Cleansing Fire

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Kristallnacht at 80 years

November 8th, 2018, Promulgated by Diane Harris

November 9, 2018, is the 80th Anniversary of Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass.” It is a perfect time to go to Church, especially to Mass, and to invoke God’s blessing and help for a world that is once again deeply divided by hatred, and where Houses of Worship and their communities, standing on the front line, are often targets of destruction.

But the same evil one who lurked in the streets throughout the cities of Germany and Austria on November 9-10, 1938, continues to prowl wherever there is opportunity to turn hearts away from God, and to plunder souls who worship the Lord. That evil clearly showed up again in Pittsburgh on Saturday, October 27th, at the Tree of Life Synagogue, where 11 people were killed and six more injured. And it has clearly shown up through the Middle-East in recent years, especially in Syria, where so many Christian Churches and Communities have been destroyed, some dating back to Apostolic times. Destruction of houses of worship is not new; it is central to the oppression of other people’s beliefs, of the vitality of their souls.

Kristallnacht launched Hitler’s “Final Solution” (Ref: Encyclopedia Britannica)

  “Just before midnight on November 9, [1938] Gestapo chief Heinrich Müller sent a telegram to all police units informing them that ‘in shortest order, actions against Jews and especially their synagogues will take place in all of Germany. These are not to be interfered with.’”

“Rather, the police were to arrest the victims. Fire companies stood by synagogues in flames with explicit instructions to let the buildings burn. They were to intervene only if a fire threatened adjacent ‘Aryan’ properties. In two days and nights, more than 1,000 synagogues were burned or otherwise damaged.”  Rioters looted and ransacked about 7,500 Jewish businesses, killed at least 91 Jews, and vandalized Jewish hospitals, homes, schools, and cemeteries. The attackers were often neighbors. Some 30,000 Jewish males aged 16 to 60 were arrested. To accommodate so many new prisoners, the concentration camps at Dachau, Buchenwald, and Sachsenhausen were expanded.”

“The cost of the broken window glass alone came to millions of Reichsmarks. The Reich confiscated any compensation claims that insurance companies paid to Jews. The rubble of ruined synagogues had to be cleared by the Jewish community.   The Nazi government imposed a collective fine of one billion Reichsmarks (about $400 million in 1938) on the Jewish community.” The first step toward the Holocaust had been taken.

Testimonies:

  • In Hamburg, Johanna Gerechter Neumann watched as the calamity unfolded. “What I saw was hordes of people standing in front of our beautiful synagogue and throwing stones through these magnificent colored windows,” she recalled in a 1990 oral history interview preserved at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. “It was total chaos, total destruction.”
  • “The day after Kristallnacht, there were Hitler [Youth] who had robbed a synagogue in the neighborhood who were driving around on a flatbed truck with things they had stolen from the synagogue,” he said. “They were blowing a shofar,” a horn used in Jewish religious ceremonies.”

Why November 9th is a good day for Catholics to remember Kristallnacht

The very existence of synagogues and temples, churches and cathedrals, serves to define a people and their beliefs, their commitments, their vulnerabilities and their values.  Note that the Nazi order was specifically directed against synagogues, and the glass in the street from shops should not let us lose the perception of the real target. The remembrance of Kristallnacht prods us to notice what we value, and acknowledge what we don’t. Perhaps it is more than coincidence that we also celebrate an important Feast on November 9th for another building of worship, with its own special history:

Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome: Mass Reading Excerpts

  •        The first reading for the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome is from Ezekiel, a shared common heritage with the Jews, with the vision of fresh water flowing from the Temple of Jerusalem, God’s abundant and nurturing graces, pouring forth as life-giving water from Christ’s pierced side:

“This water flows into the eastern district down upon the Arabah,
and empties into the sea, the salt waters, which it makes fresh.
Wherever the river flows,
every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live,
and there shall be abundant fish,
for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh.
Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow;
their leaves shall not fade, nor their fruit fail.”

  •    The second reading for the Feast brings home to us that it is not only about the building where God is worshiped, but recounts St. Paul’s words in First Corinthians, by which we understand that the indwelling grace of God makes us Temples too, and we worship from within. Then we can begin to understand what an affront it is to God to unjustly take life, all life, especially in the womb:

“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.”

  •     The Gospel on the Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran contains the memorable scene of Christ’s driving the money-changers and their animals out of the Father’s House, protecting the holy place from taint and corruption.

‘”Take these out of here,
and stop making My Father’s house a marketplace.’
His disciples recalled the words of Scripture,
‘Zeal for Your house will consume Me.’”

Even today, the money “exchangers” are still part of the problem, but in a different way. Perhaps we can identify with the sadness the Jews of Germany (and Austria) must have felt in having their synagogues so destroyed in one or two nights, their world so changed forever. Surely we would feel the same pain if it were our places of worship, wouldn’t we? But all oppression doesn’t come from formal persecution, some comes from within a crippled church, and some happens so slowly over a period of time that we might hardly notice the changes, even though they are real when seen over decades.

Sales of Catholic Churches to buyers who take off the crucifixes, destroy blessed objects, and eventually degrade activity into profane use, even if not by the first buyer, are upsetting.  To drive by an office space that used to be the church in which one was married, may require some amount of spiritual callus to find peace.  But it is not the buyer at fault as a plunderer, quite frankly. Rather it is the offense of the seller, so willing to take what was dedicated to God back out of His Hands for the sake of mammon. A “money-exchange!” It is a great dis-grace!

Even leaders who would be rightfully saddened and repulsed by aggressive seizure and destruction of holy sites by hostile unbelievers, are blind to their own responsibility in the slow erosion of our faith centers. There is really only one reason that closed churches, once having been dedicated to God, end up being sold. It is for the money, isn’t it? Another “money-exchange.” Somehow, money coming back to some ‘surviving’ part of the Church through the sale of closed church buildings seems to be justified as sound financial management. One wonders too just how much of the push to close churches is to liquidate assets to pay off sexual abuse claims. Another “money-exchange.”

If the process of dedicating a church is so special, if it is a ‘holy place,’ then how can it be sold to become an antique store, a storage depot, an apartment building or a laundromat? One morning at Mass in a suburban church, as the priest held the chalice of Precious Blood above his head, he stumbled and splattered his vestments, the altar cloths and the Sacramentary with Christ’s Blood. He assured us that all would be ‘cleaned up’ as required. But at Mass a few days later, the Sacramentary appeared to still have just as many stains.  In the pew we wondered how that could be, thinking that the book should have been burned. It does raise the question of whether or not a more radical disposition of a church building should be required, even if it reduces the proceeds from a sale to land value only.

Every closure, every sale, every disposition of sacred objects, every less-than reverential act, dulls the sense of the importance of the holy. The decision makers seem often to think they can balance how much is for God, and how much is for mammon. There seems to be a hidden agenda that even those with a measure of caring for holy sites will eventually become numb to the results, and accept more and more erosion of their faith and loss of the reverence for holy things. Catholics mourn the loss of the sacred symbolism over and over, until they no longer even notice their loss.

So when we dwell on the impact of Kristallnacht in these next 48 hours, it is well to pray that recent events in Pittsburgh aren’t reawakening an age-old persecution, and that we, as Catholics, might escape judgment for not having sufficiently respected the sacred and holy.

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5 Responses to “Kristallnacht at 80 years”

  1. avatar Ginger says:

    Regarding the first reading…I could be wrong but I googled news stories about the Dead Sea becoming enriched with life.

  2. avatar Ginger says:

    ..focusing on the Temple stream which brings life to places in which nothing is expected to live.

    The darkening days of winter’s approach and readings prior to advent are always stunning; providing spiritual CPR/defib. Christ among us laid in a manger brought God’s salvation for you and me.

  3. avatar militia says:

    Burning down abandoned churches rather than selling them? I really like that idea. It protects holy stuff, and makes dioceses think extra hard about just flipping their properties and buildings for cash.

  4. avatar Ginger says:

    You are exactly right militia.

  5. avatar Hopefull says:

    A friend sent this to me.
    Too appropriate to this post not to share:

    Subject: What really died at Auschwitz?

    What really died at Auschwitz? Here’s an interesting viewpoint. The following is a copy of an article written by Spanish writer Sebastian Vilar Rodriguez and published in a Spanish newspaper. It doesn’t take much imagination to extrapolate the message to the rest of Europe – and possibly to the rest of the world.

    I walked down the streets in Barcelona and suddenly discovered a terrible truth – Europe died in Auschwitz . We killed six million Jews and replaced them with 20 million Muslims. In Auschwitz, we burned a culture, thought, creativity, talent. We destroyed the chosen people, truly chosen, because they produced great and wonderful people who changed the world.

    The contribution of these people is felt in all areas of life: science, art, international trade, and above all, as the conscience of the world. These are the people we burned

    And under the pretense of tolerance, and because we wanted to prove to ourselves that we were cured of the disease of racism, we opened our gates to 20 million Muslims, who brought us stupidity and ignorance, religious extremism and lack of tolerance, crime and poverty, due to an unwillingness to work and support their families with pride.

    They have blown up our trains and turned our beautiful Spanish cities into the third world, drowning in filth and crime. Shut up in the apartments they receive free from the government, they plan the murder and destruction of their naive hosts.

    And thus, in our misery, we have exchanged culture for fanatical hatred, creative skill for destructive skill, intelligence for backwardness and superstition.

    We have exchanged the pursuit of peace of the Jews of Europe and their talent for a better future for their children, their determined clinging to life because life is holy, for those who pursue death, for people consumed by the desire for death for themselves and others, for our children and theirs.

    What a terrible mistake was made by miserable Europe.

    Recently, the UK debated whether to remove The Holocaust from its school curriculum because it ‘offends’ the Muslim population which claims it never occurred. It is not removed as yet. However, this is a frightening portent of the fear that is gripping the world and how easily each country is giving in to it.

    It is now approximately seventy years after the Second World War in Europe ended. This e-mail is being sent as a memorial chain, in memory of the six million Jews, twenty million Russians, ten million Christians, and nineteen-hundred Catholic priests who were ‘murdered, raped, burned, starved, beaten, experimented on and humiliated. Now, more than ever, with Iran, among others, claiming the Holocaust to be ‘a myth,’ it is imperative to make sure the world “never forgets.”

    This e-mail is intended to reach 400 million people. Be a link in the memorial chain and help distribute this around the world.

    How many years will it be before the attack on the World Trade Center ‘NEVER HAPPENED’ because it offends some Muslim in the United States? If our Judeo-Christian heritage is offensive to Muslims, they should pack up and move to Iran, Iraq or some other Muslim country.

    (Please share with others.)

    We must wake up America before it’s too late.

    “If you do not take an interest in the affairs of your government, then you are doomed to live under the rule of fools.” – Plato

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