By Salma Siddiqui
Last month’s shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue was not merely another act of gun violence. It was a crime that stemmed from hate and bigotry, as it targeted a specific group of people.
This hate is nothing new. 80 years ago last month, shards of glass littered the streets of Germany after the Nazis and their supporters smashed and vandalized over 7,500 Jewish schools, homes, businesses, and synagogues. Known as Kristallnacht, or night of broken glass, entire buildings were demolished with sledgehammers, hundreds of Jews lost their lives, and an estimated 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps during this bloody pogrom. Kristallnacht is sometimes referred to as the start of the Holocaust and was really the turning point of Nazi persecution from economic, political, and social to being physical. Thousands of Jews would be beaten, killed, and imprisoned by the Nazi party, just for the crime of belonging to a religion that differed from theirs. This was the beginning of Hitler’s plan for the “final solution,” what he believed to be the answer to the Jewish question: to exterminate all Jews.
We can never forget the cruelty Hitler displayed those two nights, but we should also remember the international outrage that his actions caused. Pro-Nazi organizations in Europe and North America were discredited and lost all their support after Kristallnacht. Overnight, a multitude of governments severed their political ties and alliances with Germany, and the U.S. recalled their ambassador. It propelled the British government to approve the Kindertransport, a program that saved the lives of 10,000 Jewish refugee children. The Australians marched a petition condemning “cruel persecution of Jews” that had received 1,814 signatures to the German embassy. Kristallnacht revealed the disease of hate and lunacy that Hitler was spreading throughout Germany, and, thankfully, the rest of the world was appalled by it. Many even began calling for war.
Even within the country, not all Germans believed in Hitler’s message of violence. A witness described seeing non-Jewish Germans “weeping behind their curtains” as their neighbors, people they had lived side by side with for years, became victims of hate.
This is what we must focus on. The good in the world. Though there will always be people who are blinded by prejudice, for every one of them there are far more who wish to live in peace and harmony with those around them. In the immediate aftermath of the Pennsylvania shooting, the local Muslim community raised over 240,000 dollars for the victims and their families. An interfaith vigil was held that brought people from different religions, races, and nationalities together to mourn the lives that were lost. But the vigil wasn’t just a memorial. It was also a promise: That we as people, no matter where we come from, no matter what we believe in or look like, stand united against hate and will support one another in times of peace, and more importantly, in times of suffering.
Salma Siddiqui is an eighth-grade student at Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School in Palo Alto. She loves using her writing as a way to promote justice and hopefully inspire change in the world.