No Room for Complacency as Jews remember night of horror

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OVER the last six weeks, a Jewish family, walking in Bondi, was badly beaten by a gang shouting anti-Semitic slurs. A swastika was daubed on a tram and hateful words were spray painted near Jewish schools in Melbourne.

UNSW students did Nazi salutes and sang Springtime for Hitler around a Jewish student.

Those are three examples too many. This month marks the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, “one of the darkest moments in German history” in the words of Chancellor Angela Merkel. It was a night of terror, a nationwide state-sponsored pogrom unseen in Germany since the Middle Ages, foreshadowing the Holocaust.

In an orchestrated burst of violence, German and Austrian Nazi stormtroopers, supported and encouraged by ordinary citizens burned synagogues, vandalised cemeteries and schools , looted 7500 Jewish-owned businesses and pillaged hospitals and orphanages. Jewish homes were ransacked, Jews were beaten; 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps where they were tortured and later killed.

And 91 Jews were murdered.

The streets were covered by shattered glass from the smashed windows, The Nazis gave the occasion the cynical name Crystal Night, or Kristallnacht. It took nearly two years to replace the glass that was smashed and the Jewish community was fined one billion Reichsmark for the devastation inflicted on them.

Afterwards, Jewish newspapers were banned and Jewish children prevented from attending public schools. Jews could no longer own radios, driver’s licences or operate their own businesses unless managed by a non-Jew.

Kristallnacht was the logical outcome of a German education and legal persecution that sent the message Jews were inhuman. It started a campaign of assaults and murder that culminated in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. And yet the civilised world watched. Yes, Kristallnacht was denounced by some, but little was done to help the Jews in Germany. The world did not come to the rescue of the persecuted. No country cut its ties with Germany, nor were the doors opened to Jewish refugees.

Those who doubt the need for Israel should ask if the world today would offer a haven to millions of Jews escaping another Holocaust.

Today, more than seven decades on, anti-Semitism is still alive, an ever-present threat, a virulent disease that stains the human condition. The recently released report of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights on anti-Semitism found that 66 per cent of those surveyed still consider anti-Semitism to be a key problem and 76 per cent said the situation had worsened over the past five years.

Kristallnacht should serve as a wake-up call, a warning that we must learn the lessons of history.

Australians must never be indifferent when confronted with hatred and racism. We must look evil in the eye and fight it. In the face of unfolding atrocities and genocides around the world, governments today still manage to rationalise their apathy, unwilling to mount a meaningful response.

We must act forcefully and quickly to confront ethnic and racial persecution, whenever and wherever they occur.

It is our duty to speak up when faced with any type of bigotry. It is our duty to cultivate an inclusive, mutually-respectful society, one that is free from any discrimination and prejudice. Such principles and values must start in early childhood, at home and in school.

Chancellor Merkel called on all Germans (and by extension on all people) to “show their civil courage and ensure that no form of anti-Semitism is tolerated”.

We cannot bring back the dead. But we can honour their memory by being vigilant and alert to the power of words to dehumanise and foment hate and violence

This article was originally published in the Herald Sun, November 28, 2014