Kristallnacht

by tobybee

The anniversary of Kristallnacht was eight days ago. I meant to post something about it at the time, but the date passed me by, and I only just remembered the other day. Seeing as time is a patriarchal, modernist construct, I decided that it’s ok to post about an anniversary a bit late. As most people know, Kristallnacht is the pogrom which took place on the night of November 9-10, 1938, and it is named for the broken glass of the Jewish shops, houses and shuls, which lined the streets of Germany. The stories about it which we have been told, and which we repeat, are primarily those of men’s experiences: the destruction of shops, which were primarily owned by men, the ransacking and burning of synagogues, which were largely the domain of men, and the deportation of the men which followed Kristallnacht. We hear little of the women left behind who had to look after their families, the women who stood in the breadlines, because men were too scared to go outside. Marion Kaplan, a historian of German women’s lives has written about this, explaining that women’s memoirs “often focus not on broken glass but on flying feathers—feathers covered the internal space of the home, hallway, and front yard or courtyard… the mobs tore up feather blankets and pillows and shook them into the rooms, out the windows, and down the stairways… This image of feathers flying, of a domestic scene gravely disturbed, represents women’s primary experience of the pogrom.”

The importance of what she is saying lies in its comments on the writing of history and control of memory: we name events for what we deem to be their predominant feature. By naming the pogrom Kristallnacht we obscure as much as we illuminate.

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