
On April 7th, 1933, the ‘Bill for the Reestablishment of the Civil Service’ was passed. By it all Jewish civil servants were dismissed. Furthermore, the Prussian Evangelic General Synode accepted this law on September 4th and 5th, 1933, owing to the union between the German Church and the State. The Catholic Church, at least in Hungary, did not eliminate from its ranks clergy of Jewish ancestry until 1944.
The Pastors Emergency League and The Confessing Church were formed around Martin Niemöller and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. As a minotiry the had to work illegally because of the laws and rules of the State.
On May 10th, 1933, books were burned in huge bonfires all over Germany. Professors and students set fire to books by Albert Enstein, Sigmund Freud. Bertrand Brecht, Heinrich Heine, Kurt Tucholsky, Erich Kästner, Franz Werfel and Stefan Zweig, among many others.
The Reich Chamber of Culture Law of September 22nd eliminated Jews from cultural life. Furthermore, the Defense Law of 21st May, 1935, excluded Jewish people from military service. Public baths, shops and coffee shops excluded Jews with signs that read: ”Jews not wanted”
In the Nazi Party Assembly of September 15th, 1935, the Antijewish Laws of Nuremberg were passed. According to these laws marriage between Jews and Christians were strictly forbidden in order to preserve racial purity.
Later on, these interreligious wedlocks were punished by the death penalty for ”the guilty parties”.
On April 1938 an ordinance was passed obliging Jewish property to be declared. These properties could not be sold. The celebration of contracts with Jews was forbidden and Jewish enterprises could be transferred only with a special permission given by the State.
As from July 1938 all Jews had to present themselves before the authorities with their identity cards that established that they were Jews. At the same time, it was ruled that Jewish children were required to bear specific names. In passports belonging to Jews the names Sarah or Israel had to be added as a second name. On September 27th, 1938, a professional prohibition against Jewish lawyers was passed. This disposition kept Jewish lawyers from practicing their profession as well as earning money through their legal knowledge.
On October 1938 the ”Aryanization” of Jewish property began.
On October 28th, 1938, some 170,000 Jews of Polish nationality were moved from Germany to Poland.
It is no wonder that due to these deprivations, limitations and thievery someone should commit a desperate initiative. Acts of despair have never been of utility but the desperate person does not analyze facts reasonably.
Herschel Grynszpan, whose relatives had lived in Germany with Polish nationality and were among the expelled, wanted the destiny of Jews under Fascist rule to be known and he wished to make an appeal to world conscience. When he learned about the deportation of his family, on November 7th, 1938, he went to the German Embassy in Paris and shot the Third Secretary who died two days later from his wounds.
Meanwhile, in Germany, the core of Fascist leaders were assembled to celebrate the aborted 1923 Hitler’s Putsch as a ”National Deed”. This group of Nazis immediately took advantage of an individual act of despair and proclaimed it ”an International Jewish anti-German plot”. A Pogrom was immediately ordered.
On the night of November 8th, 1938, hordes of SA and SS destroyed, burned and robbed homes of Jews all over Germany. They burned synagogues, as well as mistreated and humiliated Jews. A great part of the activists acted without uniforms to make world public opinion believe that it was a case of popular indignation.
In the course of twenty four hours, a hundred and ninety one synagogues were burned, ninety one persons were murdered and thirty thousand Jews were arrested and forcibly interned in the concentration camps of Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen. Many of them died due to the mistreatment inflicted by Nazi guards.
Many Jews that were not imprisoned committed suicide or died later on as a consequence of the mistreatment that they had received.
And the rules continued.
More professional prohibitions were added: the sealing and vigilance of shops and homes that had been violated was decreed in order to protect them from looting. This apparently legal order allowed the expropriation of the properties that later were given to the plunderers themselves, at special prices to keep the appearance of legality.
On November 12th, 1938, Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda, published an article where he declared that the German government had tried to avoid the furious reaction of the German people. According to Goebbels the German people had obeyed the government in a voluntary and disciplined manner, ending all violent actions in a matter of hours.
Also on November 12th a decree was issued by which Jewish property holders were obliged to eliminate at short notice all the consequences of ”the rebelion of the German people against the persecution of International Judaism”
The cost of the repair of the properties had to be taken by the proprietors and payments made by insurance companies were expropriated by the Nazi government.
As from November 14th Jewish children could no longer attend German schools. On November 15th, 1938, Jews were inflicted with a one thousand million Mark fine if they violated any of the antijewish rules or laws.
Some of the Jews who had been imprisoned were set free after having signed a affidavit that obliged them to keep total silence regarding what they had experienced in the concentration camps. Furthermore, they had to leave the country in twenty four hours. Many Jews could have left Nazi Germany if there had been more countries willing to receive them as refugees. This is the reason why, after the war, the German Federal Republic sanctioned an Asylum Law to afford protection to persecuted people of different parts of the world. This law, however, became an empty shell since many people who ask for asylum must sometimes endure up to eight months in subhuman conditions -without having committed any crime- just to avoid continuing being illegally in the country.
The Nazis gave the pogrom the name of ”Kristallnacht” or ”Night of Broken Glass” because of the great destruction that took place.
This was one of the last stages previous to the Conference of Wannsee and the terror that rampaged extermination camps.
Many Jews expressed their horror at the transformation of their neighbours in sort of vandals. Many of them remain with the doubt as to wether the friendly neighbour might not once again become a destructive beast.
Some non-Jewish testimonies gave small importance to these events and considered them just slight. Only a handful of people accepted them as a crime, against the opinion of the time.
When the SA burned the synagogue of Oranienburg Strasse, in Berlin, the chief of the 16th Police District ordered the fire to be put out referring to a law of Kaiser Wilhem’s that prescribed the protection of monuments. However, he was rebuked for his intention of ”suppressing of the healthy will of the People”, but only suffered a demotion.
Helmut Gollwitzer, parson of the Confessional Church, delivered a sermon in the community of Dahlem, a week after the Pogrom.
”… Maybe it would be more right if we were not singing, nor praying, nor speaking. We should only have to be preparing in silence for the day of the Last Judgment when punishment will be visible and tangible, crying out and asking how God allowed these things to take place. We are also responsible for this great fault, for not blushing with shame when simple men are transformed suddenly into savage beasts. We have all participated. One because of cowardice, another because of convenience, another to avoid problems; those who remained silent, those who closed their eyes, those who are slow of heart or who are condemnably precautious”.
”What must we do? You shall open your mouth for those who are dumb. God wishes to see acts, good acts, precisely from those who could escape with the help of God. Outside awaits your neighbour in misery, without protection, without honour; hungry, persecuted, displaced and in fear for his very existence. He hopes that the Christian Community will make a real repentance.”, he stated.
Many allusive details of this tragic episode are to be found in the Holocaust Commemorative Mural installed in our church on September 26th, 2004. It illustrates the happenings of those days showing fragments of books of prayers that were destroyed in the course of the pogrom. Among them, a Megillah Esther, of which several thousands were printed in Berlin, of which only three or four copies remain, all severely damaged.
We can see in these broken or burned pages an indestructible spirit and a word vanquishing words of hate and persecution. No burning of books, no pogrom and no destruction could ever put obstacles to the promises and the instructions of God.
An esteemed Jewish friend and teacher in our community who lived as a child the despair of the November Pogrom, the disarticulation of his life and the destruction of his world, expresses his religious faith after November 9th with measured words which ore full of significance.
”Believe me, in those days many prayers were said, night and day. Even in the gas chambers. We never thought that God would make a miracle, but we were always sure that this system had no base of sustentation and that it would disappear.”
Whoever approaches the Commemorative Mural at night, will see that a gleam of light reflects the altar cross on the Mural. It is only a physical phenomenon, but it’s symbolism tell us that Christian faith can only develop in full strength where there is awareness of its Jewish roots. Only where we can understand the Rabbi of Galilee and the spirit of His life we will perceive that light. Only where we have pity and we dare to turn around, only where we do not step on the broken lines, only there does the hope of Easter appears in the midst of darkness. And only if we look Jewish tradition face to face, we can develop Christian Faith.
For me this Mural is a consolation in a country where rightwing radical hordes march more audaciously ever day, where in the last elections they obtained ten percent of the votes, where foreigners are expelled and deported, where antisemitic remarks are already accepted again by society.
Pastor Annemarie Werner
Vaterunser Kirche. Berlin.
Translation: María Lía Macchi