It’s important never to forget the past. Humanity has a duty to learn from its past mistakes. The job of history is to make these mistakes visible for all to see and learn from.
The historian, Mitchell G. Bard, Ph.D, does an excellent job of this in his book, 48 Hours of Kristallnacht: Night of Destruction/Dawn of the Holocaust. He collected interviews with survivors of the “Night of Broken Glass” and put them together in a fashion that gives a detailed account of the events that transpired that night from the people who were there.
Bard recounts the story of Herschel Grynszpan who murdered the Third Secretary of the German Ambassador to France in retalliation for Germany’s treatment of his family when they were deported to the Polish border. It’s the seldom told story of the immediate cause of Kristallnacht. The Third Reich used this as an excuse to terrorize the Jewish communities in Germany.
The author then goes on to separate the samples of his interviews into a few categories. The first is about experiencing Kristallnacht through the eyes of a child. The book deals with the experience of the children who were present during Kristallnacht. It talks about how horrifying it was for them and also how many of them were separated from their fathers by the Nazis.
It also goes over what it was like for Jewish soldiers who fought in World War I. Bard in addition talks about the anxiety and uncertainty that the Jewish victims felt as well as the effects of the burning of the synagogues in Germany. He speaks of “Righteous Germans” who didn’t just sit back and watch all this violence happen and stood up to the Nazis.
This is an emotional collection of stories and Bard did an excellent job of putting them together in an organized and readable fashion. He keeps his own commentary to a minimum and lets the stories do the talking.
This allows the reader to make his own conclusions from the abundance of primary source material inside these pages. It makes the book easier to read because there is less of an academic tone to the text and more of a personal tone.
At the same time, though, there is a negative side to this tone. This book is not the be all and end all of the history of Kristallnacht. It is simply a cursory glance at the reactions of the people there.
There are still many questions that need to be asked about that night. What was going through the minds of the Nazis who perpetrated this violence? How did the events of Kristallnacht affect non-Jewish Germans and their view of the Third Reich? But, the most important question of all is this: How can we learn from the accounts in this book and be sure nothing like this ever happens again?
48 Hours of Kristallnacht is brilliantly researched and put together, but it lacks the analysis present in many other academic texts. This makes it entertaining and readable for any person, but if you are a big history buff, then you will not be satisfied. You will like what you have read, but you will be left asking for more.
If you just want to read the story of Kristallnacht told by the people who suffered through it, then you will be enthralled by this book. It is a book everyone should read because humanity as a group under appreciates the enormity of the sacrifices and suffering the Jewish people went through during the “The Night of Broken Glass.”