Mr. President, I rise today to remember those who perished and suffered during Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, seventy-five years ago on November 9 and 10 in Germany, German-occupied Austria, and German-occupied Czechoslovakia.
Earlier that year, in March 1938, Germany absorbed Austria – the so-called Anschluss. Then, at the September 1938 Munich conference, France, Britain and Italy allowed Germany to annex the western rim of Czechoslovakia and to claim its three million Sudeten Germans as its own. In both acts, the concept of loyalty to the state was equated with ethnic identity.
Then, in October 1938, Germany expelled seventeen thousand Jews with Polish citizenship from Germany into Poland. These families were arrested at night, transported by train to the Polish border, and effectively left in limbo, as Poland initially refused to accept them. The son of two of these expellees, a Polish Jew in France, took revenge: He assassinated a German diplomat in Paris.
Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels subsequently asserted that “World Jewry” was responsible for the assassination and gave the signal for the start of the first large open pogrom in Germany: "the Führer,” he stated, “has decided that . . . demonstrations should not be prepared or organized by the Party, but insofar as they erupt spontaneously, they are not to be hampered.”
As described by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum:
“The rioters destroyed 267 synagogues throughout Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland. Many synagogues burned throughout the night, in full view of the public and of local firefighters, who had received orders to intervene only to prevent flames from spreading to nearby buildings. SA and Hitler Youth members across the country shattered the shop windows of an estimated 7,500 Jewish-owned commercial establishments, and looted their wares. Jewish cemeteries became a particular object of desecration in many regions. The pogrom proved especially destructive in Berlin and Vienna, home to the two largest Jewish communities in the German Reich. Mobs of SA men roamed the streets, attacking Jews in their houses and forcing Jews they encountered to perform acts of public humiliation. Although murder did not figure in the central directives, Kristallnacht claimed the lives of at least 91 Jews between the 9th and 10th of November. Police records of the period document a high number of rapes and of suicides in the aftermath of the violence.”
Kristallnacht was thus a crucial turning point in the Holocaust – moving from a policy of removing Jews from Germany and German occupied lands, to murdering them. It also stands as an enduring example of the danger of associating citizenship with ethnicity, of tying loyalty to the state with blood identity.
Kristallnacht is but one example of how hate can proliferate and erode our societies, and why I have worked tirelessly to advance global efforts to ensure atrocities such as this never happen again. In my capacity as a Chair of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe and decades long work as a Member of Congress, I have advanced efforts to combat anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance and discrimination in North America and Europe.
This work has ranged from Commission hearings to raise awareness of the continuing scourge of anti-Semitism to leading inter-parliamentary efforts to create Personal Representatives or high level officials within the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to combat Anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance. Sadly, the election of anti-Semitic political parties in Europe coupled with efforts to adopt circumcision, ritual slaughter, and other laws in Europe that would alter Jewish life and continuing incidents of anti-Semitic violence let us know that the work to eradicate anti-Semitism is not yet complete.
As we honor the 75th Anniversary of Kristallnacht, I ask that you join me in honoring the victims and families of that horrible tragedy and join me in fighting hate and bias in all its forms.
Thank you, Mr. President.