The ongoing history of anti-Semitism


It is hard to believe that on Nov. 9 we remembered the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht. From the German it means “Crystal Night,” more commonly referred to as the “Night of Broken Glass.” It is the night that the Nazis and their sympathizers rampaged through Germany. There were more than 7,000 Jewish-owned stores and businesses that were damaged that night, more than 250 synagogues destroyed, more than 3,000 Jews rounded up and sent to camps, and over 100 killed right in the streets that fateful evening.

In light of the horrendous mass murder of worshipers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last month by a man who told police when he surrendered that he “wanted all Jews to die,” we can see that the hatred unleased in the madness of Kristallnacht and the Holocaust unfortunately lives on in the hearts of some. It seems to have increased in the past two years here in the United States. Just last year it came into full view as white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Va., with lines of men carrying torches and chanting, “Jews will not replace us!” There has been an increase in anti-Semitic incidences throughout the country.

The U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference issued a statement shortly after the murders in Pittsburgh, saying that we stand with “our brothers and sisters of the Jewish community.” “We condemn all acts of violence and hate and yet again, call on our nation and public officials to confront the plague of gun violence,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Violence as a response to political, racial or religious differences must be confronted with all possible effort. God asks nothing less of us. He begs us back to our common humanity as his sons and daughters,” added Cardinal DiNardo.

Bishop Joseph C. Bambera of Scranton, Pa., chairman of the USCCB Committee for Ecumenism and Interreligious Affairs, said that the attack is “a cowardly act” and that it must “be condemned by all Americans.”

He added, “Those killed and injured represent the best of who we are: people of faith gathered to pray and celebrate the birth of a child and officers responding to the ensuring violence with no concern for their own safety.” He said the bishops’ committee “stands with our Jewish brothers and sisters during this time of great distress.”

“May God grant peace to the dead, healing to the injured and comfort to the families of those hurt and killed and to all the Jewish community,” he said.

The Anti-Defamation League said that there was a 57 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. in 2017, which included bomb threats, assaults, vandalism and other anti-Semitic acts on college campuses. Earlier this month in Baraboo, Wis., some 60 male students were photographed giving what appears to be a Nazi salute. The leadership of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum in Poland wisely tweeted after the Baraboo incident, “This is why every single day we work hard to educate. We need to explain what is the danger of hateful ideology rising. Auschwitz with its gas chambers was at the very end of the long process of normalizing and accommodating hatred.”

Our own Bishop Dennis Sullivan, at the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration, Nostra Aetate (In our Time), at Temple Emanuel Synagogue three years ago, talked about implementing Holocaust studies in our schools. He said, “To this end the Schools Office of the Diocese of Camden, under the supervision and guidance of Ms. Mary Boyle, superintendent of schools, and Dr. Bill Watson, our director of curriculum, we have been systematically implementing Holocaust education in our Catholic schools here in the diocese. We are committed to equipping our students to be leaders in the fight against anti-Semitism, bias, bigotry and intolerance of any kind. I have promulgated that this be part of the diocesan curriculum guidelines and as such expect them to be taught in our schools at various levels.”

At a meeting this month with a group of rabbis, Pope Francis said to them, “The Holocaust must be commemorated so that there will be a living memory of the past. Without a living memory, there will be no future, for if the darkest pages of history do not teach us to avoid the same errors, human dignity will remain a dead letter.”


Father Joseph D. Wallace is director, Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, Diocese of Camden.