Buenos Aires, Argentina
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"When a knock on the door meant terror."
By WALTER BINGHAM
OCTOBER 28, 2020 09:24
All over the Western world Jews are experiencing a resurgence of antisemitism. Synagogue doors are being reinforced; Jewish businesses are being attacked; Jewish monuments have been defaced; people are careful not to wear anything that can identify them as Jews, and those who do are in danger of verbal or even physical attacks. It happens now predominantly in European cities, as well as in Jewish areas in the United States.
Members of Antifa, the supposedly anti-fascist organization, have been known to support the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. And in Germany, where antisemitism was suppressed after the defeat of Nazi regime, it is again unashamedly raising its ugly head.
In a few days Jews all over the world will be commemorating the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht, “The Night of Broken Glass,” named after the shattered windows of Jewish businesses and homes during the night from November 9-10, 1938. That night, most synagogues throughout Germany, Austria and the annexed Czechoslovakian Sudetenland were plundered and set alight. Thousands of Jewish businesses were damaged and 30,000 Jewish men were sent to concentration camps.
It was the most horrendous anti-Jewish pogrom in Germany prior to the policy of extermination that was formulated On January 20, 1942, when 15 high-ranking Nazi Party and German government officials gathered at a villa in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee to discuss and coordinate the implementation of what they called the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question.” Among them were SS General Reinhard Heydrich, the chief of the Reich Security Office and one of SS chief Heinrich Himmler’s top deputies; SS Maj.-Gen. Heinrich Müller, chief of the Gestapo; and SS Lt.-Col. Adolf Eichmann, chief of the Department for Jewish affairs.
The trigger for the atrocities of Kristallnacht can be found in March 1938, following the annexation of Austria into the German Reich.
The Polish authorities were concerned about the increased persecution of Jews in those countries. But it was not their welfare in which they were interested; their fear was that the many Polish nationals among the Jews would either want to return to Poland or be forced to do so. So, early in October, the Polish government issued a denationalization law that annulled the citizenship of Poles living abroad for more than five years, unless before the end of the month they received a special stamp in their passports from the Polish consulates. Not surprisingly, Jews were refused this facility.
German policy at the time was not yet mass extermination, but rather to get Jews out of Germany. When the Nazi regime learned that Polish officials would not stamp the passports of Jews, thus making all of them stateless without passports so that they would have to remain in Germany, SS chief Himmler ordered that all Polish Jews be immediately and forcefully deported to Poland.
It was during the small hours of October 28 that the Polish Jews had to respond to the dreaded knock on the door that spelled terror. Almost 20,000 Jewish men women and children were arrested, permitted to hurriedly pack just one suitcase, and with an allowance of just 10 marks, transported to the Polish border in sealed trains. When the Poles became aware of this, they closed the border. “No Jews” was the order.
With Polish bayonets facing them and German machine guns behind them, these Jews were stranded helplessly in no man’s land. The Jewish welfare organization ORT was allowed to hastily erect some shelter, while the Poles and Germans argued for two or three days. The circumstances were grim and food was short. Eventually the Poles were forced to accept this increasingly dejected, hungry and tired mass.
THE LARGEST number were held in Zbaszyn, a Polish border town. My own father was among them. For months they slept in poorly constructed sheds and stables, with very few provisions. The severity of the conditions were witnessed by Polish historian Emanuel Ringelblum, who described the hopelessness of the deportees in a letter to a colleague: “I do not think any Jewish community has ever experienced so cruel and merciless an expulsion as this one. The future is envisaged in desperate terms. Jews have been humiliated to the level of lepers, to fourth-lass citizens, and as a result we are all affected by this terrible tragedy.”
Some months later they were transported to the Warsaw Ghetto.
At that time, I was in a Jewish school in the city of Mannheim, some 70 km. north of my home in Karlsruhe. Had I been there, I too would have suffered the same fate. The categories of arrest were determined by the local Nazi chief, so my mother was spared on that day. Fortunately, she survived the concentration camps and could relate the events to me. She told me she was asked where I was, but said I had gone out and she did not know where I was.
Among those deported was the Grynspan family from Hanover. Their 17-year-old son, Hershel, was living illegally in Paris. His sister, Berta, was able to send to him a postcard from Zbaszyn, which detailed the cruelty and tragedy of the family’s forced relocation. Enraged and distressed by the plight of his family and the thousands of other Polish Jews, Hershel Grynszpan went to the German Embassy in Paris asking to see the ambassador. He was taken to Third Secretary Ernst vom Rath, and as he faced him, Hershel drew a pistol and shot him. Vom Rath died of his wounds on November 7.
That was the trigger for the “spontaneous” events of Kristallnacht two days later.
It is documented that plans for this outrageous crime had already been laid by Himmler in great detail and communicated to all Nazi offices in the country, and that he only waited for a suitable occasion to implement it.
On that fateful Thursday morning, even before I arrived at school, which was on the premises of a synagogue, smoke hung in the air and there was more activity than usual in the streets. Then I saw it all. The fire service was in attendance, not to douse the flames that engulfed the synagogue, but to cool and protect neighboring German property from being damaged.
On that same day I left Mannheim to return to my home. The day is so vividly etched in my memory that I remember distinctly that I took the 3.22 diesel train. Ask me what I had for lunch yesterday and I would have difficulty remembering.
One other fact is worth mentioning. After the synagogue fires in my hometown, some remaining walls of one of the synagogues constituted a danger to the public, and to add insult to injury, the Jewish community was “asked” to pay for the demolition.
When Hershel Grynspan was arrested by French police he protested: “Being a Jew is not a crime; I am not a dog; I have a right to exist on this earth; wherever I have been I was hounded like an animal.”
There are conflicting reports about his fate, but it can be safely assumed that he did not survive the war. Let us never forget the brave Hershel Grynspan and the events that befell our people.
The writer, who is approaching his 97th birthday, is a senior journalist and broadcaster. His weekly broadcasts can be heard on Israel National Radio (Arutz 7) and Israel Newstalk Radio, and on 88 fm in Melbourne, Australia (all in English).
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