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Looking back at Kristallnacht and the Holocaust

Susanna Kokkonen from Christian Friends of Yad Vashem talks to Paul Calvert.

Paul: What is Christian Friends of Yad Vashem?

Susanna: Yad Vashem was established in 1953. The Israeli Knesset passed a special law to establish it and then in 2006 Yad Vashem decided that they needed a special programme to reach out to Christians around the world. They decided to establish the Christian Friends of Yad Vashem and the goal was for Christians who would come to visit would be given a special programme. They would be able to ask questions and have a time of reflection.

We also wanted to connect Christians to the Christian theology that was partly anti-Semitic and is the background of the Holocaust. We wanted to teach about, not just the camps, but also Jewish life in Europe before the war, how the Holocaust came to happen, and even the aftermath of the Holocaust. This is very significant now since we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the State of Israel this year, which was built by the Holocaust survivors.

Paul: Today we are looking at Kristallnacht, which happened in Germany and Austria. Tell us a little bit about what happened before that event, the history and the story that built up to that terrible night.

Susanna: I think it’s very important for us to look at the 1930’s. Although the Nazi Party was established in 1919, from the beginning it had this very intense anti-Semitic agenda. They did not see the Jews as just a religious group that they could persecute, but they saw them as a genetic problem. In other words, the racial theories were added to the previously existing forms of anti-Semitism, but the problem then of course was that when you are seen as a genetic problem you cannot change it, so there was nothing they could do about it.

So when Adolph Hitler came to power in January of 1933, already by March all over Germany there were anti-Jewish riots, but at this point the regime was not openly taking responsibility. It looked like they were spontaneous acts of violence, even though we know that they were not spontaneous.

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