The night of 9th-10th November 1938 in Germany was Kristallnacht, the anti-Jewish pogrom conducted by Nazi paramilitaries and many ordinary people. The anti-Semitic violence was an anticipation of the horrors of the following years. Perhaps an inexorable descent into hell had begun, perhaps a stand could have been taken.
Thirty years ago, on the fiftieth anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Protestant pastor Hans Thimme spoke of what might have been done to prevent history unfolding as it did. Hans Thimme’s 1988 reflection makes no attempt at excuses:
Well then, Martin Niemoller occasionally said that if 10,000 pastors, in response to something like the Kristallnacht, had publicly and radically protested, then perhaps 10,000 pastors would have been executed and 10 million Jews rescued. But that is just a formal declaration, which is unrealistic, basically, for one can’t say whether it would have been that way . . .
. . . All of us were compromisers, somehow, one almost has to say that, even those who were consistent opponents Only in retrospect does one notice how one existed somewhat schizophrenically I was a pastor of the Confessing Church, and I never made any secret of that … but I always said, I am not against the state; I’m against this ideology. But basically one couldn’t separate the ideology from the state, since this ideology was the official state. And here one made compromises, and – it’s hard to say. I don’t know if I could do differently, if the situation repeated itself.
A sixteen year old student preparing this morning for a history examination on the history of Germany between 1918 and 1945 spoke of a fear that history might be repeating itself. Scapegoating has reappeared; blame for a country’s ills is being placed upon minorities or international institutions; criticism of any sort is attributed to a media controlled by those who are protecting their own interests. As countries slip into the control of populist authoritarian governments, it is easier to live as Hans Thimme described, to be schizophrenic in attitude, to inhabit a private and personal world.
It is always impossible to know how history will progress, Hans Thimme’s reaction to Martin Niemoller was that no- one could have been sure that things would be that way. Yet without any presumptions of prescience, there must be a recognition of incipient dangers, there must be an acknowledgement of actual situations of oppression and violence.
It would be a pity if, in fifty years’ time, a student, who is sixteen years old at present, should have cause to reflect on what might have been done in 2018.