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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The resulting assemblage contains accounts written within a year or so of the events they describe. Nazi propaganda initially persuaded few, as a Nuremberg-born lawyer, Rudolf Bing — not to be confused with the opera impresario of the same name — wrote from Palestine. The supposed excuse for the Nazi pogrom was the November 7 killing of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath in Paris by Herschel Grynszpan, a German-born Jewish refugee. Yet Bing notes, “It was not as though this event had really upset the German people.” Bing adds:

“It was astonishing how in general the Jews in Nuremberg, despite all the hard knocks they had been dealt by fate, did not languish submissively but instead actively took matters in hand in their shrunken community, helped those who needed help, tried to keep the school and worship going and in particular, with everyone’s support, made it possible for young people to emigrate.”

Hope for the next generation was clearly a motivating force for Sofoni Herz, a teacher in a Jewish orphanage in Dinslaken, in West Germany. Gathering her charges — almost three dozen children — after vom Rath’s death she told them, “People are making us Jews responsible for this… I suspect that not since the Middle Ages have we Jews in Germany had to tread a path as hard as the one we now have to take.”

Some witnesses ceded to bitterness, such as distinguished health professional Hertha Nathorff, who until September 1938 was head physician at Berlin’s Charlottenburg Hospital. Reacting to the horrific difficulty of obtaining an exit visa, Nathorff writes: “I’d never even made a streetwalker wait as long at the door to my clinic as I now had to stand, along with other women tortured with worry…. No one took pity on me; no one would help me — me, who had spent my whole life trying to help others.”


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