| Politics |Phileleftheros


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On the occasion of the anniversary of the ‘Night of Broken Glass’ [Translator’s note: ‘Kristallnacht’ in German] on November 9, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum released a series of photographs from that horrific night in 1938 that started it all, leading to the extermination of millions of Jews. 

The photographs, previously unpublished, recently came into the foundation’s possession. One of them shows a crowd of smiling, well-dressed middle-aged Germans, both men and women, casually standing by as a Nazi officer smashes a shop window. In another, officers carry piles of Jewish books, which were obviously going to be burned. Another image shows a Nazi officer pouring gasoline into the pews of a synagogue before setting it on fire.

That night, Germans and Austrians attacked, plundered and burned Jewish shops and houses, destroyed 1,400 synagogues, killed 92 Jews and summarily rounded up and sent 30,000 Jews to concentration camps. That violent night is considered to have marked the beginning of the Holocaust, during which Nazi Germany murdered 6 million Jews.

Eighty-four years have passed since then, and it seems that humanity has now forgotten what bigotry and the targeting of certain groups leads to. The photo of the well-dressed crowd enthusiastically watching the Nazi officer destroying people’s property, simply because they were Jewish, is perhaps the most shocking. We’ve seen thousands of photos of people made of nothing but skin and bones, we’ve seen photos of concentration camps and crematoria, we’ve seen photos of people being led en masse to their deaths… But in this one, we see ourselves. Spectators of a situation. All those ‘proper’ people who are prepared, if not to become accomplices, then to accept and even applaud evil.

The person in charge of Yad Vashem’s photographic archive explained that the photographs serve to dispel the myth that the attacks were “a spontaneous outbreak of violence” and not a pogrom orchestrated by the state. The photos show firefighters, SS special police officers and civilians participating in the ‘Night of Broken Glass’, so coined after the shattered glass windows of shops and other establishments.

The around half a million Jews who lived in Germany at that time were scapegoated by the regime for all the woes Germany faced; they were blamed for the country’s defeat in the First World War, the hyperinflation (1921-1923) and the Great Depression of the 1930s. Thus, in early 1933, the German government enacted a series of anti-Semitic laws.

At a time when living conditions are becoming difficult, we too are looking for scapegoats. For this reason, it is good to remind ourselves of such historical events over and over again.


Daily columnist at Phileleftheros for 20 years and editor-in-chief of the architecture magazine Synthesis. Earlier she worked for Alitheia and Politis. She was born in Dikomo and has been living permanently in Nicosia. She is married with one son.

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