Monday, 9 November 2009

A different German anniversary today

Amidst all the 20 years-on 'where were you when the Berlin Wall came down?' coverage this weekend, a snippet of news got buried: In Dresden a synagogue has been daubed with Nazi graffiti. This weekend is the anniversary of Kristallnacht.

The facts of Kristallnacht are, or should be, familiar. Nominally in response to the murder of a Nazi diplomatic official by a young deported Jewish man in Paris, members of the Stormtroopers or SA, dressed in plain clothes to give the impression of spontaneous popular riots, attacked Jewish homes, business and places of worship throughout Germany and Austria. As a result 90 Jews were killed, and 250 synagogues and 7,500 business were destroyed. In the immediate aftermath the authorities deported 25,000 people to the concentration camps.

The plan for the 'Night Of Breaking Glass' was that of propaganda minister Josef Goebbels. It did not mark the start of the Holocaust - it could be argued that lay in the Nuremburg Laws of 1935 when Jewish Germans were stripped of their civil rights - but it was a turning point. After it the work of repression would become more systematic, more bureaucratic and ultimately more 'industrial', culminating in the genocide of the Final Solution. And it would be entrusted to the more reliable and professional SS rather than the beer hall thugs of the SA.

It was no accident that the pogrom sprang from the mind of the Nazi's propaganda genius - or spin doctor in modern parlance. Essentially Goebbel's idea worked - baring a very few isolated incidents where ordinary Germans took the side of their Jewish neighbours - generally they either stood back and watched or cheered from the sidelines. In some cases they joined in.

The actions of the SA had succeeded in establishing a racist consensus; that there were dangerous and undesirable 'others' in the midst of German society. And here lies the relevance of Kristallnacht to the threat of the Far Right today. We are not going to see uniformed Fascists goose-stepping down our streets. That isn't the objective for any but the most boneheaded of Neo-Nazis. But they can generate a climate where 'others' are seen as the enemy within - this escalates to the occassional attack on a corner shop, and before you know it, to entire communities being hounded out of estates.

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