Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Kristallnacht



It remains inexplicable to me—how a nation and a culture so heavily steeped in the grand Western tradition of religion and art and philosophy—could fall so madly in love with a beast, a mustachioed tinpot psychopath who saw national glory in purging his country and all of Europe of its Jewry. People use an awful word to describe that policy, but then an awful policy—a policy from hell—requires obscenity, I suppose: historians have taken to call it “dejudification,” one of those words you'll likely never use but can’t help but understand.

Today marks the 74th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the awful night in Germany when a coordinated Nazi force destroyed synagogues, as well as Jewish businesses, and even institutions like hospitals. Tomorrow, 74 years ago, Jewish folks from all over Germany made plans to leave. Hundreds, even thousands, went to the Netherlands, as Jewish people had done for centuries, actually. Hundreds crossed the border simply assuming that life was going to be difficult.

But Holland lost 100,000 Jewish people by the May of 1945—a higher percentage than any other European nation.

No one—Jew or Gentile—ever imagined that human beings could actually design and build entire, sprawling factorys created simply to kill other human beings. No one imagined Auschwitz, Dachau, Buchenwald—or any of dozens of other camps where millions died. I’m as much a Calvinist as there can be, but I don’t think I could have imagined that depth of horror, that level of sin.

There are no words for it, really. One of the reasons it couldn’t be imagined is that there is no vocabulary quite like it. And it didn’t begin 74 years ago today, with Kristallnacht; but that night, all those years ago, was litmus paper, verifiable proof of that people smelled was far more than an odor. The hate was real and murderous.

There’s a small military cemetery just outside Arnhem, the Netherlands, a place where a couple of hundred Brits were laid to rest when Operation Market Garden went bust, the Allies somehow unable to reach “the bridge too far.” We there at that cemetery years ago, on a very special day, a day when a bus load of WWII vets and their wives rolled up. Those old vets marched out into the cemetery and paid their respects to buddies who didn’t make it home in 1944. There were walkers and wheel chairs, and only a few of them carried no metal, only a few would get through airport scanners.

One of their wives talked to us as the whole company paid their respects. She said fifth graders from Arnhem bear the responsibility for upkeep in that meticulously-kept graveyard. Dutch fifth-graders are responsible for clipping grass around the stones, keeping up the lawn, making sure the whole place is respectfully clean, as the Dutch in them requires.

When she told us that, all those kids seemed to appear, right then, a whole crowd of kids, primping those graves, keeping up the place, keeping memory alive.

Today—tonight—was, 74 years ago, Kristillnacht. Some things we should never forget.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes. Native Americans understand.