t h e s a l o n
with Valentine M. Smith
Today is the anniversaries of four wildly different events in German history-- the abdication of the Kaiser, the so-called Beer Hall Putsch, Kristallnacht and the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1918, 1924, 1938 and 1989 respectively. These events mark great turns in the course of events in Germany, and should not be forgotten or swept into the dustbins of dry histories.
No one I know alive today can recall the Kaiser, who died in exile in Holland some decades after his abdication two days before the armistice was signed 11/11/18. But, the disintegration of the Hohenzollerans was the beginning of the change in European governments from monarchies to "republics," albeit perhaps strange forms of those. Four of them disintegrated after World War I; the German monarchy was the first to fall, followed by the Hapsburgs, Romanovs (who paid with their lives for the fall of their dynasty), and lastly the Ottomans.
The Beer Hall Putsch, an attempt to overthrow the "legitimate" government of Bavaria that occurred primarily in Munich, is forgotten by all but historians and students these days, but this failed attempt to seize power in one German province by Adolf Hitler in 1924 set a whole train of events into motion - Hitler's writing of _Mein Kampf, the decision of the Nazis to pursue power by "legal means," (ie. electorally), and a long drought for the Nazi Party because of the failure of the Putsch. Oddly enough, the putsch's failure started Hitler into motion to successful capture of power less than nine years later. This event is important in that it shows, to my mind, what a failure *can* set into motion.
As a firm believer in periodically discussing historical events, "lest we forget," recalling what happened in 1938 is important because very few are left alive who can recall this beginning of the long nightmare that was in store for not only German Jews, but all the Jews that came under Nazi control. For most, save people who were small children or teenagers, this event of Kristallnacht is history, not a living memory thing. But, to me, it's very real, and though it happened 57 years ago now, the cruel intolerance and state approval to commit acts of violence against Jews and Jewish-owned shops and businesses is still a very viable possibility in several places in the world. State-sanctioned violence like this saw a half-million killed in Rwanda not so very long ago. So, I say it behooves us to recall that on this day, Nazi Germany launched a systemic, state-sponsored, thuggish attack on the Jews, and then made them pay an astronomiucal fine to pay for repairing the damage (no numbers on deaths agree, could have been 200, or 3000, depending on who you read)! Also, a large number of Jewish businesses were seized, or stolen, by the Nazis after this date. Kristallnacht was the beginning of legitimized extermination of the Jews, though the Nuremburg Laws of 1935 had already "removed" them from most participation from German life. It got much worse after this, but this occurance told of a grim future for Jews that found themselves in places the Nazis controlled.
In contrast, 9 November, 1989 was an exhilarating event. The odious Berlin Wall, 28 years old, began physically falling that day, an event that set into motion the eventual reunification of Germany after over 45 years of being seperated, and was the most visible sign of the end of Soviet domination of eastern Europe. Poland, Hungary, Romania, then-Czechoslovakia, and East Germany all "threw off their chains" at about the same time, presaging the breakup of the Soviet Union two years later. I will always recall this "last" 9 November as a joyous historical moment, unlike the other three more grim anniversaries that fell on this date.
Classroom discussion (the class was a history class on Nazi Germany - the topic was Hitler's foreign policy) really rankled me two years ago when talking about the two events of 9 November that fell within the Nazi period as people tended to try to trivialize what I consider horrendous events set into motion. The professor wanted to make a case that anti-Jewishness wasn't the same as anti-Semitism, and I thought he was dragging a red herring into the discussion, and it started a 20-minute argument, I believe unnecessarily. The David Irving discussion was acrimonious also, but I finally was able to say (though I didn't have the last word, and only one other student agreed with me) that I couldn't give him credibility because he denies a basic fact, ie. that the Holocaust occurred. I surely would *not* cite him in a paper (three students did), but I agreed he had a "right" under the First Amendment to express a view. It's up to us, be we historians, teachers of history or politics, or students, as to whether we give a Holocaust-denier acacdemic credibility.
This "entry/essay"is probably too historical for most of your tastes, but I continue to think some of us have a duty, because we do know, or remember, or both, to remark on the events of the past we are aware of. I am allegedly a historian, and more generally trained than most might realize, as German history is not my forte. I try to comment as I think of them.
Rarely does one country have so many synchronicities in its history, especially within one century. But all these events occurred, and what ties them all together is sheerly that they all began or occurred on 9 November. Perhaps that alone should make it a thing we try to remember?
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