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Kristallnacht's Timeless Lesson

November 5, 2018 | by Rabbi Berel Wein

Converting the fires of Kristallnacht into the fire of Judaism and Jewish life.

Most of the time evil cloaks itself with some form of apparent righteousness. Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot and Chairman Mao killed millions for what they claimed were just causes that would benefit humankind. Many in the Moslem world mask their evil behavior and terrorism with the cloak of religion and faith.

To a certain extent, however, the brutal behavior of the evil of the Nazis and Germans towards the Jewish people was an exception to this rule. Here was raw evil unmasked and unashamed with no excuses presented and no justification advanced. And this clear revelation was on world display on the night of Kristallnacht.

Synagogues burned to the ground, Jews killed and arrested and sent to concentration camps, Jewish stores and homes destroyed and vandalized -- all of this occurred on that black night in November 1938. It became clearer to those who wanted to see it that the Final Solution was going to become a reality.

Kristallnacht was the watershed event in the destruction of European Jewry.

Kristallnacht was the watershed event in the destruction of European Jewry. The only question after Kristallnacht was whether anything could be done to save European Jewry from the planned disaster that Hitler and his cohorts wished to visit on the Jewish people.

Unfortunately the practical answer to this question of life and death turned out to be one of helplessness and almost surrender. Thus Kristallnacht should have removed the blinders from the eyes of the Western world as to what awaited them a few short months later from Germany -- a world war that would destroy tens of millions and destroy Europe for generations. Part of the tragedy of Kristallnacht is that it did not send the necessary wakeup call to those who could have yet stood up to Germany. And so the deluge arrived.


It was not a random event that synagogues were destroyed and scrolls of Torah were desecrated. The Nazi regime in Germany was basically anti-religion and anti-God, and the Jewish people represented -- and still represent -- faith and awe of the Almighty. Individual Jews, even though millions of them may have abandoned Jewish practice and faith, were nevertheless caught in the net of the Jewish faith and tradition of Torah. Hitler stated that the Jewish problem was genetic and not one of individual behavior.

Most of the Jews in Germany were assimilated, proud Germans who placed their Germaness over their Jewish ancestry. But Jewishness can never be separated from Torah, and if there were Jews who did not understand this, the Nazis certainly did. Kristallnacht was the attack against Judaism, against Torah, against God Himself, so to speak. Jews were always persecuted not for their own personal behavior or human failings but for the faith and value system that they represented.

Fire destroys and fire warms; the choice remains with us.

Judaism was the antithesis of all that Naziism and its barbarism stood for. And therefore Kristallnacht marks the beginning of that all out war against Judaism, the Jewish people, Torah and the God of Israel. And we can say of Kristallnacht what the great martyr of Roman times, Rabi Chanina ben Tradyon said of the scroll of Torah in which he was wrapped and burned alive: "The scrolls and parchment may burn to ashes but the letters of the Torah still float in the air." The synagogues and Torahs of the Jews of Germany were reduced to ashes and the Jews were killed, but the words and values of Torah and the souls of the murdered still float in the air, giving the world no rest and still raising matters of conscience.


Kristallnacht demands of us to strengthen our ties to Judaism and to stand strong on behalf of the values and lives of Jews the world over and in defense of the Jewish state. It is tragic beyond words that Hitler should gain posthumous victory over Torah and the Jewish people. Saying "never again" is wishful and in itself impractical. Only actions and constructive efforts can guarantee "never again" as a reality.

Every Jew has a responsibility to one's self and to one's family future -- as well as to Jewish history and destiny -- to strengthen one's attachment to Judaism and the Jewish people.

The fires of Kristallnacht must be converted to the fire of Judaism and Jewish life within the souls of the Jewish people. Fire destroys and fire warms; it can be constructive or destructive. Those choices remain with us, and Kristallnacht and its events focus our attention on these choices. May the memory of Kristallnacht light the fire of a greater Jewish future within all of us.



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