Kristallnacht Comparisons

By Rolene Marks

There is a startling new trend emerging in the media. Commentators wishing to make a point or push a political agenda are resorting to Holocaust comparisons, in particular Kristallnacht. It is abhorrent and trivializes the experience of the victims of the Holocaust and survivors.

During Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, a synagogue burns in Siegen, Germany. November 10, 1938. (courtesy of Shamash: The Jewish Internet Consortium.)

Several months ago it was CNN anchorwoman, Christiane Amanpour, who drew the comparison between Kristallnacht and the Trump administration.

“This week 82 years ago, Kristallnacht happened,” Amanpour said in the monologue. “It was the Nazis’ warning shot across the bow of our human civilization that led to genocide against a whole identity, and in that tower of burning books, it led to an attack on fact, knowledge, history and truth. After four years of a modern-day assault on those same values by Donald Trump, the Biden-Harris team pledges a return to norms, including the truth.”

CNN’s Christiane Amanpour says she regrets equating President Donald Trump’s tenure to Kristallnacht, an attack on Jews in Nazi Germany seen historically as the Holocaust’s launch.

This resulted in an out pouring of condemnation from Jewish organisations and individuals who were understandably appalled. Amanpour apologized for “juxtaposing the Trump administration with Nazi crimes’ but the gauntlet had been lowered, paving the way for others to do the same.

“I observed the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht, as I often do. It is the event that began the horrors of the Holocaust. I also noted President Trump’s attacks on history, facts, knowledge, and truth. I should not have juxtaposed the two thoughts. Hitler and his evils stand alone, of course, in history,” she continued. “I regret any pain my statement may have caused. My point was to say how democracy can potentially slip away, and how we must always zealously guard our democratic values,” Amanpour added.

But there it was. Once the comparison was out and despite the apology, it gave the greenlight to others to follow suit.

Following the violence that took place in Washington DC when a violent mob stormed the Capitol Building, social media platforms have cracked down and removed far-right individuals and groups like QAnon and The Proud Boys from their platforms. They have also cracked down on US President Donald Trump, shutting down his Twitter profile, Facebook and YouTube pages and others. What is strange is that the genocidal Ayatollah Al Khameini from Iran who routinely denies the Holocaust and calls for the eradication of “cancerous” Israel is still allowed a platform. Tech giants Apple, Google and Cloud technology, AWS have also removed platforms like Parler, long seen as a stage for far right rhetoric. The cyber world is purging what they see as far right hate speech. Pity they aren’t purging some anti-Semites….

Some took to the airwaves and to Twitter to lament.

Former Republican Congressman for Iowa, Steve King (known for making racist comments in the past) and Fox News host, Jeanine Pirro, both compared the de-platforming of alt-right voices from social media to Kristallnacht.

“I have lost 8,000 followers on this Twitter account in one day. Apple, Google, Facebook, & others have cancelled many conservatives. Last night was cyber god’s Kristallnacht!” King wrote on Twitter. Um, no.

Jeanine Pirro remarked on air, “They gave us a taste of this pre-election when they suppressed the Hunter Biden story, and now that they’ve won, what we’re seeing is the kind of censorship that is akin to a Kristallnacht,” she said. Sigh.

Pirro tried to qualify her statement. “Although book burning started earlier, Kristallnacht included the destruction of Jewish stores, homes & synagogues containing rare Jewish books & Torahs. My reference was in context of books. The Holocaust was the greatest hate crime the world ever tolerated. I abhor all violence,” she wrote.

Fox News host former New York State judge Jeanine Pirro calls Parler backlash “akin to a Kristallnacht” days after the deadly attempted coup on Capitol Hill.

Fox commentator, Glenn Beck has likened it to a “digital ghetto”. I have no words.

You would think they would know better. Former Governor of California and Terminator icon, Arnold Shwarzenegger, in a recent speech made the comparison of events in Washington DC to Kristallnacht. While he was careful to acknowledge Kristallnacht and explain it in historical context, his speech made me very uncomfortable with the reference. Both the Capitol attack and Kristallnacht, he argued, were the actions of violent groups motivated by lies from their leader. The mob that approached the Capitol, urged on by President Donald Trump earlier that day,  chanted that the election was stolen from him, while Kristallnacht was the work of a group Schwarzenegger called “the Nazi equivalent of the Proud Boys” (a far right, antisemitic group) who responded to the antisemitic libels put forward by Adolf Hitler and his ministers. While the former Governor made some very poignant and powerful points about democracy, invoking Kristallnacht was in the worst possible taste.

In a video posted to Twitter, Arnold Schwarzenegger compared the riot at the Capitol last week to Kristallnacht saying  “My father and our neighbors were misled also with lies, and I know where such lies lead.”
 

What was Kristallnacht?

Kristallnacht also known as the Night of Broken Glass, was a pogrom against Jews carried out by SA (Stormabteilung) paramilitary forces and civilians including Hitler Youth throughout Nazi Germany on 9–10 November 1938. The German authorities looked on without intervening, in fact they encouraged it. The name Kristallnacht (“Crystal Night”) comes from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after the windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings and synagogues were smashed, looted and burnt to the ground. The pretext for the attacks was the assassination of the German Diplomat, Ernst vom Rath by Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old German-born Polish Jew living in Paris. Jews were forced to pay for the damage incurred to their property.

Jewish homes, hospitals and schools were ransacked as attackers demolished buildings with sledgehammers. Rioters destroyed 267 synagogues throughout Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland. Over 7,000 Jewish businesses were damaged or destroyed and 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps. British historian Martin Gilbert wrote that no event in the history of German Jews between 1933 and 1945 was so widely reported as it was happening, and the accounts from foreign journalists working in Germany sent shockwaves around the world.

Citizens of Austria, where Arnold Schwarzenegger grew up, watch in Graz as the Jewish cemetery’s ceremonial hall burns. (US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Dokumentationsarchiv des Oesterreichischen Widerstandes)

Kristallnacht stands alone as a historical event, steeped in hatred that was the precursor to the destruction of two thirds of European Jewry in the Holocaust. The Jews of Europe were hunted down and marked for murder, regardless of age, gender or social strata but simply because they were Jewish. To be Jewish meant you were sentenced to death. There is absolutely no comparison of this to having your social media profile shut down because of your political leanings.

What these comments expose is a glaring ignorance and trivializing of not just the Holocaust and the historic experience of Jews, but the current climate where antisemitism is rising and where Jews are often the targets of not just the far right but the left as well and this is prevalent on social media.

One thing remains clear, the need for Holocaust education has never been more important.

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