Darker Than a Thousand Pogroms: Kristallnacht and its Long Shadow

By Robert Leonard Berkowitz

The US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Stadtarchiv Aachen
Hechingen, Germany Synagogue
Stranded victims of the PolenAction in border town of Zbaszyn -Institute of Contemporary History and Weiner Library, London
  • Poland, his country of citizenship, and where his grandparents still lived, was equally off limits. The increasingly anti-Semitic Polish government with its dark history of pogroms was on record proclaiming its wish to be rid of its 3.5 million “surplus” Jewish residents. Not surprisingly, it no longer welcomed non-resident Jewish citizens across its borders, having recently enacted a decree depriving them of their Polish citizenship. Herschel’s Polish passport was no longer valid;
  • The United States was also beyond the reach for an impoverished teenager who had been stripped of legal citizenship and had no relatives in America to provide affidavits of support. A personal letter he had previously sent off to President Roosevelt begging for an entry visa had gone unanswered;
  • Canada was no exception with its highly restrictive immigration policy, and one that was administered by bureaucrats known to be highly unsympathetic to the plight of Jews and;
  • Palestine was little more than a distant dream where the waiting line to emigrate stretched from Paris to Tel Aviv.
Rescued Forst Synagogue Torah Scroll
  • The second, posted within hours of the mass murder read “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw the optics. I’m coming in.”
Passover Seder for newly arrived Jewish immigrants at Ellis Island, organized by HIAS, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research
  • The Polish Jewish community and aid societies that provided the victims of the PolenAktion with food, clothing, blankets and medical care, and worked tirelessly to shame the Polish government into finally allowing them to remain within their borders;
  • The English Jewish and Quaker rescue and relief organizations that successfully lobbied for the asylum of ten thousand refugee children in the aftermath of Kristallnacht, and assumed their care under the Kindertransport rescue program;
  • And HIAS.
  • Stand up for democracy before it is too late. It is more fragile than ever and can die in the blink of an eye, as it did in the waning days of the Weimar Republic.
  • Stand up to those who spew hate in all its myriad forms by calling them out.
  • And stand up for the victims of persecution, discrimination and hate of whatever race, ethnicity and religion.

Robert was raised in Newark and nearby West Orange, New Jersey. He now lives in Guilford, Connecticut.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store