Monday, November 09, 2009

German History, Good and Bad

It was 20 years ago today that the Berlin Wall came down. It had been coming for some time - the eastern Bloc was coming apart in the summer of 89, with demonstrations at the wall for some time (Wikipedia's account.) And then, Günter Schabowski, a Politburo member, announced that travel restrictions would be lifted, immediately. A mistake - travel restrictions were being lifted, but there was not supposed to be an official timetable - Schabowski didn't actually know anything about the plans, and gave the timing on his own. But the news was broadcast, and people went to the wall - and another man, a border guard named Harald Jäger, after not being able to get an official answer on what to do - opened his gate and let people through. And it all ended well.

Alas, not all anniversaries from German history are so happy. November 9 is also the 71st anniversary of Kristallnacht - the pogrom organized against Jews after the death of a diplomat, Erst Vom Rath, assassinated by a Jewish boy in Paris, Herschel Grynszpan. Joseph Goebbels set the riots moving - the state jumped on the "spontaneous" violence to disarm the Jews, seize property, and so on. It marked an escalation in the Nazis campaign against the Jews - even though the general public did not seem to approve. They didn't resist either. As the Nazis continued to persecute the Jews, they did it with less fanfare - they professionalized the process, left it to the SS and kept the public out of it. And this ended very badly.

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