85 years ago today, hundreds of synagogues and Jewish businesses were smashed up, ransacked and set on fire and more than 100 Jews were murdered in Germany and Austria by the Nazis in what became known as “Kristallnacht”, or “Night of Broken Glass”.
On 9th – 10th November, Nazis torched 250 synagogues, vandalised Jewish homes, schools and 7,500 businesses. In the aftermath of Kristallnacht, some 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to Nazi concentration camps. Kristallnacht marked the end of any hope for security for German Jews and the moment of escalation in the Nazis’ genocidal campaign against them, which would result in the murder of 6 million Jews in Europe. To commemorate the anniversary, Berlin authorities lit up the Brandenburg Gate with ‘Never Again is Now’ in German.
This weekend, 85 years on, the Jewish people are again living in fear.
“It started with words”
Last week in New York, hundreds of Holocaust survivors posed with pictures of the roughly 240 people being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza. “I’m back there all over again,” Toby Levy, 90, said. “This is how it started with the Germans.”
“It started with words and continued with actions,” Nate, from Canada, said about his experience as a child in Poland, where he survived Auschwitz but most of his family members did not. “I am devastated to see how Jews are being attacked today. Jews are not safe. I saw where antisemitism can lead and I am very concerned.”
“What Hamas did to the Israelis on October 7th is as cruel, barbaric, and tragic as what the Nazis did to the Jews 80 years ago,” Benjamin, a survivor who lives in Greece, said. “When I see Jewish homes marked with the Magen David, it brings back nightmarish memories from my childhood, reminding me of swastikas and concentration camps.”
But he finished on a more hopeful note: “My message is that we, the Jewish people, have endured significant suffering throughout our history, with the Holocaust being the darkest period. Though the current times are challenging, thanks to the brave IDF, a sense of normalcy will soon return to the State of Israel and the Jewish Diaspora.”
“European Jews today are again living in fear”
The European Commission, part of the European Union’s executive branch, issued a statement on Sunday, saying, “The spike of antisemitic incidents across Europe has reached extraordinary levels in the last few days, reminiscent of some of the darkest times in history,” it said. “European Jews today are again living in fear.”
It follows the worst massacre against Jews since the Holocaust, when Hamas carried out terror attacks on 7th October, murdering over 1,4000 people and taking over 240 hostage. The barbaric actions by Hamas are just as evil. Their hatred for Jews is no different. Their ambition is to do what the Nazis failed to do – wipe out all Jews from the earth. This week Hamas said the attacks on 7th October was “not a momentary” step, but part of Hamas’s strategy. They said they had no regret about the attacks and would wish to repeat them. Regarding the mounting death toll of Palestinians, Hamas leaders have said their goal was to trigger this very response and they’re hoping for a bigger war. “I hope that the state of war with Israel will become permanent on all the borders and that the Arab world will stand with us,” a Hamas spokesman said this week.
But what begins in Israel doesn’t end in Israel. In London, tens of thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters will march as they have done for the past few Saturdays. Any support or validation for Hamas is antisemitic and the lessons of Kristallnacht should stimulate us to not be merely observers. The very fact that Saturday’s event, organised by a former Hamas leader now in Britain, deliberately targeting the Remembrance Day commemorations, provide an important reminder that this demonstration of anger against Israel conflicts with the values held dearly by this nation.
Antisemitism is rising at an incredible rate across Europe. In Lyon, France, this weekend, a Jewish woman was stabbed in her home. In Berlin last month, assailants threw Molotov cocktails at a synagogue and Jewish community center. Someone set fire to the Jewish section of Vienna, Austria’s, largest cemetery last week, and a violent mob stormed an airfield and hotel looking for Jewish passengers when a flight arrived from Israel in Dagestan.
In the Netherlands, reports of antisemitic incidents have spiked over 800% since 7th October. In one school, a Jewish boy was threatened with a knife and hit on the head with a bottle while classmates called him “kankerjood,” a Dutch slur meaning “cancer Jew.” Another boy was told that his classmates would throw him off a bridge and drown him because he was Jewish. Recurring reports describe students being accosted for wearing Star of David necklaces, being shown the Hitler salute and being told that Hitler “didn’t finish his job.”
In the United Kingdom, these reports of antisemitic incidents more than quadrupled in the days immediately following the initial attacks. In Germany, an organization that tracks antisemitism reported 70 incidents in the 11 days following the Hamas attacks, triple the number in the same period the year before. In France — home to Europe’s largest Jewish community, where Jews make up less than 1 percent of the population — interior minister Gérald Darmanin said there had been more than 1,000 incidents in the last month. “The number of antisemitic acts has exploded,” Darmanin told a French news network.
Stars of David have been spray painted on Jewish homes in Paris and Berlin. “I am crying, because I am once again seeing the hate that we received when I was a child,” a elderly woman whose apartment was graffitied told a French television network.
“Jews in Europe today no longer feel safe on this continent,” Rabbi Menachem Margolin, chair of the European Jewish Association said this week. “I have never been so afraid,” the head of the German Union of Jewish Students said last week.
A truly moving sight.
Tonight in Germany, on the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the words “Never Again is Now” are projected on the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. pic.twitter.com/kwqWHwTlri
— Ted Deutch, CEO of American Jewish Committee (@AJCCEO) November 9, 2023
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised that the government would “do everything in our power” to fight what police called a “massive increase” in antisemitic incidents.
In Germany, Chancellor Olaf spoke this week at a Berlin synagogue to mark “Kristallnacht” alongside Jewish leaders. The synagogue was among 1,000 that were damaged during that pogrom. The synagogue where Scholz was speaking was also attacked with Molotov cocktails.
“Every form of antisemitism poisons our society,” said Scholz, “We will not tolerate it. Never again — that means the physical protection of Jewish institutions and communities. It means that the police and judiciary consistently enforce applicable law,” he said, adding: “October 7th allows only one conclusion: Germany’s place is on Israel’s side.”
What started as mistreatment and prejudice against Jews in Kristallnacht, led to the worst genocide in world history, the Holocaust. Let us never forget this horrific persecution against the Jewish people. And let us resolve to never allow the Jewish people to stand alone in the midst of the evil of anti-Semitism at this critical moment in history and wherever antisemitism exists.
This year, we want to do more to bless Israel and the Jewish people.
We know that as we bless Israel this year, God will bless us, just as He promised in Genesis 12:3, “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Now is the time to bless Israel and the Jewish people.