Seventy-one years ago today, my grandfather Felix Müller was dragged from his home in Frankfurt to the Buchenwald concentration camp. His brother, my great-uncle Leopold, was arrested at his home in Bad Kissingen and locked up in the local jail. It was "Kristallnacht," the night of mass action against German Jews ostensibly to punish them for a Jew's having shot and killed a German consular official in Paris.
A few years ago, I found my great-uncle's Gestapo file in an archive in Würzburg, Germany. It included this record of his November 10 arrest.
We tend to remember Kristallnacht as a moment in the larger episode we call "the Holocaust," and therefore can't help but see it as one step in a larger genocidal plan. But that's not what it was at the time. At the time, it was an act of reprisal against an internal enemy for that group's supposed collective responsibility for one individual's murder of a government officer.
It's worth noting that in today's New York Times, David Brooks takes the country to task for our "patronizing" speculation in recent days that Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan might be something other than the evil jihadi Brooks understands him to be. Says Brooks: "If public commentary wasn’t carefully policed, the assumption seemed to be, then the great mass of unwashed yahoos in Middle America would go off on a racist rampage." This rush from (rather than to) judgment "wasn’t the reaction of a morally or politically serious nation," he argues.
On this seventy-first anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogroms, I beg to disagree.