Broken Glass And Insufficient Metaphors

'Kristallnacht' Fails To Encapsulate Terror of Nazi Pogrom

Nazi Pogrom: The Ludwigsburg Synagogue was destroyed during Kristallnacht.
Wikimedia Commons
Nazi Pogrom: The Ludwigsburg Synagogue was destroyed during Kristallnacht.

By Benjamin Ivry

Published December 18, 2012, issue of December 21, 2012.
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November 9–10, 1938, lives tragically in historical memory for the coordinated attacks against Jews in Germany and Austria by paramilitary forces and locals. A new book, “The Night of Broken Glass: Eyewitness Accounts of Kristallnacht,” argues that to sum up events in which some 400 Jews were murdered “or driven to suicide,” and 30,000 were sent to the Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen concentration camps by using a metaphor evoking how windows were broken, is at best “ironically euphemistic.”

Translated by Robert Simmons and Nick Somers from “Nie Mehr Zurück in Dieses Land,” “Never Return to this Country,” edited by sociologist Uta Gerhardt and political historian Thomas Karlauf, this book has the virtue of making ironic metaphors irrelevant, not just inaptly reductive.

“The Night of Broken Glass” puts human faces on hitherto inadequately named events. The narrations were originally compiled by American sociologist and heroic anti-Nazi activist Edward Hartshorne, who was murdered in postwar Germany after he discovered, to his horror, that U.S. Army counterintelligence officials were smuggling Nazi war criminals out of Soviet-occupied Austria and Eastern Europe to South America to serve as future Cold War allies.

Almost a decade earlier, Hartshorne had joined a group of Harvard sociologists who were launching a writing competition for those who had experienced Nazi persecution. The essay contest drew hundreds of entries, including a handful from enthused Nazis who misunderstood the competition’s purpose. More than 250 manuscripts arrived, most from Jews.

From these, Hartshorne edited a group dealing with November 9–10, 1938, to form “Nazi Madness: November 1938,” a book that would never be published. After sending the book to a prospective publisher in 1941, Hartshorne joined the American Secret Service and the book never saw the light of day. Gerhardt and Karlauf rediscovered Hartshorne’s typescript in 2008, in a California archive. The editors call the collection “a document of the greatest importance for modern history.”


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