The Legend of Wooley Swamp

What ever happened to nuance? Jabberwocky is being spewed up by the left and right as they try to drag us into their Wonderlands. This blog charts a path out of this swamp of simple truths and false certainties. And from time to time, it'll be a place for more light-hearted musings.

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Location: Palms - L.A, California

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Berlin and the 9th of November

UPDATE: In the original post, I wrote of "Himmler's SS murderers." The exact details of who was involved in the planning and carrying out of Kristallnacht are somewhat more complicated. From Goebbels' incitement to the activities of the various Nazi paramilitary and police organizations, this involved the whole Nazi murder machine. Please see here for more information. Another detailed account of November 9, 1938 can be found here.


There's a beautiful autumnal blue sky over Berlin today. A day to be thankful, but also a day to mourn and reflect. For this date in German history is one of unspeakable tragedy and unbridled joy.

In 1938, Himmler's SS murderers (see update above) set out to squeeze the last breath of Jewish everyday life all over Germany and Austria. It is forever known as Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, during which Berlin and Vienna were targeted with added brutality. The assimilated German and Austrian Jewry - despite the 1935 Nuremberg Laws and increasing restrictions on daily life - had held on to hope that their fellow citizens would wake up from the nightmare. That hope was crushed that night.

In 1989, a bureaucratic error by the DDR Politburo member and minister of Information, G√ľnter Schabowksi, lead to a storming of the Berlin border crossing on Bornholmer Bridge. At some point, the East German border police was overwhelmed and interpreted Schabowksi's words as effectively opening the border. East Germans streamed into the West Berlin district of Wedding. The Berlin Wall had become redundant, several other inner-city crossings were opened, and the next day checkpoints betwen East and West Germany began to let people through in what became two-way traffic. Soon the monstrosity was hacked to pieces. The trapped West Berliners could leave their island prison and the East German their country cell. The Berlin Wall, and the rest of the Iron Curtain, claimed hundreds of victims as well. They are remembered today.

In 1918, the Great War had come to an end, and on November 9th, Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated and the Weimar Republic was born. This noble experiment in democracy ultimately failed and was followed by crime and disaster, the Holocaust and more war. The claim that the Nazis chose November 9th intentionally is not mere speculation. Hitler's first attempt to seize power was also on this very day in 1923.

All of this history is still omnipresent in Berlin, and from my base in the West Berlin area Kreuzberg, I can touch it by reaching out my arm. It is humbling.
On my jogging route along the Landwehr Canal, a mere half mile from my front door, I pass by the ruins of the old synagogue on Fraenkelufer. It was once one of the city's largest and most beautiful. It was burned down during that night of infamy.

As I continue to run the loop along the water, I soon cross the former inner-city border. Depending on the direction, I go from Kreuzberg into to the 'death strip' between the outer and inner walls, to the East Berlin district of Treptow, then back into another 'death strip,' before heading into West Berlin's Neukoelln and finally back into Kreuzberg. It is hard to describe to random route of the Wall as it atomized and then marginalized these formerly quite central areas.

On other days, I walk around Kreuzberg and sometimes enter one of the many cemeteries. Morbid? Perhaps, but there is so much history there. The one a quarter mile from my place, is home to the tomb of Gustav Stresemann, Weimar's arguably greatest democrat. He passed away four years before Hitler came to power, but even then the signs of impending doom were there for all to see. I wonder about what he thought and went through, sitting in the Reichstag, listening to Goering and Goebbels preach their hatred.

Many locals want November 9th as German National Day instead of the somewhat arbitrary October 3rd, which was the day of reunification in 1990. Having dealt with the dark past to great extent, and with the most joyous November 9th fresh in mind, I can understand this. A new synagogue on Fraenkelufer (see photo) has been built and dedicated, the Jewish community is one of the fastest growing in the world, the former Wall is stepped across by millions every single day, and the Republic and democracy are strong. But while I can understand, I have a hard time seeing how this day can represent the true aspirations of Germany. Yes, the Nazis appropriated and desecrated it, but on a day of mourning, celebration still seems wrong.

The words of Albert Meyer - a prominent member of the Berlin Jewish Community and one of the few remaining descendants of a family that lived here before 1933 - ring out. On this day last year, he spoke (in German) about his own father's experience in 1938:

Some claim that using the term 'Kristallnacht' is inappropriate since it somehow brings up connotations of something festive and joyous...Be assured that my father, Erich Meyer, certainly felt no joy when the shopwindows of his department store on Frankfurter Allee were smashed that night; nor on the next day, when he - despite the efforts of his employees to sweep away the glass - on his knees, was forced by the mob to clear the shards himself.

It was not festive, joyous or entertaining, and these were not mere shards. This was crystal soaked with blood, and this was not just a pogrom...Kristallnacht was the beginning of the Crime against Jews, first against the Jews in Germany, against the German Jews, and then against European Jewry.

The sky is still blue as dusk begins to set in. There are so many ways to commemorate this day and I am off to do just that.


Subjects: ; ; ; ; ; ;


Blogger Package said...

great writing.

5:00 PM  
Anonymous Jessica said...

Just a little comment: Kristallnacht (or what was called Reichskristallnacht in those times) is now also known as Pogromnacht. I think its a bit more pc...

5:40 AM  
Anonymous Jessica said...

By the way, thank you, that was a nice article.

Just would disagree that even the 3rd of October offers many reasons for celebration. Yes, the border was opened, but I do not believe that the proccess of unification was truely one of unification. It was more one of imposition of West German ideas and rules... If you have a discussion about this with a group of Berliners, you will find that there are many oppinions but that the majority from the East are bitter about the way it went.


5:51 AM  
Blogger willtorecord said...

Wow man ! You have a lot to say, and most of them very thoughtful.
I will surely come back to read your full entry. Your political position is impressive.

I am actually giving you a return visit after I noticed you visited one of the blogs my friends run.

7:35 AM  

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