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Bitterly Entwined

Monday, 9 November 2009

Dortmund synagogue, November 1938

Germany was the focus of news stories all day long today. And for good reason. Today we mark the 20th anniversary since the Berliner Mauer, the Berlin Wall, came down. The Wall that came to symbolize the Cold War. And it was that event that led to the reunification of Germany just eleven months later.

The twentieth anniversary was marked by a variety of observances including a religious service at the Gethsemane Church in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg and a concert by U2. Probably one of the most significant events was the recreation by Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Polish leader Lech Walesa of the historic walk across the bridge at the site of the Bornholmer Strasse where the world watched the East Germans cross freely into West Germany. A walk made especially poignant as Chancellor Merkel had made that very same journey on this day twenty years ago.

I wanted to be excited today. I remember that historic event as it happened at a pivitol time in my life. That period between youth and adulthood. It was during my first year of college and I was mesmirized by the images on the television. Imagine…a world without a Communist threat. A free Europe. In my lifetime.

But from the recesses of my soul, other, more disturbing images forced their way past the edge of my consciousness. November 9. It marks a very different anniversary for us. It is the night that the world went dark. It is the Night of the Broken Glass. Kristallnacht.

It has been seventy-one years since the crimes of one lone individual brought down communal punishment on the entire German Jewish Community. One seventeen-year-old kid named Herschel Grynszpan, angered over the confiscation of his family’s home and business, walked into the German embassy in Paris, where he had been living, and upon discovering that the Ambassador was not in the building, took out his anger on a lowly Undersecretary named Ernst vom Rath. Ernst vom Rath died a few days later. On November 9, 1938. Giving the Third Reich the excuse they needed to launch a widescale pogrom on the Jewish community. An outbreak of such violence that by the end, over one hundred synagogues and nearly 7,500 Jewish businesses were destroyed. 26,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Scores of other were physically attacked and beaten. And after all of the violence had ceased, heavy fines were levied against the community. Retribution for the violence they had provoked.

Sometimes, if I am not careful, I hear it. The shattering of the glass. The screams that resounded during that terror-filled night. The shouts of vile hatred. And then…nothing. For the silence that follows such unimaginable reverberations is a heavy, thick, crushing silence.

So forgive me if I cannot completely rejoice today for I am unable –still–to find my way out of that suffocating silence. The memory too new. The wounds too fresh. Can enough time ever pass to heal the gapin holes left by the murder of two-thirds of our people?

One Comment leave one →
  1. Wednesday, 11 November 2009 12:49 am

    Hard questions- no easy answers.

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