Some weeks ago, a friend shared a YouTube clip that followed Rhonda Fink-Whitman --- daughter of a survivor --- as she interviewed Pennsylvania college students to gauge their depth of knowledge about the Holocaust.
As it turned out, most knew nothing. The exceptions were a few students native to states where education about the Holocaust is mandatory for public school students: California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Florida. My friend wondered what the results of a similar survey in Iowa would be, and I don't know.
Some time later, I came across the transcript of one of those 1960s Nixon Tapes, this one involving a conversation between then-President Richard Nixon and beloved Christian evangelist Billy Graham. In it, they agreed --- as if they were fully sane --- that something had to be done about America's "Jew problem."
This comes up now because the night just ending, Nov. 9-10, and the hours after are the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, often translated as the night of broken glass, generally recognized as a turning point within the Third Reich from anti-Jewish rhetoric and legislation toward the Final Solution. Six million Jews and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of other "undesirables" --- Roma, the handicapped, Poles, gay men --- were rounded up and killed as that "solution" was implemented.
On Kristallnacht, in carefully orchestrated attacks, mobs of Brownshirts, Hitler Youth members and other civilians targeted synagogues and Jewish-owned business, buildings and schools, as well as Jews themselves, across Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia. As many as 1,000 synagogues were burned. Broken glass that littered streets after these attacks resulted in the name.
In the days that followed, an estimated 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and imprisoned simply because they were Jews.
While the events of Nov. 9-10, 1938, were widely publicized and shock and alarm were expressed worldwide, the event was largely forgotten and attention turned elsewhere. Germans for the most part reacted with indifference, encouraging to Hitler to accelerate his "cleansing" campaign.
Although there have been instances of genocide since --- Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda among them --- the Holocaust stands alone in human history. It was thought that it could and would be used to teach lessons about the potential of humanity's streak of pure evil that would resonate through the centuries. That apparently has not been the case.
We throw the words "Nazi," "Fascist" and "Holocaust" --- even "genocide" --- around rather loosely these days, hauling them out as ammunition in the various holy wars now confined for the most part in the United States to political debate. Nearly all of that reflects ignorance and inattention to history.
I looked up genocide in that fount of all useful information, Wikipedia, the other day and discovered that after Rwanda, Gregory Stanton, president of Genocide Watch, had developed a briefing paper for the U.S. Department of State entitled "The 8 Stages of Genocide."
Just for the heck of it, on this 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, take a look and see at which stage you are this morning. I'm willing to bet we've all been at one or more of the preliminary stages at one time or another:
1. Classification: People are divided into "us" and "them"; 2. Symbolization: When combined with hatred, symbols may be forced upon members of pariah groups; 3. Dehumanization: One group denies the humanity the other group: Members are equated with animals, vermin, insects or diseases; 4. Organization: Genocide is always organized; special military units or militias often are trained and armed; 5. Polarization: Hate groups broadcast polarizing propaganda; 6. Preparation: Victims are identified and separated out because of their religious, ethnic or other identity; 7. Extermination: It is "extermination" to the killers because they do not believe their victims to be fully human; 8. Denial: The perpetrators deny that they committed any crimes.
And here's the Fink-Whitman clip. It's worth watching.