The echoes of the shattering glass: the reverberations of Kristallnacht into the Australia of the 21st Century
An Occasional Address for the Western Australia Council of Christians and Jews
Monday 9 November 2015
By Ron Hoenig.
I wish to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land we are meeting on, the Whadjuk people of the Noongar nation. I wish to acknowledge and respect their continuing culture and the contribution they make to the life of this city and this region.
Thank you to the Council of Christians and Jews of Western Australia for the honour of inviting me to give this presentation. You have made me feel extraordinarily welcome.
On November 9/10 1938 the sound of glass shattering all over Germany, annexed Austria, and in areas of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia recently occupied by German troops presaged almost a decade of disaster for Jews in Eastern Europe (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum 2015). The streets resounded with the shattering of glass in Jewish shops, houses and synagogues. Sharp fragments of hatred littered the streets as a modern nation, wounded by its ignominious defeat in the first war and blinded with irrational fear for Jews and hatred fostered by the State took its revenge for the slights it had imagined it had experienced from my people.
I want tonight to touch briefly on that event and then to point out some little known history about the impact that the events on Kristallnacht had on a small group of Aboriginal people in Melbourne. I want then to move on to the period after the war when the Australian government was faced with an influx of Jewish refugees and finally to some reflections that connect these events and the Australian people’s reaction to asylum seekers. Along the way I will reflect some more on some aspects of my own experiences.
The website of the Holocaust museum in Washington says the violence on that cold November night was instigated primarily by Nazi Party officials and members of the SA (Sturmabteilungen: literally Assault Detachments, but commonly known as Storm Troopers) and Hitler Youth (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum 2015). The orgy of violence was in response to the assassination in Paris of a German embassy official by Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old Polish Jew living illegally in Paris (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum 2015).
A few days earlier, German authorities had expelled thousands of Jews of Polish citizenship living in Germany from the Reich and Grynszpan knew that his parents, who had lived in Germany since 1911, were among them. The Grynszpans were initially denied re-entry into their native Poland and were stranded in a refugee camp near the town of Zbaszyn in the border region between Poland and Germany. Grynszpan, now an illegal alien in Paris, apparently sought revenge for his family’s precarious circumstances by appearing at the German embassy and shooting the diplomatic official assigned to assist him. The official, Ernst vom Rath died on November 9, the anniversary of the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch in Munich. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum 2015) and the day on which we remember Kristallnacht.