I am child of the Holocaust. Both of my parents are Holocaust survivors. This essay seeks to answer three questions essential to my understanding of the Holocaust, the bystander, and my understanding of duty owed to another individual.
Those questions are: What do we learn from the Holocaust in general, in particular from Kristallnacht, regarding the bystander? What is the responsibility of the individual in the face of unmitigated racism and hatred? What is the most appropriate application of the painful lessons that can be learned from the tragic events of Nov. 9-10, 1938?
On November 7, 1938, a Jewish youth named Herschel Grynszpan shot the German diplomat Ernst Vom Rath in Paris. Grynszpan’s family, Polish Jews living in Germany, were ordered to be expelled by the Nazi regime and transferred to refugee camps whose conditions were dire. Vom Rath died of his wounds on Nov. 9; word reached Hitler shortly thereafter while attending a dinner commemorating the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. Upon hearing the news, Hitler left the dinner; speaking on his behalf Goebbels, in essence, called for a pogrom directed against Jews. The expression “spontaneously planned” has been used by historians to describe the unfolding of the events of the next two days.
Within hours of Goebbels’ words, more than 1,000 synagogues were set on fire or destroyed; in 24 hours 91 Jews were killed; and over 30,000 Jewish men aged 16 to 60 were sent to concentration camps where they were tormented and tortured for a number of months. More than 1,000 of those arrested met their deaths in the camps. Rampant looting and extreme violence in a hateful atmosphere marked Kristallnacht, along with arrests, destruction of physical property, physical abuse, and humiliation in more than 1,000 cities, towns, and villages in Germany and Austria.