November 9th and 10th marks the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the explosion of terror and destruction against German and Austrian Jews that signaled the beginning of Hitler’s genocide targeting the Jewish people.
The account of the killing and the damage inflicted on those Jewish communities -- including attacks on nearly 7,500 shops, more than 1,000 synagogues and nearly 100 people killed in less than 12 hours of orchestrated mayhem -- tells only half the story. As important was the official nature of these attacks and the “they-had-it-coming-to-them” statements made by people in high places and, of course, in the government-controlled media.
There were no attempts to hide the intent to humiliate, threaten and harm the more than 700,000 Jews who lived in cities and towns large and small.
Indeed, there were no guidelines to those who carried out this massive pogrom, save for making sure that there be no fires set against Jewish-owned properties that might spread to non-Jewish buildings and neighborhoods.
Pouring massive amounts of salt into the wounds in the aftermath, the Nazi authorities demanded that the Jewish community compensate the government for the “damage inflicted against it.”
Lest there be no mistaking the message being so loudly sent, thousands of Jews were hauled off to places like Sachsenhausen, a short distance from Berlin, which became the archetype for the concentration camps and death camps that would soon multiply in Germany and the lands it would occupy after the beginning of World War II less than one year later.
What that terrifying night and day represented was official incitement.
Reports of residents watching the sledgehammers crashing against shop windows and the incendiary attacks on Jewish houses of worship note many who watched and cheered those who perpetrated the destruction.
No mystery in this—from Hitler’s coming to power in 1933, the Nazi regime had been setting the scene for what would occur during Kristallnacht.
By casting the Jews as Germany’s “misfortune,” as unclean and unwanted vermin, the Nazis were ensuring the public’s absolute and unquestioning support for a pogrom against the Jewish community. And so, they destroyed Jewish property and, what was even more important, Jewish places of worship.
Under the cover of official encouragement, one could participate in the humiliation of a people, view it from a block away, or, on the morning after, take it all in with glee or smug satisfaction.
Unfortunately, incitement against Jews is still common today.
The demonization and delegitimization of Israel and the Jewish people results in regular violence against Jews around the world.
Even as we observe events of three quarters of a century ago, there are clerics in the Middle East who refer, in weekly sermons, to Jews as pigs and monkeys.
The Hamas charter has this to say: Jews hide behind rocks and trees waiting to pounce on Palestinians, so you better attack a Jew before he gets a chance to attack you.
There are frequent attempts in international forums to negate the connection of the Jewish people to its holiest sites.
Holocaust denial is a staple in many parts of the Middle East and the Islamic world; Iran’s former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was only its most well-known practitioner. Language he used in carrying out this revisionism mimicked the Nazis when he called Israel a cancer to be excised from the region.
And then there is the actual comparison of Israelis to Nazis made regularly by heads of state and diplomats, the media and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
They claim Israel’s security fence is “akin to the Warsaw Ghetto,” Israel commits “round-ups and deportations,” and—most significantly—Israel is guilty of “genocide” against the Palestinian people.
Today there is renewed talk about a two-state solution to once and for all resolve the contentious Israeli-Palestinian issue. But how can we realistically expect such an outcome if the Palestinian Authority (PA) doesn’t educate for peace?
When the Oslo Accords were signed 20 years ago, Israel and the Palestinians were each tasked with fulfilling certain obligations. The Palestinians were asked to do three things: dismantle the terrorist organizations, arrest those who carry out acts of terror and end the incitement.
The record is sadly wanting: the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade, connected to Fatah, is by definition and by its own admission through claiming credit for acts of terror, a terrorist organization. The arrest record has been inconsistent.
But when it comes to incitement, the PA continues full steam ahead, notwithstanding the current round of negotiations with the Israelis. Indeed, a Palestinian baby born on the day the Oslo Accords were signed has only known a steady diet of hatred toward Israel and the Jewish people.
Some would say that comparisons between Nazi Germany and this Middle East conflict is misleading or, at least, hyperbolic. After all, a modern state of Israel, with a cutting-edge army, exists today and did not then. However, no one is stating that the acts carried out in Nazi Germany 75 years ago are akin to what is happening on the ground in the region today.
But the intention to defame and delegitimize a people and the state that represents half of all the Jews in the world; to use language that casts them as less than human or manipulative and cunning; and to attempt to erase their history invites comparisons to a dark and haunting past.
Incitement, especially when it comes wrapped in official approbation, leads to unbridled hatred.
No agreement between Israelis and Palestinians can possibly stick when official spokespersons, media outlets, clerics and semi-official NGOs are dedicated to demonizing their neighbors. That’s a lesson that can be learned from the events of 1938, notwithstanding the passage of time.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is Executive Vice President of B'nai B'rith International.