Students and faculty gathered at Harvard Hillel last night to hear David I. Bernstein, dean of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, lecture on Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass), on the eve of the event’s 67th anniversary.
In his talk, Bernstein said that current understanding of event’s history would help ensure that a similar atrocity will not be repeated.
"Kristallnacht" refers to the night of Nov. 9, 1938, when the Nazi government instigated attacks on Jews, their property, and their synagogues throughout Germany and Austria.
By the morning of Nov. 10, more than 7,000 Jewish businesses had been destroyed, 200 synagogues burned down, and cemeteries and schools vandalized. Bernstein said it would have taken the leading Belgian industry a full year to produce the amount of glass destroyed in that one night.
The Nazis blamed damages on the Jews, who had to pay high reparations.
Kristallnacht became the first state-sponsored physical brutality against the Jewish people, according to Bernstein, who called the pogrom "organized spontaneity."
Bernstein suggested that contemporary Americans might be able to relate more easily to educated, urbane citizens struck down by government, legislation, and bystanders in Kristallnacht than to the phantasmagorical skeletons of Auschwitz.
Situating the atrocities in a broader historical contexts, Bernstein traced the implementation of anti-Semitic laws established by the Nazis, beginning with the so-called "Law for Restoration of the Public Service," which expelled all Jews that worked for the German state.
"Nazis were brilliant with euphemism," Bernstein said.
After the implementation of this law, he continued, boycotts against Jewish property was encouraged.
Gradually, the restrictions escalated into the renowned Nuremberg Laws—legislation that deprived Jews of German citizenship and the attendant voting rights, Bernstein said.
He also focused on what he suggested was contemporary American Jews’ ambivalent response to the events of Kristallnacht. Seventy-seven percent of the American Jews expressed opposition to increasing the U.S.’ immigration quotas to give their German peers amnesty.
"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing," Bernstein said, invoking a quote from Edmund Burke.
His talk was one of several events on campus this week that seek to remember what scholars consider the first physical stigmatization of the Holocaust.
In addition to yesterday’s lecture, Porter Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures Eric Rentschler will host a special screening commemorating Kristallnacht in his course, "Fantasy Production in the Third Reich," at the Carpenter Center Auditorium at 4 p.m. today.
Jayme J. Herschkopf ’06, a student programmer at Hillel who is also a Crimson editor, said that, to her knowledge, Kristallnacht had not been commemorated previously on campus, apart from over e-mail lists.
According to the event’s organizers, Hillel hoped to try something new.
"This year we decided to do something different, additional," said Michael A. Simon, director of programming at Hillel.
The events of Kristallnacht, Simon said, have a relevance to current human-rights crises, like those underway in Darfur.
"Commemorations are a way to awaken us, work for memory and action, and try to make sure things like the Holocaust do not happen again," he said.