For all the horrors of the Shoah, with its hundreds of tragic anniversaries and yahrtzeits, no single date in the Holocaust has seared itself into the Jewish consciousness more than the night of Nov. 9, 1938. The hundreds of synagogue fires, broken glass, murders, concentration camp imprisonments and suicides of Kristallnacht — spilling into the hours past midnight, the clock seeming to strike 13 — made it clear that the five previous years of Nazi persecutions were somehow morphing into something even worse, if impossible to foresee.
Much as Tisha b’Av has come to include dozens of Jewish tragedies ranging from the destruction of the Temple to the Inquisition to Russia’s entry into World War I, Nov. 9 has long haunted the last German century. On Nov. 9, 1918, the Kaiser abdicated after the disaster of “the Great War.” On Nov. 9, 1923, Adolf Hitler entered history with his Beer Hall Putsch. And on Nov. 9, 1938, Kristallnacht. And yet, if there’s one thing Jewish history teaches, it is that nothing is forever as it seems.
Tisha b’Av, synonymous with mourning, is nevertheless promised to be the birthday of the Messiah. And we see, with the fall of the Berlin Wall — on Nov. 9, 1989 — and the transformation of Germany from the Nazi capital to one of Israel’s best friends in Europe, that redemption can come to even the darkest of places. The metamorphosis of Berlin, now a destination for tens of thousands of Jews, is positively biblical, although as frustrating to many as the repentance of Nineveh (modern-day Mosul in Iraq) was to the Prophet Jonah.
And yet, the celebrations of 1989 have not drowned out 1938. If anything, it is Kristallnacht that casts a shadow over the fall of the Wall, as every passing anniversary has seen Germany’s leaders pay homage to that night of broken glass and broken lives in 1938. Transformation is beautiful, as is memory.