Kristallnacht

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On November 8, 1938, my mother and grandmother were visiting relatives in Kaiserslautern. The following day they received a telegram from my grandfather: “return to London immediately”.

“How could Columbus have discovered America when Native Americans were already here” (Bold, 140)? The answer is easy; history was written by Columbus. The Native Americans’ history is not included in the official record. Remembering is one way to make sure that history is written correctly and stays on track.

Mourning, as a special form of remembering, notes Clarence Joldersma: “… forces us to interpret the present as implicated in the suffering of others in the past while simultaneously presenting our responsibility to address this. Through mourning’s disruption of the present by the past, the past gains an ethical hold over the present” (Joldersma, 140).   In other words, remembering the significant events of the past, and especially those where our ancestors suffered, should teach us and cause us not to repeat such actions. The question above, asks us to revisit the discovery question; may be restate it to recognise the archeological evidence.

On the occasion of the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, German President, Frank-Walter Steinmeirer asked us to remember and not forget:


“In our actions we must prove that we Germans have truly learned from the past and truly become more vigilant because of our history,” he said. “We need to take action any time another person’s dignity is violated. We need to take a stand when a language of hatred spreads its tentacles. We cannot allow a situation where some people claim once again to be the sole voice of the ‘true people’ and marginalize others.”

— Deutsche Welle (DW https://www.dw.com/en/german-politicians-remember-nazi-kristallnacht-pogrom/a-46220692)

These words, of course, refer to the mounting intolerance expressed through racism, white supremacy, etc., not in just his country, but in many parts of the world. But not stopping there, Steinmeirer speaks to the political leaders that accept such positions to achieve their own ends and position themselves to be the sole source of truth. When assessing such leaders, it is insufficient to measure only the good things done, without looking at the other side of the balance.

My mother and grandmother were able to leave England in the Spring of 1940, during the Battle of the Atlantic. My mother recalled ships around them being torpedoed as they cross the North Atlantic. So certain was their fear that England would fall, they were willing to take the risk of crossing. My relatives in Germany, for the most part, faired poorly during the War, losing everything: their homes, siblings, children, parents; their dignity; their culture. Many were killed or disappeared. The aunt my mother was visiting in 1938, lost both her sons. They were never heard from.

This is what I remember. This puts into perspective the implications of replaying those past mistakes; where the language of hatred can lead.


Joldersma, Clarence W. 2014. Benjamin’s angel of history and the work of mourning in ethical remembrance: Understanding the effect of W.G. sebald’s novels in the classroom. Studies in Philosophy and Education 33 (2): 135.

Bold, Christine. “Ethical Remembrance and Democratic Transformation”. A Review of Simon, Roger I. 2005. The Touch of the Past: Remembrance, Learning, and Ethics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.


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