Category Archives: Kristallnacht

The Responsibility of Knowledge

A Speech at Free Synagogue
Mount Vernon, New York
Sunday, November 16, 1997

By Larry H. Spruill

Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Elohaynu Adonai Echad

Our Father who art in heaven, Holy is thy name…

Qul hu wa La Hu Ahad
Al La Hu Samad
Lam Ya Lid Wa Lam Yu Lad
Wa Lam Ya Kul La Hu Ku Fu Wan Ahad

I open my address to my brothers, the sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob with prayers declaring the onenessss of God in the Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions. It is so important to establish the truth of what the Ishmalites say in the Arabic language…they talk about oneness, the indivisibility of Millatu’l Ibrahim which is translated as the religion of Abraham.

We all profess the oneness of God Almighty..El Shaddai…We all seek oneness with God…But it is the desire of our merciful God that we seek oneness in love among the diversity of His creation…that is among all of humanity.

This has been and remains the greatest challenge to humanity. How difficult it seems to be to create what Dr. M.L. King declared as the “beloved community on earth.”

Continue reading

Kristallnacht

Dedicated to the Jews of Germany

By Larry H. Spruill

Night of tinkling glass
Shattered dreams
Surreal screams
Frightened souls
Terrified by
Unleashed evil….
upon indiscriminate humanity
Tinkling, tinkling glass…
Fractured mirrors of life…
Walking on broken shards
Crunch, Crunch, Crunch…
Goose stepping boots…
Coming to take me away…
Coming to take away my things…
They come for my gold
They come for my money
They come for my heirlooms
They come for my art…
They come to take away my books
They come to take away my credentials
They come to destroy my clothing…my furniture
They come for my things…
They come to humiliate me…
They come to take away
my wife…my daughters…
my husband…my sons
They herd me together
with strangers and friends
They take away my dreams
They bring darkened nightmares
full of unknown tomorrows
Tinkling, tinkling glass
altering what is real
into horrible new realities
They are coming to take me away
I am not unique
I am not different
I am simply a Jew
They have come to take away all
but my living God in my soul
What is important now?
What will I have to leave my children?
No more riches…no more gold and silver.
No china…no lockets…no Torah…no today…
just uncertain tomorrows…
I will leave them my words…
I will them my beliefs…
I leave them my ethics…my values…
I leave them my principles…
I leave them the ideas that are dear to me…
I leave them my eyes on the world…
I leave them my reason for living…
I leave them my God and his promise…
I leave you my children…
the indestructible things
The things of my heart and soul…
I leave you the things most dear to me…
My sons…my daughters…
I leave you the things of my soul…
for your living…
for your posterity…
for our tomorrow…
I leave you my ethical will…
I leave you
peace honor
faith trust
loyalty compassion
righteousness courage
and especially love…
I leave you my quest for perfection…
before God and man…
I leave you my struggle to build
families and homes
friends and relationships
communities and a new world
I leave you my legacy and spirit
I sign my name to all that remains
These are my only heirlooms
my sparkling jewels…for you…
My children…cherish them…
Live them…
Preserve them…
Pass them on…
That I might live and
be not forgotten.
For the glass is tinkling…
tinkling everywhere…
It is Kristallnacht…
The night of razor sharp pieces
of mirrored glass…
through which I no longer see hope…
For they come…
For they come…
to take me away.
Forever.

Remembering Kristallnacht

By Larry H. Spruill

First their synagogues or churches should be set on fire, and whatever does not burn up should be covered or spread with dirt so that no one may ever be able to see a cinder or stone of it…their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed…they ought to be put under one roof or in a stable, like gypsies, in order that they may realize that they are not masters in our land, as they boasts, but miserable captives…passport and traveling privileges should be absolutely forbidden to the Jews…all their cash and valuables of silver and gold ought to be taken from them…everything that they possess they stole and robbed from us through their usury…We must drive them out like mad dogs.

Martin Luther, Against the Jews and Their Lies, 1543

This passage is not from Mein Kampf. These words were written over four hundred years ago, by the Father of modern Europe, Martin Luther. He was the founder of the Reformation. He translated the Bible into German in order to give God’s word directly to the people. These prophetic anti-semitic words became a reality November 9, 1938. We need to talk about Kristallnacht. I want to talk about Kristallnacht. I need to. I must.

The world is a delicious but very dangerous place. Sometimes I think that even those…especially those of us who know better have gone mad. We think that what happened seventy years ago is over and done with. But look around us. We are terrorized by crime, violence, and all kinds of perversion behavior. Bullets and blades injuring our bodies. Filthy and violent words wounding and killing our souls. Racial hatred is denying children friendships.

There is only one earth. There is only one humanity. There is only one creator of all living. So tonight I come to reaffirm the unity of our existence and mutual interdependence. I needed to come to see you and talk to you. I hope that you need to talk to and see me as well.

I know that I am talking to the converted and preaching to the choir. But I must say that it is important for me to tell this story tonight. I am an African-American born in Jim Crow North Carolina at the end of World War II. My roots run back to mid 18th century North Carolina and then to the Ibos and Hausas of Nigeria. I am a trained historian and educator.

It is critical that I tell this story tonight with out apologies. Far too many people of all races are willing to succumb to neo-Nazi propaganda about the authentic records of the German pogroms against the Jews. As a scholar, African and human being I am honored to be here as your guest.

Jews can try to runaway from their Jewishness but ultimately it is to no avail. I can never be other than a man of African descent. I can run but I cannot hide from myself. My ethnic connections give me meaning and purpose. I cannot escape my innate and divinely bestowed racial and ethnic characteristics.

I must be who I am in spite of those who hate me for those very same characteristics. I must seek out those who understand my self imposed commitment to this “continuity of being who I am.” For me, it is an African. For others it may be a Jew. Our individual and collective histories are like joined concentric circles. Therefore, in a strange way, it is true that to understand me is to understand you and vice versa.

From 1933-1939 Adolf Hitler, by bluffs and threats gained control of Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia, and conquered Poland. This was the beginning of his attempt to conquer the world. He also wanted to get rid of people whom he believed were “inferior,” and of less value than other people. This included several minority groups, but Hitler expressed most of the hate and anger against the Jews.

He established state sanctioned pogroms forbidding Aryan Germans to do business with Jews, and place signs forbidding Jews in their Aryan shops and businesses. Aryans were not permitted to marry Jews, mingle with Jews, go to Jewish doctors, or live near Jews. Hitler tried to expel the Jews from Germany and any other country he conquered, but that was too difficult. Besides other countries refused to accept them.

Adolph Hitler was possessed with destroying the Jews. He drew up his “Final Solution.” His final solution was a cover-up for his plot to murder all the Jews in Europe. Some German people who were not Jewish opposed Hitler’s plans. He murdered them too. He put six million Jews to death. Many Germans had to work on program to kill all of Europe’s Jews. This was one of the darkest times in the history of all humanity. We all know the name Adolph Hitler. Far too many children and adults do not know the name of Herschel Grynszpan.

In the history of the twentieth century, the name Herschel Grynszpan remains obscure and insignificant for most of humanity. This seventeen year old German-Jewish refugee responded to an evil and injustice the way young people tend to–impulsively. What he saw happening in Europe in the Fall of 1938 was horrifying. These terrifying events were so incredibly inhumane, he could not understand why this rolling and mounting snowball of evil was not being challenged and resisted.

It was not something he read about in the newspapers or heard on radio. Herschel was Polish, but had been raised in Germany, and had escaped to France because of the Nazi persecutions of Jews. The boy’s father had been among thousands of Jews deported to Poland in sealed boxcar trains. Herschel received letters from his father describing the terrible journey and the inhumane conditions in the camp.

The teenage boy felt he had to do something to protest what was happening to his father and people. So, on a November 7, 1938, Herschel got up and while at breakfast he took out of his wallet–a picture of himself and wrote a message on the back to his relatives. First in Hebrew, he wrote the words “with God’s help.” Then the rest of the message was written in German: “My dear relatives, I couldn’t do otherwise. God must forgive me. My heart bleeds when I think of our tragedy and that of the 12,000 Jews. I have to protest in such a way that the whole world hears my protest, and this I intend to do. I beg your forgiveness.”

Herschel left the hotel went a gun shop and purchased a handgun. He went to the German embassy in Paris to kill the German Ambassador. Fortunately, the Ambassador was in the bathroom taking his morning constitutional. Instead Herschel shot and killed a low level German functionary.

Poor Herschel did not understand the monstrous events his sacrificial act of frustration would unleash upon his people and the world. Seventeen year old, Herschel felt that he had no other choice. Seventeen year old Herschel felt that he had to do something drastic. So he bought a gun and killed a German.

The option chosen by seventeen year old Herschel Grynszpan was the long awaited excuse Hitler needed to escalate his Final Solution to the Jewish problem. Herschel gave Hitler the incident to set off an unprecedented wave of anti-semitism. Europe would never be the same again. The world would never be the same again.

November 9, 1938, marked the real beginning of tragedy for the Jews. Some of you are among the many Jews still alive who were in Germany and Europe at the time. When you mention November 9 to survivors they shudder.

On that November 9th, night all the synagogues in Germany were destroyed. Small and large, elegant and plain, costly and inexpensive, small town shuls and huge urban showplaces—all were destroyed. Glass was smashed, buildings burned. Torah scrolls, arks, curtains, prayer books were torn and burned. Homes, furniture, china, artwork, offices, stores, and any other property belonging to Jews were also destroyed. It was as though a single torch suddenly passed over the entire German nation.

The Nazis used kerosene to start fires and bombs to destroy the synagogues. They forced their way into Jewish homes. They beat, killed, and humiliated the people. They stole or destroyed their property. Feather beds were torn and ripped open. Clothing was stolen. Violins were smashed. Every Jewish home was ransacked. They went in and out of apartments burning, looting, killing and smashing the things and lives of the Jews. This went on in big and small cities out into the rural hinterlands. This was a barbaric time. November 9, 1938 was beginning of the neo-dark ages for Europe.

From that day, more men were sent to Buchenwald. There was very little for Jewish families to eat. No one would sell food to Jews. Doctors refused to treat Jewish patients. Jewish children were banned from schools. All Jews were fingerprinted. A large J was stamped into Jewish passports. Jews were forced to wear a yellow star on the their clothing.

The term Kristallnacht emanates from the minds of the masters of lies and Nazi propaganda, Goebbels and Goring. They denied that there had been any plundering or looting. Goring said, “No Jew had a hair of his head touched. Thanks to the outstanding discipline of the German people, only a few windows were broken in the riots.” Following the cynicism of their leaders, the Nazi rank and file labeled their night of terror and vengeance upon the Jews as Kristallnacht, or Crystal Night–The Night of Broken Glass.

Like Hitler, Herschel’s death is shrouded in mystery. His highly publicized trial drew international audiences. He was still a kid caught in the midst of violent and troubled world. He was detained. It was more advantageous to the Nazis to keep Herschel alive. He went from French jails for minors into German prisons and eventually concentration camps. He vanished. He became a mythical figure. No one knows when he died. Many claim to have seen Herschel as late as 1945. But no one really knows how Herschel Grynszpan died. Herschel’s parents and brother and sister all survived the war. They eventually found a home in Israel.

The world is still a very dangerous place for those who love peace, truth and justice. The great American democratic experience, the hope of humanity is threatened with failure not from without but from within the hearts and souls of the American people. We are yet unable as a nation to confront the color line and all of its frightening ignorance with courage and rationality.

Time is running out. We are on a collision course with ourselves–that is with the unresolved contradictions between our creeds and commitments to authentic racial democratic practices and lifestyles. What will we do with the colorful peoples of the world that are flocking here and blanketing our nation from sea to shining sea. The browning of America is happening as I speak. Most are not coming solely for economic prosperity.

Prognosticators have declared our nation financially and creatively bankrupt. They say the year 2000 begins what many have called the Asian Century. The Noble Peace Prize winner, the venerated and sainted Mother Theresa has declared America the most impoverished nation in the world. She said that America has lost its moral treasures and ideas. It leaves little for its people to believe in and be nourished with. She said we no longer offer the world the moral guidance and hope initiated by the founding fathers.

So is there hope for a revived, renewed and restored America? If so, it will spring forth from ordinary people with extraordinary faith in the inherent goodness of all humanity. There is no place for bigotry and racism in balanced god-fearing American families.

We must resist the evil of racism. We must courageously support freedom, justice and equality for all Americans. We must courageously advocate life, liberty and the right to pursue happiness and prosperity for all Americans. This is the America Mother Theresa was talking about. Bigotry and racism cannot be a part of our 21st century. We must go back to the beginnings…basics. WE THE PEOPLE are America. We do not all look alike. We do not all have the same national origins. We do not all pray alike. We do not all speak alike. We do not all have the same gender. We do not all have the same sexual preference. We do not all have the same physical capabilities. We are diverse. We are different. We are America. We must sing as a chorus in complete harmony on the issue of never again shall WE THE PEOPLE allow a Krystallnacht, a holocaust, slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, Apartheid, pogroms.

Krystallnacht is the reality of a frightening nightmare. It is the institutionalization of personalized and individualized devastation upon an entire race of people. It was stated sanctioned hatred murder. It was national madness.

Poor Herschel Grynszpan did not know that it was not personal. He did not understand the full magnitude of what was happening and soon to happen in Germany’s Europe. It was an attack on the entire Jewish people. As an individual, he could not stop the volume of hatred and evil unleashed upon the earth by the Nazis. His simple and perhaps foolish act of heroism unleashed and opened the door for an unprecedented time of testing of Jewish faith in their God. Even Moses and the children of Israel were more secure than the Jews in Hitler’s Europe.

The tinkling glass was the demonic announcement of death and destruction. Every American needs to internalize the Krystallnacht experience. We need to see it in Oklahoma City. We need to see it in the torching of the Korean Church in Queens. We need to see it in the scorched golf courses in Westchester. We need to see in the LA riot.

There are lives today being shattered like the glass in Hitler’s 1938 Europe. Oh how we need to see the new SS Guards. Oh how we need to see the forces of evil and destruction walking through our families, lives and communities. Oh how we need to see to day that we wrestle not with flesh and blood.

We do not have many real life Hitlers and SS Guards before us. But, we are continually destroyed by ignorance, racial hatred, selfishness and greed. These too are bloody and murderous. These forces must be discussed in schools, popular culture, politics and religion. As in Hitler’s Europe these forces knock on our doors. Unlike Poland, we willfully let these evil forces in. To allow bigotry, hatred and racism any where is to perpetuate the same. I am trying to understand the experience.

Kristallnacht is a night of terror which drowns out the broken glass of joyous jewish weddings has been perverted by the sound of window panes crushed by clubs and the butts of rifles. This is a night of terror. It is a night of tinkling glass.

Kristallnacht

Larry H. Spruill

Night of tinkling glass
Shattered dreams
Surreal screams
Frightened souls
Terrified by
Unleashed evil….
upon indiscriminate humanity
Tinkling, tinkling glass…
Fractured mirrors of life…
Walking on broken shards
Crunch, Crunch, Crunch…
Goose stepping boots…
Coming to take me away…
Coming to take away my things…
They come for my gold
They come for my money
They come for my heirlooms
They come for my art…
They come to take away my books
They come to take away my credentials
They come to destroy my clothing…my furniture
They come for my things…
They come to humiliate me…
They come to take away
my wife…my daughters…
my husband…my sons
They herd me together
with strangers and friends
They take away my dreams
They bring darkened nightmares
full of unknown tomorrows
Tinkling, tinkling glass
altering what is real
into horrible new realities
They are coming to take me away
I am not unique
I am not different
I am simply a Jew
They have come to take away all
but my living God in my soul
What is important now?
What will I have to leave my children?
No more riches…no more gold and silver.
No china…no lockets…no Torah…no today…
just uncertain tomorrows…
I will leave them my words…
I will them my beliefs…
I leave them my ethics…my values…
I leave them my principles…
I leave them the ideas that are dear to me…
I leave them my eyes on the world…
I leave them my reason for living…
I leave them my God and his promise…
I leave you my children…
the indestructible things
The things of my heart and soul…
I leave you the things most dear to me…
My sons…my daughters…
I leave you the things of my soul…
for your living…
for your posterity…
for our tomorrow…
I leave you my ethical will…
I leave you
peace honor
faith trust
loyalty compassion
righteousness courage
and especially love…
I leave you my quest for perfection…
before God and man…
I leave you my struggle to build
families and homes
friends and relationships
communities and a new world
I leave you my legacy and spirit
I sign my name to all that remains
These are my only heirlooms
my sparkling jewels…for you…
My children…cherish them…
Live them…
Preserve them…
Pass them on…
That I might live and
be not forgotten.
For the glass is tinkling…
tinkling everywhere…
It is Kristallnacht…
The night of razor sharp pieces
of mirrored glass…
through which I no longer see hope…
For they come…
For they come…
to take me away.
Forever.

Why were American Jews so supportive of the 1950s and 1960s Civil Rights Movement? The trials at Nuremberg were in the 1950s. Their memories were fresh with their own experience with racial hatred and violence. Jews more than any other people know that small acts of racial hatred cannot be ignored. They are the little fires that if left unattended and not extinguished lead to state sanctioned genocide, segregated ghettos and concentration camps.

When we can come together and share and remember and break bread and dream together we begin to build the bridges toward the Beloved Community Dr. King talked about. That America that community, that neighborhood, that city where people are judged by the content of their character and behavior and not by the color of their skin, religious faith, gender, physical handicap, language, national origin, or even their sexual orientation. It will not be easy…but we know from Herschel Grynszpan we have little choice.