Question: "What happened on Kristallnacht?"
Answer: Kristallnacht, a vitriolic outbreak of anti-Semitic lawlessness, occurred in Germany on November 9, 1938. Kristallnacht, which means “Night of Broken Glass,” saw the torching of Jewish synagogues and the vandalizing of Jewish homes, schools, cemeteries, hospitals, and businesses. During the Nazi-led turmoil, nearly one hundred Jews were murdered; immediately following the night of violence, 30,000 Jews were arrested and herded to Nazi concentration camps. Kristallnacht is also known as the November Pogrom.
Leading up to Kristallnacht were several key events. After Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany in 1933, Germany’s Jewish population began facing a series of government-sanctioned policies that were repressive and dehumanizing. As Nazi propaganda falsely blamed Germany’s mounting economic and social ills on the Jews, Jewish businesses were subject to boycotts, Jewish civil servants were dismissed from their jobs, marriages between Jews and Aryans were strictly forbidden, Jewish students were denied admission into German universities, and books, plays, and music by Jewish authors and composers were burned.
By the fall of 1938, these largely non-violent restrictions gave way to Hitler’s “Final Solution,” a euphemism for the wholesale extermination of Jewish people. The violence of Kristallnacht was triggered by the assassination of Ernst vom Rath, a German diplomat in Paris. The gunman was Herschel Grynszpan, a teenage Jew whose parents had been forcibly exiled from their home in Hanover, Germany, to Poland. The Nazi Party’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, used the teen’s attack against the diplomat to stoke the flames of anti-Semitism. Beginning with the “Night of Broken Glass,” or Kristallnacht, until the end of World War II, some 6 million European Jews were mercilessly hunted down and slaughtered in what is now known as the Holocaust.
Anti-Semitism has no place in authentic Christianity. Hostility toward Jewish people is grievous, abominable, and inexcusable—a scourge that should never contaminate the words, actions, communications, or teachings of Christ’s born-again followers. As believers, we must never forget our faith’s undeniable Jewish roots, nor should we forget the debt we owe to God’s chosen people.
The apostle Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, was a devout Jew of impeccable credentials: “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee” (Hebrews 3:5, ESV). After his Damascus Road conversion, Paul exchanged the rites, rules, and rituals of Judaism for the gospel of Jesus Christ, yet he never lost his love for his fellow Jews. On the contrary, Paul wrote, “I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen” (Romans 9:1–5, ESV).
For the sake of his people, the apostle Paul would have forfeited his salvation if such an exchange were possible. As Paul considered the Jews’ worth beyond that of his very soul, surely, we must never speak or act in ways that bring offense to the beloved people chosen by God, the apple of His eye (Zechariah 2:8). Let us remember that God revealed Himself first to the Jews while the rest of the world bowed to mythical gods and grotesque idols made of wood, metal, and stone. And let us also remember our Lord Jesus Christ was born a Jew, a descendant of King David, Israel’s greatest monarch (Matthew 1; Revelation 22:16). Mistreating Jews is an offense that stirs the anger of God (Genesis 12:3).
Regrettably, America and Europe are experiencing new and frequently violent surges of anti-Semitism. Hostility toward Jews is on the rise—and not necessarily from the fringe element of society. Many politicians, entertainers, and journalists show their contempt toward Jews in words and deeds ranging from subtle to overt. As anti-Semitism gains momentum, those engaged in this bigotry will be playing directly into Satan’s hand. Unlike the Christians in Germany who were largely silent during Kristallnacht and the Nazi campaign to annihilate the Jewish people, may it never be said the twenty-first century church stood idly by while an unbelieving world renewed its campaign of hatred against the Jewish people.