The Conspiracy of Kristallnacht

October 28, 2020 by Danny Hochberg
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Kristallnacht is often referred to as the “Night of Broken Glass”.

Danny Hochberg

The name refers to the wave of violent anti-Jewish pogroms which took place on November 9 and 10, 1938. It took place in Germany and annexed Austria and signified the transition to violent means to deal with the Jews, and ultimately led to the Final Solution.

German officials announced that Kristallnacht was a spontaneous response to the assassination of Ernst vom Rath, a German embassy official who was shot by Polish Jew, Herschel Grynszpan.

In reality, Kristallnacht was the culmination of years of anti-Jewish activity which included antisemitic propaganda and the passing from 1933, of over 400 decrees and regulations that restricted all aspects of Jewish lives both public and private.

Germans were constantly reminded of the struggle against foreign enemies, communists and Jewish subversion. The steady strangulation of German Jews freedoms, and the oppressive and continual antisemitic propaganda encouraged passivity and acceptance of the impending measures against the Jews, as these appeared to depict the Nazi government as stepping in and restoring order.

These conspiracy theories were how the Nazis justified many of their actions. They had the precedence of history on their side. Since early Christianity, Jews have been associated with plots to control the world and instate a Jewish tyranny. The blood libels of the Middle Ages and blame for outbreaks of the Black death being well know examples.

Antisemitic conspiracy theories took a modern turn in the 19th century with the publication of German author Hermann Goedsche’s 1868 novel Biarritzwhich describes the devil appearing before a mysterious rabbinical cabal to plan a Jewish takeover of the world.

It likely inspired the authors of the Protocols of Zion a few years later. The Protocols is the ultimate conspiracy theory blueprint. Published in Russia, it purports to be the minutes of meetings held secretly by Jewish wise men plotting to control the world. Exposed many times as a forgery, it has nevertheless continued to be translated, published and distributed across the globe.

According to conspiracy theories, the world is divided into two camps: manipulators and the manipulated; those in the know (the minority), and those who do not (the majority). Their simplicity is a comfortable shortcut to explain the complexities of society.

Conspiracy theories are dangerous exactly because of their simplicity. They seem so logical that to argue against them seems dishonest. Even worse, those that challenge them are portrayed as being in the service of the plotters.

Conspiracy theories have only intensified thanks to social media. An example in recent times is the terror attacks of Sept. 11, which claim that Israeli agents carried out the attacks, thus confirming the Jewish master plan to rule the world. Other conspiracists argued that 4,000 Jews who worked at the World Trade Centre stayed home on Sept. 11, because the Mossad warned them about the destruction of the Twin Towers. I visited New York regularly and always stayed at the same hotel. Each morning I would swim in the pool, and I got to know the African American pool attendant well. He was an affable bloke, but he was also a committed advocate of both these theories. When you hear it firsthand, it is as disturbing as it is frightening.

And, more recently there is QAnon, the vast — and patently false — theory that Democrats across the country are running a secret cabal to abduct and abuse children, harvest their blood and defeat Donald Trump. Although more subtle, it is now accepted that QAnon is inherently anti-Semitic — and only growing more so.

QAnon has become increasingly mainstream. Politicians, influencers and President Trump himself have made flattering comments about the movement, and QAnon has been linked to some very disturbing events and pronouncements such as Congressional Republican nominee Marjorie Taylor Greene promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory and “Pizzagate,” a related conspiracy theory that claims Clinton and other top Democratic figures were running a child sex-trafficking ring beneath a pizza shop in Washington, D.C.

Social Media platforms like Facebook and Twitter make it easier to propagate fake news and conspiracy theories. Before these platforms, it was difficult for ideas to gain traction due to the difficulties of reaching a sizeable audience. Today, when Facebook has 2.7 billion users and Twitter 330 million, not to mention all the other social platforms, you can now accumulate a critical mass.

This is not helped by the deterioration of the mainstream media. Instead of looking to trusted journalists and news sources, which break stories, research facts and must pass through editors, people accept a tweet or post, which have no filters, but are accepted as news.

The social platforms give fringe stories and conspiracy theories credibility by association. They are posted alongside credible stories, and it is often impossible to identify real news from fake news.

People often buy into conspiracy theories because they rationalise a conspiracy theory that falls in line with their pre-existing worldview.

And this brings us back to the ability of the Nazis to manipulate the German people. The German people, and many of the peoples of Europe, after centuries of antisemitism, were fodder for the Nazi propaganda. Kristallnacht and the Final Solution were made easier by the prejudices already held by large parts of the population.

Kristallnacht

Commemorating Kristallnacht reminds us of the fragility of civilization and the rule of law. Antisemitism remains stubbornly alive, and lately, seems to be thriving.

The “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017 was ostensibly about protecting a statue of Robert E. Lee. It was about asserting the legitimacy of white supremacy. But the demonstrators chanted anti-Semitic lines like “Jews will not replace us” The demonstration was suffused with anti-black racism, but also with anti-Semitism. Marchers displayed swastikas on banners and shouted slogans like “blood and soil,” a phrase drawn from Nazi ideology. When hateful ideologies coalesce, it takes individuals, groups and even societies to dangerous places.

To prevent future Holocausts, it will not be enough to combat anti-Semitism. We will need to fight for broader values and increased protections of minority rights for all. Combatting parochialism and intolerance must be a global imperative. That is the message of Kristallnacht.

Daniel Hochberg is a member of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies Shoah Remembrance Committee and is on the committees of a number of other Communal organisations.

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