Kristallnacht Essay, Research Paper
KRISTALLNACHT – an act of violence and terror
Nazis are well-known for their anti-Semitic feelings. During the Nazi s regime the Jews were constantly exposed to Germans whims and hence the following repression towards them. One of the Nazis notorious acts was the pogrom of November 1938, later known as Crystal Night or the night of broken glass. What happened during that night conspires of violence and terror. Violence, after all, was glorified in Nazi Germany. The Nazis hated Jews, and the reason why this antagonism existed was that Jews represented what Nazis most hated in themselves. This feature is the most important reason why monstrosities occurred during the Nazi regime.
Violence exists in each one of us from the day we are born, but the potential for it is more expressed in some than in others. The way we have been taught by our parents determines our future behavior. Bettelheim points out that we are born with opposite tendencies and that these must be carefully nurtured if they are to counterbalance those which push us to act violently (Violence 189). Unfortunately, the Nazis were oppressed from their early childhood. Susan Griffin in Our Secret states the advice German child-rearing experts gave: Crush the will. Establish dominance. Permit no disobedience. Suppress everything in the child (323). The knowledge the Germans had been given explains why they acted violently. They were told to get angry with something when they were frustrated. In order to free themselves from this anger, they showed violence towards the Jews.
It is common knowledge that the Nazis wanted to be on top, but realized early on that Jews were better than them. The Jews were a large community, had the needed capital to establish stores, and were clever enough to flourish in their business. Germans were afraid of them and as a consequence they needed to defend themselves. But the Germans were right to have what Jews had. And as they could not take it by agreement, they had to do it by force. On the night of November 9 they plundered and looted hundreds of Jewish shops (Krondorfer 142).
Bettelheim considers the Nazi s acts a result of inner dissatisfactions with [them]selves for not being able to be the person [they] want to be (Violence 191). The Nazis tended to behave in such a way that the inner difficulties were not surmounted but projected onto the people outside themselves (Facing the Extreme 253). It seems then, that their demerits reflected on Jews. Instead of trying to overcome their problems, Germans sought somebody to relieve their pain and despair. They considered violence on Jews as an excuse for their drawbacks, and it is astonishing how the Nazis dared to punish what they missed in themselves. A natural defensive act is to attack the weakest point of the self. When we want to eradicate what we do not like in ourselves, we try to do it on others, wrongly thinking that it would work. Griffin uses the example that when boys or young men attack a man they find effeminate or believe to be homosexual they are trying to put at a distance all traces of homosexuality in themselves (359).
How can one expect the Nazis not to act violently? Adolf Hitler, the leader of the Nazis, did it. All people below him in the hierarchy did not have any choice. To Hitler, the Jews were the representatives of all dark instincts of his sexuality and himself as a whole (Eksteins 319). They were the carriers of syphilis, the organizers of prostitution, the swarthy, hairy race defilers lurking in shadows, in wait of blond, blue-eyed, virginal prey (Eksteins 319). Hitler s disadvantages were the leading incentive for his violent behavior. Eksteins thinks this is similarly a projection of profound individual self-hatred and self-doubt onto the Jew (319). It is the same with Heinrich Himmler, Reichsf hrer SS, who set standards of superiority that he himself could never meet; he said that a sign of the xbermensch is blondness (qtd in Our Secret 338), but he had a dark complexion. He also examined every applicant to the SS for narrow eyes and size, but at the same time Himmler s eyes showed the trace of a Mongolian ancestry and was just five foot seven tall (Griffin 338). These features clearly explain the straightforwardness of the Nazis. If darkness was to be turned into light, the Jew, the symbol of darkness, had to be eliminated (Eksteins 319). The Jews had killed Jesus Christ and that is why they were not Christian and represented darkness. Apart from the fact that there was nothing exceptional about the individual defects of Hitler and Himmler, they applied to only a few individuals, whereas the evil that needs to be explained was the affair of millions. As Primo Levi says, Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men (Afterword 214). These common men felt reluctant about killing somebody. But they just obeyed orders, they were the executioners. Himmler saw these men s unwillingness to do the job, but he did not do anything. He just ordered a new device for killing to be produced. A device that would be more humanitarian (if a murder could be a humanitarian act to some extent) as the executor would not have to watch the mere act of killing. This is not a solution from anyone s point of view but from the Nazi s one. They thought that what [was] hidden away [ceased] to exist (Griffin 348).The Nazis ignored the essence of the problem.
In the early hours of November 10 approximately 100 people were killed in the pogrom of Nazis towards Jewish people, synagogues, and stores. About 25,000 Jews were taken to concentration camps and another considerable part was made to emigrate from German lands, but without taking their valuable properties (Krondorfer 365).
Later on Heinrich Himmler was supposed to say that Protective custody is an act of care (qtd in Our Secret 326). As I mentioned earlier, the Nazis violent acts were the product of inner dissatisfaction. In order to satisfy their needs they did care about Jews because as Tzvetan Todorov, a renowned writer and critic, mentions, caring about others can produce inner satisfaction (104). Here, this caring has distorted meaning, as in my opinion caring could not be a protective custody. But from the point of view of the Nazis, and especially Himmler, it was in fact a form of protective custody. Because Himmler was afraid of the Jews power and of their subverting the existing regime, he ordered these mass arrests. The arrests could be seen as an act of caring, but only as long as one has the sick brain of a Nazi.
The violence performed in the night of November 9 was performed mainly by individuals who were scarred by physical defect, grave psychological handicap, or simply vicious fate (Todorov 122). These people were mostly Germans born outside Germany who desired to prove themselves true Germans. But despite their wanting to be true Germans, Himmler supposedly even gave instructions to remove from duty any SS man who appeared to take pleasures in hurting others (qtd in Facing the Extreme 122). It is again evident that Himmler wished to redefine himself. His father acted towards him violently, and Himmler did not want to repeat his father s mistakes. Because his memory was full of examples of violence, the orders Himmler gave were superficially lacking in brutality, but they in fact resulted in violence even though Himmler himself did not act directly. His whole behavior was influenced by his early memories (repressed memories) without his knowing this fact.
When Germans were mature enough to reconsider the world they lived in, they had to forget [their] earliest selves and replace that memory with the image [they] constructed at the bidding of others (Griffin 325). Himmler reshaped his thinking. He chose an image of what he wanted to be. He distinguished himself from what he was supposed to be due to his father s willingness. Outside himself, he might have looked differently. But what was inside him, the suppressed memory, would not ever change. Krondorfer thinks that the return of the repressed memory results in a fatal psychosomatic reaction (164). Suppressed memory can return with a vengeance. In many cases, people who took part in the pogrom during the Crystal Night later died because of their guilty conscience. Surely, one cannot escape from it for long.
Susan Griffin says that A story is told as much by silence as by speech (358). At first look it seems a somewhat strange statement. But brooding over it reveals exactly what Bruno Bettelheim had in mind by saying that If we remain silent, then we perform exactly as the Nazis wanted: behave as if it never did happen (Surviving 97). Remaining silent enabled the Nazis to hide the truth of what happened during the Crystal Night and to present an exaggerated version of what it really was. Concealing the truth was also an act of violence because by doing this the Nazis worked on the Jews psyches. There were Jewish people who have survived the pogrom and they felt it their own ways. And after all these monstrosities there was one man who stood in front of a whole nation and presented the events of that night in a way he preferred. It was quite a shock for the Jewish people.
The truth of the events that took place in the Crystal Night is a hard one to accept. It is easier for each one of us to believe that the evil lies outside of us, that we have nothing in common with the monsters who perpetrated it. These evils are closer to us than we can imagine and violence is deeply rooted in ourselves. That is why we refuse to accept the truth and instead gravitate to explanations rooted in the notion of monstrousness. At the end we come to the same truth that we are in a tight connection with our past. Griffin points out that … the past never disappears. It exists still and continues under a mantle of silence, invisibly shaping lives (363).
Bettelheim, Bruno. Surviving. New York: Knopf, 1979. 185 – 201.
Eksteins, Modris. Rites of Spring. New York: Anchor Books, 1989.
Griffin, Susan. Our Secret. Ways of Reading: An Anthology for Writers. Ed. David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky. 4th ed. Boston: St. Martin s, 1993. 317 – 371.
Krondorfer, Bjorn. Remembrance and Reconciliation. New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1995.
Levi, Primo. Afterword. New York: Collier – Macmillan, 1965.
Todorov, Tzvetan. Facing the Extreme. New York: Metropolitan Books, 1996.