Tag Archives: Kristallnacht

Kristallnacht, the Wall, and a Basilica

Today is the anniversary of Kristallnacht in 1938, when the Nazis fomented a massive campaign of destruction against the German Jewish communities. One hundred and ninety one synagogues were burned and seventy five hundred shops owned by Jews were destroyed.

Today is also the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

The Berlin Wall, 2012

The Berlin Wall, 2012 

Today is also the feast of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Pope’s cathedral, which has been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times. It is an impressive building with a separate Baptistry.

St. John Lateran - facade

St. John Lateran – facade

St. John Lateran - apse

St. John Lateran – apse

But what I most recall from my February 2013 visit is the sculpture of St. Francis of Assisi and his companions facing the church, across the plaza.

St. Francis and companions facing the Lateran

St. Francis and companions facing the Lateran

According to the legend, Francis had come to the Lateran to ask the pope to approve his group of brothers. The pope had a dream that the basilica of St. John Lateran was falling down and that a poor man saved it. He later recognized that man as Francis.

Francis came in homage to the Church, both the building and the institution, but his presence was a challenge to the power and the glory of the medieval church.

Francis sought a poor church, a church of the poor, a church that followed the Poor Man of Nazareth.

Such a church will identify with the poor – not merely serve them,

Such a church will break down walls.

Such a church will protest all the Kristallnachts that oppress others.

Such a church will love and follow the Lord who accompanied His people.

 

Kristallnacht, the Berlin Wall, and St. John Lateran

Seventy-five years ago, on the night of November 9, 1938, Nazi storm troopers attacked Jewish communities throughout Germany, destroying 191 synagogues, thousands of Jewish businesses, arresting 22,000 Jewish men, and deporting about half of them to Buchenwald.

Few people, in either Germany or the world protested this “Kristallnacht” – the Night of Broken Glass. The Nazis took great comfort in the silence of the world.

A cross at the Berlin Wall

A cross at the Berlin Wall

Fifty one years later, on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. That year the movements for independence from Soviet control were growing throughout Eastern Europe. Finally on this day, following an announcement that East Germans would be able to pass through the wall into West Berlin with permission, thousands mobbed the border crossings and were finally let through. In following days the wall fell.

Today is also the feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, the cathedral of Rome, the mother church of the whole world. The first building was dedicated in 324 and there have been many rebuilding and renovations of the structure.

St.  John Lateran, Rome

St. John Lateran, Rome

Saint John Lateran is a beautiful church which I found much more prayerful than Saint Peter’s. Its apse has a beautiful mosaic – with a small image of Francis between Our Lady and Saint Peter. A legend says that when St. Francis came to Rome to seek permission for his new band of followers of Christ, the Pope had a dream that the Lateran was falling down and a simple friar held it up. The pope identified Francis with this friar who was preventing the church from falling into ruin.

St. John Lateran - apse with the Pope cathedra

St. John Lateran – apse with the Pope’s cathedra

In the second reading for today’s feast in the Catholic lectionary (1 Corinthians 3: 9-11, 16-17), Paul tells the people of Corinth:

You are God’s field and building….
Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.

Though Paul was writing to Christians, we ought to remember that each person is made in God’s image and should be loved and respected.

The failure of the world – especially the Christian Church – to respond to the violence of Kristallnacht is a failure to respect the presence of God in all people, a failure of the Church to love.

But this failure should be a challenge to us today, especially as we consider the feast of the Dedication of Saint John Lateran.

Will we build up the community of God in such a way that we break down walls that keep people apart and work to prevent crimes against humanity, such as the Holocaust? Or will we just admire the beauty of the churches, while we keep others out and permit the killing of others and the deaths of thousands daily from hunger?

It is easy to criticize the Church and other institutions, but, as St. Caesarius of Arles said (in a sermon found in Benedictine Daily Prayer),

Every time we come to church, we ought to make our souls be what we want the church to be…. Do you want a light-filled Church? God grant your soul not to be a dark place but alight with good works.

Let our lives be transparent like unbroken glass, letting the light of God shine through, breaking down walls and reaching out in love and justice to all the broken peoples of this world.

The Night of Broken Glass

On the evening of November 9, 1938, Nazis storm troopers went throughout Germany, wreaking havoc on the Jewish communities. Because of the broken shops windows, it became known as Kristallnacht, Crystal Night.

As Robert Ellsberg writes in All Saints:

One hundred an ninety-one synagogues were burned to the ground. Seventy-five hundred Jewish-owned shops were destroyed….twenty thousand Jewish men were arrested and places in “protective custody” with half of them shipped to the Buchenwald concentration camps. Nearly one hundred Jews were killed.

There was almost no protest in Germany or elsewhere.

What I consider significant is the silence of the Church in Germany. There were some voices that did speak out, but they were few. One reason for the relative silence some gave was the fear  that the Church would be persecuted.

Since I first read about the silence of the Church in Nazi Germany when I was in high school, I have been moved by the need to stand up for those who are persecuted and marginalized.

This moved me to support the civil rights and anti-war campaigns of the 1960s and beyond. This has moved me to speak out in the 1980s against the US support for Latin American regimes that repressed their people and to speak against war on numerous occasions. This has led me to be here in Honduras and to support the only diocese that spoke out against the 2009 coup.

We, who are the Body of Christ in the world, need to speak out boldly and clearly in the face of the sufferings of others. If we suffer, it should be the result of defending others. It’s for this reason that I am skeptical of the cries about the fragility of religious freedom in he United States.

The Church should be bold – not in its own defense, but in defense of the poor and oppressed. The real glory of the Church are those who stand up and suffer for them, as some did in Nazi Germany. Thus I am fascinated by the stories of people like Franz Jägerstätter, Father Alfred Delp, SJ, and the young members of the White Rose. And I’m anxious to read a new book, Ultimate Price: Testimonies of Christians Who Resisted the Third Reich.

These stories inspire me to continue to be present for the poor and oppressed.