Reflecting on Kristallnacht and its lessons

On the evening of November 9, 1938, the Nazis unleashed a horrific and unprecedented assault on the Jewish communities of Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland.  These devastating pogroms would eventually become known as Kristallnacht – the “Night of Broken Glass.”  With cooperation from the local population, Nazis smashed windows, vandalized storefronts, and burned down some 267 synagogues in one night as the local police and fire brigades stood by and did nothing.

Kristallnacht could have served as an eye-opener to the world.  Individuals and nations could have recognized that the unchecked hatred and intolerance was fanning the flames of what would become the Holocaust. They could have defied such persecution and spoken out against the brutal injustice.  But they did not. They stood in silence and in doing so became accomplices.

Kristallnacht was the essential turning point in Nazi Germany’s persecution of the Jews, and led to the eventual attempt to annihilate the Jews of Europe. Despite murdering at least 91 Jews and sending up to 30,000 more to concentration camps that night, the Nazis realized that there would be no repercussions for their actions. The world would stand idly by.

Today’s genocides are a result of that same passivity. The attitudes of one group are allowed to perpetuate, instigating hatred and violence, while others tolerate the horror.  The Museum strives to be a voice of conscience in the world, educating younger generations and the public to build an inclusive community where members will vigorously defend human rights. Our public programs and educational initiatives bring together a wide range of local, national and international organizations.  These partnerships help foster a broad community, spanning many religions, nationalities, languages, and ethnicities.

While the majority of the Museum’s programs help visitors remember past events – such as the Holocaust and other genocides – they also transform the future. Following their Museum experience, visitors understand their own power to fight indifference and injustice. They understand their obligations to their local communities and to all of humanity.

As we remember the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht, let us redouble our efforts to demonstrate the perils of silence and confirm that one individual can indeed transform an entire community.





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