On the afternoon of Wednesday, November 9, 1938, Joseph Goebbels was told that the German diplomat Ernst Vom Rath had died of his wounds. Rath had been shot two days earlier in Paris, by a young Jew named Herschel Grynszpan.
The death of the diplomat signaled the beginning of the pogroms of Kristallnacht, "the Night of Broken Glass" - a Nazi term that everyone uses for some reason, although it far from expresses what took place: Jewish citizens were murdered and wounded, and synagogues and stores were set on fire. In the weeks that followed, thousands of Jews were detained in concentration camps, and discriminatory measures against German Jews increased.
Goebbels, the minister of propaganda in Hitler's government, was in Munich that day, participating in a festive dinner at City Hall. Though Hitler was there, too, the pogroms have usually been attributed to Goebbels' initiative. He made a personal effort to ensure that history would not forget him: Everything is written in his diary, including a specific order to destroy the synagogue in Berlin. When there was a danger that the fires in the synagogues would spread to non-Jewish property, Goebbels gave an order to deploy firemen, so that the insurance companies would not collapse; it was also important to him to prevent looting, in case events got out of hand.
Goebbels' diary has enabled several Holocaust deniers to acquit Hitler of responsibility for what was done: According to the minister, Hitler was only informed about what was happening, and ordered the police not to intervene. But in advance of the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the prestigious German Institute of Contemporary History is publishing a new study that determines for the first time that the Fuehrer himself sent his thugs into the streets of Munich; among other things, they set fire to the Ohel Jacob synagogue on Herzog-Rudolf Street.
A researcher from the institute, Dr. Angela Hermann, an expert on Goebbels, came to this conclusion based on a rereading of the diary, which reports that the perpetrators of the pogrom in Munich were Hitler's veteran fighters. The reference is to the original members of the Nazi movement, who were with Hitler during the so-called Beer Hall Putsch on November 8-9, 1923, when he failed in his attempt to seize power. Over the years, the veterans of that event maintained a connection with each other as an organization, and once a year were invited to commemorate the anniversary of the putsch.
In reviewing a detailed reconstruction of the dinner on November 9, 1938, including the seating plan of the guests, Hermann learned that 39 of the diners were among the veterans of the 1923 coup attempt; six of them sat at the table of Hitler himself. Shortly before 10:30 P.M. they got up from the table, left Hitler and the other guests and went out to riot in the city. Hermann believes it is impossible that they did so on their own initiative.
Later that night, Goebbels noticed the flames rising from Ohel Jacob. According to his diary, he tried unsuccessfully to dispatch firemen there. Hermann believes that there could have been only one reason why the minister's order was not carried out: The fire in the synagogue was started by people who were acting on personal orders from Hitler - possibly specific but, at the least, implicit ones.
In her article, which appears in the new issue of the institute's quarterly, Hermann also addresses the issues of how many Jews were murdered that night and during the following days, and the number of synagogues and stores that were set ablaze and destroyed. It turns out that the figures are a matter of debate. The Web sites of the Yad Vashem Holocaust authority in Jerusalem rely for some reason on the official statistics of Nazi Germany, and determine that 91 (or, on another site, 92) Jews were murdered, and hundreds of others were murdered in the concentration camps during those days. The Web site states that 177 synagogues were destroyed and set on fire - this, too, based on Nazi records.
The researcher from the Institute of Contemporary History believes the figures are much higher than those of Yad Vashem: She accepts the data posted on the Internet by Jerusalem biologist and Holocaust researcher Meir Schwartz, who estimates that the number of those killed ranges from 1,300 to 1,500 - including Jews who committed suicide as a result of the pogroms, and those who were murdered in the camps. According to his research, 1,406 synagogues and places of worship were destroyed.
In commemoration of the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht next week, many memorial events are expected in Germany and Austria, as well as at Mishkenot Sha'ananim in Jerusalem.
We and the blacks
Early in 1967, David Ben-Gurion received a gift from America, the book "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and wrote a thank-you note to the sender, Stanley Blumberg of Baltimore, Maryland. This is one of the first books that I read in my youth, at age 9 or 10, wrote Ben-Gurion, who read it in a Hebrew translation and said it made a deep impression.
Harriet Beecher Stowe's story of a submissive slave was translated by Avraham Singer and published in Warsaw in 1896. The people in charge of public relations at the Foreign Ministry are likely to be interested in Ben-Gurion?s letter, because if Barack Obama wins the election, they will be confronting a real problem: Judaism doesn't like blacks very much.
I can imagine that the state's PR experts have recorded the fact that Moses was married to a black woman and that the Queen of Sheba's visit with King Solomon gave rise to one of the most important African nations. Fortunately, the Bible is almost entirely free of expressions of racism against blacks. Judaism also has some outstanding humanistic expressions, such as "all men are created in the image [of God]."
Blacks were among the American soldiers who liberated the Dachau camp. Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal managed to force the Berlin municipality to name a street after Jesse Owens, the black American athlete who won four gold medals at Hitler?s Olympic Games in 1936.
The Foreign Ministry will probably recall the old argument that Israel was born as a result of its war against British colonialism, and that it encouraged the independence of many African nations. The people there must have a picture of Golda Meir with Miriam Makeba in their archive. Jews were prominent in the blacks' struggle to abolish discrimination in the United States. Israel itself is home to tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews, who settled in Israel after heroic operations to rescue them; to the community of black Americans in Dimona - the Black Hebrews; and to a number of black basketball stars. The use of the pejorative term kushi (Negro) has disappeared; in one of the Israeli Supreme Court rulings, the term "Afro-American" appears, as is sometimes the case in the Israeli media as well.
All the rest is highly embarrassing: In post-biblical Judaism, blacks embodied the religious hatred of the goy, a symbol of the ?Other.? Dirty, ugly, inferior, bestial, lustful. According to Yehuda Halevi and Maimonides, blacks are ranked somewhere in the biological space between man and monkeys. There is also an attempt to prove that Moses' wife was not black at all, but white as snow.
Abraham Melamed, a professor of Jewish philosophy at the University of Haifa, wrote a whole book on the subject, called "The Image of the Black in Jewish Culture," which mentions terrible ideas including the "natural slavery" of black men, the comparison of slaves to donkeys, the concept that there is no prohibition against engaging in sexual relations in their presence, etc. "Ten kabs of drunkenness came down into the world," it says in Tractate Kiddushin. "Nine were taken by blacks and one by the entire rest of the world."
The Foreign Ministry would therefore do well to purchase all the copies of Melamed's book, which was also published in English, and stamp them "top secret." At the very least.
Several American Jews were involved in the slave trade; some of them were also among the slave owners. In Israeli kindergartens they used to sing the Hebrew children?s song "Kushi is a Little Dog," and to read "Little Black Sambo." Jews were among those responsible for the racist tone once characteristic of Hollywood films. Israel tied its fate to that of South Africa. It enjoys the support of extreme right-wing Evangelist Christians, who are not exactly known for their love of blacks. And how much trouble Israel has made for the black community in Dimona; how many difficulties it has piled up on Ethiopian immigrants. An ambassador of Ethiopian descent should be dispatched to Washington.
This story appears in the new biography by Nurit Gertz of her husband Amos Kenan, who, during the Mandate period, was a member of the Lehi (pre-state Jewish underground): One day he went with several of his friends to rob the coffers of the Jerusalem Municipality. The clerks gave them 300 pounds sterling. The next day Kenan read in the newspaper that the terrorists had stolen 700 pounds. It turned out that there were two safes. The clerks gave the robbers the one that contained 300 pounds. In the second there were 400 pounds. The clerks had robbed it themselves
Haaretz.com, the online edition of Haaretz Newspaper in Israel, offers real-time breaking news, opinions and analysis from Israel and the Middle East. Haaretz.com provides extensive and in-depth coverage of Israel, the Jewish World and the Middle East, including defense, diplomacy, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the peace process, Israeli politics, Jerusalem affairs, international relations, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the Israeli business world and Jewish life in Israel and the Diaspora.