Saturday, November 8, 2014

Through the Past, Darkly (and otherwise)

For us, on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, it's a weekend after a non-holiday holiday (Halloween) and before an actual holiday (Veterans Day) that many of confuse with a different one (Memorial Day). Good luck wrestling with all of that.

A trans-oceanic flight east away, on the continent where both of this earth's two world wars began, Europe, this weekend (technically speaking tomorrow) for Germany, sitting in the middle of Europe, the ghosts of its past have never been nearer or more real, Kristallnacht and the Fall of the Inner German Border.

What lessons its citizens and, by extension, the rest of us as well, learned (and continue to learn) from these two very different lessons, tells each of us and all of us, perhaps more than any of us are comfortable knowing. Speaking only for me, I very much like to learn but will also concede I don't always enjoy being taught.

If the above mention is your first encounter with Kristallnacht, by all means, use the link provided and start on your journey. And understand you are staring into Konrad's Heart of Darkness. It will look and sound familiar as it should because its twin beats in each of our own chests and no matter how far and fast we run we will never outdistance our own past.

I'm going to go on to some lengths tomorrow about the first steps in the Deutsche Weidervereinigung so you may want to make a note now to skip it if you're so inclined. What follows are some thoughts I had a year ago on Kristallnacht, an event, having stood (a lifetime ago) in many of the spots where atrocities happened, I still cannot grasp or comprehend. I hope, should you read on, you will agree 'never again' is the only conclusion that can ever be drawn and resolve to remember that.

If the Shoah, The Holocaust, was an unfinished symphony of genocidal annihilation for Europe's Jews (and it was only unfinished because the rest of the world finally wrested the controls of the killing factories from the True Believers before they achieved their Endlosung), then November 9, 1938, the first notes of the overture to that murderous symphony, Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), were played.

When you look at the pictures of death and destruction, and listen to the softly told tales of survival, often by the purest of coincidences, if you have a heart, it is sickening and if you have a conscience it is outraged. But to keep the next exercise of extreme intolerance from ever reaching this point, we all need to retain the memories of the events as well as the circumstances that allowed the events to happen.

The Nazis did NOT leap out of bed seventy six years ago cause the German nation, the land of Luther, Schiller, Liszt and Beethoven, to lose its collective mind and forfeit forever its own soul.

For decades leading up to this day in 1938, and not just in Germany, but all across Europe, East and West, the systemic and systematic marginalization of Jews, apartheid before that word was in fashion, was in practice and a part of everyday life. The N├╝rnberger Gesetze of 1935 helped dull all Germans to the slaughter to come.

The ability to use language in reducing those who are the object of your animus to something somehow less human than yourself so that the acrimony and injury inflected upon them has no more consequence than stepping on a bug is a critical tool in the creation and construction of the crematoria and concentration camps and no less vital to that than the jackboots and the armbands.

You have a lot on your plate today-it's the weekend and the holidays are coming. Finding the time to go online or to your local library and invest an hour into researching the decay and depravity that began with Kristallnacht is asking a lot, I know. So how about a deal?

What if you and I promise one another to take an additional breath before using a racial epithet to characterize someone on the other side of the political spectrum with whom we disagree? Or to refrain from suggesting (at the top of our lungs) what a person with whom we are arguing may attempt to so with her/his logic and conclusion, as anatomically difficult as it might prove to be.

Instead of counting to ten, we try to count to eleven, and then twelve and just keep counting until the gorge in our veins recedes just a bit and our blood has gone off its boiling point. And, most importantly, when we see someone else in mid-screed, we mitigate and mediate to help assure a more rapid return to civil and civic discourse in our interactions with one another.

Germany was not a nation of Nazis on Kristallnacht-they were, believe many, in the minority even when in power. It isn't so much just the sins committed on this day that should live in infamy forever, but, rather, the sins that could have been prevented had two or more people joined and raised their voices in opposition. We must never forget the lesson of what happened next.
-bill kenny 

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