Skip To Content

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe

What a Kristallnacht survivor says about Kristallnacht comparisons

The comparison of last week’s attack on the U.S. Capitol to Kristallnacht may be well-intentioned but grossly diminishes the magnitude of the Nazis’ crimes, according to a Holocaust survivor who witnessed the Nazis’ actions.

Further, the survivor, Herbert Karliner, condemned any comparison of social media policies today to any action of the Nazis.

Karliner, who grew up in Peiskrescham, Germany, was 12-years-old in Nov. 9-10, 1938, when the Nazis launched a pogrom against the Jews by sending paramilitary forces and civilians throughout Germany and Austria to destroy Jewish-owned stores, homes, buildings and synagogues. The name Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, comes from the glass windows that were broken during the rampage.

Herbert Karliner, who survived Kristallnacht

Herbert Karliner, who survived Kristallnacht Courtesy of Herbert Karliner

“It is shameful for anyone to compare anything to Kristallnacht, or any other aspect of the Nazis’ unspeakable evil,” said Karliner, 94.

On Jan. 11, Fox Newsformer Republican Congressman Steve King and Fox News host Jeanine Pirro tweeted that the shutdown of Parler, the alternative social media site popular among the far-right, was comparable to Kristallnacht.

That followed a seven-minute video released last weekend on which former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R- Calif.), who was born in Austria in 1947, said the Capitol attack “was the day of broken glass right here in the United States. … The mob did not just shatter the windows of the Capitol, they shattered the ideas we took for granted.”

But Karliner argued there can be no comparison between the two events, noting that Kristallnacht was government-sponsored terrorism and a major step that tightened Nazi control and a major step that led to the murder of 6 million Jews. In contrast, the criminals who rampaged through the Capitol last week are being arrested and prosecuted by federal authorities.

“On Kristallnacht, my father, Joseph Karliner, had his store set on fire and destroyed. Within hours, the Gestapo arrived and took him to the Buchenwald concentration camp. It was a time of absolute terror for Jewish people. My father returned a few weeks later, and we thought we were lucky to be escaping Germany on the SS St. Louis. Well, as most people should know, we were turned away from this great country, dooming my father, my mother, my two sisters, and hundreds of others to their deaths in the Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Camps.

“My brother and I were very, very lucky to survive, and I was privileged to emigrate to the United States. I served in the U.S. Army and raised a family here. I believe in the strength and virtue of the American people to overcome the political differences of today, and pray for President Biden and all of our elected leaders to help heal us. But analogies to Kristallnacht or Nazism reflect a very serious misunderstanding of the vast scope of Nazi Germany’s crimes, and the crimes of its collaborators. They also denigrate the memory of 6 million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust.”

Meanwhile, Holocaust survivors and their descendants issued a statement deploring the attack on the Capitol by rioters who brandished “symbols of anti-Semitism and racial bigotry, such as shirts glorifying the Holocaust, a gallows and noose and the Confederate flag. … Dangerous anti-Semitic conspiracies once confined to dark corners of the internet are gaining traction in `respectable’ quarters, without clear condemnation by all who call themselves leaders.”

The statement was issued by the Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA and the Generations of the Shoa International Coordinating Council, the largest organization of survivors and second and third generation leaders worldwide.

The statement added: “We, the remaining voices of 6 million Jews who were murdered because of the `normalization’ of these tactics in Nazi Germany and Europe, are speaking out to sound the alarm loud and clear. The poisonous rhetoric from government leaders and media designed to arouse hateful passions, fan the flames of anger and violence, must be condemned by our leaders at every level, and by all of us in our families, businesses, religious institutions, and communities.”

Karliner noted that in recent years he has tried unsuccessfully to collect on the life insurance policy his father took out with Allianz. He said each time he asked to be paid as the policy’s beneficiary, he was told the money had already been “paid out to the policy holder in 1938.”

“Years later,” he said, “I managed to obtain the `repurchase’ document. It was dated Nov. 9, 1938 — Kristallnacht. Neither Allianz nor ICHEIC [the International Commission for Holocaust Era Insurance Claims] gave me this document at the time I applied. If they had, I would have told them that I doubted my father stopped by the Allianz office on his way to Buchenwald to cash in his life insurance policy that day.”

Karliner said he and other survivors have not given up on their efforts to get Congress to enact legislation that would allow them to require the companies to honor the policies they wrote. Allianz, Generali, AXA and others who sold life insurance policies to Jewish families murdered in the Holocaust continue to insist on original documentation.


Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.