Kristallnacht: Night of the Broken Glass
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
On the night of November 9–10, 1938, the Nazis staged violent pogroms—state sanctioned, anti-Jewish riots—against the Jewish communities of Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland. These events came to be known as Kristallnacht (commonly translated as “Night of Broken Glass”), a reference to the broken windows of synagogues, Jewish-owned stores, community centers, and homes plundered and destroyed that night. Instigated by the Nazi regime, rioters burned or destroyed 267 synagogues, vandalized or looted 7,500 Jewish businesses, and killed at least 91 Jewish people. They also damaged many Jewish cemeteries, hospitals, schools, and homes as police and fire brigades stood aside.
Kristallnacht was a turning point in Nazi anti-Jewish policy that would culminate in the Holocaust—the systematic, state-sponsored mass murder of the European Jews.
On March 26, 2000, at the conclusion of his historic Jubilee pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Pope John Paul II visited the Western Wall, remnant of the ancient Jerusalem Temple, and placed a prayer in a crevice in the wall as Jews have done for centuries. This act crowned his lifelong commitment to furthering Catholic-Jewish understanding. The Pope’s prayer struck the major themes of his thoughts on Jews and Judaism: that Christians share with Jews reverence and worship of the same God, the common ancestry of Abraham to all who look to the Bible for inspiration, the unjust suffering directed against Jews over the millennia and the need for forgiveness for Christians and others who caused this suffering, the need to resolve to improve one’s future behavior in order to achieve genuine repentance, and, finally, recognition of Jews as the continuing people of God’s ongoing and eternal Covenant. After meditating at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the Pope placed in the wall a written prayer to God expressing deep sadness for all wrongs done to Jews by Christians. The prayer read:
“God of our fathers,
You chose Abraham and his descendants
To bring Your name to the nations;
We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those
Who in the course of history have caused these children of Yours to suffer
And asking Your forgiveness
We wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood
With the people of the Covenant.”
Throughout his priestly, episcopal and Petrine ministry, Pope John Paul II consistently condemned anti-Semitism as a sin and acknowledged the suffering of Jews throughout the ages and in the Holocaust. He used the Hebrew word ‘Shoah’ to speak about the Holocaust. John Paul II became a true embarkation point for Christians and for Jews. He taught both Christians and Jews not to be afraid of each other, nor to fear our deep, biblical narratives that unite, rather than divide us. Nothing can remove our sense of belonging to, participating in, and being the beneficiaries of God’s saving encounter with Israel and with the broken world, which occurred in the crucifixion of Jesus, who we Christians believe to be son of Israel and Son of God.
The photo below is of the Berlin Synagogue after it had been destroyed on this night. The other photos represent the healing that has taken place between Christians and Jews through the heroic gestures of St. John Paul II and Popes Benedict XVI and Francis.