Today is the anniversary of the November Pogroms (Novemberpogrome in German) committed by the Nazi regime across Germany over the two days November 9 and 10, 1938.
For many years, those events were referred to collectively as Kristallnacht ("Night of the Broken Glass"). Over time many felt that the name minimized what actually occurred, first reducing it to a single night and also making it seem as though broken windows were the worst of the damage.
On those days, all across the country, 400 Jewish people were murdered. More than 1,400 synagogues and houses of worship were destroyed, along with 7,500 Jewish homes and businesses. Jewish cemeteries and community centers were also desecrated and some destroyed.
It is important to remember the central driving force of these actions. They occurred at the instigation of the central government, are were carried out locally all across the country by members of the SS (Schutzstaffel) and SA (Sturm Abeilung).
In the days after, 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps, where many died. Those who survived the imprisonment then were released weeks or months later.
Referring to the events as a pogrom reflects that they were a move to terrorize or destroy an entire group of people, but remains controversial among the German Jewish community.
"In Germany, the term pogrom has become a widespread designation for the events ... However, because “pogrom” signifies an act of violence initiated by the common people, its use is in danger of hiding the state’s central role in planning and directing the violent actions of 9–10 November 1938. "
---Jüdisches Museum Berlin, 9 November 1938: Kristallnacht
The events of November 9 - 10, 1938 were, for many Jewish citizens of Germany, the moment they realized they were in mortal danger. Since 1933, they had been systematically excluded from full participation in German society - first by prohibitions in attending schools or holding certain jobs, then restrictions on their freedom of movement, limits on where they could live, work and shop.
But after the 9 of November, things began to turn deadly quickly. By the end of 1945, just seven years later, the Nazis had killed more than 6 million Jews.
This morning, the Central Council of Jews in Germany held a memorial service at the Beth Zion synagogue in Mitte, as they do each year. The German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Chancellor Olaf Scholz attended.
There are also many other remembrance events throughout the city, in the different districts.
Later this evening, a group of neighbors will go around to clean and light candles at the Stolpersteine in our kiez.
Volunteer groups all over Berlin do this on a regular basis, mostly on November 9 and again on Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah).
The Stolpersteine ("stumbling stones") are commemorative brass plaques installed on top of concrete blocks in the pavement in front of the last freely chosen address of a victim of the Holocaust. The plaques states the name of the person, their birthdate and place and their date and place of death.
Started in Germany by the artist Gunter Demnig, there are now Stolpersteine placed at more than 100,000 addresses throughout Europe. They currently comprise the largest dispersed memorial in the world.
Although the number of memorials placed still only represents a tiny fraction of those who were murdered by the Nazis, I can't overstate. how much of an impact they have had on my understanding of the scale of the Holocaust.
I walk by them every day in my neighborhood. I have seen them almost everywhere I've visted in Europe - turning down a random street and there they are. In every neighborhood and place in Berlin, in Aachen, in Heidelberg, in Amsterdam, in Poland, everywhere.
Each block has the name of one person and what happened to them. I know the names of the families that once lived nearby. One was a toddler when she was sent to Riga with her family and gassed the next day.
So many people, from across an entire continent, gone.
They are still adding more Stolpersteine. The same neighborhood group is raising money to add another set to another known address.
Last month, the district of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg added memorial stones for a family of African ancestry who were murdered by the Nazis - the first time in Berlin the stones commemorate victims who were Black.
To learn more about the Stolpersteine project, you can visit Gunter Demnig's website dedicated to them.
To see the locations of Stolpersteine in Berlin and read the biographies of the people they represent, you can visit the website of the Coordination Office for Stolpersteine in Berlin.