Thursday, August 11, 2011

Follow Friday - I Get Into These Moods...

Germans pass by the broken shop window of a Jewish-owned business that was destroyed during Kristallnacht

A very special thank you to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for granting permission to use these photos in this blog post.

I tend to be quite an empathetic person.  That means that there are those times that my little activist button gets pushed and I go into over-drive.  There are so many posts that I wanted to share today, but when I read this one I had to make it a priority. A little background first.

I was a German major at Millersville University and we had to take a German history class as part of the coursework.  My history teacher was a gentleman by the name of Dr. Reynold Koppel.  The way he talked kind of reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock and his class was one of the hardest I had ever taken.  It was "Modern Germany" so we covered everything from the late 1800s to just after WWII.  I found out that he was one of the most captivating storytellers ever.  One day he told us a story that brought me to tears.  It is a bit gruesome so please be warned...

On November 9-10, 1938 anti-Jewish riots sanctioned by the government were staged across Nazi controlled Europe.  Jewish shops, buildings and synagogues were vandalized and set aflame.  Fire departments were under orders to not put out the burning buildings, but to merely keep the flames from spreading to non-Jewish structures.  There was so much broken glass littering the streets that the pogrom became known as "Kristallnacht" (Night of the Broken Glass).  Eventually the Jews were punished further by being forced to pay 1 billion Reichsmarks for the damages.  Yep, you read that right.  Make the victims pay, because it's their least in the minds of these sick individuals.  Thousands of Jews were then rounded up and taken to concentration camps.

On the morning after Kristallnacht local residents watch as the Ober Ramstadt synagogue is destroyed by fire.  The local fire department prevented the fire from spreading to a nearby home, but did not try to limit the damage to the synagogue.

Dr. Koppel was a young child during Kristallnacht.  His family lived in a castle in Germany (hard to believe, I know, but still very cool).  During Kristallnacht the Nazis came into their home and tried to rape his older sister.  She resisted.  One of the Nazis went to the wall and took down a sword that was hanging there and killed her with it.  They then took her body and threw it on their parents' bed to wake them.  Shortly after the family was taken to Dachau.

Most all of the Jews that were sent to concentration camps as a result of Kristallnacht were eventually released.  Dr. Koppel's family fled to Britain and then to the United States.  They were lucky to have gotten out when they did.  Lucky that they only lost one family member.  Had they stayed what would their chances have been?  Would they all have died?  It may sound strange to say "lucky" after the loss of a precious family member, but I know that he considered themselves lucky to have fled when they did.  During Kristallnacht fewer than 100 Jews were killed.  His sister was one of that relatively (when compared to the massacre to come) small number.  You can read more about Kristallnacht (and the Holocaust in general) by clicking here for The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

So what sparked these memories of my history professor was a post by Heirlines called "Petition to German Government to Restore Polish Jewish Cemeteries". The petition asks that the German government take responsibility and care for the graves of these Jewish cemeteries.  It points out that had these Jews not been murdered that they would be caring for their ancestors.  Now because of these atrocities there are few to care for these graves and cemeteries.  Additionally, Jewish cemeteries were regularly desecrated by the Nazis.  Gravestones and monuments were used to build walls, line roadways, etc.  We genealogists get pretty riled up when we hear of cemetery vandalism.  Could you imagine seeing an ancestor's stone used as a piece of roadway?  Not knowing where they are buried?

View of the old synagogue in Aachen after its destruction on Kristallnacht
When I signed the petition just over 2300 people had done so as well.  2300 people?  Seriously?  Over 6 million Jews were exterminated as a result of Hitler's policies in concentration and extermination camps (yes, there is a difference between the two). We can make a bigger difference than that!

I know sometimes people say, hasn't enough time passed?  When will we stop yelling at modern Germany for what the Nazis did?  All I can say is...not yet.  It's a pretty big mess to clean up.  It's an extraordinarily large wound that needs healing.  Additionally, I don't think that making this request is an unfair burden.  I think it is something the German government should be jumping on.  Should be shouting out how delighted they would be to do it.  Let them know the world is watching.

Let them know...We Will Not Forget...

Check out Kathy Reed's blog post on another family's experience during the Holocaust by clicking here.  Thanks for sharing, Kathy!

The views or opinions expressed in this blog, and the context in which the images are used, do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of, nor imply approval or endorsement by, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.