Nov 16 2017

Kristallnacht: The View from 2017

Published by at 11:52 pm under Uncategorized

Kristallnacht: The View from 2017
Rabbi Michael Panitz

This evening, the Jewish world will observe the sad anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night in which Nazi Germany physically attacked the synagogues and the Jewish community of Germany. How does that event resonate today?

My answer is to look back, not only 79 years, to the infamous state-sponsored pogrom, but 125 years, to the moment when anti-semitism went mainstream in pre-Nazi Germany. That happened in 1892, at the “Tivoli Congress” of the German Conservative Party.  Here is a brief, encyclopedic account of that event:

The Tivoli Congress took place in 1892 and was named after the Tivoli Brewery on the Kreuzberg in Berlin in whose festival venue the German Conservative Party first adopted anti-semitism as part of its political program…From the congress the Tivoli Program was developed. This was a party manifesto whose first clause included the words “We fight against the often obtrusive and corrosive Jewish influence on our national life. We demand Christian authorities for the Christian people and Christian teachers for Christian students.”

Ever since 1945, thoughtful Americans have asked, “Could it happen here?” I have always been confident that American democracy, with far stronger roots than those of Weimar Republic Germany, would withstand the combination of demagoguery and hyper-nationalism that gave Nazism its traction. Now… I am less confident.

What changed? The 2016 election gave the Radical Right a sense that its moment had arrived. There’s a straight line to be drawn from the coy inclusion of avowed anti-semites in the winning electoral coalition of 2016, to Richard Spencer’s followers giving the Nazi salute in their post-election celebration, to the sharp spike in anti-semitic actions in early 2017, as reported by the ADL, to the “Jews will not replace us” chant of the Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville this past August.

Now, none of this is the same as the main body of American Conservatism embracing anti-semitism, as the official German Conservative party did in 1892. But the desire of the Radical Right to become part of the American mainstream political spectrum has received far too much cover, from the highest quarters, for us to feel entirely safe.

Demagogery, hyper-nationalism, and anti-semitism: if we, as a society, leave the raw materials for an explosion in place, then we are vulnerable to accidental, as well as deliberate, detonation.

Kristallnacht is always about Nazi Germany. But it is also always about what can happen when anti-semitism is winked at, anywhere and anytime.

On guard, America!

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