Kristallnacht 75th anniversary: A survivor’s perspective by Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg

PUBLISHED: 18:00 09 November 2013

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg

Copyright © 2010 Marion Davies

This weekend will mark the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, a series of coordinated attacks against the Jewish community in Nazi Germany and parts of Austria that left 91 dead, 7,000 businesses destroyed and 300 synagogues in ruins.

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, from the New North London Synagogue, speaks about what Kristallnacht means for survivors and the Jewish community as a whole...

Kristallnacht may have taken place 75 years ago, but for those who lived through its horrors it remains a vivid and terrifying experience.

Kristallnacht – or Reichspogromnacht as it is now called in Germany in an attempt to avoid the name given it by the Nazis – should be remembered mainly for the evil it unleashed, but also for acts of goodness and courage which followed it.

From Kristallnacht onwards, the true violence of the Nazi intentions towards Jews was now fully in the open. It was no longer possible to imagine that “things might get better”.

All Jewish people knew that it was either escape or death. Goebbels blamed the savagery on the spontaneous anger of “the boiling spirit of the people”.

He was both wrong, and right.

He was wrong, because the looting, burning of synagogues, murder and deportation of tens of thousands of Jews to concentration camps was centrally inspired and orchestrated.

He was right, because the licence to plunder and kill 
allowed large numbers of people to behave in vicious and shameful ways which are mercifully prohibited in any decent country.

A terrible lesson of Kristallnacht and Nazism in general is that, when freed of restraint and incited by the mob, large numbers of people turn into brutes.

But Kristallnacht should also be remembered for the good which it did in some places. My grandfather recalled the German who quietly gave each deportee a bottle of milk on the way to the station from which they were taken to Dachau.

The British Consul in Frankfurt, Robert Smallbones, and his staff and colleagues across Germany, worked ceaselessly for the release of those imprisoned.

He persuaded the British to make temporary visas available, through which tens of thousands were saved.

Britain accepted ten thousand children.

The pain of their brave parents who sent them on the Kindertransport was mitigated, partly, by trusting they were safe in the distant homes of strangers.

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