As my heels touched the sidewalk the sound of broken glas sent a cold shiver down my spine. The words of Ruth Zimbler, who had experienced Kristallnacht as a ten year old Jew in Vienna, Austria, echoed through my mind: “The sound of broken glas under my feet haunts me every day.”
Here I stood as a Lutheran pastor in front of our small German Lutheran Church in Chelsea and couldn’t move one bit as the nightmare of the Kristallnacht haunted me in a unexpected way on this bright and sunny Sunday morning. In not even a weeks time it would be 80 years since Germany exploded in an orgy of unbelievable violence. As businesses and synagogues were destroyed. “This night of horror, a retreat in a modern state to the savagery associated with bygone ages, laid bare to the world the barbarism of the Nazi regime. Within Germany, it brought immediate draconian measures to exclude Jews from the economy, accompanied by a restructuring of anti-Jewish policy […]” (1)
It took the Hitler´s regime over five years until it showed its ugly face of destruction and hate to the world. Up to this point hate crimes had been steadily on the rise. The acceptance of these incidences grew into the normality of a steadily increasing number of Nazi-supporters, who were numbed by Hitler´s words and perspectives of work and bread through a increasingly busy rearming economy.
The political underdog Hitler had at last succeeded. After Hindenburg had brought him into office in January 1933, he had steadily built up a system of expansion based on the suffering of millions. His speech in front of SS leaders in early November 1938 had sparked deep hate and named the blameworthy people: Jews, freemasons, Marxists, and the Churches of the world were the enemies of his system of expansion (and mass destruction). Hitler pointed towards the Jewry as the driving opponents against his plans of “German grandness”.
This speech unleashed the terrors of Kristallnacht over Germany and Austria, and marked the official begin of unprecedented suffering and terror. The SS, the fire services, the police and other instruments of law and order, looked the other way – becoming instruments of terror and murder themselves.
The signs had been there from the beginning as Hitler was instated as Reichskanzler bei Hindenburg. Back then, numerous politicians thought, they´d be able to contain him and influence his political actions through a strong system. On his sixth anniversary of his takeover of power, Hitler publicly announced his evil plans to the public, which were received with great joy. The derided prophet had at last succeeded: “I have very often in my lifetime been a prophet,” he declared, “and a mostly derided. In the time of my struggle for power it was in the first instance the Jewish people who received only with laughter my prophecies that I would some time take over the leadership of the state and of the entire people in Germany and then, among other things, also bring the Jewish problem to its solution. I believe that this once hollow laughter of Jewry in Germany has meanwhile already stuck in the throat. I want today to be a prophet again: if the international finance Jewry inside and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, the result will be not the bolshevization of the earth and thereby the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!” (2)
This political speech soon became a bitter reality as slow beginnings and normalization of hate numbed a whole nation. The “derided” prophet had at last succeeded in his evil doings.
May we be warned by history about those, who draw their diabolical strength and dehumanizing power as they gather followers for their evil deeds around them. May we be “upstanders” and not “bystanders”, as Ruth Zimbler had urges us to.
I tried to rub the shattered glas from my heels on the Church entrance, but with every new twist and turn of my foot they had dug themselves deeper into the shoe sole. I halted in my movement. Maybe they would be a fitting reminder for me as a German speaking pastor reminding me of the necessary commitment to stand against any hate crime in action.
(1) Ian Kershaw, Hitler. A Biography, New York 2008, p. 449.
(2) Ibid., p. 469.